Since I was born in Texas and lived my early years there, I already knew our nearest neighbor to the west was the state of New Mexico. I hadn’t been there, however, until I passed through in 1950 with my family on our way to live in California. Little did I know that a mere six months later, my father’s job would send us to live in The Land of Enchantment.
Traversing the southern part of New Mexico in the dead of winter was quite a different story than arriving at the end of June 1951, in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave. Albuquerque, which was located (and still is, for that matter) in the northern half of the state, was to be our new home. Having become acclimated to the mild weather in the San Diego area of California, arriving to 105 degree heat in Albuquerque that day was a sizzling experience. Not only was it hot, but our new hometown was experiencing the infamous “drought of the 1950s.” No rain, for months at a time, only to be drenched the next year by the monsoons of middle summer.
But not until I traveled to Indianapolis about five years later did I have occasion to experience the first of my adventures as a “foreigner” to my fellow Americans. That’s when I discovered the tendencies of some citizens in the rest of the country to see the words “New Mexico” on our name tags, and automatically assume we neither spoke English, nor were United States citizens. I could only wonder if these folks had slept through geography classes in elementary school!
Perhaps in today’s world—especially since the advent of television’s “Breaking Bad” series—New Mexico, and Albuquerque in particular, are more on the map for the rest of the country. But if that’s all you know about us, you’re missing out on some amazing country and it’s fantastic people.
Most of us learned in grade school that the first settlement in the New World—also known as America—was Jamestown, Virginia in 1620. That was, however, the first English settlement. The Spaniards approached the United States from the south, through Mexico in the 1500s. By 1610, Santa Fe was a Spanish settlement in what is now New Mexico. The first royal governor of Nuevo Mexico, Pedro de Peralta, received instructions dated March 30, 1609, to establish a new town to serve as the capital of New Mexico. As early as 1605, some settlement had already taken place in that general area.
I get the impression that in those days, the settlers from England and Germany coming to the eastern coast of America didn’t pay much attention to what the Spanish were up to in the Southwest. It was a big country after all, and there was no telephone, no telegraph, and no internet to keep them informed. That’s probably why news of New Mexico becoming the 47th state in 1912 failed to impress most people, a fact that’s true even to this day.
It’s also probably one reason J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “Father of the Atomic Bomb,” selected Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1942 as the site for the weapons laboratory to develop the Manhatten Project. It was located in a remote mountain setting, easily protected from prying eyes. When the bombs were ready for testing, White Sands, New Mexico provided Trinity Site—tucked away from most of the population—to detonate those devices.
After the automobile became popular, early travelers along the roads crisscrossing America became aware of the awe inspiring Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. But the notion still stuck that New Mexico was part of another country. When the U.S. Highway system commissioned U.S. Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1926, New Mexico became even more known to travelers. While its earlier alignment took the highway through a more northerly “ramble” which included Santa Fe and Las Vegas, NM (yes, we have a Las Vegas in New Mexico—much older than the one in Nevada), it entered and left Albuquerque along a north/south route. Later, in 1937, it was realigned and became more of a straight line through Albuquerque’s main street, going east and west. Constructon of Interstate 40 began in 1957, and eventually Route 66 was decomissioned. It remains as a ghost highway today, still accessible in many spots.
New Mexico has spectacular scenery, and numerous mountains dotting the landscape. You can ski in the morning in the mountains, and have a picnic in a park in the city in the afternoon. There are artist colonies in Santa Fe, Taos, and other areas of the state. Georgia O’Keefe chose the small town of Abique to practice her art. Other artists such as Peter Hurd, and Wilson Hurley found their own inspiration here. New Mexico is or was home to a number of well-known writers, including the late Tony Hillerman. Today George R.R. Martin is a fixture in Santa Fe, and Anne Hillerman, Tony’s daughter, keeps the writing tradition of her father going by picking up the torch and continuing her own interpretation of the Joe Leaphorn, Jim Chee novels set on the Navajo Reservation. We are also proud to be the home of other famous authors Max Evans and N. Scott Momaday. Even writers Willa Cather and D.H. Lawrence spent time in New Mexico in the 1920s.
New Mexico has her very own Centennial Author in the person of Don Bullis. Bullis was designated for that job in 2011, and wrote an amazing book, New Mexico Biographies, just in time for our 100th Birthday party in 2012. To learn more about the history of New Mexico, that’s the reference tool you need.
If your interests are extra terrestrial, take a tour of Roswell, New Mexico, another town which brought New Mexico to the attention of the outside world in 1947. They even have their own UFO Museum for your enjoyment.
We also have our share of outlaws, the most famous being Billy the Kid. His final resting place can be found in De Baca County, not very far from where he met his end in Fort Sumner at the hand of Sheriff Pat Garrett.
If you love visiting museums, New Mexico has a plethora of those. From the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamagordo, NM to the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque. From Spaceport America outside Truth or Consequences, NM (now there’s a story!) to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum of Art in Santa Fe. There’s even the New Mexico History Museum located on the historic Santa Fe Plaza.
So here’s your invitation to come see New Mexico. And, if you are an American citizen, you won’t even need a passport.I’m offering readers who comment on this post a choice between a copy of The Easter Egg Murder or one of Murder on Sagebrush. Please indicate your preference in your comment and leave contact info. Winners will be chosen by a random number generator. I look forward to your comments.
Patricia Smith Wood, aka, “Pat” says she seriously focused on writing mysteries shortly before the beginning of her second childhood—that period in a person’s life after retirement and before senility sets in for good. Her childhood as an “FBI Brat” gave her unusual insight into the lives of crime fighters, detectives, and spies. She spent a period of her early working life employed at the FBI, often taking dictation from her own father in the course of a day’s work.
From her teenage years she was hooked on mysteries in all forms: books, movies, television shows, and newspaper accounts. This led to her first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder, published in February 2013 by Aakenbaaken & Kent. It was a finalist in the 2013 NM/AZ Book Awards in the categories of Best Mystery and Best First Book.
Her second mystery in the series, Murder on Sagebrush Lane, a mixture of murder, mistaken identity, theft of government secrets, and blackmail, has been entered in the 2016 NM/AZ Book Awards. Murder on Frequency, the third in the series, is currently evolving.
Visit me to learn more: www.patriciasmithwood.com