The Oldest Community In The United States
Before the land’s colonization by Spaniards in the late 1590s, the region of what is now New Mexico was populated by many indigenous peoples, primarily the Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo. It’s hard to pinpoint just when the land was settled by Native Americans, but the state is home to some of the oldest identifiable settlements in North America. In fact, the Taos Pueblo settlement is thought to be the longest-inhabited settlement in the United States, with some estimations marking the community as 1,000 years old. Today, the location is a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to it’s pre-Colombian authenticity, and has “successfully [retained] most of its traditional forms up to the present day.”
Trinity Site explosion, 0.016 second after explosion, July 16, 1945. (Berlyn Brixner/Los Alamos National Laboratory/Wikimedia Commons)
The First Atomic Bomb
New Mexico is also home to one of the most pivotal events in human history, as the first atomic bomb was set off at what is now the White Sands Missile Range on July 16, 1945. Los Alamos was selected as the secret base for the development of atomic weapons by General Leslie Groves and Manhattan Project director Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer due to the latter’s lifelong love of the New Mexico countryside and their desire for isolation in an effort to create a “bubble of secrecy” in which they could develop the first weapon of mass destruction. Today, Los Alamos Laboratories continues to do research in nuclear energy as well as space travel and supercomputers.
At Fort Worth Army Air Field, Major Jesse A. Marcel posing with debris on July 8, 1947. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram Photograph Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas/Wikimedia Commons)
New Mexico’s natural beauty has long made it a haven for artists of all kinds. During the 1870s, an era known as the “culture rush” flourished in the state as Europeans became obsessed with the unique Native art styles of the Southwest. Santa Fe in particular grew as a place of cultural and artistic exchange and welcomed artists from sculptor Ra Paulette, who masterfully hand carved caves into majestic meditative places, to the provocative and beautiful works of painter Georgia O’Keefe, who is best known for her intimate love of flowers, to the creator of Westeros himself, author George R.R. Martin.
The Roswell Incident
Of course, you can’t talk about New Mexico without talking about its most infamous conspiracy theory, the Roswell incident. Just a short two years after the atomic bomb lit up the desert, a strange object was found on a rancher’s estate in Corona, New Mexico that was odd enough for the sheriff to pass along to the nearby Roswell Army Air Field. Officially, the object recovered was a lost weather balloon, despite many sightings of some kind of “flying saucer” in the area weeks before. Oddly enough, interest in the case seemed to dissipate quickly, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that U.F.O. researcher Stanton Friedman claimed the government was guilty of a cover-up regarding what the debris recovered on the ranch actually was. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, tales of government cover-ups spun a wild web, and though there have been numerous efforts to debunk this theory, the actual city of Roswell seems to have embraced the mythos, as there are many U.F.O.-themed restaurants, hotels, and even a yearly festival for those who still believe the truth is out there.