Of New Mexico, artist Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “As soon as I saw it, that was my country…it’s something in the air, it’s just different. The sky is different, the stars are different, the wind is different. I feel at home here. I feel quiet – my skin feels close to the earth when I walk out into the red hills…”
Writer D.H. Lawrence also observed, “In the magnificent, fierce morning of New Mexico, one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to the new.”
People encountering New Mexico for the first time as well as those whose family histories date back hundreds of years also feel this way. There is an inexplicable magic to the state with its expansive skies, sweeping deserts, purple mountains, and ancient adobe settlements. The combination of Pueblo, Old-World Spanish and Moorish influences blended with cutting-edge art galleries, movie sets, ghost towns, and working ranches and farmlands creates a rich tapestry of Southwestern culture unlike anywhere in the country.
Home to part of the Navajo Nation, 19 Pueblo communities, and three Apache tribes, its Hispanic population includes Hispanos, who descend from early Spanish settlers, as well as Chicanos and Mexicans. New Mexico’s flag reflects the state’s eclectic origins, too; the scarlet and gold of the Spanish flag alongside the ancient sun symbol of the Zia, a Puebloan tribe. The confluence of Indigenous, Spanish, Mexican, Hispanic, and American influences can also be seen New Mexico’s cuisine, music, arts, and architectural style.
Geography and Climate
The fifth largest of the 50 states, New Mexico has a varied climate and geography, from richly forested mountains to red earth deserts. The Rio Grande runs north-to-south, supporting strips of woodland “bosque” habitat along its banks. Located in Southern New Mexico, the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Preserve is home to the migration of sandhill cranes and snow geese, drawing avid birders to the area. In fact, over 374 different bird species have been observed in the Preserve, making it one of the most diverse areas for bird species in the United States.
From the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Brazo Mountains, White Rock Canyon, and the Jemez Mountains in the north, to the Sandia Mountains, Organ Mountains, Manzano Mountains, and Gila Wilderness bordering Arizona in the south, there are 88 mountain ranges in New Mexico and 2,637 named mountains, the highest of which is Wheeler Peak (13,166 feet).
Paleontologists also revel in New Mexico since 72 million years ago, it was covered by rivers, swamps, and floodplains, filled with palm trees, alligators, and dinosaurs. As recently as October 2021, scientists at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science named a new, unique kind of horned dinosaur named Sierraceratops turneri, a relative of Triceratops. Unearthed near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the new fossil honors Ted Turner, founder of CNN, who owns the ranch where it was discovered.
The 19 Pueblos in New Mexico are comprised of the Pueblos of Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zuni, and Zia. Each is a sovereign nation with their own government.
During the 10th and 11th centuries in prehistoric times, Chaco Canyon in western New Mexico was the homeland of the Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloans, the “ancient ones,” or “ancient ancestors.” Building elaborate villages, Ancestral Puebloans constructed enormous stone buildings on mountainside cliffs and valley floors, with multiple stories and hundreds of rooms. The Anasazi thrived for several centuries, planting crops and trading with people in Central Mexico and the Pacific coast for seashells and bright parrot feathers. Then, inexplicably, they disappeared.
Today’s Pueblo people, who live in the pueblos of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley and on the Hopi mesas of Arizona, say they know what happened to the Anasazi. According to stories passed down through hundreds of generations of Puebloans, the Anasazi were on a great journey, which began as soon as they emerged from Earth Mother. The villages and complexes they built – even the massive ones at Chaco and Mesa Verde – were never meant to be permanent dwellings. They were only stops along the migration route. The Anasazi left because it was simply time to continue their journey.
While their ancestors were nomadic, most Puebloans became farmers, skilled potters, basket weavers, and drum makers, traditions which continue to this day. Mosaic inlay jewelry and textile weaving were later added. The Pueblo people still believe that ancestral spirits guide them and that their land is made of sacred mountains, rivers, and cliffs. Many potters incorporate spiritual symbols with great meaning into their work. Pueblo beliefs and actions are still guided by Pueblo Core Values, which include love, respect, compassion, faith, understanding, spirituality, balance, peace, and empathy.
A quote at the Indian Pueblo Culture Center in Albuquerque reads, “This is what we believe. Our Mother is the Earth, Our Father is the Sun. Our Grandfather is the Creator who bathed us with his mind and gave life to all things. Brother is the beasts and trees. Sister is that with wings. We are the Children of the Earth and do it no harm in any way. Nor do we offend the Sun by not greeting it at dawn. We praise our Grandfather for his creation. We share the same breath together – beast, trees, bird, man.”
