New Mexico

New Mexico is one of our favourite states. It feels different from the rest of the USA, probably due to its long Spanish/Mexican history. Discovered by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in the early 1540s, the first permanent Spanish settlement was established on the banks of the Rio Grande in 1598. In 1609, Santa Fé was founded as the seat of government for Nuevo México.  It became part of an independent Mexico In 1821 but in 1848 the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave most of modern New Mexico to the USA. The south western corner was added in 1853 as part of the Gadsden Purchase that provided land for a snow-free east-west railroad. It was not until 1912 that New Mexico became a US state. While its scenery is not as spectacular as neighbouring Arizona, Utah and Colorado, New Mexico has a wealth of Churches, Indian Pueblos and Historic Monuments. 


Derelict Motel, Tierra Amarilla

Tierra Amarilla is a great example of a semi-ghost town. It is the county seat of Rio Arriba County with a population of around 750 and so has many buildings in active use. Alongside the these buildings stand many old and derelict buildings that testify to the days when Tierra Amarilla was a bigger and busier place. It is worth a peek through a window of the derelict motel to see the tiny rooms each with a hand basin falling off the wall.  It is a reminder of what it was like to travel before the days of king beds and en-suite facilities. Click Tab 2 to see the remains of  Lito's Ballroom.

 Las Vegas

Hey, have the guys in Vegas decided to go for a history theme? No, this isn’t the USA’s top gambling centre but its namesake in New Mexico. While Las Vegas NV is continually re-inventing and re-building itself, Las Vegas NM is a town that time rather forgot. Old buildings line the main street including the historic Plaza Hotel built in 1882 that would fit straight into a Western movie. Click Tab 2 to see the Plaza Hotel.

Santuario de Chimayó

Described as ‘the Lourdes of America’, Chimayó is the site where in 1810 a Friar found the crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas buried in the hillside. Whenever it was taken away the crucifix mysteriously returned to the site where it was found, so a small chapel was built at Chimayó to house it and there pilgrims reported miraculous healings.  A larger chapel (pictured) was completed in 1816 and the wall of the Prayer Room is covered with implements, such as crutches, discarded by healed pilgrims. Although the crucifix is still in the Chapel,  its healing powers appear to have passed to ‘El Posito’, a small pit in the floor  that mysteriously refills itself with sacred sand. Click on Tab 2 to see the interior of the church back in the days when photography inside the church was not banned.

New Mexico State Capitol, Santa Fé

The State Capitol in Santa Fé is an example of how different New Mexico is from the rest of the USA. No grand dome atop a high hill here, the current Capitol is a low rise round building in the shape of the Zia symbol, a  symbol of the sun inspired by a design found on a 19th century water jar from Zia Pueblo. The historic Palace of the Governors was used as the first Territorial Capitol. The Capitols that followed were built in the grand style typical of the USA  but they were not loved as they did not fit with the local architecture. The first of these was never used, instead it became the Territorial Court House. The second, built in 1886, mysteriously burned down in 1892. Its replacement, built in 1900, looked even more like the standard capitol building but in 1950 it was extensively modified to make it more sympathetic to the local architecture. It has now been renamed the Bataan Memorial Building and is used as government offices. The current Capitol was dedicated in 1966 and it blends so well with the surrounding buildings that it is easy to miss it.

Santuario de Chimayo, NM, USA
 Las Vegas, NM, USA


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Derelict Motel, Tierra Amarilla, NM, USA


The unmistakable shape of Shiprock is visible for miles in the Four Corners area. Named for its likeness to a 19th century Clipper sailing ship, this  rock outcrop rises around 600 metres (1,960 feet) above the surrounding plains.  Shiprock is a volcanic neck, the remains of lava that solidified in the central feeder pipe of a large volcano. It has been left standing proud after the surrounding rock weathered away. The local Navajos call it Tse Bitai, (the winged rock) and to them it is sacred, a main character in their folklore. It was not climbed until 1939 and because it is sacred to the Navajos it has now been made illegal to climb it.

Tyuonyi Ruin, Bandelier National Monument

That some American Indians have traditionally lived in permanent settlements called Pueblos may be a surprise to those brought up on a diet of Western movies. New Mexico is at the centre of the Pueblo culture and it is a very old culture indeed. While  the earliest humans in the area were nomadic hunter-gatherers, by 1150 AD permanent settlements had begun to be constructed. They were built by the Anasazi, the forebears of the modern day Pueblo people. In Frijoles Canyon can be found many ruins of ancient pueblos, including Tyuonyi Ruin which once had over 400 rooms and rose up to 3 stories in height. It has been dated to between 1383 and 1466 AD. The area was designated a   National Monument in 1916, named after 19th century anthropologist Adolph Bandelier.

  Shiprock, NM, USA
 Tyuonyi Ruin from cliff dwellings, Bandelier National Monument, NM, USA
New Mexico MinimapUtahMexicoTexasCarlsbad Caverns NPAlbuquerqueSanta FeTaosIndian PueblosArizonaOklahomaCumbres & Toltec RailroadSalmon Ruins MuseumColoradoChaco Canyon NHS
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Ghost Towns 349





 New Mexico State Capitol, Santa Fe, NM, USA
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- The blend of Spanish, Mexican and American culture in New Mexico.
- The Indian Pueblos (rules permitting).
- If you are a fan of steam trains, the Cumbres & Toltec is a must.
- The ban on photography at Santuario de Chimayó. Ban flash by all means but not all photographs.
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We have more pages on New Mexico. Click below or on the Minimap:

New Mexico MinimapUtahMexicoTexasCarlsbad Caverns NPAlbuquerqueSanta FeTaosIndian PueblosArizonaOklahomaCumbres & Toltec RailroadSalmon Ruins MuseumColoradoChaco Canyon NHS


© Mike  Elsden 1981 - 2021

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