For over four centuries, New Mexico has been a cultural crossroads, a place where Spanish, Native American, Mexican and American influences have co-mingled to create a rich and unique society. Fortunately, New Mexico celebrates its long and colorful history with a diverse mix of museums, national monuments and other carefully preserved historical and cultural sites that are open to the public. From ancient cliff dwellings and the oldest continuously inhabited community in the U.S. to world renowned art museums and churches where miracles seem to happen, New Mexico’s history and culture are truly amazing.
1. El Santuario de Chimayo
Tucked away in the little town of Chimayo along the historic Turquoise Trail, the El Santuario de Chimayo is world renown as a place where miracles occur. The tiny chapel, circa 1856, is built on a site associated with a miracle of the crucifix of Our Lord of Esquipulas. A small room in the complex contains a pit of Holy Dirt that many believe possesses healing powers. A shrine just outside that room is lined with discarded crutches and numerous moving testimonials from people who claim they were cured after rubbing the Holy Dirt on themselves. An annual pilgrimage to El Santuario during Holy Week involves some 30,000 people from around the world. Some people walk from as far away as Albuquerque (about 90 miles away), taking up to a week of walking before they arrive at El Santuario de Chimayo.
2. New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors
Encompassing the oldest continuously occupied public building in the U.S., the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors is a remarkable piece of living history. The sprawling, adobe-style palace was originally constructed in the early 17th century as Spain’s regional seat of government. It chronicles nearly 400 years of New Mexico history involving U.S., Spanish and Confederate States of America soldiers, Mexican and New Mexican territorial governors and Pueblo peoples. Included in the palace exhibits are fascinating viewing portals where significant archaeological finds were unearthed. Adjacent to the palace is a dazzling new history museum that opened in 2009 with three floors of displays about the legendary Santa Fe Trail and other eras of the state’s colorful history. Native Americans sell their handmade art and jewelry under the palace portal daily. These artisans must be members of New Mexico tribes and pueblos, and their work is certified for its authenticity.
3. Bandelier National Monument
Walking underneath the towering cliffs framing Frijoles Canyon can be a spiritual experience for visitors to Bandelier National Monument. Stretching for several miles along the canyon are dozens of ancient cave dwellings that were carved into the cliffs by ancestral Puebloan people. While 70 miles of hiking trails wind through the rugged 50-square-mile national monument about 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe, Bandlier’s Main Loop Trail’s 1.2-mile, mostly level loop offers a great overview of the area where evidence of human activity dating back more than 10,000 years has been found. Short ladders provide entrance to some cave dwellings, and petroglyphs and remnants of a two-story, multi-room pueblo that housed 100 people can be seen. A half-mile trail extension leads to Alcove House, a large cave perched 140 feet above the canyon floor where approximately 25 people lived. It can be accessed via a series of stone steps and ladders.
4. Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
Located on picturesque Museum Hill just outside downtown Santa Fe, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture contains an amazing 10 million artifacts from some 12,000 excavated archaeological sites across New Mexico. The Museum’s permanent “Here, Now and Always” exhibit tells the history and present life of the Pueblo, Navajo, Apache and other indigenous cultures in the American Southwest through Native American voices, artifacts and multimedia. The Buchsbaum Gallery showcases modern and historic pottery from the region’s pueblos, and changing galleries explore other aspects of Native American life in the Southwest such as the history and significance of turquoise in their cultures. A majestic outdoor sculpture garden features rotating exhibits of works by Native American sculptors. Also located on Museum Hill is the Museum of International Folk Art which houses the world’s largest collection of folk art with some 150,000 artifacts from more than 150 nations.
5. Albuquerque Museum of Art and History
Located in the heart of Old Town, the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History is a treasure trove of Southwestern art, culture and history. Its impressive art collection includes works by renowned Taos and Santa Fe artists Ernest Blumenschein, John Sloan and Georgia O’Keeffe. Its permanent collection exhibition, “Common Ground: Art in New Mexico,” explores similarities and innovations in the Southwest among early Native American traditions, colonial Spanish and Mexican settlers and contemporary regional art. Pieces include Native American jewelry and ceramics as well as Hispanic religious and folk art. The museum’s equally impressive outdoor sculpture garden has over 60 pieces, many created by local sculptors. The history exhibits include a Colonial Period European armor collection that is considered one of the top collections of its kind in the U.S. Museum docents regularly conduct free walking tours of Old Town.
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