Other indigenous cultures
New Mexico was also once home to the Comanche and Utes. Toward the end of the 15th century, the Apache entered the state. Today, New Mexico has three Apache tribes (the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe), and the Navajo Nation.
In 1540, exaggerated stories of the gold hidden in pueblo cities drove Francisco Vasquez de Coronado to lead a Spanish expedition into New Mexico. However, rather than finding remains of a Pueblo civilization there, Coronado’s expedition was met by the Apache and other Indigenous groups, who fiercely resisted the colonists.
Spanish explorers and settlers who arrived in the 16th century, named the territory Nuevo México after the Aztec Valley of Mexico. Santa Fe was considered an ideal place to settle because of the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe River at San Isidro Crossing. The Indios Mexicanos, who brought most of the expansion into New Mexico, brought with them rich linguistic and cultural traditions, including Nawatl (Nahuatl), the language of the Aztecs. An indigenous language spoken in central Mexico since the seventh century, Nawatl would have the largest impact on the way Spanish is spoken in New Mexico. In fact, Nawatl is still spoken in some rural villages of New Mexico.
In 1609, Pedro de Peralta was made governor of the “Kingdom and Provinces of New Mexico,” and, in 1610, he founded Santa Fe as its capital. Briefly driven out of New Mexico in the late 17th century, the Spanish would return within a few decades.
Following Mexican independence in 1821, New Mexico became a region of Mexico, though increasingly threatened by policies of the Mexican government that culminated in the Revolt of 1837; at the same time, the region became more economically dependent on the United States. At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the U.S. annexed New Mexico as part of the larger New Mexico Territory. It played a central role in U.S. westward expansion.
When New Mexico Became a State
In 1821 when Mexico achieved its independence from Spain, New Mexico had become a province of Mexico. Trade had opened up with the United States, prompting American settlers to come to New Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail. In 1846, during the Mexican American War, General Stephen W. Kearny had captured and occupied Santa Fe with little Mexican opposition. Two years later, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded New Mexico to the United States. Through the Gadsden Purchase, in 1853 the territory was expanded to the size it is today.
The Apache and Navajo continued to resist colonization for three decades, ending finally with the surrender of Geronimo, Chief of the Chiricahua Apache, in 1886. After this suppression of New Mexico’s native people, ranching expanded considerably, due to the opening of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1879.
On July 2, 1891, William T. Thornton was chosen as Mayor of Santa Fe without opposition. Following heightened crime in the territory, in 1893 Thornton was then appointed territorial governor by President Grover Cleveland.
On January 6, 1912, New Mexico was admitted to the Union as the 47th state.
Role of the Catholic Church
Franciscan influence is imbedded in New Mexico Catholicism. In 1598, Spanish colonist Don Juan de Oñate, along with eight Franciscan friars, reached the east bank of the Rio Grande near its confluence with the Chama River and established its capital near present day San Juan Pueblo. This settlement served as the capitol of New Mexico until 1610 when the capitol was relocated to Santa Fe. The Spanish set about to “convert” the Pueblo people. Resenting the colonists’ push to “Europeanize” them, The Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish settlers out of New Mexico. Many Franciscan missionaries were killed, and churches and convents which had been built by the Franciscans were destroyed. In 1692, the Spanish returned with an intent to consider all that was good about native beliefs. With respect for their rituals, the Spanish chose a patron saint for each pueblo, one whose feast day coincided with the people’s existing traditional ceremonies. These saints continue to be honored during annual feast days at each pueblo. The celebrations include traditional dancing, singing, drumming, and feasting, along with a Catholic mass and processions through the streets. This tradition continues to this day.
On July 19, 1850, Pope Pius IX created the Vicariate Apostolic of New Mexico and appointed Father Jean Baptiste Lamy as its first Bishop. Bishop Lamy arrived in New Mexico in the summer of 1851. He built more churches, created new parishes, and established educational and medical facilities. On February 12, 1875, the Diocese of Santa Fe was elevated to an Archdiocese with Bishop Lamy as its first Archbishop. In 1869 Bishop Lamy began building a stone cathedral to replace the old adobe church, parts of which had served the parishioners of Santa Fe since 1717. The new stone Cathedral was built in the style of the Romanesque churches of France that were familiar to Bishop Lamy. By 1884, the main part of the Cathedral was finished. Archbishop Lamy was buried under the church and was succeeded as Archbishop of Santa Fe by John Baptist Salpointe. On May 23, 1915, Archbishop John Baptist Pitaval, fifth Archbishop of Santa Fe, dedicated the bronze statue of Archbishop Lamy which stands in front of the Cathedral.
