Historic Route 66 became Central Avenue as it ran through downtown Albuquerque. (Â© Media Placitas LLC)
Updated: Thursday, 05 Jan 2012, 6:28 PM MST
Published : Monday, 31 Aug 2009, 6:06 PM MDT
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Long the home to prehistoric and native peoples the place now known as New Mexico gained its new identity when Spanish soldiers, settlers and priests pushed north from Old Mexico. Today the state enjoys a rich community on nearly two million residents, one of the most diverse in the nation, stretching from the deserts bordering Old Mexico to the high country of the Rocky Mountains.
History here runs deep rife with tragedy and triumph with some wounds from generations back still unhealed. The land has known war as well, rival tribes in conflict, settlers and natives unable to achieve peace, revolution within Mexico, declared war first between the United States and Mexico and then the Union and Confederacy and finally cowboys including Billy the Kid choosing up sides in the Lincoln County War. Only after the railroad arrived did modern New Mexico begin to take shape as isolation ended and tourists and business people recognized the beauty, culture and opportunities of the once-foreign land.
Agriculture remains an important element of the economy from chile farmers in the Rio Grande to Pecos valleys to cattle on summer grazing lands in the national forests. The national government has played a major commercial role since territorial days starting with local contracts to provide food and forage for military outposts. World War Two first brought atomic scientists to the top-secret lab at Los Alamos and then turned former cattle ranches between Las Cruces and Alamogordo into White Sands Missile Range , a center of rocket research and the only place outside California and Florida to host a space shuttle landing. Energy production also fuels the economy with major oil and gas fields centered around Farmington and Hobbs, abundant coal deposits in the northwest feeding power plants and a new and growing industry built on wind turbines sprouting in the northeast.
Commerce diversified over time with the railroad after 1880 bringing increasing numbers of tourists who then helped to create a market for Native American art. Painters soon discovered the clear air and pure light of Taos and Santa Fe further spreading interpretations of what makes New Mexico special. As the community of fine artists grew it attracted novelists and musicians both as newcomers and from people within the local inspired by the possibilities. Even a territorial governor, Lew Wallace, when he was coping with politics and Billy the Kid, found time to write the novel "Ben Hur."
Moviemakers soon discovered New Mexico with cowboy star Tom Mix taking up residence Las Vegas, locale for dozens of pre-sound Westerns. Movie production is again big business around the state, and careful viewers can once more spot the country around Las Vegas on the screen.
The many cultures which made New Mexico remain vibrant fostering fairs, fiestas, feast days and other celebrations welcoming visitors to experiences not found elsewhere.
Pueblos and tribal nations hold public events asking only respect for their varied rules and customs. The American West lives on in
rodeos held throughout the state from high school through professional levels at local arenas and the annual New Mexico State Fair. Residents and visitors enjoy an abundance of museums preserving not only the
history of the state but its cultures, artists, industries, space flight and even the space aliens believers say crashed near Roswell. Coming up in 2012 New Mexico will celebrate its
statehood centennial , and the city of Santa Fe found in 1609 already is noting its
400th anniversary .