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Settled in turn by Native Americans, Spaniards, Mexicans and Yankees, NEW MEXICO remains hugely diverse. Each successive group has built upon the legacy of its predecessors; their histories and achievements are intertwined, rather than simply dominated by the white American latecomers.

New Mexico’s indigenous peoples – especially the Pueblo Indians, the heirs of the Ancestral Puebloans – provide a sense of cultural continuity. After the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 forced a temporary Spanish withdrawal into Mexico, the proselytizing padres co-opted the natives without destroying their traditional ways of life, as local deities and celebrations were incorporated into Catholic practice. Somewhat bizarrely to outsiders, grand churches still dominate many Pueblo communities, often adjacent to the underground ceremonial chambers known as kivas.

The Americans who arrived in 1848 saw New Mexico as a useless wasteland. But for a few mining booms and range wars – such as the Lincoln County War, which brought Billy the Kid to fame – New Mexico was relatively undisturbed until it finally became a state in 1912. Since World War II, when the secret Manhattan Project built the first atomic bomb here, it has been home to America’s premier weapons research outposts. By and large, people work close to the land, mining, farming and ranching.

In northern New Mexico, the magnificent Rio Grande Valley cradles both Santa Fe, the adobe-fronted capital and the artists’ colony of Taos, with its nearby pueblo. The broad swath of central New Mexico along I-40 – which succeeded the old Route 66 – pivots around the state’s biggest city, Albuquerque, with the mesa-top Pueblo village of Ácoma (“Sky City”) an hour’s drive west. In wild, wide-open southern New Mexico, deep Carlsbad Caverns are the main attraction, while you can still stumble upon mining and cattle-ranching towns barely changed since the end of the Wild West.

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