New Mexico

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New Mexico

New Mexico is a state in the Southwestern United States. It is one of the Mountain States of the southern Rocky Mountains, sharing the Four Corners region of the western U.S. with Utah, Colorado, and Arizona, and bordering Texas to the east and southeast, Oklahoma to the northeast, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora to the south. The state capital is Santa Fe, which is the oldest capital in the U.S., founded in 1610 as the government seat of Nuevo México in New Spain; the largest city is Albuquerque.

Etymology

New Mexico received its name long before the present-day nation of Mexico won independence from Spain and adopted that name in 1821. The name “Mexico” derives from Nahuatl and originally referred to the heartland of the Mexica (Aztec) Empire in the Valley of Mexico, far from the area of New Mexico.

Following their conquest of the Aztecs in the early 16th century, the Spanish began exploring what is now the western United States, using “Mexico” in 1563 to name the region of New Mexico (Spanish: Nuevo México). In 1581, the Chamuscado and Rodríguez Expedition named the region north of the Rio Grande San Felipe del Nuevo México. The Spaniards had hoped to find wealthy indigenous cultures similar to those of the Mexica’s in central Mexico. The indigenous cultures of New Mexico, however, proved to be unrelated to the Mexicas and lacking in riches, but the name persisted.

Geography

With a total area of 121,590 square miles (314,900 km2), New Mexico is the fifth-largest state, after Alaska, Texas, California, and Montana. Its eastern border lies along 103°W longitude with the state of Oklahoma, and 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometres) west of 103°W longitude with Texas (due to a 19th-century surveying error). 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 parallel forms the northern boundary with Colorado. The states of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah come together at the Four Corners in New Mexico’s northwestern corner. Its surface water area is about 292 square miles (760 km2).

Despite its popular depiction as mostly arid desert, New Mexico has one of the most diverse landscapes of any U.S. state, ranging from wide, auburn-colored deserts and verdant grasslands, to broken mesas and high, snow-capped peaks. Close to a third of the state is covered in timberland, with heavily forested mountain wildernesses dominating 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 Great Plains extend into the eastern third of the state, most notably the Llano Estacado (“Staked Plain”), whose westernmost boundary is marked by the Mescalero Ridge escarpment. The northwestern quadrant of New Mexico is dominated by the Colorado Plateau, characterized by unique volcanic formations, dry grasslands and shrublands, open pinyon-juniper woodland, and mountain forests. The Chihuahuan Desert, which is the largest in North America, extends through the south.

New Mexico has long been reputable for its pleasant, temperate climate. Overall the state is semiarid to arid, with areas of continental and alpine climates at higher elevations. New Mexico’s statewide average precipitation is 13.7 inches (350 mm) a year, with average monthly amounts peaking in the summer, particularly in the more rugged north-central area around Albuquerque and in the south. Generally, the eastern third of the state receives the most rainfall, while the western third receives the least. Higher altitudes receive around 40 inches (1,000 mm), while the lowest elevations see as little as 8 to 10 inches (200–250 mm).

 

Annual temperatures can range from 65 °F (18 °C) in the southeast to below 40 °F (4 °C) in the northern mountains, with the average being the mid-50s °F (12 °C). During the summer, daytime temperatures can often exceed 100 °F (38 °C) at elevations below 5,000 feet (1,500 m); the average high temperature in July ranges from 99 °F (37 °C) at the lower elevations down to 78 °F (26 °C) at the higher elevations. In the colder months of November to March, many cities in New Mexico can have nighttime temperature lows in the teens above zero, or lower. The highest temperature recorded in New Mexico was 122 °F (50 °C) at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Loving on June 27, 1994; the lowest recorded temperature is −50 °F (−46 °C) at Gavilan (near Lindrith) on February 1, 1951. 

Demographics

Population

The 2020 Census recorded a population of 2,117,522, an increase of 2.8% from 2,059,179 in the 2010 census. This was the lowest rate of growth in the western U.S. after Wyoming, and among the slowest nationwide. By comparison, between 2000 and 2010, New Mexico's population increased by 11.7% from 1,819,046—among the fastest growth rates in the country. A report commissioned by the New Mexico Legislature attributed the slow growth to a negative net migration rate, particularly among those 18 or younger, and to a 19% decline in the birth rate. However, growth among the Hispanic and Native American communities remained healthy.

