New Mexico Fun Facts and Trivia

Santa Fe Palace of Governors

Santa Fe Palace of Governors

The Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe is the oldest government building in the Nation.  The Spanish built it as part of a fortress during the winter of 1609-1610. In 1909, it was converted to the Palace of the Governors History Museum, which houses exhibits on Spanish, Mexican, and American colonization dating back to the late 1500s.

The Rio Grande, New Mexico’s longest river, running through the entire length of the state.

Las Cruces makes the world’s largest enchilada the first weekend in October at the “Whole Enchilada Fiesta.”

Santa Fe is the highest capital city in the United States at 7,000 feet above sea level.

The Nation’s oldest surviving well along the Santa Fe Trail is Hay Springs Well in Las Vegas.

Albuquerque hosts the world’s largest hot air balloon festival the first weekend in October.

In Carrizozo, it is forbidden for a female to appear unshaven in public.

The leaves of the Yucca, New Mexico’s state flower, can be used to make rope, baskets, and sandals.

The World Shovel Race Championships take place every winter at Angel Fire Resort.

Albuquerque features the American International Rattlesnake Museum, where you will receive an education about these creepy critters and several live specimens, including a rare albino rattlesnake.

Elizabethtown, now a ghost town in Colfax County, was the first incorporated town in New Mexico.

Located in a collapsed lave tube, the Bandera Ice Cave’s temperature never rises above freezing.  At the bottom of the 75-foot deep cave, the ice floor is 20 feet thick, believed to date back to 1100 B.C.

Las Vegas was the largest city in New Mexico at the turn of the 20th century. It was established long before its Nevada counterpart.

Blue Hole, an 81-foot deep natural artesian spring in Santa Rosa, is a favorite location for scuba divers. It’s 4,600 feet above sea level, making the bottom an equivalent of nearly 100 feet of depth in the ocean.

Some isolated villages in New Mexico, such as Truchas, Chimayo’, and Coyote in the north-central part of the state, some descendants of Spanish conquistadors still speak a form of 16th century Spanish used nowhere else in the world today.

White Sands National Monument is a desert, not of sand, but gleaming white gypsum crystals.

Northeast New Mexico has more than 1,000 buildings listed on the National Historic Register.

Doc Holliday operated a dental office and a saloon and gambling hall in Las Vegas before moving on to Tombstone.

White Sands, New Mexico

White Sands, New Mexico

The world’s first Atomic Bomb was detonated on July 16, 1945, on the White Sands Testing Range near Alamogordo. Designed and manufactured in Los Alamos, the area of the first bombing site is today known as the Trinity Site.

The first gold strike in the Old West was made by Jose Ortiz in 1832 south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in what would quickly become the boomtown of Delores.

Hatch, New Mexico, is known as the “Green Chile capital of the world.”

Standing on the crest of the 8,182-foot Capulin Volcano in Union County, you can see five states: New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and Kansas!

More than 500 100-million-year-old dinosaur footprints have been identified and preserved at Clayton Lake State Park.

More than 25,000 Ancient Puebloans sites have been identified in New Mexico by archeologists. The Ancient Puebloans, a great civilization that was the Pueblo’s ancestors, were around for 1300 years. Their significant classical period lasted from 1100-1300 AD.

New Mexico has seven National Forests, including the Nation’s largest, 3.3 million acre Gila National Forest, including the Gila Wilderness.  Though many people picture New Mexico as desert terrain, ¼ of the state is filled with forests.

Las Vegas was New Mexico’s first territorial capital (for one day).

Bob Wills cut hair in a barbershop in Roy, New Mexico, in his pre-Texas Playboys music days.

In 1950 the little cub that became the National Fire Safety symbol, Smokey, the Bear, was found trapped in a tree when his home in Lincoln National Forest was destroyed by fire.

There are 19 Pueblo groups in New Mexico, speaking four distinct languages.  The Pueblo people of the southwest have lived in the same location longer than any other culture in the Nation.

