Original settlers came to what is now known as Albuquerque thousands of years ago. Looking down into the valley from the Western mesa, it’s easy to see what attracted early settlers to this area: the river creates verdant fields that are ideal for growing crops, and the bosque provided trees, rare in New Mexico lowlands, needed for building shelter. Francisco Vasquez Coronado was the first European to visit what would become Albuquerque – he spent the winter of 1540 on the western edge of the Rio Grande near Bernalillo.
Over a century would pass, however, before territorial Governor Cuervo y Valdez would name the city for the Spanish Duke de Alburquerque in 1706. (Over time, the first “r” in the name was dropped, but that unfortunately didn’t make the city’s name any easier to spell.) At that time, Santa Fe was the territorial seat and center for industry in the area, and Albuquerque was a small farming village 65 miles from where the action was.
Over the years, the fates of the two cities reversed, and Albuquerque’s growth quickly outstripped that of Santa Fe due to several factors, including the arrival of the railroad in the 1880s and the establishment of Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque in the 1940s.
Albuquerque is also the ancestral home of several Native American tribes, including several tribes of Pueblo Indians. The earliest evidence of human habitation in New Mexico dates back to 25,000 years ago. While the mixture of Hispanic, Anglo and Native American cultures has at times proved tumultuous, the rich cultural history of the area is one of Albuquerque’s greatest assets.