New Mexico’s capital, Santa Fe, nicknamed “The City Different,” blends Pueblo and Spanish festivities with art galleries, eclectic restaurants, a world-class Opera house, flamenco dancing, music venues, and a central plaza where people can enjoy the “lively soul of the city.”
Santa Fe has a long history of art, known for its turquoise jewelry, paintings, and bronze sculptures. Ranked as one of three largest art markets in the U.S., it is a center for immersive, contemporary, sculptural, architectural, open space, and new media arts. Art districts abound, including Canyon Road, Siler Yard, the Railyard, Baca Street, Site Santa Fe, downtown, and more.
Celebrating folk art and cultural traditions, the Indian Market, Spanish Market, International Folk Art Market, Spanish Fiestas, and Zozobra are among the most famous events in Santa Fe, drawing thousands of people from around the world.
Santa Fe’s central plaza is considered to be the end of the Santa Fe Trail, which snakes through the state from its northeast corner. Pueblo craftspeople sell their wares there by the Palace of the Governors, an adobe structure that dates back to 1610 and houses the New Mexico History Museum. In recognition of its historical and architectural significance, the plaza is a designated a National Historic Landmark and recognized as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Heading north on the Turquoise Trail, the Tiwa people of Taos Pueblo continue many of the traditions of their ancestors. Their golden-brown adobe structures at Taos Pueblo led Spanish soldiers some 400 years ago to believe they had discovered a lost city of gold. Today, still inhabited after 1,000 years of tradition, Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark.
In 1540, Capitan Hernando Alvarado as part of the expedition of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado arrived in the Taos Valley. In 1598, Juan Belarde, secretary to Don Juan de Onate heard the Picuris Indians pointing to the northeast, say that their relatives, the “Tao,” lived in that direction, the “place of red willows.” In 1760, Spanish settlers named the village “Don Fernando de Taos.” From 1809 – 1868, noted frontiersman Kit Carson also called Taos home.
Taos has a long history as an art colony and spiritual community where Hispanic, American Indian, Anglo, and other cultures find creative inspiration. Rich in visual and lively arts, music, and distinctive crafts, the town has a number of mystical qualities, one of which is known as the “Taos Hum.” Theories about what causes this low-frequency hum range from secret experiments in Los Alamos, top-secret military flight activity, to electromagnetic vibrations emitted by Taos Mountain or alien spacecraft. Not everyone can hear the “mountain song,” in fact, only about two percent of the population can pick up this unusual sound. Lore in the area speaks of “Nature holding counsel” with her own, and as she “sings,” she resets harmony. El Salto is also a peak in the Taos Mountain range. Seven waterfalls cascade down its side in summer and form giant ice sculptures in winter. For generations, El Salto has been viewed as a holy mountain that baptizes the valley with its singing waters. Caves that are behind many of the waterfalls catch the sound of the cascading water and echo it across the valley. Taos Mountain is also considered sacred by the Tiwa.
Albuquerque: The Duke City
Flanked by the Sandia Mountains to the north, Manzano Mountains to the east, and rugged lava slopes to the south and west, Albuquerque sprawls across the Chihuahuan Desert, nestled into the Albuquerque Basin. At sunset, its surrounding mountains glow a stunning pink and green. Home to nearly a million residents, it is the state’s largest and most populated city. At nearly 5,000 feet, its elevation is also one of the highest of any major U.S. city. Bordered by mesas and long-dead volcanoes with the Rio Grande and bosque flowing through it, Albuquerque is a hub for technology and media companies, nuclear engineering, historic landmarks, the University of New Mexico, the Gathering of Nations, the New Mexico State Fair, and numerous diverse restaurants, craft breweries, and art galleries. Its Old Town also contains numerous historic buildings.
Of worldwide fame, however, is its International Balloon Fiesta, the largest balloon festival in the world. Held for nine days north of Albuquerque during the fall, more than 500 massive, brightly decorated hot air balloons launch simultaneously from Balloon Fiesta Park, filling the sky with a stunning, colorful spectacle. At night, balloon operators also often fire their burners, creating a soft Balloon Glow lifting into the stars.
