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New Mexico is one of the more fascinating states in the country. It is one of the few places in the United States with a long colonial history. This mixture of cultures and natural beauty is what draw most travelers to New Mexico. Today there is also thriving art scene in Santa Fe and Taos, which draw artists from around the world. Along with the art scene is a hippy culture that has created interesting communes and even the 100% off the net work architecture style of Earth Ships. Although if looking for the old New Mexico it is not very hard to find, just step a little off the main tourist avenues and inhale the centuries old stories.
The area was first settled by the Clovis culture people during the last ice age. As the Clovis culture began to die the Pueblo Indian culture was born. Starting around 900 AD the Pueblo culture flourished in New Mexico although it went through many different phases. The Pueblo people are a sedentary farming society that live in adobe homes with similar architecture. Don't be fooled, the different Pueblos have very different cultures with some languages being as different as Chinese compared to Spanish. Evidence of their great culture can be experienced at the ruins of Chaco Canyon or Aztec Ruins National Monument or the current day Pueblos of Taos or Acoma.
In 1540 Coronado, a Spanish Conquistador, organized an expedition to explore the area for the mystical Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. What he found were the Pueblo cities. In 1598 Juan de Onate returned and founded the Province of New Mexico. The plan was to turn the different Pueblo tribes into surf like state with Spanish conquistadors ruling them. The harsh treatment of the conquistadors was only reenforced by the brutal tactics of the missionaries. This eventually reached a boiling point when in 1680 all the Pueblos united and lead the successful Pueblo Revolt, which pushed out or killed all the Spanish in New Mexico. An interesting result of the Pueblo Revolt was that many horses were released and went feral on the plains, which were later recaptured by plains and west coast tribes therefore spreading horses across North America.
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The Spanish returned 12 years later in 1692, this time lead by Diego de Vargas. The truce among the Pueblos did not last long and de Vargas returned order to the area. Although brutal at times he stopped the missionaries and set up clear boundaries between Spanish and Native areas. A key difference was before the Pueblo Revolt the Spanish moved into the Pueblos and tried to rule directly from there in many cases. De Vargas would establish a Spanish town close to the Pueblo, at the same time respecting their distance. Also at the same time the Navajos, Apaches and Comanches became more aggressive making it that the Pueblo tribes and the Spanish allied themselves for safety.
Over the next 150 years the area became very isolated and was considered a backwater of the Spanish Empire. With the Spanish economy in decline the settlements along the Rio Grande were left to fend for themselves with little Spanish assistance. When the Mexican War of Independence ended in 1821 New Mexico was given to Mexico. This did little to help the area as even less resources were given to it.
After the Mexican-American War, from 1846 to 1848, the United States took New Mexico and pretty much ignored it until after the civil war. After the civil the United States committed great resources in their own words "to solve the Indian problem." This lead to most tribes being settled on reservations by treaty or by force. During the 20th century New Mexico started to change and was made into a state in 1912. More anglo settlers have moved in and tourism has become a large part of the economy. The last major historic event that took place in New Mexico was the site of the first atomic bomb test in 1945.
The state's total area is 314,460 km2). The eastern border of New Mexico lies along 103° W longitude with the state of Oklahoma, and 5 kilometres west of 103° W longitude with Texas. On the southern border, Texas makes up the eastern two-thirds, while the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora make up the western third, with Chihuahua making up about 90% of that. The western border with Arizona runs along the 109° 03' W longitude.The southwestern corner of the state is known as the Bootheel. The 37° N latitude parallel forms the northern boundary with Colorado. The states New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah come together at the Four Corners in the northwestern corner of New Mexico. New Mexico, although a large state, has little water. Its surface water area is about 650 km2.
The New Mexican landscape ranges from wide, rose-colored deserts to broken mesas to high, snow-capped peaks. Despite New Mexico's arid image, heavily forested mountain wildernesses cover a significant portion of the state, especially towards the north. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost part of the Rocky Mountains, run roughly north-south along the east side of the Rio Grande in the rugged, pastoral north. The most important of New Mexico's rivers are the Rio Grande, Pecos, Canadian, San Juan, and Gila. The Rio Grande is tied for the fourth longest river in the USA.
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Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains, roughly a 300 miles (almost 500 kilometres) drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Caverns date back 200 millions years and the limestone rocks that holds Carlsbad Cavern are full of ocean fossil plants and animals from a time before the dinosaurs, when the southeastern corner of New Mexico was a coastline similar to the Florida Keys.
