New Mexico - Introduction
NEW MEXICO, The Land of Enchantment, is indeed a haunting and fascinating state, with a great diversity of landscapes and a rich cultural history, derived from a combination of Spanish, American Indian and European cultures. Most interest centers on the ancient ruins, adobe towns, Indian pueblos and artist colonies, but New Mexico does have two world-famous parks in White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns, and much scenic terrain that varies from 14,000 foot mountain peaks to low, sandy deserts, and from endless grassy prairie to lush green forests.
In more recent times, the state has become associated with military research; the scientific laboratories in the hills around Los Alamos
and the huge weapons testing bases around Alamogordo in the southern desert; this includes the Trinity Site
, location of the first atomic bomb test. A select few may travel to this remote, still radioactive location, 70 miles from the nearest main road, on the two occasions each year when the area is open for visitors. 140 miles east, the otherwise unremarkable town of Roswell
has become indelibly linked with stories of aliens and UFO sightings.
The land is divided between mountains and high desert to the north and west, and low desert with flat grasslands to the south and east. North of Albuquerque
, the largest town, is the south end of the Rocky Mountains
, which provide large areas of forested wilderness and plentiful skiing opportunities during winter. This region also contains most of the cultural attractions; charming old towns like Taos, Santa Fe and Española, and many well-preserved Indian pueblo villages which have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. The mountains harbor much evidence of past volcanic activity, including the unusual rock formations of Bandelier
and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks
The far northwest is part of the Colorado Plateau
, and contains several National Monuments that protect the ruins of ancient civilisations such as Aztec Ruins
, Chaco Culture
and Gila Cliff Dwellings
. There are also scattered volcanic remains - lava fields and extinct volcanoes of which the most spectacular are El Malpais
, plus colorful badlands (Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah
) and many miles of empty desert scenery.
Further south, the land becomes higher, and there are large mountainous areas with few roads, including the San Francisco and Mogollon ranges. Most of this region falls within the boundaries of several national forests. The hills extend about as far south as I-10, then past the interstate, the extreme southwest corner of New Mexico beyond Rock Hound State Park
is mainly flat desert, not particularly scenic, and also with very little habitation.
East of I-25, the terrain becomes predominantly low, dotted with occasional hills and more volcanic remnants, but most of the land is flat, quite featureless prairie; undulating, grass-covered plains with few roads or towns. This landscape merges with the "Llano Estacado
" (The Staked Plains), the beginning of the Great Plains - 1,000 miles of flat land covering many states in the centre of the USA. There is however, a large mountainous outcrop around the border with Texas, the Guadalupe Mountains
, which rise like a great island from the surrounding desert and include the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns
Overall, New Mexico has less superlative scenery than Arizona, Utah or California; rather it has a few very famous locations with vast areas of scenic land that is emptier, less-visited and hence generally more peaceful than some parts of other Southwest states. The great grassy plains that cover the east of the state may seem never-ending but are still very memorable to drive through.