New Mexico Travel Planner
New Mexico travel is fun to plan: here’s some background about New Mexico including destinations and trip ideas.
Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, Spanish missions, Gila Cliff Dwellings, La Ventana Arch, Ship Rock, Native American rock art, pueblos….beauty and mystery abounds in New Mexico.
New Mexico has been inhabited by people since about 10,000 BC. Scientists have found evidence of Clovis-Paleo Indians in the eastern plains of New Mexico. Later Native Americans lived in cliff dwellings or pit houses (holes dug in the ground with ground-level roofs made of wood and mud. Other early Americans created impressive stone structures aligned with the paths of the sun and moon. After drought made cliff-dwelling too difficult, the Ancestral Pueblo people moved into the multi story adobe pueblos now existing along the Rio Grande. In the 1500’s the Spanish found the natives living in this area, as they still do today.
Apache and Navajo tribes (Athapascan) arrived around the same time as the Spanish.
The Spanish, led by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, searched the New World comprehensively for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, built of gold as rumor had it. These golden cities were never found and Coronado died a broken man, but present day historians credit him for mapping much of the area for future explorers and colonizers of New Mexico, Arizona and east into Kansas. The current consensus is that the Natives told these fabulous stories to draw the Spanish away from their villages.
San Gabriel, at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Rio Chama, was the first official European colony, established in 1598. The original leader, Juan de Onate was relieved of his duties for atrocities , including cruelty to Native people and unjust treatment of settlers, and was replaced by Pedro de Peralta. De Peralta was appointed governor and ordered to establish Santa Fe as the new capital in 1607. Santa Fe today is the oldest capital in the United States.
Catholic missionaries streamed into the area and worked to convert as many
Natives to Christianity as possible, but there was deep resentment among the Pueblo people about relinquishing their beliefs and being forced to do the hard labor for the settlers. A surprise revolt was planned against the Spanish in August 1680, led by El Pope and pushed the colonists out but they were back within 15 years. The 18th century Spanish proved more tolerant than their forebears.
After Mexico gained her independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government opened trade with the United States and the Santa Fe Trail was established.
Mexico was unable to adequately protect and govern her northern provinces, first losing Texas, and then later New Mexico. In 1846, US General Stephen Watts Kearny took over New Mexico (which also then included most of the southwest and California) without firing a single shot, by simply declaring from a rooftop that it was now an American territory. Kearny’s army then went on to occupy Santa Fe.
New Mexico weighed in on the side of the Union during the Civil War, though for a short time the Confederate Army occupied Santa Fe until the battle at Apache Pass in Glorieta.
During and after the Civil War, many Chiricahua Apaches led by Geronimo and others refused to live in forced US settlements. When in 1886 Geronimo finally surrendered he was taken prisoner and his people were interned for many years before being assigned to a reservation.
Buffalo Soldiers, African-Americans who joined the Army after the Civil War, received their name from Indians who compared their curly hair and courage to the animal they revered.
The railroad arrived in the 1880s bringing cattle barons and merchants.
In 1912, New Mexico became the 47th state of the Union.
In 1916, Columbus, NM was invaded by and repelled Pancho Villa, with a great deal of damage to both sides. This was the last time the continental US was invaded by a foreign army.
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