Unit Study Supplement: New Mexico, U.S. 47th State
How did New Mexico get its name? Who lived in New Mexico first? And what is it known for? These and other questions are answered in our New Mexico unit study supplement, which includes interesting facts for kids, a history timeline about New Mexico, geography facts and more!
Time4Learning members can download our list of PreK-12 interactive activities that align with your study of New Mexico. Here are some New Mexico facts for kids:
New Mexico Fast Facts
Became a State:
January 6, 1912
Order it Joined the Union:
The Land of Enchantment
Notable New Mexicans:
Historical Facts About New Mexico
New Mexico got its name from the Spanish when they first explored the region. Hoping they would find the riches they had previously found in Mexico they called it “Nuevo (new) Mexico”, however, once under US rule the name was anglicized to what it is today.
New Mexico’s history began approximately 12,000 years ago when people from Russia crossed the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age. Later, the Native American tribes Apache, Navajo, Pueblo, and Zuni lived in New Mexico. The ruins of Pueblo can still be found throughout the state today.
Europeans arrived in 1540 from Spain, followed by years of exploration by friars and soldiers. Finally, in 1595, contracts for colonization were given to Juan de Oñate of New Spain, and permanent settlements began. Santa Fe, the current capital, was founded in 1610. Missionary work followed, but the Pueblo Indians resisted attempts to change their religion and culture. They rebelled in 1680, pushing Europeans out of the region for 12 years. By 1700, Spain was able to begin establishing permanent settlements again, including that of Albuquerque, which became an important center for the northern part of the region.
Spanish settlers engaged in subsistence farming and began to raise sheep and horses, which allowed for trade with the Comanche. The population increased to as much as 25,000 by 1800, but the region remained mostly underdeveloped. French traders arrived from New Orleans, but the Apache and Comanche attacked the settlements. In 1806-07, the US army entered New Mexico under the leadership of Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike. Pike was captured and imprisoned but managed to write a report that brought American traders and fur trappers into the area. Beginning in 1821, the Santa Fe Trail became an important route for trade.
The region became part of Mexico in 1821 when Mexico declared its independence from Spain, but the US was able to earn it as a territory by winning the Mexican-American War. The Territory of New Mexico was established by the US Congress in 1850 with Santa Fe soon becoming its first and only capital. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), an invading Confederate force was driven out after a short stay in the region; however, most people from the southern part of the territory supported the rebels.
The next period brought violence and unrest. After much fighting, Navajo tribes were forced to settle on a reservation near Fort Sumner in 1864. Apache were forced onto two reservations in 1880 but continued rebelling until 1886, particularly in southwestern New Mexico. Range wars were fought between cattle and sheep ranchers and landowners, and outlaws like Billy the Kid struggled with lawmakers. The arrival of the railway brought new immigration, and farming increased with new resources and methods of irrigation. However, the region maintained its frontier image beyond the start of its statehood in 1912.
Use the New Mexico history timeline below to learn more facts and information about the state:
1595Juan de Oñate of New Spain (now Mexico) was given permission to colonize the region
1610Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the US, was founded
1680Pueblo Rebellion occurred in response to missionary attempts to destroy Indian religion and culture
1700Spain had begun to establish permanent settlements in the area again
1706Albuquerque, today’s largest city in New Mexico, was founded
1821Mexico declared its independence from Spain, making the region part of Mexico
1848US won the Mexican-American War, earning New Mexico as a US territory
1850US Congress established the Territory of New Mexico
1851Santa Fe became the capital of the Territory of New Mexico
1862During the American Civil War, Santa Fe was occupied for two weeks by Confederate forces under General H.H. Sibley
1864Apache were forced onto a reservation near Fort Sumner
1868Apache were given a large reservation, located in northwestern New Mexico and Arizona
1878Bloodiest year of the range wars in Lincoln County, where Billy the Kid struggled with lawman Pat Garrett
1880Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway reached Albuquerque
1886End of the Apache rebellions
1912New Mexico became the 47th state in the US, under President Howard Taft, with Santa Fe as its capital
1942Research facilities in Los Alamos created the first atomic bomb
1999World’s first underground storage facility for radioactive waste opened in southeastern New Mexico
Bring history and geography to life with Time4Learning’s interactive online social studies curriculum for grades 2-12.
New Mexico Geography Facts
Now that your students have learned some interesting facts about New Mexico’s history, we can explore the state’s geography. New Mexico’s beautiful scenery is the reason for its nickname, the “Land of Enchantment.” The state has a diverse terrain, ranging from forests to the Chihuahuan Desert to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Part of the Great Plains cover the eastern part of the state, consisting of a high plateau and deep canyons (including Carlsbad Caverns). The Rocky Mountains (of which the Sangre de Cristo are part) are found in northern New Mexico while the central-southwestern part of New Mexico consists of flat deserts, mountain ridges, and white gypsum sand dunes.
New Mexico’s geography and climate are favorable for certain kinds of plant growth, including the desert willow, New Mexico olive, piñon pine, and Rio Grande cottonwood trees, as well as wildflowers, cacti, and succulents. Wildlife includes cougars, coyotes, bighorn sheep, black bears (state animal), rare black-footed ferrets, vultures, hawks, scarlet tanagers, orioles, greater roadrunners (state bird), and some amphibians like the western green toad, whiptail lizard, and tiger salamander.
View this map of New Mexico to get an overview of the state. Then read through the following New Mexico geography facts. Print out the blank map of New Mexico provided below and draw and label the geographical features listed here.
- New Mexico is bordered by Colorado in the north, Mexico in the south, Arizona in the west, and Oklahoma and Texas in the east.
- The northwest corner of the state touches Arizona, Colorado, and Utah, to form the only location in the US where four states meet.