Historically, Albuquerque’s downtown grew due to a realignment of Route 66 in the 1930s. The now famous highway ran from 1926 to 1985. However, 18 miles of it still runs through Albuquerque’s city center and Old Town, the longest urban stretch of Route 66 in the country. Abuquerque’s Old Town plaza, built around the adobe church, San Felipe de Neri, is a lively gathering place for cultural events.
Albuquerque dates back to 2,000 B.C. when Paleo-Indian hunter-gatherers lived in the area. The Navajo, Apache, and Comanche peoples also likely set camps and traded in the area centuries before Europeans arrived. Spanish explorers arrived in 1540. Founded in 1706 by Nuevo México governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdés as “La Villa de Alburquerque,” the city was named for the Viceroy of New Spain, the 10th Duke of Alburquerque. The first “r” was later dropped from the name, Albuquerque. The city became an outpost on El Camino Real linking Mexico City to the northernmost territories of New Spain.
After 1821, Mexico also had a military presence in Albuquerque. Then from 1939 – 1949, the establishment of Kirtland Air Force Base, Sandia Base, and Sandia National Laboratories, launched Albuquerque into the Atomic Age.
Today, two Tiwa pueblos are on the outskirts of Albuquerque; Sandia Pueblo, which was founded in the 14th century, and the Pueblo of Isleta, which has written history that dates back to the 17th century. Both pueblos have been inhabited for centuries.
The Navajo Nation has a population of 29,800 people, of which 106,800 live in New Mexico. Research suggests the first Navajo Athapaskan people came to New Mexico around 1300 and settled just east of Farmington. By the 1400s, the Navajos and Pueblo Indians were peaceably coexisting. The Navajo learned farming from the Pueblo people, and by the 1600s were producing their own crops.
As the Navajo Nation grew, they began to migrate to other part of the southwest, with Mount Taylor in New Mexico as their primary destination. Meanwhile, the Spaniards had already colonized New Mexico along the Rio Grande River. When Santa Fe was founded in 1610, contact between the Navajos and Spaniards developed. Navajos quickly became better horsemen than the Spaniards. Wars broke out between the two groups, as well as between the Navajos and the Pueblos.
In August 1846, General Kearny of the American Army rode into Santa Fe seeking to bring the New Mexican people to his side. Upon learning the Navajo and Apache were at war with the New Mexicans, he decided to help the New Mexicans to inspire their support. Antonio Sandoval, a Navajo leader from the Mount Taylor area, offered to help the Americans make peace with the Navajo. In 1868, a peace treaty was signed. The Navajo kept their promise, but other groups did not, so the Americans thought the Navajo had broken their treaty. The misunderstanding caused havoc. Subsequently, numerous treaties were negotiated but quickly broken and the wars continued. In one fight, a great Navajo leader, Narbona, was killed. His son-in-law, Manuelito, vowed to take revenge on the Americans and New Mexicans for killing his father-in-law. Between 1849 and 1851, Navajos raided settlements across New Mexico and attacked
the Jemez, Zuni, Acoma, Laguna, and Isleta pueblos. To stop Navajo raids, the Americans built Fort Defiance in 1851.
In 1855, nearly all the fighting was over due to the efforts of Zarcillos Largos, a Navajo leader, and Henry Dodge, an Indian agent at the Fort Defiance. However, in 1856, Dodge was killed by Apache warriors, escalating the tension. Then a Navajo man, while visiting Fort Defiance, killed Major Brook’s black slave. In retaliation, the Fort Defiance commander, the American cavalry, New Mexicans, Utes, and Pueblos charged into Canyon de Chelly and destroyed every Navajo home they could find. They even attacked Zarcillos Largos’ people, who were camped north of Fort Defiance. Zarcillos Largos attempted signing of another peace treaty, but the peace did not last for long. In 1861, he was ambushed and killed by Zuni and New Mexicans raiders. This infuriated Manuelito, who vowed to continue his fight against the Americans.
