Situated in the Southwest, New Mexico is a mountainous state that is a part of the Four Corners region of the United States. Known as “The Land of Enchantment”, it’s most famous for its incredible landscapes, rich culture, fine art, and unique attractions.
Diversity is abundant in both the land and culture. The varying landscape includes large mountain ranges that lead to vast deserts, verdant grasslands, dense woodlands, and jagged cliffs. Like the landscape, the local culture is diverse with roots tracing back to indigenous natives, Spanish and European visitors as well as, and Hispanic and American people.
Millions from around the world visit New Mexico each year and the tourist crowds are only growing bigger. It’s even becoming a top place to move to. An alluring destination with big cities, small communities, and untouched wilderness, there are plenty of opportunities to explore, adventure, and sightsee throughout this southwestern state.
Livin’ La Vida New Mexico
Visit New Mexico’s Top Towns and Cities
History of the “Land of Enchantment”
The name New Mexico often means that people believe the state was named after the country. However, this is incorrect. The name New Mexico came even before the country of Mexico gained its independence from Spain. “Mexico” comes from the Nahuatl or more commonly known as the Aztec language.
In the early 16th century when Spanish conquistadors began their conquest of the Aztecs, they began to call the land, “Nuevo México”. The name would be officially established in 1598 when Juan de Oñate became the first governor of the Province of New Mexico. After taking the land from Native Americans, the territory became a part of New Spain.
Both Mexico (the country) and the Republic of Texas attempted to claim part of the territory for themselves. France also owned part of the land, which was sold to the United States during the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The rest of New Mexico became a United States territory after the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848.
In 1912, New Mexico became the 47th US state. Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, European-American settlers moved into much of the land. These people were called the Hispanos of New Mexico and they came from a mixed Native Mexican and Native American ancestry. For decades, there has been tension between the native communities and Anglo Americans.
Today, many people and cultures call this place home. True to its roots, indigenous and Hispanic cultures remain dominant in New Mexico. Many ancient dwellings, rock art, petroglyphs, traditions, beliefs, and rituals have been preserved for future generations and visitors.
Capital City of Santa Fe
With 87,505 residents as of 2020, Santa Fe is the capital city of New Mexico. It’s actually the highest US capital city as well at 7,199 feet of elevation, followed by Cheyenne and Denver. Originally founded in 1610 as the capital of Nuevo México (ruled by Spain), this city is the oldest state capital in the US. Santa Fe is most well-known for being a historic, artistic, and captivating city.
Before diving into the local culture, most visitors will immediately notice the appearance of the city with its gorgeous vistas and architecture. Most buildings feature either a Native American adobe, Spanish colonial, or Mexican mission architectural style.
Digging deeper and exploring the city, visitors will find that there are a variety of attractions including museums, green space, religious sites, shops, markets, and fine dining establishments. Many of these attractions are close to the Santa Fe Plaza and Palace of the Governors, which sits at the heart of the downtown area.
Art is an especially important part of the city’s identity and there are dozens of museums where visitors can learn more and view exhibits. One of the most renowned museums in Santa Fe is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which has more than 3,000 pieces in its permanent collection.
Additional attractions include the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and the Loretto Chapel. Whether religious or not, these two destinations have become tourist attractions for their beautiful architecture. The Loretto Chapel is particularly famous for its spiral staircase.
Beyond the attractions, visitors will love shopping and dining in Santa Fe. Outdoor markets sell a variety of fresh, handmade, and artistic goods, while boutique shops sell clothing, shoes, jewelry, art, and souvenirs. For a taste of authentic New Mexican cuisine, tourists can head just off the plaza to eat out at famous spots like The Shed or Cafe Pasqual’s.
Albuquerque, the Largest City in New Mexico
New Mexico’s largest city is Albuquerque, with a population of 564,559 as of 2020. Often abbreviated to ABQ, the city is located in the Albuquerque Basin surrounded by mountains, mesas, and the Rio Grande River.
Less artsy than Santa Fe, the city has become a hub for media, technology, and education. Albuquerque Studios produces lots of content for Netflix and many projects have been filmed in or around the city. Some of the most famous projects where you can spot scenes of Albuquerque include Breaking Bad, The Avengers, and Stranger Things.
For food lovers, there is a diverse culinary scene that includes a variety of local, regional, national, and international influences. Many chefs blend New Mexican cuisine with various culinary techniques to craft unique menus. Visitors will be able to easily find casual and fine dining restaurants.
