Exploration: the action of traveling in or through an unfamiliar area in order to learn about it.
When you live in a rugged, sparsely populated state like New Mexico, exploration comes with the territory. Vast amounts of physical space rest within the confines of our borders that are wide open and full of opportunity. Did you know that the Land of Enchantment is comprised of nearly 122,000 square miles of land, yet only 2.1 million people reside here? That means we are the fifth largest state in terms of physical size and 45th in terms of density. That’s a lot of wide open space to explore!
Exploration has long been a part of our rich history in New Mexico, dating back to well before statehood, in fact. Although human occupation of our state dates back more than 11,000 years to the hunter-gatherer Clovis culture, Spanish exploration and colonization of the region only began about 500 years ago. According to historical documents, Estebanico the Moor and Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and two other companions were the first Europeans to see New Mexico. They roamed across the Southwest looking for Mexico after being shipwrecked and lost off the coast of Florida in the 1530s. After hearing grandiose stories told by Estebanico, explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado was one of the first Europeans to comprehensively explore New Mexico a few years later in 1540. Over the course of the next few centuries, what we know today as New Mexico would go from being a province of the Viceroyalty of Spain, to a territory of Mexico, to a territory to the United States. It wasn’t until 1912 that New Mexico became the 47th state to enter the Union.
What does that mean, exactly? It means for centuries various cultures and peoples have explored this region. From artists drawn to Northern New Mexico to Midwestern farmers seeking to cultivate humid-climate crops to the dry, desert climate, immigrants began flocking here in the 20th century, bringing with them tools and skill sets that helped modernize the traditional culture of the region. Soon, Texas oilmen, tuberculosis patients seeking healing dry air, soldiers, airmen, scientists, all migrated to the new state known for its wide-open space and dry climate.
In honor of our great state and its rich history, we wanted to do some exploring of our own. We reached out to experts in different fields to bring you stories about exploration done by New Mexicans, in New Mexico, above New Mexico, beneath the ground of New Mexico and all across this great state. If space exploration is your thing, you’ll want to check out the stories written by Molly Marley and Mannie Bemis. Molly takes a look at the making of Robert H. Goddard, dubbed the Roswell Rocketeer; and Mannie has some fascinating insight about two astronauts from Eddy County. Of equal interest are the cave exploration story by T. Blake and an oil and gas exploration story by Sherrie Bratcher, both of which offer insight into the formation of this area as we know it today. And of course we couldn’t put together an entire issue about exploration and leave out the wild horses and outdoor wonder that are synonymous with Southeastern New Mexico.
I hope you will take the time to read through this regional issue of Focus Magazine and walk away with an appreciation for the great lengths that have gone into exploring the Land of Enchantment.
(Staci is the Associate Publisher of Focus Magazines and Editorial Director of Focus on Artesia)