In 1862, General James Carleton became the commander of the American troops in New Mexico. He believed all Navajos were warlike and their leaders could not be trusted. He wanted to force all Navajos to go to a reservation and had his men build Fort Sumner, located near the salty Pecos River. Navajos called it “Hweeldi,” meaning a “place of suffering and fear.” Ironically, scout Christopher “Kit” Carson, who had been drawn to Native American culture, had learned several of their languages, and had married two Native American women, caught General Carleton’s attention. In 1853, Carson had served as a federal Indian agent, working primarily with the Utes and the Jicarilla Apaches. Seeing the impact of the white settlers’ migration on them, he believed their attacks were due to desperation. To prevent them from becoming extinct, Carson had advocated for the creation of Indian reservations. However, General Carleton wanted New Mexicans and Utes to help the American soldiers invade Navajo land. After learning about the plan, Navajo leaders again met with the General in Santa Fe and again at Fort Wingate in 1863, once again with the hope of establishing peace in the region. They told the General that the Navajos were a peaceful people and would help the American soldiers stop any outlaw Navajos who were attacking New Mexican settlements. However, the General did not believe them. The Navajo were given until July 20,1863 to surrender. When they did not comply with the order, Kit Carson raided their homeland and led violent campaigns against tribes in the region, most infamously one to force the Navajo to relocate to the Bosque Redondo reservation at Fort Sumner. Carson and his men destroyed crops and killed livestock, enabling enemy tribes of the Navajo to follow with their own attacks. Overwhelmed by starvation and exhaustion, the Navajo surrendered in 1864 and were forced to march about 300 miles to the reservation. The journey, known as the Long Walk, proved to be brutal, costing the Navajo people hundreds of lives. Children and old or weak people who could not keep pace with the group were shot dead by soldiers. Carson would later negotiate a peace treaty with the Ute before resigning in 1867, but life for the Navajo at Fort Sumner was desperate. The Pecos’s saline water damaged their intestines, disease spread rapidly, and armyworm destroyed corn crops. Two thousand Navajo (Diné) people died there. In May 1968, Civil War General Tecumseh Sherman arrived at Fort Sumner. Horrified by what he saw, he met with twenty-nine Navajo leaders, and on June 1, 1868, a final treaty was signed. The Navajos were granted territory in their traditional homeland.
Today’s Navajo people carry the traditions of their ancestors. Navajo life is family-centered and rich in ceremony. A quote from Spider Woman’s Children: Navajo Weavers Today by Lynda Teller Pete and Barbara Teller Ornelas speaks to that spirit.
“We are the enduring Diné. We have preserved through warfare, starvation, and forced relocations. We are warriors. Most of us are given warrior names at birth; our umbilical cords are buried in our homesteads. We honor these warrior names by living each day, rising with the sun, giving our blessings, and being productive to the best of our potential, to be in Hózhó. Hózhóis our way of life, to live in balance and beauty.”
Mount Taylor, located in northwest New Mexico, is a composite volcano that is one of four mountains sacred to the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Navajo Nation. A pilgrimage site for at least 30 Native American tribes, the Hopi, Zuni, Laguna, and Acoma regard Mount Taylor as a place to connect with their ancestors. To the Navajo, it is central to their creation. Navajo legend says that Mount Taylor (Tsoodzil – Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain) was planted by First Man, made of a turquoise blanket, soil of Tsoozil and pieces of turquoise. Holy people that give corn for plants and wind for the life of the mountain are said to live in Mount Taylor. The mountain is believed to have the power to make small plans into large ones. Four sacred mountains surround Dinétah (the Navajo homeland), providing deep connections between the land, spirituality, and culture in the Diné (Navajo) world. Áłtsé Hastiin (First Man) and Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́ (First Woman) placed these sacred mountains in each of the four directions, representing the four cardinal directions. These mountains are Blanca Peak to the east, Sisnaajiní, “the dawn,” or “white shell mountain,” (representing positive thinking and considered the most sacred of all the mountains), Humphrey Peak, to the west, Dook’o’oosłííd, “the summit which never melts” or “abalone shell mountain,” (representing social unity and life), Hesperus Mountain (Big Sheep or Obsidian Mountain), the sacred mountain of the north, Dibé Nitsaa, (representing peace and harmony), and Mount Taylor, to the south in New Mexico, Tsoodził, “turquoise mountain,” or “blue bead,” (the power to grow small plans to large ones by way of Blessing, Chanting, and Warrior Ways).
Fifteen miles southwest of Shiprock, New Mexico, is another site sacred to the Navajo. Surrounded by a vast desert, an imposing rock structure jutting into the sky is the remains of a volcano that erupted some 30 million years ago. Pioneers who settled in the area believed the rock resembled a ship, hence the nearby town was named Shiprock. Used as a backdrop for nine feature films, the singular rock formation appears otherworldly in the stark environment. For centuries, the “rock with wings” has been sacred to the Navajo people, who call it Tse Bit’ a’i. One legend claims that Shiprock is the remains of a giant bird that once carried the Navajo ancestors to New Mexico from northern territories. Another legend tells of original Navajos who lived on the rock who would only come down to tend to their crops. This story claims that one day when the men were down below, lightning struck and destroyed the pathway back to the top. Women and children trapped at the top starved to death. Fearful that the ghosts of those stranded at the top would be disturbed, the elders refused to let anyone climb Shiprock.
