New Mexico: Shifting sands, the world’s largest powwow and UFOs

Visiting the United States? There are 50 states in all.

New Mexico, a southwestern state with deserts and mountains, combines beauty with rich history and a diverse population. The state’s high percentage of Hispanics includes descendants of the Spanish colonists who arrived 400 years ago. The American Indian population is mostly Navajo, Pueblo and Apache. New Mexico’s culture mixes Spanish, Indian and Anglo influences.

Santa Fe, the capital, and Taos are famous for their art scenes and Pueblo-style adobe architecture. In August, Santa Fe’s Indian Market showcases American Indian artisans. And in September, the city’s Fiesta de Santa Fe celebrates Hispanic heritage.

Elsewhere, you can see 700 hot-air balloons take flight at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta or explore caves under the desert at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

U.S. map with New Mexico highlighted (State Dept./J. McCann)
(State Dept./J. McCann)

Windswept wonderland

Small spiked plants dotting white-sand desert landscape (Shutterstock)

White Sands National Monument, located near Alamogordo, has rippling sand dunes of white gypsum, endlessly shifting in the wind. Visitors can sled down the dunes and wander barefoot across the vast, beach-like terrain.

Made by hand

Skeletal oxen pulling wagon with skeletal passenger (Mike Fisher via flickr)
Skeletal oxen pull a wagon with a skeletal passenger at the Museum of International Folk Art. (Mike Fisher via flickr)

In Santa Fe, the Museum of International Folk Art showcases creativity with collections of objects from more than 100 countries. Toys, dolls, costumes and textiles are among the treasures found here, and the museum serves as a resource for scholars and artists from around the world.

Natural formations

Tall, craggy rock formation standing in plain (Bowie Snodgrass/Creative Commons)
(Bowie Snodgrass/Creative Commons)

Ship Rock, rising 482 meters above the high-desert plain of the Navajo Nation, is the most prominent landmark in northwestern New Mexico. Its name comes from its resemblance to a huge, 19th-century clipper ship. The monument is held sacred by members of the Navajo Nation.

Person surveying rock formations (Bureau of Land Management/Creative Commons)
(Bureau of Land Management/Creative Commons)

About 60 kilometers from Santa Fe, near Cochiti Lake, stands Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, with rock formations that look like tents with pointed tips. The site was shaped roughly 7 million years ago by volcanic ash and lava fragments.

Native pride

Man dancing in colorful, fringed costume (© Danita Delimont/Alamy Stock Photo)
(© Danita Delimont/Alamy Stock Photo)

The annual Gathering of Nations — held in Albuquerque — bills itself as the world’s largest powwow (an American Indian social gathering that honors tribal cultures). Members of 700 U.S. and Canadian tribes, including the dancer shown above, perform in singing and dancing competitions, and visitors are welcome.

The truth is out there

Marquee sign for International UFO Museum and Research Center (Shutterstock)

Roswell, New Mexico, is forever associated with a UFO (unidentified flying object) “incident” in 1947, although the alleged crash site is 121 kilometers away. Alien sightings have been reported, and the town’s International UFO Museum and Research Center is devoted to theories of extraterrestrial life. Many of the town’s restaurants are alien-themed. Bon appétit!

Learn more about New Mexico and the other 49 states. If you need a visa to visit, here’s how to get one.