New Mexico is a state in the Southwestern Region of the United States of America. It is one of the Mountain States and shares the Four Corners region with Utah, Colorado, and Arizona; its other neighboring states are Oklahoma to the northeast, Texas to the east-southeast, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua to the south and Sonora to the southwest.
The economy of New Mexico is dependent on oil drilling, mineral extraction, dryland farming, cattle ranching, lumber milling, and retail trade.
Inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years before European exploration, it was colonized by the Spanish in 1598 as part of the Imperial Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain.
Origin of the Name:
New Mexico received its name long before the present-day nation of Mexico won independence from Spain and adopted that name in 1821. Spanish explorers recorded this region as New Mexico (Nuevo México in Spanish) in 1563. In 1581, the Chamuscado and Rodríguez Expedition named the region north of the Rio Grande “San Felipe del Nuevo México”.
The Spaniards hoped to find wealthy Mexican Indian cultures there similar to those of the Aztec (Mexica) Empire of the Valley of Mexico. The indigenous cultures of New Mexico, however, proved to be unrelated to the Aztecs, and were not wealthy. Before statehood, the name “New Mexico” was applied to various configurations of the U.S. Territory, to a Mexican state, and to a province of New Spain, all in the same general area, but of varying extensions.
The New Mexican landscape ranges from wide, rose-colored deserts to broken mesas to high, snow-capped peaks. Despite New Mexico’s arid image, heavily forested mountain wildernesses cover a significant portion of the state, especially towards the north. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost part of the Rocky Mountains, run roughly north–south along the east side of the Rio Grande in the rugged, pastoral north.
The U.S. government protects millions of acres of New Mexico as national forests, national parks and national monuments.
The climate of New Mexico is generally semiarid to arid, though areas of continental and alpine climates exist, and its territory is mostly covered by mountains, high plains, and desert. The Great Plains (High Plains) are in Eastern New Mexico, similar to the Colorado high plains in eastern Colorado. The two states share similar terrain, with both having plains, mountains, basins, mesas, and desert lands.
The first known inhabitants of New Mexico were members of the Clovis culture of Paleo-Indians.
Later inhabitants include American Indians of the Mogollon and Ancestral Pueblo peoples cultures. By the time of European contact in the 16th century, the region was settled by the villages of the Pueblo peoples and groups of Navajo, Apache, and Ute.
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado assembled an enormous expedition at Compostela in 1540–1542 to explore and find the mythical Seven Golden Cities of Cibola as described by Fray Marcos de Niza. The name Nuevo México was first used by a seeker of gold mines named Francisco de Ibarra, who explored far to the north of New Spain in 1563 and reported his findings as being in “a New Mexico”.
Juan de Oñate officially established the name when he was appointed the first governor of the new Province of New Mexico in 1598. The same year, he founded the San Juan de los Caballeros colony, the first permanent European settlement in the future state of New Mexico, on the Rio Grande near Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. Oñate extended El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, Royal Road of the Interior, by 700 miles from Santa Bárbara, Chihuahua, to his remote colony.
The settlement of Santa Fe was established at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains, around 1608.
The city, along with most of the settled areas of the state, was abandoned by the Spanish for 12 years (1680–92) as a result of the successful Pueblo Revolt. After the death of the Pueblo leader Popé, Diego de Vargas restored the area to Spanish rule. While developing Santa Fe as a trade center, the returning settlers founded Albuquerque in 1706 from existing surrounding communities, naming it for the viceroy of New Spain, Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, 10th Duke of Albuquerque.
As a part of New Spain, the claims for the province of New Mexico passed to independent Mexico in 1821 following the Mexican War of Independence. The Republic of Texas claimed the portion east of the Rio Grande when it seceded from Mexico in 1836, when it incorrectly assumed the older Hispanic settlements of the upper Rio Grande were the same as the newly established Mexican settlements of Texas. Texas’s only attempt to establish a presence or control in the claimed territory was the failed Texan Santa Fe Expedition. Their entire army was captured and jailed by Hispanic New Mexico militia.
At the turn of the 19th century, the extreme northeastern part of New Mexico, north of the Canadian River and east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, was still claimed by France, which sold it in 1803 to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The United States assigned this portion of New Mexico as part of the Louisiana Territory until 1812; that year Louisiana was admitted as a state. The US then reclassified this area as part of the Missouri Territory. This region of the state (along with territory that makes up present-day southeastern Colorado, the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, and southwestern Kansas) was ceded to Spain under the Adams-Onis Treaty in 1819.