Despite the legend, by the 1930s, rock climbers sought to scale its challenging, steep sides. However, in the 1960s, an accident caused the Navajo Nation to ban climbing. To this day, in keeping with their beliefs, hiking, camping, or climbing is not allowed on the peak or on any of the rocks surrounding it. Driving on the dirt road that leads to Shiprock is also forbidden. The Navajo adhere strictly to this rule.
El Camino Real, Santa Fe Trail, and Santa Fe Railway
The expansion of transportation is, sadly, a part of the history of colonization and stolen indigenous land in New Mexico, but it is also what enabled the state’s commerce to grow. The El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the “Royal Road of the Interior,” was the earliest Euro-American trade route in the United States, and North America’s longest cultural route for nearly 300 years. It enabled the immigration of Spanish colonists to New Mexico, fostered the spread of Catholicism to the area, supported mining growth, and facilitated trade and commerce. Today, the highway U.S. 101 runs primarily along this route.
The 869-mile Santa Fe Trail (1821-1880), for which Santa Fe’s transit district is named, was a wagon trail linking Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, and an important commercial route. It took eight to ten weeks to reach Santa Fe. Santa Fe Railway reached Lamy in 1879, but the railroad decided against extending it due to the steep grade through the mountains. Instead, they built a 17-mile spur line into Santa Fe. On February 9, 1880, a Santa Fe Railway company train finally arrived at the Santa Fe railroad depot, ending the Santa Fe Trail. However, for history enthusiasts, most trail sites can still be reached by auto, bicycle, or on foot.
New Mexico and the Civil War
Fought at Glorieta Pass in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in what is now New Mexico and dubbed the “Gettysburg of the West” by some, the Battle of Glorieta Pass (March 26–28, 1862) was a decisive battle during the American Civil War. Confederate forces intended to break the Union possession of the West along the base of the Rocky Mountains to gain access to the gold and silver mines of California, the Colorado Territory, and seaports in Southern California. However, although they were able to push the Union force back through the pass, they had to retreat when their supply train was destroyed and most of their horses and mules were killed or driven off. Eventually they had to withdraw entirely from the New Mexico territory and lost the campaign.
Los Alamos and the Atomic Age
New Mexico’s military presence includes the White Sands Missile Range and the federal research centers of Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. Historically, the state hosted several key facilities of the Manhattan Project, which developed the world’s first atomic bomb, and was the site of the first nuclear test, Trinity. Los Alamos, New Mexico, was the site of Project Y, or the top-secret atomicweapons laboratory directed by physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The design for the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, was developed there. The Los Alamos site was so top-secret that it only had one mailbox, PO Box 1663, that served as the mailing address for the entire town. Los Alamos was not on any map and those who lived and worked there were not allowed to tell friends or family where they were going. Nearby Santa Fe locals knew something was going on in Los Alamos but had no idea what it was. Information on the Manhattan Project’s sites and the scientists who worked there can be found in the book, Guide to the Manhattan Project in New Mexico.
Nothing is more popularly associated with New Mexico than the lore of an alien crash in Roswell. In the summer of 1947, a rancher discovered an unidentified piece of debris in his sheep pasture. Many people believed it was pieces of an unidentified flying saucer and that deceased aliens had been found aboard and removed for study. In early 1990, Walter Haut, who had been the public information officer at Roswell Army Airfield in 1947, began promoting the idea of a home for information on the Roswell Incident and other UFO phenomena. The International UFO Museum and Research Center was founded. Nearly 50 years after the alleged crash, the U.S. military linked the Roswell incident to a top-secret atomic espionage project involving microphones flown on high-altitude balloons called Project Mogul. Its primary purpose was long-distance detection of sound waves generated by Soviet atomic bomb tests. The top-secret project was carried out from 1947 until early 1949. However, the lore of aliens, crop circles, Area 51, ancient astronauts, and abductions still continues to draw hundreds of visitors to Roswell’s UFO Museum each year.
The history of New Mexico is compelling and the land astonishingly beautiful, but the power of New Mexico is most deeply felt in its people and the generations of tradition that are woven into their rich texture of multicultural life. For them, New Mexico will always be a “Land of Enchantment.”
By: Catherine Lenox