The Navajo, are the United State’s largest Native American Group, with 78,000 members in New Mexico, and a reservation that covers 14 million Acres.

One out of three families in New Mexico speak Spanish at home.

In San Miguel County, Las Vegas has 900 buildings in nine historic districts on the National Registry — more than any city in the United States!

Cleveland Roller Mill in Mora county, New Mexico

Cleveland Roller Mill in Mora County, New Mexico

The Cleveland Roller Mill in Mora County was the last flour mill to be built in New Mexico, the last to stop running, and the only roller mill in New Mexico with its original milling works.

The NRA Whittington Center in Colfax County is the most comprehensive shooting facility in the United States, with 14 ranges and service facilities for all shooting disciplines. National Championship events are held annually.

At Lake Valley, miners discovered silver in veins so pure that the metal could be sawn off in blocks instead of having to be dug out by traditional methods.

Las Vegas provided 21 Rough Riders to Teddy Roosevelt in 1898, most of whom were at his side during the famed charge up San Juan Hill. The town hosted the first Rough Riders Reunion — attended by the soon-to-be President himself. Reunions continued until the 1960s.

In Las Cruces, it is against the law to carry a lunch box down Main Street.

The father of modern rocketry, Massachusetts scientist Robert Goddard whom some called a crackpot, came to New Mexico in 1930 to test rocket-ship models. From those humble beginnings, the aerospace industry became one of New Mexico’s leading industries.

The world’s largest camping facility, southwest of Cimarron, is where more than 18,000 scouts come from all over the world each year to enjoy treks and a variety of programs at Philmont Scout Ranch.

After WWII, Los Alamos and Albuquerque had many new laboratories. Hundreds of highly educated scientists and engineers moved in the state. New Mexico soon had a higher percentage of people with Ph. D.s than any other state.

In New Mexico, it is against the law to dance around a Sombrero.

Thomas Edward “Black Jack” Ketchum is the only person hanged in Union County. He is also the only person hanged in New Mexico for the capital offense of “felonious assault upon a railway train.” The law was found to be unconstitutional, but after the hanging, unfortunately for Ketchum. Poor Black Jack is the only example in the annals of American jurisprudence in which the culprit was decapitated during a judicial hanging. There was one other example, in England, in 1601.

Public education was almost non-existent in New Mexico until the end of the 19th century. As late as 1888, there was not a single public college or high school in the entire territory.

New Mexico has far more sheep and cattle than people. There are only about 12 people per square mile.

Hollywood cowboy Tom Mix chose Las Vegas, New Mexico, as the filming location for some of the country’s earliest westerns.

Taos Pueblo and river, New Mexico

Taos Pueblo and river, New Mexico

Taos Pueblo, located two miles north of Taos, New Mexico, is one of the oldest continuously occupied communities in the United States. People still live in some of its 900-year-old buildings.

Since New Mexico’s climate is so dry, 3/4 of the roads are left unpaved. The roads don’t wash away.

During the height of the so-called lawless era of the late 1800′ when Lew Wallace served as territorial Governor, he wrote the popular historical novel Ben-Hur. First published in 1880, it was made into a movie in 1959 starring Charleton Heston.

The town of Deming is known for its annual duck races.

DAV Vietnam Memorial in Angel Fire was the Nation’s first memorial to soldiers who served in Vietnam.

New Mexico’s capital city of Santa Fe was the ending point of the 800 mile Santa Fe Trail.

Cimarron was once known as the “Cowboy capital of the world.” Some of the old west’s most famous names, such as Kit Carson and “Buffalo Bill” Cody, lived there. A quote from the Las Vegas Gazette illustrates how lawless Cimarron was. “Everything is quiet in Cimarron. Nobody has been killed in 3 days.”

Tens of thousands of bats live in the Carlsbad Caverns. The largest chamber of Carlsbad Caverns is more than ten football fields long and about 22 stories high.

The City of Truth or Consequences was once called Hot Springs. In 1950 the town changed its name to the title of a popular radio quiz program.