During certain times of the year, special events and festivals bring a flood of tourists to the area. One of the most famous events held in the city is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which takes place in early October. Spanning for multiple days, the festival sees hundreds of hot air balloons take to the sky.
Additional events in Albuquerque include the Gathering of Nations in April and the New Mexico State Fair in September.
Las Cruces, the Second Largest City in New Mexico
Las Cruces is the second largest city in the state, supporting a population of 111,385 as of 2020. Located next door to the Chihuahuan Desert and at the base of the Organ Mountains, this city is the perfect destination for outdoor adventures. Visitors can hike, bike, and run in parks throughout Las Cruces or head just out of town to enjoy pristine landscapes.
Tourist activities in the city include the Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces, the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, Veteran’s Memorial Park, Mesilla Plaza, and the Zuhl Museum. Throughout the streets, there are dozens of murals, sculptures, and other forms of street art that bring life to the urban zones.
Taos, “Soul of the Southwest”
In the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos is many things – a town, pueblo, and an artist colony. Combined, the community had a population of 34,489 as of 2020. The oldest part of Taos is the Pueblo, which sits on the north end of the town.
Human habitation of the pueblo has been traced back nearly 1,000 years. Although many people live in the pueblo community, the main building is home to about 150 people. In 1992, UNESCO deemed the Taos Pueblo a World Heritage Site.
Newer parts of Taos include the town, ski resort, and artist colony. In this New Mexican ski town, the Taos Plaza is a touristy spot where people shop, dine, and relax during their stay. Just above the town is the Taos Ski Resort, which is renowned for its wild slopes and excellent powder.
Finally, the art colony has generated worldwide recognition for its artists and artwork. Native and Hispanic artwork began hundreds of years ago, while a wave of modern artists didn’t begin until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Widely-recognized artists that have been a part of the colony include Andrew Dasburg, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Ansel Adams.
Roswell, “The Alien Capital of the World”
On a weirder note, one of the more bizarre destinations in New Mexico is Roswell. A smaller city with a 2020 population of 48,422 people and possibly a few extraterrestrials, this city is known all around the world as being a UFO crash site. The Roswell incident occurred in 1947 when a supposed UFO crashed 75 miles outside of the city.
Whether you believe Roswell really was a UFO crash site or not, local tourism is heavily driven by ufology, aerospace engineering, and the general alien theme. The International UFO Museum and Research Center can tell you more about the 1947 incident and UFOs in general. Additional attractions in the area that are not alien-themed include the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Bottomless Lakes State Park.
Enchanting National Parks
As the fifth largest state, New Mexico has a total land area of 121,590 square miles. When imagining New Mexico, most people imagine an arid desert climate. While the Chihuahuan Desert is in New Mexico, the landscapes vary from mountains, grasslands, forests, and mesas. The wide range of habitats makes the state one of the most diverse in the entire US.
A lot of the land has been protected by the government in the form of national parks, monuments, forests, wildlife refuges, conservation areas, and state-owned sites. There are dozens of wilderness areas to explore in New Mexico, but a few of the most popular to visit are the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, White Sands National Park, Bandelier National Monument, and the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
In Southern New Mexico, the Carlsbad Caverns National Park has more than 100 caves and underground chambers. Visitors can head underground to see awesome mineral formations or stay on the surface for spectacular desert views. At the White Sands National Park, hiking through the shifting terrain gives you a good workout or you can take a dune buggy for an easy ride to the top.
Ancient cliff dwellings can be found all throughout New Mexico and one destination where you can see these historic and cultural sites is Bandelier National Monument. A main trail takes hikers deep into the canyon where they can then climb up the canyon walls to see some of the old dwellings.
To see more ancestral sites, the Chaco Culture National Historic Park has plenty of ruins that date back to the time of the Aztecs. Some of the things that have been preserved include buildings and petroglyphs. The most famous etching in the park is the “Sun Dagger”, which is close to the Fajada Butte.
Four Corners Monument
The northwestern corner of New Mexico completes part of the Four Corners region in the US. As the only place in the country where four state borders perfectly meet, tourism to the area is quite popular. Owned by Native American nations, visitors can head to the monument to see where all of the lines meet.
In addition to the monument, many Native Americans sell handmade goods in vendor stalls. This is a great opportunity for visitors to support the local community while also taking home a unique souvenir.
Remarkable New Mexico
Easily enticing and charming visitors, there is no denying that New Mexico is a magical place. No matter the season or time of year, visitors flock in droves to experience and explore everything that this state has to offer. Surely, you’ll be swept off your feet as you fall in love with this enchanting destination.
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