New Mexico is considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 people per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S. state.
Formerly a Spanish colony after conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, then a Mexican colony until the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, and then an American territory until New Mexico achieved statehood in 1912, New Mexico still has a large native Spanish-speaking population as well as many Native American communities, offering a unique culture that clearly stands apart from that of other states. Spanish is the official second language.
New Mexico has a fantastic natural scenery, a major fine arts scene centered around Santa Fe, great outdoor recreational opportunities, and a distinctive regional cuisine.
Understanding New Mexico starts with grasping the overpowering importance of two of its geological features: the Rio Grande, which bisects the state north to south, and the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains, southernmost range of the Rocky Mountains and a part of the same large-scale geological structure that produces the Rio, the "Rio Grande rift." The eastern third of the state is an extension of the Great Plains both geographically and culturally and has more in common with the western parts of Texas and Oklahoma than with the rest of New Mexico.