On one hand, New Mexico is a relatively new state. It was admitted to the union in 1912. But on the other hand, its state capital, Santa Fe, is the oldest capital in the country. It was founded in 1610 as the government seat of Nuevo Mexico in New Spain. And while arid deserts come to mind for many when they think of this southwestern state, it’s actually an area of diverse landscapes ranging from deserts and grasslands to broken mesas and high, snow-capped mountains.
With over 121,590 square miles, New Mexico is the fifth-largest U.S. state after Alaska, Texas, California and Montana. Route 66 carves its way through the landscape and remains an iconic drive for travelers. What motorists see along the way is a symbolic reel of New Mexico highlights: the glowing, neon cactus of Tee Pee Curios, an old-school gift shop; thunderstorms forming from miles away over rangeland and vistas; the Rio Grande Valley and its stoic cottonwoods; roadside diners and empty ghost towns.
New Mexico is divided into six regions: Northwest, North Central, Northeast, Central, Southwest and Southeast. Each area is flush with history, culture, national parks and public lands. In the Northwest region, there’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park where visitors will find the massive buildings of the ancestral Pueblo peoples, backcountry hiking and camping. Just east in the North Central region is the Rio Grande and Rio Grande Gorge. This is where you can find whitewater boating and excellent fishing, especially in the Red River, a tributary of the Rio Grande.
Then there’s the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in the state’s Southwest region. It’s here where thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, ducks and other waterfowl winter. And, finally, New Mexico is home to White Sands National Park. Located in the southeastern portion of the state, White Sands is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.
New Mexico is also home to a diverse offering of big game animals including deer, elk, bear, pronghorn and cougar. And the state’s public land is abundant, making it an attractive destination for backcountry hunters. While New Mexico’s landscape and natural resources are remarkable attributes, so is the industriousness of its people. They’re the driving force behind the state’s largest industries: oil and gas production, tourism, mineral extraction, cattle ranching and lumber.
Each region of New Mexico is unique and each offers experiences that are authentic reflections of its culture and the people who live there. From the fluorescent lights, breakfast burritos and unusual gimmick retailers found on Route 66 to wide-open landscapes and sunbaked deserts, the state is diverse and welcoming and infinitely original.