The independent Republic of Texas also claimed this portion of New Mexico. By 1800, the Spanish population had reached 25,000, but Apache and Comanche raids on Hispanic settlers were common until well into the period of U.S. occupation.
United States Rule:
Following the victory of the United States in the Mexican–American War (1846–48), under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Mexico ceded its northern holdings, today known as the American Southwest and California, to the United States of America. The United States vowed to accept the residents’ claims to their lands and to accept them as full citizens with rights of suffrage. This acquisition of territory and residents resulted in Mexicans legally being classified as white, since at that time, in most of the southern United States, only whites could vote. Nevertheless, Texas and other western states raised barriers to voting and political participation by ethnic Mexicans, including barring them from serving on juries.
After Texas was admitted as a state to the Union, it continued to claim the northeastern portion of present-day New Mexico. Finally, in the Compromise of 1850, Texas ceded these claims to the United States of the area in New Mexico lying east of the Rio Grande, in exchange for $10 million.
Congress established the separate New Mexico Territory in September 1850.
It included most of the present-day states of Arizona and New Mexico, and part of Colorado. When the boundary was fixed, a surveyor’s error awarded the Permian Basin to the State of Texas. New Mexico dropped its claims to the Permian in a bid to gain statehood in 1911.
In 1853, the United States acquired the mostly desert southwestern boot heel of the state and southern Arizona below the Gila River in the Gadsden Purchase. It wanted to control lands needed for the right-of-way in order to encourage construction of a transcontinental railroad.
New Mexico in the Civil War:
New Mexico played a role in the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War. Both Confederate and Union governments claimed ownership and territorial rights over New Mexico Territory. In 1861, the Confederacy claimed the southern tract as its own Arizona Territory and waged the ambitious New Mexico Campaign in an attempt to control the American Southwest and open up access to Union California. Confederate power in the New Mexico Territory was effectively broken after the Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862. However, the Confederate territorial government continued to operate out of Texas, and Confederate troops marched under the Arizona flag until the end of the war. Additionally, more than 8,000 men from New Mexico Territory served in the Union Army.
In the late 19th century, the majority of officially European-descended residents in New Mexico were ethnic Mexicans, many of whom had deep roots in the area from early Spanish colonial times. Politically, they still controlled most of the town and county offices through area elections, and wealthy sheepherder families commanded considerable influence. The Anglo-Americans tended to have more ties to the territorial governor and judges, who were appointed by officials out of the region. The two groups struggled for power and the future of the territory. The Anglo minority was “outnumbered, but well-organized and growing”. Anglo-Americans made distinctions between the wealthy Mexicans and poor, ill-educated laborers.
20th and 21st Centuries:
European-American settlers in the state had an uneasy relationship with the large Native American tribes, most of whose members lived on reservations at the beginning of the 20th century. Although Congress passed a law in 1924 that granted all Native Americans U.S. citizenship, as well as the right to vote in federal and state elections, New Mexico was among several states that restricted Indian voting by raising barriers to voter registration. Their constitution said that Indians who did not pay taxes could not vote, in their interpretation disqualifying those Native Americans who lived on reservations.
A major oil discovery in 1928 brought prosperity to the state, especially Lea County and the town of Hobbs. Drilled to 4,330 feet and completed a few months later, the well produced 700 barrels of oil per day on state land.
During World War II, the first atomic bombs were designed and manufactured at Los Alamos, a site developed by the federal government specifically to support a high-intensity scientific effort to rapidly complete research and testing of this weapon. The first bomb was tested at Trinity site in the desert between Socorro and Alamogordo on what is now White Sands Missile Range.
New Mexico has benefited greatly from federal government spending on major military and research institutions in the state. It is home to three Air Force bases, White Sands Missile Range, and the federal research laboratories Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
The state’s population grew rapidly after World War II, growing from 531,818 in 1940 to 1,819,046 in 2000. Both residents and businesses moved to the state; some northerners came at first for the mild winters; others for retirement.
In the late 20th century, Native Americans were authorized by federal law to establish gaming casinos on their reservations under certain conditions, in states which had authorized such gaming. Such facilities have helped tribes close to population centers to generate revenues for reinvestment in economic development and welfare of their peoples.
In the 21st century, employment growth areas in New Mexico include microelectronics, call centers, and Indian casinos.
Oil and gas production, tourism, and federal government spending are important drivers of the state economy. State government has an elaborate system of tax credits and technical assistance to promote job growth and business investment, especially in new technologies.
New Mexico is the third-largest crude oil and ninth-largest natural gas producer in the United States. The Permian and San Juan Basins, which are located partly in New Mexico, account for some of these natural resources. In 2000 the value of oil and gas produced was $8.2 billion, and in 2006, New Mexico accounted for 3.4% of the crude oil, 8.5% of the dry natural gas, and 10.2% of the natural gas liquids produced in the United States.