More than half of New Mexicans (51.4%) were born in the state; 37.9% were born in another state; 1.1% were born in either Puerto Rico, an island territory, or abroad to at least one American parent; and 9.4% were foreign born (compared to a national average of roughly 12%). Almost a quarter of the population (22.7%) was under the age of 18, and the state's median age of 38.4 is slightly above the national average of 38.2. New Mexico's somewhat older population is partly reflective of its popularity among retirees: It ranked as the most popular retirement destination in 2018, with an estimated 42% of new residents being retired.

Languages

New Mexico ranks third after California and Texas in the number of multilingual residents. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 28.45% of the population age 5 and older speak Spanish at home, while 3.50% speak Navajo. Some speakers of New Mexican Spanish are descendants of pre-18th century Spanish settlers. Contrary to popular belief, New Mexican Spanish is not an archaic form of 17th-century Castilian Spanish; though some archaic elements exists, linguistic research has determined that the dialect “is neither more Iberian nor more archaic” than other varieties spoken in the Americas. Nevertheless, centuries of isolation during the colonial period insulated the New Mexican dialect from “standard” Spanish, leading to the preservation of older vocabulary as well as its own innovations.

Religion

Like most U.S. states, New Mexico is predominantly Christian, with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism each constituting roughly a third of the population. According to Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), the largest denominations in 2010 were the Catholic Church (684,941 members); the Southern Baptist Convention (113,452); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (67,637), and the United Methodist Church (36,424). Approximately one-fifth of residents are unaffiliated with any religion, which includes atheists, agnostics, deists.

Catholicism is deeply rooted in New Mexico’s history and culture, going back to its settlement by the Spanish in the early 17th century. The oldest Christian church in the continental U.S., and the third oldest in any U.S. state or territory, is the San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe, which was built in 1610. Within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, New Mexico belongs to the Ecclesiastical Province of Santa Fe. The state has three ecclesiastical districts: the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the Diocese of Gallup, and the Diocese of Las Cruces.

Economy

Oil and gas production, tourism, and federal government spending are important drivers of the state economy. The state government has an elaborate system of tax credits and technical assistance to promote job growth and business investment, especially in new technologies.

Economic Indicators

As of 2021, New Mexico's gross domestic product was over $95 billion, compared to roughly $80 billion in 2010. State GDP peaked in 2019 at nearly $99 billion but declined in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the per capita personal income was slightly over $45,800, compared to $31,474 in 2007; it was the third lowest in the country after West Virginia and Mississippi. The percentage of persons below the poverty level has largely plateaued in the 21st century, from 18.4% in 2005 to 18.2% in 2021.

Traditionally dependent on resource extraction, ranching, and railroad transportation, New Mexico has become increasingly reliant on tourism. The state tourism department estimates that in the 2006 fiscal year, the travel industry in New Mexico generated expenditures of $6.5 billion. In 2014, visitors contributed close to $8.6 billion in direct and indirect spending.

Oil and Gas Production

New Mexico is the second largest crude oil and ninth largest natural gas producer in the United States; it overtook North Dakota in oil production in July 2021 and is expected to continue expanding. The Permian and San Juan Basins, which are located partly in New Mexico, account for some of these natural resources. In 2000 the value of oil and gas produced was $8.2 billion, and in 2006, New Mexico accounted for 3.4% of the crude oil, 8.5% of the dry natural gas, and 10.2% of the natural gas liquids produced in the United States. However, the boom in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling since the mid-2010s led to a large increase in the production of crude oil from the Permian Basin and other U.S. sources; these developments allowed the United States to again become the world's largest producer of crude oil by 2018. New Mexico's oil and gas operations contribute to the state's above-average release of the greenhouse gas methane, including from a national methane hot spot in the Four Corners area.

