Geography and Landforms:

The state of New Mexico consists of four land regions - the Great Plains, the Colorado Plateau, the Rocky Mountains, and the Basin and Range region.

The Great Plains cover the eastern third of the state. This region consists of a high plateau intersected by deep canyons.

The Colorado Plateau, to the northwest, is a rugged area of wide valleys, deep canyons, sharp cliffs, and flat-topped hills called mesas. The Continental Divide runs through the Colorado Plateau. Streams west of the Divide drain into the Pacific Ocean. Those to the east run to the Gulf of Mexico.

The north central section of New Mexico is covered by a series of mountain ranges that are part of the Rocky Mountains. Wheeler Peak, within the Sangre de Cristo Range, is the state's highest point. Melting snows from the Rockies provide moisture each spring for irrigated crops in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Basin and Range region is found to the southwest and covers nearly one third of New Mexico. It consists of scattered mountain ranges intersected by desert basins. The Rio Grande River flows through the region and is harnessed by the Elephant Butte Dam which provides a major source of irrigation for farming.


The first European to reach what is now the state of New Mexico was Cabeza de Vaca. De Vaca was part of an expedition in search of gold in Florida. When their ship wrecked just off the Texas coast, they came ashore and wandered across southern New Mexico between 1528 and 1536. The expedition encountered the pueblo villages of the Native Americans and brought word back to the Spanish of their experiences.

The Spaniards believed these pueblos to be the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola. In 1539, Carcos de Niza made a search of the area, guided by a member of de Vaca's earlier expedition. De Niza claimed the area as a province of Spain and identified the pueblos as the fabulously wealthy Seven Cities.

A full-scale expedition, led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, explored the region from 1540-1542, and found only the pueblos. Because of Coronado's treatment of the Pueblo people, hostility developed between the Spanish and the Native Americans. As a result, colonization of the region was slowed.

The first Spanish colony in New Mexico was founded in 1598 by Juan de Onate at San Juan, near the Chama River. Onate became governor of the province. His successor, Pedro de Peralta, established the capital of the province at Santa Fe in 1610. The colony grew very slowly. Missions were established and Roman Catholic priests set up schools. But the Spanish forced the Native Americans into slave labor and attempted to convert them to Christianity. These factors led to an Apache uprising in 1676 and a Pueblo revolt in 1680. The Spanish soon left New Mexico.

Spanish control of the province was reestablished by Governor Diego de Vargas Zapata in 1692. Gradually, colonists began to reenter the province. Missionaries came back to establish missions in and near Santa Fe.

In 1821, Mexico achieved its independence from Spain, and New Mexico became a province of Mexico. The Santa Fe Trail was opened that same year, allowing goods to be transported to the province from Missouri.

Trouble gradually developed between Mexico and the United States as American colonists moved further into the southwest. The Mexican War began in 1846 when General Stephen Kearney entered Santa Fe and took control of New Mexico. Two years later, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the conflict. The region of New Mexico was ceded to the United States.

New Mexico was officially organized as a territory of the United States in 1850, and James Calhoun served as its first governor. In 1853, the Gadsden Purchase added the land that is now Arizona and parts of present-day Colorado, Nevada, and Utah to the territory.

Because slavery was unrestricted in the territory, New Mexico was initially occupied by Confederate troops during the Civil War. In 1862, Union troops recaptured the territory after two military clashes. The first was in Apache Canyon, and the second in Glorieta Pass.

After the war ended, conflicts with the Apache and Navajo continued. Frontier scout Kit Carson led residents of the territory in forcing Apache and Navajo Indians to live on reservations. Much of the unrest ended with the surrender of Apache chief Geronimo in 1886.

During the 1870s, The Lincoln County War marked a bitter time of conflict for political control within the territory. Cattle ranchers felt overwhelmed by the squatters and homesteaders who took over the grazing land. Billy the Kid and other outlaws took part in the fighting which ended in 1878 when territorial governor General Lew Wallace brought in troops to end the bloodshed.

New Mexico experienced much growth in the late 1880s as a result of the railroads, which linked the territory to the rest of the country. Ranching and mining thrived, attracting many settlers. In 1912, New Mexico became the nation's 47th state.


Agriculture provides a considerable source of income for New Mexico. The most important agricultural industry is ranching. Ranches throughout the state make use of land that is too steep or too rocky for growing crops. Cattle and sheep thrive on the open range year round. Major crops of hay and sorghum are grown in the dry climate. Pinto beans, pinon nuts, and chili peppers are also raised.

New Mexico's mineral wealth includes natural resources used for energy production. Reserves of natural gas, uranium, petroleum, and coal are found here. Large amounts of potash - a fertilizer material - are mined as well as manganese, copper, silver, and turquoise.

New Mexico's beautiful country, national forests, and historic sites make it an attractive destination for tourists. The tourism industry is a significant source of income for the state.

More than 25% of New Mexico's residents work for the federal government at air force bases, national observatories, and laboratories throughout the state. The temperate climate and growing population continue to attract many new manufacturing industries to the state, especially those related to the defense industry.

First Inhabitants:

The earliest established culture in New Mexico was that of the Pueblos, a sedentary group of Native Americans who flourished in farming communities. They included the Mogollon, who lived in the valleys of the area that is now the New Mexico-Arizona border between 500 BC and 1200 AD, and the Anasazi.

The Anasazi occupied the region where present day Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado meet. They were among the most highly civilized of the Native American cultures. They raised corn and cotton, and tamed wild turkeys, using the meat for food and the feathers for clothing. In the winter, the Anasazi wore garments fashioned from turkey feathers.

The Anasazi were cliff dwellers and built many apartment houses out of closely fitted stones. One such building, the Pueblo Bonito, had nearly 800 rooms.

Around 1500 A.D., the Navaho and Apache tribes came to the New Mexico region from the north. Utes and Comanches entered the area a few years later.

Books Related To New Mexico

E is for Enchantment: A New Mexico Alphabet - Helen Foster James
(978-1585361533) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of New Mexico.

The Gadget - Paul Zindel
(978-0440229513) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-9, Lexile: 590, ESL level: 3 - 4
A young boy views the goings on at Los Alamos while his father works on the development of the atomic bomb and the hope that it will end wars with a mixture of fear, curiosity, and innocence.

Harvey Girl - Sheila Wood Foard
(978-0896725706) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-9, Lexile: 790, ESL level: 3 - 4
A young teen escapes her Missouri home and finds employment as a Harvey House waitress, a popular restaurant located along the workings of the new railroad in the American Southwest.

Josefina's Surprise - Valerie Tripp
(978-1562475192) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-8, Lexile: 790, ESL level: 4
Traditions of la Noche buena--Christmas Eve-- and Las Posadas help ease Josefina and her sisters' pain following the death of their mother.

Kokopellis' Flute - Will Hobbs
(978-1416902508) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-9, Lexile: 870, ESL level: 3 - 4
After finding a flute left behind by grave robbers in New Mexico, Tep finds himself transported to a fantasy world in the evenings, accompanied by his dog; his adventures give him a great and beautiful understanding of the history of the region and its legends.

The Last Snake Runner - Kimberley Little
(978-1422358382) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-9, Lexile: 780, ESL level: 3 - 4
A half American teen time travels to the age of the Spanish conquistadors and assists his ancestors in performing the rites of the dying Snake Clan.

Muchacho - LouAnne Johnson
(978-0375859038) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 1250, ESL level: 4 - 5
Eddie Corazon changes his delinquent attitudes that help him rise above his drug-infested neighborhood when he meets a girl.

The Night of Las Posadas - Tomie dePaola
(978-0698119017) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-2, Lexile: 410, ESL level: 2
Plans for a jubilant Las Posadas celebration change when a snowstorm keeps the children planning to be Mary and Joseph from getting to Old Santa Fe in time.

