The State of New Mexico
AT A GLANCE
Name: New Mexico was named after Mexico by Spanish explorers in the 16th century.
Nickname: Land of Enchantment
Capital: Santa Fe
Size: 121,598 sq. mi. (314,939 sq km)
Population: 2,085,109 (2015 est)
Statehood: New Mexico became the 47th state on January 6, 1912.
Electoral votes: 5 (2016)
U.S. representatives: 3 (until 2016)
State tree: pinon
State flower: yucca
State animal: black bear
Highest point: Wheeler Peak, 13,161 ft. (4,011 m)
New Mexico, a southwestern state, is the fifth-largest state in area but is one of the least populated. The eastern third of New Mexico is part of the Great Plains, and irrigation has made parts of this area into good farmland. The Rocky Mountains extend through the middle of New Mexico.
Snow from the tops of these mountains provides water for crop irrigation in the Rio Grande valley. To the south and west of the Rockies, toward the borders with Arizona and Mexico, are more isolated mountain ranges.
Desert basins lie between some of these mountains. The northwestern corner of New Mexico is the most unusual, with rugged valleys, plains, canyons, cliffs, and flat-topped hills called mesas. (Mesa is Spanish for “table.”)
New Mexico has few lakes, but forests cover about one-fourth of the state. Desert plants, including cactus and sage, are common in the driest regions. New Mexico's climate is warm and dry, and the state receives less than 20 inches (51 cm) of rain or snow each year. The northern mountains receive the majority of New Mexico's precipitation. New Mexico has plentiful deposits of oil, natural gas, and uranium.
Facts and Firsts
- Santa Fe, at 7,000 feet (2,134 m) above sea level, is the highest capital city in the United States. Its Palace of Governors, built in 1610, is the oldest government building in the United States.
- The Taos Pueblo, outside the city of Taos, has been occupied for more than 900 years.
- In several small, isolated villages in north-central New Mexico, including Truchas, Chimayo, and Coyote, some residents still speak a form of 16th-century Spanish that is extinct in the rest of the world.
- Three-quarters of New Mexico's roads are unpaved. The climate is so dry that these roads do not wash away.
- New Mexico's state flower, the yucca, can be woven into rope, baskets, and sandals.
- In 1945, the first atomic bomb, which was manufactured in Los Alamos, was tested at the White Sands Testing Site outside of Alamogordo.
- More than one-third of New Mexican families speaks Spanish at home.
New Mexico has been the home of Native Americans for more than 10,000 years. One of the most advanced Native American groups, the Anasazi, built cliff dwellings that still stand today. One of these dwellings, the Pueblo Bonito, was an apartment building–like structure with between 600 and 700 rooms. Descendants of the Anasazi, the Pueblo, still live in New Mexico today.
The Spanish explored New Mexico in the 1530s after they had traveled from Florida to Mexico. Upon their return to Europe, they told stories of seven mythical cities made of gold that referred to New Mexico. The lure of riches attracted other explorers, and a Spanish colony was established near the Chama River in 1598.
The Spanish imposed forced labor, taxation, and the Roman Catholic religion on the native peoples, who revolted and attacked the Spaniards.
In the 1700s, trappers from the American East made their way into New Mexico. They were friendly with the Mexican government, which took control of New Mexico in 1821. The United States won New Mexico from Mexico in 1848. In 1850, New Mexico became a U.S. territory.
Fighting between the native peoples and Mexican and American settlers took place during this entire period.
Native American unrest lasted until 1886, when the Apache leader Geronimo surrendered to the United States. Fighting between the new settlers was common also, as outlaws such as Billy the Kid fought sheriffs like Pat Garrett, the sheriff of Lincoln County.
During the late 1800s, new railroads linked New Mexico with the rest of the country, and the territory enjoyed a mining and cattle boom. In 1912, New Mexico entered the Union as a state.
Cattle ranching was the most common occupation in the state until the 1920s, when oil was discovered. In 1930, the famous Carlsbad Caverns became the site of a national park, and brought tourists to the state.
New Mexico played an important role in World War II, when the first atomic bombs were built at Los Alamos, a nuclear science research center. Scientific research conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1940s and 1950s led to growth in many of New Mexico's industries. Another boost to the economy came from the tourist industry, which grew during the 1960s and 1970s with the construction of winter sports resorts.
New Mexico's economy was hurt in the early 1990s when the U.S. government curtailed spending on military research, but growth in the tourism and manufacturing industries helped the state to recover.
Today, scientists at Los Alamos continue to conduct research, but their studies are now on nuclear energy. Nuclear weapons research is performed at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque. Large plants located near Albuquerque produce military communications equipment and computer chips.
Mining and manufacturing are other key industries in New Mexico. Mines bring millions of gallons of oil and natural gas from the ground. Companies in the state produce chemicals, clothing, petroleum products, and primary metals.
Cattle ranching continues to be New Mexico's most important agricultural activity. Farms, which occupy about 55 percent of New Mexico's land, grow hay, chili peppers, pecans, cotton, onions, and wheat.
New Mexico, with its rich, colorful history, unique scenery, and winter sports, attracts thousands of tourists every year. As more people are attracted to the state because of its warm, dry climate, New Mexico has become one of the country's fastestgrowing states.
Born in New Mexico
- John Denver, singer and songwriter
- Conrad Hilton, hotel executive
- Peter Hurd, artist
- Maria Martinez, artist
- Demi Moore, actress
- Bill Mauldin, political cartoonist
- Al Unser, auto racer
- Linda Wertheimer, radio journalist