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Definition: New Mexico from Collins English Dictionary


1 a state of the southwestern US: high semiarid plateaus and mountains, crossed by the Rio Grande and the Pecos River; large Spanish-American and Indian populations; contains over two-thirds of US uranium reserves. Capital: Santa Fé. Pop: 1 874 614 (2003 est). Area: 314 451 sq km (121 412 sq miles) Abbreviation: N. Mex. or with zip code NM

Summary Article: New Mexico
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

State in southwestern USA, bordered in the north by Colorado, to the east by Oklahoma, to the east and south by Texas, to the south by Mexico, and to the west by Arizona; its northwest corner borders Arizona, Utah, and Colorado at the ‘Four Corners’; area 314,311 sq km/121,356 sq mi; population (2010) 2,059,179; capital Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the USA. New Mexico is known for its rich heritage and stunningly diverse landscapes – all the major biomes of the world, with the exception of the tropical rainforest, are found in the state. The state's most important river is the Rio Grande. The service industry and tourism are important elements in the economy of New Mexico, as are agriculture, mining, and the manufacture of electronic equipment. Major towns and cities include Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Roswell, and Farmington. The upper region of the Rio Grande was called Nuevo Mexico as early as 1561, becoming New Mexico after it was ceded to the USA following the Mexican War (1846–48). Home to the Pueblo Indians, Apache, and Navajo peoples, the state still has many traces of its early history, from prehistoric artefacts and adobe dwellings (made of sun-dried earth bricks), to remnants of pre-Columbian and Spanish architecture, making it a major tourist destination. New Mexico was admitted to the Union in 1912 as the 47th US state.

Physical New Mexico is the fifth largest state in the USA. Its shape is rectangular, except for a panhandle extending from the southwest corner. More than 75% of the area lies over 1,200 m/3,900 ft above sea level. Wheeler Peak is the state's high point at 4,014 m/13,161 ft; Red Bluff Reservoir, at 859 m/2,817 ft, is the low point.

Four major geological regions meet in New Mexico: the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, the Colorado Plateau, and the Basin and Range region. The Colorado Plateau stretches from neighbouring Arizona, Utah, and Colorado into northwestern New Mexico. The terrain is primarily highland, where erosion has created massive canyons and mesas (flat-topped, steep-sided plateaux).

The eastern third of the state lies at the western extreme of the Great Plains. The Llano Estacad (‘staked plains’ in Spanish) is an area of savannah grassland that is part of the Great Plains and runs along the Texan border and here are found some of the flattest lands on earth. The grassland's name comes from the stalks of the spiny-leaved yucca, New Mexico's state flower, which grows locally.

From Colorado into the central part of the state extend the southern Rocky Mountains, made up of the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan ranges. The Basin and Range region lies to the south of the Rocky Mountain area and is marked by rugged ranges separated by desert basins. It covers one-third of the state and includes the Guadalupe, Mogollon, Organ, Sacramento, and San Andres mountain ranges.

The Rio Grande flows southeast into Texas, bisecting New Mexico. Its floodplains have provided fertile agricultural land since prehistoric times. Other important rivers include the Pecos in the southeast, which has carved a canyon 1,000 feet deep and 30 to 50 feet wide; the North Canadian River, which rises in the Sangre de Cristo range and flows eastward; and the San Juan and Gila rivers, which lie west of the Continental Divide.

New Mexico's climate is mostly sunny, mild, and dry. Conditions can vary greatly depending on altitude, however, with higher mountain areas marked by a cooler and wetter climate. Winters are generally drier than summers.

Indigenous animals include the roadrunner, New Mexico's state bird, found in the Basin and Range region, and more species of mammals and birds than almost any other state, including the coatimundi, black bear, mountain lion, mule deer, pronghorn, elk, bushy-tailed woodrat, muskrat, yellow-bellied marmot, bobcat, cougar, and porcupine. Birds include the northern goshawk, blue grouse, band-tailed pigeon, several owl species, and woodpeckers.