The Staircase - Ann Rinaldi
(978-0152167882) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 590, ESL level: 4 - 5
Lizzy, a Methodist, feels among aliens when she ends up in a Catholic school in New Mexico after her father abandons her; Santa Fe and its wild west feeling add interest and adventure to this mystical tale.

Surprising Cecilia - Denise Gonzales Abraham
(978-0938317968) , Fiction
Interest level: 8-10, ESL level: 3 - 5
Cecilia is delighted with her opportunity to attend high school in a New Mexico city, but she finds her farming, Mexican-American background limits her at first.

Tiger Eyes - Judy Blume
(978-0385739894) , Fiction
Interest level: 9-12, Lexile: 650, ESL level: 4 - 5
After moving to Los Alamos, New Mexico, a young teen tries to recover from the shock of the shooting death of her father.

White Sands: Red Menace - Ellen Klages
(670-062359) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 690, ESL level: 4 - 5
After agreeably adapting to an adoptive family, Dewey's unstable mother appears on the scene to get her back.

Famous Citizens:

Edward Condon
Edward Condon was born in Alamogordo, New Mexico. He was a theoretical physicist who became well known for his research in atomic spectroscopy. During World War II he did notable work on the Manhattan Project. He later became director of a US Army Air Force study of Unidentified Flying Objects.

William Hanna
William Hanna was born in Melrose, New Mexico. He was a film animator and producer who teamed up with Joseph Barbera to create the Tom and Jerry cartoon characters. The duo won seven Academy Awards and set up their own production company, which created such cartoon series as The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and Huckleberry Hound.

Conrad Hilton
Conrad Hilton was born in San Antonio, New Mexico. He founded the international chain of business hotels that bear his name and became one of the world's wealthiest men. Today, there are more than 230 Hilton Hotels worldwide. His great-grand daughter, Paris Hilton, is a well-known socialite and celebrity.

Peter Hurd
Peter Hurd was born in Roswell, New Mexico. He was a student and son-in-law of American artist N.C. Wyeth. Hurd is best known for his landscapes of the southwest but he was also an accomplished portrait painter and book illustrator. His portrait of President Lyndon Johnson hangs in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Bill Mauldin
Bill Mauldin was born in Mountain Park, New Mexico. He was a cartoonist who achieved fame with his satirical depictions of the life of an enlisted man during World War II. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work. In 1951, Maudlin appeared in the movie, The Red Badge of Courage.

Capital: Santa Fe
Entered Union: January 6, 1912
Population: 2,085,572
Area 121,589
Bird Roadrunner
Flower Yucca Flower
Nickname: Land of Enchantment
Governor Susana Martinez

Places to Visit in New Mexico: (Click the links to learn more.)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park - Near Carlsbad
The park contains 100 known caves including Lechuguilla--the nation's deepest limestone cave at 1,567 feet--and Carlsbad Cavern, which contains one of the world's largest underground chambers and countless formations. A variety of tours is offered year-round.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center - Albuquerque
Owned and operated by the 19 Indian Pueblos of New Mexico, the center showcases the history and accomplishments of the Pueblo people from Pre-Columbian to modern times. Maps and directions to each of the pueblos are included on the Web site.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum - Santa Fe
Established in 1997, the museum houses the world's largest collection of original O'Keeffe paintings, drawings, and sculptures. O'Keeffe, one of the most important artists of the 20th century, is best know for avant-garde depictions of large-scale flowers, animal bones, and the deserts and dramatic cliffs of New Mexico.

Loretto Chapel - Santa Fe
Home of a magnificent staircase built by a mysterious carpenter. The circular staircase, which rises 22 feet to the choir loft of the chapel, has two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and was constructed without the use of nails. It has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, including "Unsolved Mysteries"

National Museum of Nuclear Science and History - Albuquerque
The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is the nation's only congressionally chartered museum of nuclear science and history. Visitors learn about early research and development and how nuclear science influences our lives today. Exhibits focus on pioneers of nuclear science, radiation in the world around us, WWII and the Manhattan Project, nuclear medicine, and arms control.