New Mexico: Land of Enchantment
Geography and Industry
New Mexico straddles the Continental Divide in the western part of the state. Eastern New Mexico is covered by dry plains that get very little water. The Rio Grande River runs south from its source in Colorado through the state, and forms neighboring Texas's long border with Mexico. The mountain ranges that form spurs of the Rockies include the Sangre de Cristos, which rise to heights of nearly 14,000 feet in places.
Because water is so scarce in New Mexico, there is little fertile land. The land that is available is used mostly for grazing. Cattle and sheep raising are still major industries in New Mexico.
There are very few fruits and vegetables grown in New Mexico aside from hay, onions, potatoes, and grapes grown in the Rio Grande Valley. These grapes are used to make wine. In fact, New Mexico was the first place in the United States where vineyards were planted and grown, going back to 1610!
Parts of New Mexico are made up of limestone bluffs that are the remains of an ancient undersea reef. These bluffs have been eroded by wind and rain, and have been sculpted into gorgeous and strangely shaped mesas. Underground, the limestone in this region has been eroded by groundwater to form huge limestone caves, complete with stalactites and stalagmites!
Like other states with the Rocky Mountains running through them, New Mexico is rich in minerals. These include ore like copper, manganese, silver, tin, and uranium. Turquoise is found in the state in large quantities. There is a lot of natural gas in New Mexico, but not much petroleum or coal.
One out of every four people who hold a job in New Mexico works for the U.S. government. There are many military bases in the state, and some national observatories (places where scientists use telescopes to study the stars). Los Alamos, where the first atomic bombs were designed and built, is still a working government laboratory.
New Mexico gets millions of tourists every year. Aztec Ruins National Monument (which marks Pueblo ruins, not Aztec ones, despite the name!) and Carlsbad Caverns National Park are just a couple of the most popular places for tourists to go in the state. In the north, the very old city of Taos is the site of a number of art festivals that also draw lots of visitors every year.
ALL ABOUT New Mexico
CAPITAL: Santa Fe
LARGEST CITY: Albuquerque
POPULATION: 1,819,046 (2000 Census)
STATE BIRD: Roadrunner
STATE TREE: Pinon
STATE FLOWER: Yucca
STATE MOTTO: “Crescit Eundo (It Grows as It Goes)”
STATEHOOD: January 6, 1912
POSTAL ABBREVIATION: NM
WORDS TO KNOW
What's the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, the rock deposits that look like icicles in underground caves? A stalactite hangs from the ceiling, and is formed by limestone deposits left behind by groundwater dripping from the ceiling toward the floor. Some of the limestone gets left behind on the floor where the water drips, and builds up into formations called stalagmites.
As was the case with most of the states in the Southwest, the Spanish were the first Europeans to visit New Mexico. Before they came to New Mexico during the 1500s, the land was occupied by a flourishing Pueblo civilization that had been in place farming the river bottoms of the Rio Grande and other rivers such as the Pecos.
The first Spaniards to visit the region were the conquistadors who followed Captain General Francisco Vasquez de Coronado north from Mexico in 1540. Coronado was looking for the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola, which were supposedly so full of gold that the natives paved their streets with it. Although he rode all the way into what is now western Kansas, all Coronado found were Pueblo farmers and plains tribes.
He did, however, leave a lasting impression on the Native Americans of New Mexico. Coronado and his men were needlessly cruel to the tribes they encountered. As a result, over and over again during the following two centuries, the Pueblos and the Apaches (who lived in western New Mexico and what is now Arizona) fought very hard against the Spanish as they tried to establish a colony and a mission system.
The Carlsbad Cavern system contains over eighty different caves, including Lechuguilla Cave, which is the deepest cave in the United States! It was discovered in 1986, and has been measured down to a depth of nearly 1,567 feet (That is deeper than a 110-story sky-scraper!). It has not been completely explored yet, so it might be even deeper!
In 1609 a colonial government was established at Taos, which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited European-built cities in North America. By 1680, the Spanish colonial government had again so angered the local Native Americans that the tribes once again went to war. This time, things were different; the Spanish lost, and they had to flee from New Mexico. The Pueblos and Apaches were able to keep the Spanish out of New Mexico for over twelve years!
Just over a century later, Mexico won its independence from Spain. That year New Mexico (which included what is now Arizona) became a Mexican province. The Mexicans were interested in trade with their neighbors to the north, and encouraged American traders to come to Mexico to do business. By 1822 (a year after Mexico became independent), American traders had established what we now call the Santa Fe Trail, which ran from what is now Kansas down to Santa Fe in New Mexico.
In 1846 Mexico and the United States went to war over Mexico's northern provinces. Mexico lost, and part of the result was that New Mexico became an American territory. New Mexico became a state in 1912, just ahead of Arizona, which had made up the other half of New Mexico territory when it first joined the United States!
WORDS TO KNOW
The word “pueblo” has a couple of different meanings. It comes from the type of adobe (mud brick) buildings built by several different cultures in the Southwest. It has also come to stand as a collective name for the cultures (the Anasazi, the Zuni, the Hopi, and so on) who built with it. Adobe is still used as a building material to this day in the region!