New Mexico has a whopping 46 national historic landmarks. These sites are incredibly diverse. Some, like Santa Fe’s Plaza, are on the well-worn tourist trail while others, such as Fort Bayard, are a little further off the beaten path. All of these landmarks provide snapshots of New Mexico’s past. However, these 11 sites in particular need to be seen to be truly appreciated.
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1. Acoma Pueblo
Acoma Pueblo sits atop a 357-foot high mesa, west of Albuquerque. Archeological evidence indicates that the Acoma People have inhabited this mesa since 1100 A.D. and lived in the surrounding area for longer than that.
The San Esteban del Rey Mission Church can be found in this pueblo; the building is notable because it’s the oldest surviving European church in our state. In order to visit this pueblo, with its sweeping desert views, you need to take a 1.5 hour walking tour.
2. El Santuario de Chimayó
This chapel, located between Santa Fe and Taos, was built between 1813-1816. The church is significant for its Spanish Colonial architecture and also because of its sacred earth. Visitors can collect soil from the property, which is believed to have healing properties. El Santuario de Chimayó is a key pilgrimage site for many Catholics.
3. Mesilla Plaza and Historic District
Mesilla, a small town abutting Las Cruces, has an unusual history. When the Treaty of Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, it also shifted the border. Those who wanted to retain Mexican citizenship founded the town of Mesilla, just south of the new border. However, the 1853 Gadsden Purchase gave Mesilla back to the United States, making its residents U.S. citizens.
The town was also a popular stop on El Camino Real and on the southern path to California during the Gold Rush.
Mesilla’s architecture is well-preserved and gives you a good idea of what the town looked like in those days. The Plaza, the heart of Mesilla, is dominated by one of New Mexico’s two basilicas: San Albino. This is an easy place to explore on foot and you’ll find history on every corner.
4. Bandelier CCC Historic District
Bandelier National Monument is huge, at 33,000 plus acres. The Bandelier CCC Historic District is a smaller area within the monument that encompasses 31 park buildings from the 1930s. These structures have a pueblo revival design and include the Frijoles Canyon Lodge and Bandelier Buildings.
However, the sights that fascinate most visitors are the ones relating to the Ancestral Pueblo people: cliff dwellings, the Long House, the petroglyphs, and numerous hiking trails.
This historic landmark is near Los Alamos.
5. Fort Bayard Historic District
If you’re near Silver City, make time for a visit to Fort Bayard. This landmark has been used for many purposes; it has served as a fort, a POW camp during World War II, and a tuberculosis hospital. It is historically important because several units of Buffalo Soldiers were stationed here to fight against the Apaches.
6. Palace of the Governors
Palace of the Governors is the oldest government building in the nation that has been in continual use. Constructed around 1610, it originally housed Spain’s first royal governor.
The building has been pivotal to New Mexican history, acting as the capitol in Spanish Colonial times and also when New Mexico became a territory. It has borne witness to important events – Pueblo Indians seized it during the Pueblo Revolt, as did the Confederates in the Civil War.
If these walls could talk, they’d have a whole lot to say. Even if you’ve never been to the Palace of the Governors, it’s likely that you’ve seen the images of Native American vendors selling handcrafted wares on its portal. The building's façade frames one side of Santa Fe’s Plaza.
7. Santa Fe Plaza
Did you know that the Santa Fe Plaza started out as a walled fort? Later on, it became the terminus for the Santa Fe Trail. Nowadays, it continues to function as the hub of the city. If you wander the roads and alleys surrounding the Plaza, you’ll encounter some of Santa Fe’s oldest and most beautiful architecture.
8. Lincoln Historic District
If you’re curious about what New Mexico looked like during the 1870s and 1880s, head to the town of Lincoln. This historic site encompasses 17 structures and outbuildings that transport you back to the days of the Lincoln County War. You can trace the course of events through the buildings that remain and, with a little imagination, you can almost hear the gunshots ringing across time.
9. Taos Pueblo
People have lived at this UNESCO World Heritage Site for the last one thousand years. The buildings here have achieved iconic status, with their thick adobe walls, vigas, and ladders to allow movement between the different stories. While you’re free to explore this landmark on your own, guides offer brief yet informative tours.
10. Trinity Site
The public only has access to the Trinity Site near Alamogordo twice a year, in April and October. This is the spot where scientists detonated the world’s first nuclear weapon. Visitors can view the house where the bomb’s core was put together and see Trinite, the sand that melted due to the blast.
11. Las Trampas Historic District and San José de Gracia Church
The San José de Gracia Church is an overlooked treasure, standing sentinel on the High Road to Taos. This 18th century building is in the Spanish Colonial style. It’s usually open on the weekend and it’s worth timing your visit so that you can go inside and admire the paintings surrounding the nave.
How many of these have you seen? What are your favorite historical sites – on or off this list – in New Mexico? For more ways to immerse yourself in the past, head to some of our state’s most