In common with other states in the Western U.S., New Mexico receives royalties from the sale of federally owned land to oil and gas companies. It has the highest proportion of federal land with oil and gas, as well as the most lucrative: since the last amendment to the U.S. Mineral Leasing Act in 1987, New Mexico had by far the lowest percent of land sold for the minimum statutory amount of $2 per acre, at just 3%; by contrast, all of Arizona's federal land was sold at the lowest rate, followed by Oregon at 98% and Nevada at 84%. The state had the fourth-highest total acreage sold to the oil and gas industry, at about 1.1 million acres, and the second-highest number of acres currently leased fossil fuel production, at 4.3 million acres, after Wyoming's 9.2 million acres; only 11 percent of these lands, or 474,121 acres, are idle, which is the lowest among Western states. Nevertheless, New Mexico has had recurring disputes and discussions with the U.S. government over management and revenue rights over federal land.

Transportation

New Mexico has long been an important corridor for trade and migration. The builders of the ruins at Chaco Canyon also created a radiating network of roads from the mysterious settlement. Chaco Canyon’s trade function shifted to Casas Grandes in the present-day Mexican state of Chihuahua; however, north–south trade continued. The pre-Columbian trade with Mesoamerican cultures included northbound exotic birds, seashells and copper. Turquoise, pottery, and salt were some of the goods transported south along the Rio Grande. Present-day New Mexico’s pre-Columbian trade is especially remarkable for being undertaken on foot. The north–south trade route later became a path for horse-drawn colonists arriving from New Spain as well as trade and communication; later called El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, it was among the four “royal roads” that were crucial lifelines to Spanish colonial possessions in North America.

The Santa Fe Trail was the 19th-century territory’s vital commercial and military highway link to the Eastern United States. All with termini in Northern New Mexico, the Camino Real, the Santa Fe Trail and the Old Spanish Trail are all recognized as National Historic Trails. New Mexico’s latitude and low passes made it an attractive east–west transportation corridor. As a territory, the Gadsden Purchase increased New Mexico’s land area for the purpose of constructing a southern transcontinental railroad, that of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Another transcontinental railroad was completed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The railroads essentially replaced the earlier trails, but brought on a population boom. Early transcontinental auto trails later crossed the state, bringing more migrants. Railroads were later supplemented or replaced by a system of highways and airports. Today, New Mexico’s Interstate Highways approximate the earlier land routes of the Camino Real, the Santa Fe Trail and the transcontinental railroads.

Road

Personal automobiles remain the primary means of transportation for most New Mexicans, especially in rural areas. The state had 59,927 route miles of highway as of 2000, of which 7,037 receive federal aid. In that same year there were 1,003 miles (1,614 km) of freeways, of which a thousand were the route miles of Interstate Highways 10, 25 and 40. The former number has increased with the upgrading of roads near Pojoaque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces to freeways. Notable bridges include the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos. Larger cities in New Mexico typically have some form of public transportation by road; ABQ RIDE is the largest such system in the state. Rural and intercity public transportation by road is provided by Americanos USA, LLC, Greyhound Lines and several government operators.

New Mexico is plagued by poor road conditions, with roughly a third of its roadways suffering from “inadequate state and local funding”. As of 2001, 703 highway bridges, or one percent, were declared “structurally deficient” or “structurally obsolete”. Data from 2019 found 207 bridges and more than 3,822 miles of highway in less than subpar condition, resulting in greater commute times and higher costs in vehicles maintenance.

Highways

New Mexico has only three Interstate Highways: Interstate 10 travels southwest from the Arizona state line near Lordsburg to the area between Las Cruces and Anthony, near El Paso, Texas; Interstate 25 is a major north–south interstate highway starting from Las Cruces to the Colorado state line near Raton; and Interstate 40 is a major east–west interstate highway starting from the Arizona state line west of Gallup to the Texas state line east from Tucumcari. In Albuquerque, I-25 and I-40 meet at a stack interchange called The Big I. The state is tied with Delaware, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island in having the fewest primary interstate routes, which is partly a reflection of its rugged geography and sparse population.