- The capital, Santa Fe, lies in the center of the northern half of the state.
- The Rio Grande River, the state’s largest river, flows roughly north-south just to the west of the center of New Mexico.
- The Pecos River begins near Santa Fe and works its way to the southeastern corner of New Mexico.
- The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, can be found just southwest of Santa Fe on the Rio Grande River.
- Conchas Lake is in the northeastern quarter of the state on the Canadian River, which crosses the border into Texas.
- Sumner Lake is on the Pecos River about halfway between the northern and southern borders of New Mexico.
- The Chihuahuan Desert spans the southwestern corner of the state near the border with Mexico and Texas.
- The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains, extend down from the Colorado border toward Santa Fe, just east of the Rio Grande River.
- New Mexico’s highest point is Wheeler Peak, at 13,161 feet above sea level, in the northeastern quarter of New Mexico.
- The lowest point (2,842 feet above sea level) is Red Bluff Reservoir, located on the Pecos River, just 40 miles north of Pecos, Texas.
New Mexico State Map
Download our FREE New Mexico state map printable. Use it as a coloring page or use it to plot the state’s geographical features.
Activities for Children in New Mexico
There are still many more fun facts about New Mexico you can learn? Take a trip to the “Land of Enchantment” to learn more interesting facts about New Mexico. For Homeschoolers in New Mexico, this may be a simple day trip. Others may have to plan a longer stay. Here are a few ideas to help you learn some New Mexico state facts in a hands-on way:
- Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Nageezi): Take a guided tour or go hiking or biking to see the organization and engineering accomplishments of the Pueblo people who lived in this canyon from 850 to 1250. For a different experience, participate in an evening campfire talk or night sky program. Free lesson plans are available on the website. The park does honor the “Every Kid in a Park” 4th grade vouchers; otherwise, there is a 7-day entrance fee per vehicle.
- Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum of Albuquerque (Albuquerque): Enjoy activities related to art, engineering, math, science, and technology. Learn about air, gravity, water, light, electricity, bubbles, and more. Check out the Parents’ Corner to learn ways to talk to your child about math in relation to other subjects (i.e., “Math in Music” and “Math in Energy”). Local homeschoolers may be interested in the Home School Explorations program. Sensory-friendly activities, materials, and resources are available, too.
- International UFO Museum and Research Center (Roswell): Located where some people claimed was the site of a UFO crash in 1947 (known as “The Roswell Incident”), this museum lets you wonder whether aliens ever did visit Earth. See a number of UFO attractions through a self-guided tour or request a talk about the Crash of 1947.
- New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society (Albuquerque): See the restoration in progress of the 1944 steam locomotive no. 2926 from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. Put on a hard hat on Wednesdays and Saturdays when the tow vehicle leads the locomotive out of the engine house for work. Get a hands-on introduction to the locomotive’s history and future and watch as welding and pipe fitting and other tasks are completed. Parking and tours are free, but donations are a part of what keeps the project going. Watch for the free open house held each year in the fall.
- Santa Fe Opera (Santa Fe): This open-air opera house is known around the world. See an opera production, concert, or other special event. Check the schedule for Family Nights where opera becomes more accessible for families. Take a backstage tour or a tour of the grounds. Locals can also take part in the Opera Storytellers Summer Camp or multi-week Young Technicians Workshops that are free to high school students.
Looking for more things to do with your kids in New Mexico? Check out this post full of field trip ideas in New Mexico!
New Mexico Freebies and Deals for Homeschoolers
You can also learn more New Mexico facts and information without breaking the bank. In fact, some of New Mexico’s most scenic locations can be accessed for free if you do your research. Here are just a few ideas:
- Bandalier National Monument (Los Alamos): Examine the ancient Pueblo sites dating over 11,000 years ago, including petroglyphs, standing masonry walls, and dwellings carved into the rock cliffs. Explore over 33,000 acres of canyon and mesas. Enjoy hiking, boating, and camping, or try a backcountry guided tour. Check the schedule for fee-free days or take advantage of the “Every Child in a Park” 4th grade voucher program.
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park (Town): Explore the more than 119 caves created when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone in the Chihuahuan Desert. See the ancient sea ledges and rocky canyons as you watch wildlife and enjoy the flowering cacti. Admission is free for children ages 15 and under, and the park participates in the “Every Kid in a Park” fourth-grade voucher program (allowing fourth graders free admission to all national parks for the school year until the end of August). Check the schedule for several fee-free days throughout the year. Even if you can’t visit, check out the free “park fun” activities and publications on the website.
- Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument (Albuquerque): Hike through cone-shaped rock formations caused by volcanic eruptions from six to seven million years ago. While observing the pumice, ash, and tuff deposits that are more than 1,000 feet thick, stop to birdwatch or identify plants. Admission is only $5 per vehicle, and there are several free online resources, including trail, plant, and bird guides, as well as a student workbook and teacher guide.
- Georgia O’Keefe Museum (Santa Fe): Explore the New Mexico landscape paintings of Georgia O’Keefe through the museum’s nine galleries. See drawings, paintings, watercolors, and pastels inspired by her New Mexico surroundings, as well as other natural environments, urban settings, and home interiors. All children under 18 are free. Free teacher resources are also available on the website.
- White Sands National Monument (Holloman AFB): Walk among the rare white gypsum sand dunes in this 275 square-mile desert, the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Try backcountry camping, bicycling, or hiking to see the sites, or you can take the 45-minute round-trip scenic drive. Watch for fee-free days throughout the year. Free teacher resources are also available on the website.
New Mexico Learning Games for Children
After learning some interesting things about New Mexico, test your knowledge of New Mexico facts for students with these free games and activities: