The oldest European settlement in the western United States is in New Mexico. Around 1609, Spanish colonizers established Santa Fe as the capital of the Spanish province. During the 16th century, Spaniards in Mexico called the land to the north and west of the Rio Grande River New Mexico -- that's where the state gets its name. The Spanish influence in the names of places, food, customs, and holidays can be seen throughout the state. The territory became a province of Mexico in 1821. New Mexico became the 47th state in 1912.
New Mexico is a southwestern state bordered by Colorado to the north, Oklahoma and Texas to the east, Mexico to the south, and Arizona to the west. The state's landscape includes plains, plateaus, mountains, canyons, and deserts. Almost a quarter of the land is covered with trees. Although New Mexico is the fifth largest state, it is sparsely populated, ranking 36th in population. The abbreviation for New Mexico is NM.
Americans of Indian, Spanish, and Anglo descent create a rich cultural mix in New Mexico. The state has the highest percentage of Native American population and the highest percentage of Hispanic population in the country. This is because of its history, during which the territory was controlled by each of these groups at different times.
Pueblo Indians now live near Santa Fe, New Mexico's capital, which is located on land their ancestors once controlled. Today, the state's Navaho Indians have the largest reservation in the country. Significant numbers of Apaches, Pueblos, and Utes also live in New Mexico. You can buy Indian jewelry and pottery in Albuquerque, the state's largest city.
Poverty, especially among American Indians and Spanish Americans, is a serious problem in New Mexico. The federal government employs a large number of the state's residents, but New Mexico needs more private industry to fix its problems. The state is experiencing some new growth, however, because of tourism, retirement communities, aerospace and defense research and testing, and the development of energy resources.
New Mexico is also one of the leading mining states in the country. There are large deposits in the northwestern and southeastern regions of the state. New Mexico leads the country in production of uranium and potash, a substance used in making soap, fertilizers, and glass. Large deposits of coal and copper are also found in the state.
Farming is another industry in New Mexico. Most of the state's farmland is used for grazing. Cotton and wheat are grown on New Mexico's fertile soil in places where water is available. Water conservation is an important problem that faces the state, even though important dams and irrigation projects have been undertaken.
Tourists are attracted to New Mexico because of its sunny climate, scenic attractions, and history. If you like to hunt, fish, ski, or sightsee, New Mexico is the state for you. Vacation in one of numerous resorts in the state's mountains and high plateaus. See primitive wilderness as it is preserved in the state's national park areas. Try to find a roadrunner, the state bird.
Travel east on the Rio Grande River to see 60-foot-high white gypsum sand dunes at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. See rare stone fragments covered with calcium carbonate known as "cave pearls" in the state's beautiful Carlsbad Caverns. Visit Pueblo Bonito, the largest Pueblo Indian ruin with more than 500 rooms -- it's located at Chaco Canyon National Monument. See "El Camino Real," Spanish for "the Royal Highway." First used around 1581, it's the oldest road established in the United States by Europeans.
New Mexico has also experienced growth due to the space and energy industries. Visit Los Alamos, where, in 1943, the first atomic bombs were built and exploded. Today, scientists in the state are working on new nuclear projects including methods to use nuclear energy to generate electricity, power space rockets, and create superior weapons.
Well-known people like American frontiersman Kit Carson, Indian warrior Geronimo, and Billy the Kid have all been a part of the state's history. New Mexico's official languages are English and Spanish, making it the only state with two official languages. In fact because of the state's Spanish fiestas, Indian ceremonies, and beautiful scenery, its nickname is the "Land of Enchantment."