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Nickname: Land of Enchantment
Statehood: 1912; 47th state
Population (as of July 2015): 2,085,109
Capital: Santa Fe
Biggest city: Albuquerque
State bird: greater roadrunner
State flower: yucca
People came to the area that’s now New Mexico more than 12,000 years ago. Experts think they migrated from what’s now Russia across a land bridge called the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age. (When the Ice Age ended, water levels rose, covering this bridge.) Thousands of years later Native American tribes including the Apache, Zuni, Navajo, and Pueblos lived on the land.
In 1540 Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado came to the area in search of cities made of gold that were rumored to exist in the Americas. He didn’t discover treasure, but over the next century the Spanish colonized the land. Then in 1821 Mexico declared its independence from Spain, and the area became part of Mexico. But after the United States won the Mexican-American War in 1848, New Mexico became a U.S. territory. In 1912 it was declared the 47th state.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
When the Spanish set out to explore the region, they hoped to find land as valuable as what they’d found earlier in Mexico. So they dubbed the area Nueva Mexico. (Nueva means “new” in Spanish.) As for the word Mexico, some experts think it’s a version of a name that the Aztecs (a cultural group from Mexico) had for one of their gods (though there are many different theories).
The state has beautiful scenery from mountains to forests to deserts. This earned it the nickname the Land of Enchantment.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
New Mexico is bordered by Colorado in the north, Oklahoma and Texas in the east, Mexico in the south, and Arizona in the west. Its northwest corner touches Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, creating the only spot where four states meet.
The state can be divided into three regions. Sweeping across the east, the Great Plains region contains a high plateau with deep canyons. The area also features Carlsbad Caverns, which has more than 119 caves to explore.
The Rocky Mountain region is in the northern part of the state, and it has New Mexico’s highest point: Wheeler Peak.
In the central-southwest is the Basin and Range region. A river called the Rio Grande runs through the center of this area, which is known for its mountainous ridges, flat deserts, and White Sands National Monument. That’s the world’s largest field of sand dunes made of the mineral gypsum.
New Mexico is home to black bears, bighorn sheep, cougars, coyotes, and what may be North America’s rarest mammal—the black-footed ferret. Black vultures, red-shouldered hawks, bright scarlet tanagers, and streak-backed orioles fly overhead, while amphibians such as the colorful western green toad, the barred tiger salamander, and the New Mexico whiptail lizard scurry underfoot.
New Mexico olive, piñon pine, Rio Grande cottonwood, and desert willow are a few of the trees that grow throughout the region. A number of the local wildflowers were named for the state, including the New Mexico thistle and New Mexico evening primrose. Cacti and succulents are also plentiful.
New Mexico is the country’s top producer of perlite, a type of glass used in insulation and gardening. The state also mines about three quarters of the United States’ potash, a potassium compound used in fertilizer.
About half of the state’s income from natural resources comes from oil natural gas.
- Pueblo people have lived continuously for more than a thousand years at Taos Pueblo in north-central New Mexico.
- Did aliens ever land on Earth? The Roswell UFO Museum—near a spot where some people claim a UFO crashed in 1947—lets visitors decide for themselves.
- Famous New Mexicans include singer John Denver, amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, and artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
- New Mexico is known for its turquoise. Today most mines have very little left, which is why a piece of turquoise can be worth thousands of dollars.
Text by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh
Photo credits: Jeanninebryan, Dreamstime (bear); Sekarb, Dreamstime (roadrunner); Tamara Kulikova, Dreamstime (yucca); iStockphoto, Dreamstime (flag); maogg, iStockphoto (quarter)
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