Many of the federal jobs relate to the military. A May 2005 estimate by New Mexico State University is that 11.65% of the state’s total employment arises directly or indirectly from military spending.
New Mexico provides a number of economic incentives to businesses operating in the state, including various types of tax credits and tax exemptions. Most of the incentives are based on job creation.
The state provides financial incentives for film production. The New Mexico Film Office estimated at the end of 2007 that the incentive program had brought more than 85 film projects to the state since 2003 and had added $1.2 billion to the economy.
New Mexico has long been an important corridor for trade and migration including in pre-historic times.
The Santa Fe Trail was the 19th-century US territory’s vital commercial and military highway link to the Eastern United States.
All with termini in Northern New Mexico, the Camino Real, the Santa Fe Trail and the Old Spanish Trail are all recognized as National Historic Trails. New Mexico’s latitude and low passes made it an attractive east-west transportation corridor. As a territory, the Gadsden Purchase increased New Mexico’s land area for the purpose of the construction of a southern transcontinental railroad, that of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Another transcontinental railroad was completed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The railroads essentially replaced the earlier trails but brought on a population boom. Early transcontinental auto trails later crossed the state bringing more migrants. Railroads were later supplemented or replaced by a system of highways and airports. Today, New Mexico’s Interstate Highways approximate the earlier land routes of the Camino Real, the Santa Fe Trail and the transcontinental railroads.
Settlers moving West during the Great Depression and post-World War II American culture immortalized the National Old Trails Highway, later U.S. Route 66. Today, New Mexico relies heavily upon the automobile for transportation.
The New Mexico Rail Runner Express is a commuter rail system serving the metropolitan area of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It began operation on July 14, 2006. The system runs from Belen to downtown Santa Fe.
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief passes through daily at stations in Gallup, Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas, and Raton, offering connections to Los Angeles, Chicago and intermediate points. The Sunset Limited makes stops three times a week in both directions at Lordsburg, and Deming, serving Los Angeles, New Orleans and intermediate points.
The Albuquerque International Sunport is the state’s primary port of entry for air transportation.
Other airports with limited commercial service in New Mexico include:
- Lea County Regional Airport (HOB)
- Roswell International Air Center (ROW)
- Santa Fe Regional Airport (SAF)
Rocket launches began in April 2007. It is undeveloped and has one tenant, UP Aerospace, launching small payloads. Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company, plans to make this their primary operating base.
Flag of New Mexico:
The flag of the U.S. state of New Mexico consists of a red sun symbol of the Zia on a field of yellow, and was officially introduced in 1925. It was designed in 1920, to highlight the state’s Native American Pueblo and Nuevo México Hispano roots. The colors evoke the flags of Habsburg Spain (the Cross of Burgundy), Spain and the Crown of Aragon, brought by the conquistadors.
The Daughters of the American Revolution pushed New Mexico to design a contemporary and unique flag in 1920. A contest to design the new state flag was won by Harry Mera of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mera was an archaeologist who was familiar with the Zia Sun symbol found at Zia Pueblo on a 19th-century pot. The symbol has sacred meaning to the Zia. Four is a sacred number which symbolizes the Circle of Life: the four directions, the four times of day, the four stages of life, and the four seasons. The circle binds the four elements of four together. His winning design is the flag that the state uses today.
During the first 14 years of statehood, New Mexico did not have an official flag. During the San Diego World’s Fair of 1915, the fair featured an exhibit hall in which all the state flags were displayed. Since New Mexico did not have an official flag, an unofficial flag was displayed, consisting of a blue field with the United States flag in the upper left corner, the words “New Mexico” and “47” (because New Mexico is the 47th state) in silver lettering in the center of the flag, and the state seal in the bottom right corner. Some historical references (including Cram’s Unrivaled Atlas of the World) also show the words “The Sunshine State” wrapped around the seal in the lower right corner.
That early flag was designed by Ralph Emerson Twitchell. This design was known as the “Twitchell flag”. As of 2005, the only known Twitchell flag in existence was displayed at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe.
The nickname for New Mexico is “The Land of Enchantment” (“Tierra del Encanto” in Spanish) because of New Mexico’s scenic beauty and rich history. The nickname was officially adopted in 1999.
“Land of Enchantment” first appeared on New Mexico license plates in 1941. The State Tourist Bureau and New Mexico magazine first used the phrase “The Land of Enchantment” in 1935 to encourage tourism to the state.