New Mexico currently has 15 United States Highways, which account for over 2,980 miles (4,797 km) of its highway system. All but seven of its 33 counties are served by U.S. routes, with most of the remainder connected by Interstate Highways. Most routes were built in 1926 by the state government and are still managed and maintained by state or local authorities. The longest is U.S. 70, which spans over 448 miles (721 km) across southern New Mexico, making up roughly 15% of the state's total U.S. Highway length; the shortest is U.S. 160, which runs just 0.86 miles (1.38 km) across the northwestern corner of the state, between the Arizona and Colorado borders.

Rail

There were 2,354 route miles of railroads in the year 2000; this number increased by a few miles with the opening of the Rail Runner's extension to Santa Fe in 2006. In addition to local railroads and other tourist lines, the state jointly owns and operates a heritage narrow-gauge steam railroad, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railway, with the state of Colorado since 1970. Narrow-gauge railroads once connected many communities in the northern part of the state, from Farmington to Santa Fe. No fewer than 100 railroads of various names and lineage have operated in the state at some point. New Mexico's rail transportation system reached its height in terms of length following admission as a state; in 1914, eleven railroads operated 3124 route miles.

Railroad surveyors arrived in New Mexico in the 1850s shortly after it became a U.S. territory. The first railroads incorporated in 1869, and the first railway became operational in 1878 with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF), which entered via the lucrative and contested Raton Pass. The ATSF eventually reached El Paso, Texas in 1881, and with the entry of the Southern Pacific Railroad from the Arizona Territory in 1880, created the nation's second transcontinental railroad, with a junction at Deming. The Denver & Rio Grande Railway, which generally used narrow gauge equipment in New Mexico, entered the territory from Colorado, beginning service to Española in December 1880. These first railroads were built as long-distance corridors; later railroad construction also targeted resource extraction.

Education

Due to its relatively low population and numerous federally funded research facilities, New Mexico had the highest concentration of Ph.D holders of any state in 2000. Los Alamos County, which hosts the eponymous national laboratory, leads the state in the most post-secondary degree holders, at 38.7% of residents, or 4,899 of 17,950. However, the state routinely ranks near the bottom in studies measuring the quality of primary and secondary school education. It places 34th in public education spending, but by some metrics ranks last in overall performance and quality, with some of the highest dropout rates and lowest math and reading scores.

Primary and Secondary Education

The New Mexico Public Education Department oversees the operation of primary and secondary schools; individual school districts directly operate and staff said schools. In January 2022, New Mexico became the first state in the U.S. to recruit national guardsmen and state workers to serve as substitute teachers due to staffing shortages caused by COVID-19. Partly in response to pandemic-related shortages, on March 1, 2022, Governor Grisham signed into law four bills to increase the salaries and benefits of teachers and other school staff, particularly in entry-level positions.

Postsecondary Education

New Mexico has 41 accredited, degree-granting institutions; twelve are private and 29 are state-funded, including four tribal colleges. Additionally, select students can attend certain institutions in Colorado, at in-state tuition rates, pursuant to a reciprocity program between the two states. Graduates of four-year colleges in New Mexico have some of the lowest student debt burdens in the U.S.; the class of 2017 owed an average of $21,237 compared with a national average of $28,650, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

Culture

New Mexican culture is a unique fusion of indigenous, Spanish, Hispanic, and American influences. In addition to thousands of years of indigenous heritage, the state was among the earliest territories in the Americas to be settled by Europeans; centuries of Spanish and then Mexican settlement, often intermingled with an enduring indigenous presence, are reflected in the state’s demographics, toponyms, cuisine, dialect, and identity. New Mexico’s distinct culture and image is reflected in part by the fact that many Americans are unaware the state is part of the country; this phenomenon is variably treated with frustration, amusement, or even as a source of pride for evidencing the state’s unique character and heritage.

New Mexico is an important center of Native American culture, with an indigenous population close to 200,000 in 2010. Both the Navajo and Apache share Athabaskan origin, and Apache and some Ute live on federal reservations in the state. With 16 million acres (6,500,000 ha), mostly in neighboring Arizona, the reservation of the Navajo Nation ranks as the largest in the United States. Pueblo Indians live in pueblos scattered throughout the state.

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