According to the New Mexico Magazine’s Vacation Guide, “New Mexico is a timeless land of ancient cultural traditions and striking environmental diversity. For thousands of years, man has traveled through this Land of Enchantment leaving footprints to a rich and colorful past.
Explorer Vasquez de Coronado trekked through New Mexico in 1540. In search of treasure, and convinced that the adobe pueblos were the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola, Coronado had orders to conquer the Indians and claim their riches. Failing to find the fabled gold, however, he and his men returned to New Spain without any newly won wealth.
Don Juan de O’ate made the first successful exploration of Mexico del Norte’s wilderness. In 1598, he marched up the Rio Grande claiming land for Spain, accompanied by troops, colonists and cattle.
Santa Fe was founded as the capital in 1609 by New Mexico’s third governor, Don Pedro de Peralta. For the next 70 years the Spanish pushed on with sword and cross, building missions and converting Indians to Catholicism.
The first church in North America was constructed in 1598 at San Juan Pueblo, 30 miles north of Santa Fe. Within the first quarter of the 17th century, 50 churches had been built in New Mexico. These churches, which predate the great missions along the coast of California by a century and a half, are beautiful examples of Spanish Colonial architecture and provide a glimpse of the earliest history of American culture.
New Mexico remained under Spanish rule for another 125 years until 1821 when Mexico won its independence from Spain. Soon after, another passage in New Mexico history was born, the Santa Fe Trail. Running from Missouri to Santa Fe, the trail opened trade with the U.S. and brought new lifestyles, money and settlers to New Mexico.
The United States declared war on Mexico in 1846. Shortly thereafter, U.S. General Stephen Watts Kearny maneuvered his troops down the Santa Fe Trail and declared New Mexico an American territory.
In the late 1880s, railroad companies laid their tracks across New Mexico, bringing with them improved commerce and access to new markets. The beef industry boomed, and cattle barons like John Chisum trailed longhorns in from Texas, creating vast cattle kingdoms on the southeastern plains.
Chisum was also associated with events leading to the Lincoln County War, a bloody merchant conflict that sparked the brief outlaw career of Billy the Kid and involved even territorial Gov. Lew Wallace, author of the novel Ben Hur.
Although New Mexico was colonized nearly 25 years before the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth Rock, it did not achieve statehood until Jan. 6, 1912, when it was admitted to the Union as the 47th state. Since that time, New Mexico has experienced a whirlwind of growth and change.
In the decades between 1940 and 1980, New Mexico’s population tripled. The state now boasts more than a million and a half inhabitants, a third of whom live in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city.
Today, New Mexico continues to lure people with its clear skies and abundance of sunshine. The limitless landscapes encourage people both to retrace the paths of New Mexico’s rich heritage and to leave their own footprints on the pages of the state’s rich history.”