One of Carlsbad Caverns main attraction is the “Big Room” where visitors can go down 900 feet (over 250 metres) in an elevator into the cave's main area and witness the wonderful rock formations. The Carlsbad Caverns are a must-see attraction that gets busy all-year around. Visitors are able to take a self-guided tour or a guided tour and tours can often be set up through hotels in the area and cities nearby. The Caverns are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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The White Sands National Monument is a U.S. National Monument located about 26 kilometres southwest of Alamogordo in western Otero County and northeastern Doña Ana County in the state of New Mexico, at an elevation of 1,291 metres. The area is in the mountain-ringed Tularosa Basin and comprises the southern part of a 710 km2 field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.
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The climate of New Mexico is generally semi-arid to arid, though there are areas of continental and alpine climates, and its territory is mostly covered by mountains, high plains, and desert. The Great Plains (High Plains) are located in the eastern portion of the state, similar to the Colorado high plains in eastern Colorado. The two states share plenty of similarities in terrain, with both having plains, mountains, basins, mesas, and desert lands. New Mexico's average precipitation rate is 350 mm a year. The average annual temperatures can range from 18 °C in the southeast to less than 4 °C in the northern mountains. During the summer months, daytime temperatures can often exceed 38 °C at elevations below 1,500 metres, the average high temperature in July ranges from 36 °C at the lower elevations to the upper to 26 °C at the higher elevations. Many cities in New Mexico can have temperature well belove zero. The highest temperature recorded in New Mexico was 50 °C at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Loving on June 27, 1994 and the lowest recorded temperature is -46 °C at Gavilan on February 1, 1951. New Mexico receives a decent amount of snow as well, and a lot of snow in its higher elevations in the mountains.
Albuquerque International Airport is the main gateway. Southwest Airlines offers most flights, including to/from Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, El Paso, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Orlando, Phoenix, St. Louis, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle and Tucson.
Several other airlines serve San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Denver, Cleveland, Atlanta, Minneapolis-Saint Paul and (the only international flight) Chihuahua in Mexico.
A number of trains stop en route between the central states and California in New Mexico. The trains are operated by Amtrak and include:
Interstate highways 10 and 40 cross the state east/west, the former entering between El Paso and Las Cruces and paralleling the southern border, and the latter following the route of historic Route 66 through the middle of the state. Interstate 25 enters the state in its northeast corner near Raton, passes through the eastern plains, crosses the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at Glorieta Pass near Santa Fe, then follows the Rio Grande south through Albuquerque to its terminus at I-10 in Las Cruces.
Although New Mexico has a fairly long border with Mexico, there are few ports of entry. Most traffic inbound from Mexico enters the United States at El Paso and then continues to Las Cruces and beyond. In addition to the usual customs, etc., at the national border, there are checkpoints along the major highways out of Las Cruces at which vehicles may be searched for illegal immigrants. (If you're considering bringing an illegal in, don't; penalties are serious and enforcement is stepping up, if still uneven.) The small town of Columbus has a border crossing with Mexico that is open 24 hours a day. Santa Teresa NM, adjacent to El Paso and south of Las Cruces also has a port of entry. Although this border crossing is only open from 6:00am-10:00pm, it forms a handy bypass of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso and is an important route for international commerce and travel.
Greyhound has bus services throughout the country.
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
New Mexico has a number of National Scenic Byways which offer a great way to explore the state crossing beautiful landscapes. Mostly, there are lots of national parks, state parks or monuments along the way and it's generally a better alternative than the faster but boring Interstate Highways.
A distinctive regional cuisine has developed in New Mexico. Often considered a subset of "Mexican" food, "New Mexican" cooking is characterized by:
These components merge into a cuisine that ranges from utterly basic, everyday-lunch fare (served almost everywhere in the state) to incredibly elaborate "Southwestern" meals with any number of exotic variations and add-ons. Santa Fe is justly famous for its rich assortment of New Mexican and Southwestern restaurants, but don't eat New Mexican food just there; there are a number of subtle variations in New Mexican cooking in the different regions of the state (for example, topping enchiladas with a fried egg is characteristic of southern New Mexican food but rare in the north), and you'll be well advised to experiment locally.
Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces are the only cities large enough to have significant night life. However, several of the American Indian pueblos operate casinos that bring in name-brand entertainment. The casinos themselves are controversial locally because of problems with patrons with gambling addictions, but the entertainment can be reasonably good.
There are a surprising number of acceptable wineries in New Mexico, concentrated mainly in the north central region, but there are several others in the middle Rio Grande valley, between Albuquerque and Socorro.
The wine- and fruit-based beverage known as sangría, more commonly associated with Spain, is also widespread in New Mexico. Most restaurants with a liquor license that serve New Mexican cuisine will also serve sangría.
There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:
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I have lived here for twelve years, travelling here for ten years before that.
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