Greetings From Gallup, New Mexico

Greetings From Gallup, New Mexico

The town of Gallup calls itself the “Indian Capital of the World” and serves as a trading center for more than 20 different Indian groups. Every August, it is the site of the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial.

Native Americans have been living in New Mexico for some twenty thousand years. The Pueblo, Apache, Comanche, Navajo, and Ute peoples were in the New Mexico region when Spanish settlers arrived in the 1600s.

Grants, New Mexico, is known as the “Uranium capital of the world,” having produced the bulk of the Nation’s uranium supply during the post-World War II and Cold War era.

Ten thousand-year-old arrowheads have been found on the same desert grounds where today’s space-age missiles are tested.

Wheeler Peak is New Mexico’s highest point at more than 13,000 feet.

Believe it or not, New Mexico has two designated State Vegetables – Chile and frijoles.  That being said, it comes as no surprise that New Mexico also has an officially designated State Question — “Red or green?” (referring to chile preference.)

To test the latest rockets, White Sands Missile Range was created on the same land where the first atom bomb exploded.

In 1861-62, during the Confederate Occupation, Mesilla, New Mexico, was the capital of Arizona Territory.

The only town in the U.S. to ever be invaded by a foreign army is Columbus by Mexico’s Pancho Villa.

The Santo Domingo Mission between Albuquerque and Santa Fe was built fifteen years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.

The only surviving settlement of the “Seven Cities of Cibola” is the Zuni Pueblo.

Albuquerque was once part of the confederacy.

Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the Nation.

Lucien B. Maxwell

Lucien B. Maxwell

Lucien Maxwell was the largest single landowner in the western hemisphere. On January 28, 1870, Maxwell sold almost 2,000,000 acres of land to Colorado investors fronting for an English company for $1,350,000.

The first area in the world to be designated as a wilderness area was in the Gila Mountains of New Mexico.

Silver City is remembered as the boyhood home of William Bonney, who gained notoriety as Billy the Kid.

The University of New Mexico’s Institute of Meteoritics was the first of its kind in the world.

The first road to be established by Europeans in the United States was the El Camino Real (the Royal Highway) that stretched from Santa Fe to Mexico City.  First used primarily as a trade route, it began to serve travelers about 1581, and portions still exist today.

Sierra Grande, situated about 10 miles southeast of Folsom in Union County, is the largest single mountain in the United States. It is 40 miles around the base and covers 50 square miles, with an altitude of 8,720 feet. It is a dormant volcano.

New Mexico’s history is filled with Wild West characters.  At least for a time, some who made their homes here were Clay Allison, Buffalo Bill Cody, Black Jack Ketchum, Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday, and Pat Garrett.

On the corner of Route 66 and First Street in Tucumcari is a Texaco Station, the only service station to have operated continuously through the Route 66 era.

Tucumcari’s Tee Pee Curios is the last curio store on Route 66 between Albuquerque and Amarillo.

Inscription Rock, also known as El Morro, is a great monolith of sandstone southwest of Grants. Everyone from Indians and conquistadors to missionaries and outlaws have carved their names.

Besides being a hideout for Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, Whitewater Canyon served as a sanctuary for Indian Chief Geronimo.

The town of Santa Rosa has 15 separate lakes and streams.

Ft. Union in Mora County was at one time the largest fort west of the Mississippi River.

Clayton used to be the smallest town in the world with a Rotary Club. In 1916, several civic leaders decided Clayton needed one. They were told Clayton was too small to have a Rotary Club. The wannabe Rotarians chartered a railroad passenger car, crashed the 1916 Rotary convention in San Francisco, and demanded to be let in. They charmed the real delegates, who passed a special resolution allowing Clayton to become Rotary Club #1617.

The first and only surviving Carnegie Library in New Mexico is located in Las Vegas.

New Mexico State officials ordered 400 words of “sexually explicit material” to be cut from Romeo and Juliet.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.