Features New Mexico is perhaps best known for its pueblo villages, settlements of flat-roofed stone or adobe houses, that have existed since before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. A 400-room pueblo dwelling, occupied during a period before the 14th century, is preserved at the Aztec Ruins National Monument. Chaco Culture National Historic Park (a World Heritage Site) is a major centre of ancient American Indian heritage, containing the remains of pueblos, including Pueblo Bonito, the largest prehistoric American Indian dwelling excavated in the southwest, dating from the 12th century. The Navajo, Hopi, Jicarilla, and Mescalero Apache reservations preserve each people's history. Visitors to the La Jara Archeological Site on the Jicarilla reservation can see cliff dwellings, pictographs, and other ancient artefacts on display. Ski Apache on the Mescalero reservation is owned and operated by the tribe.

The world's largest gypsum sand dunes rise up from Tularosa Basin in White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo. Nearby is the Los Alamos National Laboratory, an atomic and space research centre where the first atomic bomb was developed and tested, and White Sands Missile Range, used by the US space shuttle programme.

Inscription Rock in El Murro National Park is a sandstone monolith, 61 m/200 ft high, on which hundreds of inscriptions are carved, including one by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate from 1605. The Malpais is a volcanic area featuring spatter cones, a 27 km-/17 mi-long lava tube system, and ice caves. The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument contains pit houses dating as far back as AD 100.

Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, with over 17,000 ancient rock drawings, reveals much about human inhabitation over the past 12,000 years. The ruins of the 15th-century Pueblo of Pecos and the remains of two Spanish missions (religious outposts) are contained in Pecos National Historic Park, located in a landmark area on the Santa Fe Trail.

In southeastern New Mexico, the Carlsbad Caverns form a gigantic subterranean maze, eroded out of a prehistoric reef. Also known as the bat reefs, the caverns are home to thousands of bats roosting beneath the ground.

Capulin Volcano is an example of a volcanic cinder cone that stands more than 366 m/1,200 ft above the surrounding High Plains of northeastern New Mexico. Long extinct, it is one of the most accessible, easily explored volcanoes in the world.

Carson National Forest, one of five in the state, contains 6,070 sq km/1.5 million acres of forested countryside and is home to Wheeler Peak.

Culture Albuquerque is New Mexico's largest city, home to the San Felipe de Neri Church and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, with the largest collection of American Indian arts and crafts in the southwest. Albuquerque hosts the New Mexico State Fair in September and the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in October. The New Mexico Philharmonic superseded the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra in 2011.

Santa Fe features Spanish mission-style architecture, the pueblo-style Palace of the Governors, St Francis Cathedral, the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Georgia O'Keefe Museum, and San Miguel Mission (1625), the oldest church still in use in the USA. The city is well known for its art galleries, specializing in southwestern art. The Santa Fe Opera Company performs in an outdoor theatre in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains during July and August. The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival was established in 1973. Other popular events include the Santa Fe Fiesta, commemorating the city's conquest by the Spanish in 1692.

During the 20th century, a thriving art community developed in Taos. Taos Pueblo (a World Heritage Site), home of the Tiwa-speaking American Indians, is one of the oldest communities in the USA. The city has the Taos Center for the Arts; Kit Carson home and museum, featuring Indian and Spanish art and 19th-century Western furniture; Ranchos de Taos; and the San Francisco de Asis Church, an early mission church built in 1815 by Franciscans. Taos Ski Valley, established in 1955, is a popular ski resort.

Fort Sumner State Monument commemorates the 9,000 American Indians forced into captivity during the mid-19th century when the US government attempted to control the land. Kiowa Ranch is where the English writer D H Lawrence stayed in the Sangre de Cristos Mountains in the 1920s.

Much of the state's cultural identity has been preserved in conjunction with its institutions of higher learning. Among the more notable are the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and New Mexico State University at Las Cruces.

Fishing, boating, and water skiing are popular at state lakes and reservoirs, along with rafting and kayaking on the lower Rio Grande. Snow skiing and snowboarding resorts are operated in several mountainous regions. Hiking and camping opportunities are available in New Mexico's five national forests. Land sailors race their three-wheeled crafts along the dry lakebeds west of Lordsburg, in the Great Overland Landsail Races.

GovernmentNew Mexico's state constitution New Mexico ratified its constitution in 1912, just prior to its acceptance into the Union. In 1969 a new constitution was proposed but rejected by state voters.

Structure of state government New Mexico has a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature, comprising a 42-member Senate, elected to four-year terms, and a 70-member House of Representatives, elected to two-year terms. The state sends three representatives and two senators to the US Congress and has five electoral votes in presidential elections.

The state has a plural executive system of government. The governor, who is elected to a four-year term, heads the executive branch but is not the only one vested with executive power. Republican Susana Martinez took the governorship in January 2011. In addition to the usual privileges of pardon, reprieve, and veto, the governor also appoints most officials to state boards, agencies, and commissions. Other state executives include the lieutenant governor, elected on the same ticket as the governor, the secretary of state, the state auditor, the state treasurer, the attorney general, and the commissioner of public lands.

Five Supreme Court justices, elected for eight years with overlapping terms, head the judiciary.

New Mexico is divided into 33 counties, each administered by an elected board of commissioners. Other elected country officials are the assessor, sheriff, clerk, surveyor, treasurer, and probate judge.

In addition to state and local government, a special relationship exists between the US government and American Indian peoples of New Mexico and surrounding states. The Pueblos, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero, and Navajo nations each have their own self-governing tribal councils, responsible for guiding the affairs of the community, protecting the rituals and observances of their culture, and representing the tribe in any negotiation with the state or federal governments.

Economy New Mexico's earliest economy was dependent on the agricultural activities of settlements close to the rivers. It was not until the completion of the area's first rail line that other activities, notably mining of resources such as gold and silver, became important. In the early 1940s a new source of income developed, with the opening of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Despite the state's dry climate, agriculture is still a principal activity in the region, especially ranching and commercial farming, made possible by heavy irrigation practices. Key crops are pecans, vegetables, and chilli peppers.

New Mexico ranks among the top states for mining natural resources such as molybdenum, uranium, potash, copper, oil, natural gas, petroleum, and coal. It is also the country's leading source of perlite, and a major producer of pumice and mica. Albuquerque is the state's chief industrial centre. The manufacturing of electronic equipment, including semiconductors and instruments such as missile-guidance systems and surgical appliances, has become increasingly important. Tourism is a significant contributor to the state's economy.

HistoryIndigenous inhabitants The region has been populated by humans for 20,000 years since the Folsom Paleo-Indians, who left behind a trail of bison bones and fluted projectile points, which were discovered in the early 1900s. The Anasazi people of the region evolved into today's Pueblo Indians, so named by early Spanish explorers because their land-based communities resembled the villages, or pueblos, of Spain. The Mogollon American Indians lived in present-day Gila National Forest, while the Apache and Navajo Indians moved southward into the territory.

Spanish exploration and settlement New Mexico was home to various pueblo communities when explored by Spaniard Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1540. For two years, his expedition charted much of the southwestern USA, venturing into the interior as far as Kansas, descending the walls of the Grand Canyon, and visiting American Indian villages that dotted their path.

The first official use of the name la Nueva Mejico to describe the New Mexican territory occurred during an expedition led by Spanish missionaries Fray Bernardo Beltrán and Antonio de Espejo in 1852. Spanish settlement, encouraged by the number of potential converts to Christianity, advanced slowly but steadily. In 1598 a Spanish colonization party led by Juan de Oñate established several missions along the Rio Grande, eventually arriving at the northern Tewa village of Ohkay Owingeh, where Oñate took formal possession of the province in the name of King Felipe of Spain. Ohkay became the first Spanish capital of New Mexico, replaced by San Gabriel until the villa of Sante Fe was established in 1610 and designated the new seat of government.

Spanish intolerance to native religious practices during the 17th century eventually led to the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, which resulted in the Spanish being driven out for several years. By the end of the century, Spain had regained control, but the Spanish spent most of the 18th century defending themselves against surrounding hostile tribes. To end the hostility, they targeted the most powerful tribe, the Comanche, and defeated them decisively, signing a formal peace agreement in 1786.

In 1821 New Mexico became part of the Mexican Republic under the terms of its independence agreement with Spain, ending three centuries of Spanish rule and opening the way for trading with the emerging USA via the Santa Fe Trail. Winding its way from Missouri, the Santa Fe Trail became one of the most important commercial routes to the West, from which caravans rolled on toward northern Mexico along the El Camino Real or to California along the Old Spanish Trail.

US influence and development US power and money soon spread into the southwest, stirring dissatisfaction with Mexican rule. The Mexican War, sparked in 1846 by events in neighbouring Texas, ended with US control of all of New Mexico except for land to the south, which was added in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase. The California boom of the 1850s brought increased travel through New Mexico, especially on the Spanish Trail and the Butterfield Overland Route. During the American Civil War, the 1862 Battle of Glorieta Pass ended a Confederate thrust during which Mesilla had been envisioned as a regional capital.

The territory remained lightly populated until the late 1870s, when the Santa Fe Railroad finally reached Santa Fe in 1879 and continued south to Deming, joining the Southern Pacific Railroad and creating a second transcontinental rail link. By the 1890s, stock-raising and irrigated farming were flourishing in the southeast, and gold, silver, and coal mining began in earnest. Concurrently, New Mexico went through its Wild West period, when regional disputes between cattlemen, powerful landowners, and Apache leaders such as Geronimo proliferated and lawlessness was rampant, giving rise to infamous outlaws such as Billy the Kid.

Political and economic development It took almost 50 years for New Mexico to achieve statehood. The first attempt in 1850 was nullified when Congress granted it territorial status. Further attempts were defeated in 1872 and 1889, largely due to ignorance and a general distrust towards the inhabitants of the region. New Mexicans remained resolutely patriotic, forming Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders volunteer cavalry brigade in 1898. Though a joint attempt at statehood with Arizona failed in 1906, New Mexico was finally admitted to the Union in 1912. It retained its frontier image until the introduction of the car provided access to the most remote villages.

20th-century history In the 1920s, the new state drew visitors to mountain and health resorts and old Spanish and Indian communities, among them Santa Fe, Taos, and Abiquiu. The Great Depression virtually eliminated isolated villages, but the New Deal revived the state's flagging economy, creating jobs and providing investment for development.

World War II was a catalyst for change as many of the state's young men were either conscripted into the armed forces or went to work for military installations in the state. One mountain community, Los Alamos, in 1943 secretly became the centre of the US effort to build the first atomic bomb, which was exploded on 16 July 1945 in the desert northwest of Alamogordo. Navajo code talkers were also influential in helping to end the war. Complex and unwritten, the Navajo language was used for relaying military instructions by the US Marines because its syntax, tone, and dialects made it virtually unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure and training.

Los Alamos continued as a major government installation after the war, and Albuquerque, with its Sandia Laboratory, and White Sands were also key to US weapons research. The state's development in the latter part of the 20th century was largely based on the exploitation of oil, natural gas, and other mineral resources, and an expansion of agriculture through improved irrigation. Water is a scarce resource in the state, necessitating strict planning and expansion schemes.

Famous peoplesport Al Unser (1939– ), motor racer

the arts Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986), artist; William Hanna (1910–2001), animator; Edward Chávez (1917–1995), painter; John Denver (1943–1997), singer-songwriter; Demi Moore (1962– ), actor

science E U Condon (1902–1974), physicist; Sidney Gutierrez (1951– ), astronaut

society and educationBilly the Kid (1859–1881), outlaw

economics Conrad Hilton (1887–1979), hotel entrepreneur.


Miguel Antonio Otero; La Voz del Pueblo: Statehood and Minority Rights in New Mexico


American states


Cultural Map of Hellas

Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre

Virtual Tour of Chetro Ketl


New Mexico – flag

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