New Mexico turns 100 — and has plenty to show for it.Perched 140 feet above the canyon floor, I watch an obsidian raven make wide turns in the dark-turquoise expanse above me. Shimmering white clouds hang in an infinite sky. I’ve climbed four wooden ladders to the Alcove House ruins, overlooking Frijoles Canyon in Bandelier National Monument, and I almost lose my breath from the beauty of the view after catching it after the climb. Inside the shallow cave, a round ceremonial chamber called a kiva gives this ancient space an air of mystery and serenity.
My wife, Kat, and I are hiking in Bandelier National Monument, northwest of Santa Fe near Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. This wilderness, covering more than 33,000 acres, protects thousands of American Indian ruins that date back 11,000 years, ranging from simple pit houses to structures like the one we’re exploring from the 1400s.
As we survey the ponderosa pine-studded canyon beneath us, time seems to stand still. I chuckle to myself, because on this trip through the Land of Enchantment, I’ve been acutely aware of the passage of time. New Mexico this year celebrates a century of statehood (President William Howard Taft signed the proclamation Jan. 6, 1912). As we explore ruins that go back millennia, built into a landscape a million years old, near a place that changed the world forever, 100 years seems like a moment ago. But the clock soon starts again because Kat has a spa appointment at La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa, where we’re staying tonight. Taking one last lingering look, we begin the hike back to our car at Bandelier’s newly remodeled Depression-era visitor center.
Two hours later, Kat has her sore muscles melted at La Posada’s spa, and I decide to learn more about New Mexico’s timeline at the New Mexico History Museum. I follow conquistador don Francisco Vázquez de Coronado as he enters New Mexico in 1540 (80 years before the Pilgrims hit Plymouth) and encounters villages of people who had already been here for centuries. These 19 Pueblos and their people are still here today; respectful visitors may witness the mesmerizing dances conducted throughout the year to ensure good hunts, harvests and life. At first welcoming, the Pueblos grew resentful of the harsh tactics the Spanish used to convert them to Catholicism, and they joined forces in 1680 to drive the Spanish to El Paso, Texas. The Spanish returned 12 years later with the promise of better treatment. The Fiesta de Santa Fe re-enacts this return every September.
The Spanish (now Mexican citizens) and Pueblos were living in relative harmony when, in 1846, during the Mexican-American War, Gen. Stephen Kearny stood in the Santa Fe Plaza and announced that New Mexico was now a territory of the United States. Soon the Santa Fe Trail was importing goods, and businesses boomed by supplying the new American forts. In the 1880s the railroad brought Victorian building supplies to New Mexico, and tuberculosis brought Easterners seeking relief in New Mexico’s arid climate. La Posada de Santa Fe was originally the Victorian mansion of Abraham and Julia Staab, Jewish merchants who became wealthy by importing goods. The Staabs donated funds to help build the Gothic St. Francis Cathedral nearby; as a sign of appreciation, Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy had the Hebrew Tetragrammaton inscribed over the arched entryway.