Community Profiles

Community Profiles

Middle Rio Grande Region

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Population: 2015: 916,880
Area: 9,654 square miles
Location: Central-northwestern New Mexico
Counties: Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance, Valencia and southern Santa Fe
Largest municipalities: Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Los Lunas, Bernalillo and Belen.
Largest pueblos: Isleta, Santo Domingo and San Felipe


The Mid-Region Council of Governments' (MRCOG) region embraces the center of New Mexico. Busy interstate highways, rail and an international airport link the region in the same way historic trade routes linked the original Indian tribes hundreds of years ago and tied together the Spanish settlements 300 years ago.

It's a region of remarkable diversity, in population, lifestyle and economy. About the size of Massachusetts, the area is both urban and rural, mountain and plains, modern and traditional. Central New Mexico includes Albuquerque, the state's largest city; Rio Rancho, the state's fastest-growing city; Bernalillo, one of the nation's oldest towns and even older Indian pueblos; and Peralta, the state's newest incorporated community. 12-Indian tribes and pueblos are located wholly or partly within the region.

It is a place that boasts great beauty, with four mountain ranges, the legendary Rio Grande, two national forests, two national monuments, three wilderness areas, four state monuments and parks, and two game refuges.


Central New Mexico has two economies -- the urban economy of metro Albuquerque (which includes Rio Rancho and surrounding communities) and the rural economy of the outlying area. Busy retail centers can be found in all four counties. Albuquerque is a health-care, financial and transportation center for the state, while agriculture - particularly in Torrance and Valencia counties -- is a mainstay.

Much of the region's economy rests on Kirtland Air Force Base, the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque Public Schools and such private employers as Intel, Presbyterian Health Care, and Public Service Company of New Mexico.

Albuquerque's economy has steadily diversified from its former dependence on government jobs to a broad-based economy with high-tech and manufacturing sectors, food processing, call centers, film and media, tourism, and the arts. High-tech clusters include aerospace and aviation, bioscience, electronics, information technology and software, micro- and nanotech, and optics.


Rio Grande

Central New Mexico has been continuously occupied for some 12,000 years, from the time Paleo-Indian people built their first villages along the Rio Grande, to occupation by the farming Pueblos.

In 1540, Captain Hernándo de Alvarado and his soldiers became the first Europeans to see the Middle Rio Grande Valley. They were the advance guard for the Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. Approaching from the west, when Alvarado first gazed upon this geographical treasure, he saw a broad, grassy valley along a river that Pueblo Indian people had used for centuries to irrigate their crops.

The first colonists arrived about 5- years later. Don Juan de Oñate, sometimes called "The Colonizer of New Mexico", claimed the northern frontier of Nuevo Mexico for Spain in 1598, nine-years before the English settled Jamestown. In the 1660s, the first settlers began farming in the Middle Rio Grande. The first communities were Bernalillo, 1695; Atrisco, 1703 (now an Albuquerque neighborhood); Albuquerque, 1706; Los Lunas, 1716; and Belen, 1741.

Connecting the early settlements was El Camino Real, the famed and historic "Royal Road". This critical trade route would later become U.S. 85 and then I-25. Similarly, east-west trade routes would link the Middle Rio Grande to the plains and to settlements in the west. The railroad and then Route 66 and I-40 followed these old trails.

In 1821, when Mexico won its freedom from Spain, New Mexico became part of Mexico. In 1846, the United States claimed New Mexico, and the Middle Rio Grande Valley gained access to vast new trade areas over the new Santa Fe Trail. The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached Albuquerque in 1880. Belen became a rail hub in 1907 with the completion of the Belen Cutoff, which saved 10-hours on the Chicago run.

In the 1930's, Route 66 began to snake across New Mexico, originally passing through Bernalillo, Albuquerque and Los Lunas. Just three decades later, interstate highways would begin to eclipse Route 66, just as Route 66 had eclipsed the railroad. Today more than 95-percent of the region's population lives within 30-minutes of an interchange on I-25 or I-40.

With World War II and post-war growth, the population spiraled during the 1940s and 1950s and continued a rapid climb through the 1980s, as the economy diversified.


The dominant features of Central New Mexico are the Rio Grande, the Sandia Mountains, the Manzano Mountains, the Jemez Mountains, the volcanic escarpment west of the river, and the Estancia Basin.

The Sandias, produced by volcanic activity and erosion, are about 20-miles in length. There are two distinct peaks -- North Sandia Peak, 10,678 feet, and South Sandia Peak, 9,782 feet. In between is a feature called a "saddle". The saddle is known as Sandia Crest. The Manzanos stretch south for 40 miles from Tijeras Canyon to U.S. 60. Its summits are the 10,098-foot Manzano Peak and the 10,003-foot Osha Peak. Neither range is part of the Rocky Mountains; they were formed much later as the result of a different process.

The Rio Grande originates in Colorado, flows down the middle of New Mexico, and veers through Texas before reaching the Gulf. Because the river meandered over a wide floodplain, flooding became a problem after Spanish settlers established farms along the river. Flood control began in 1925 with the creation of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. In time a network of dams, drains and diversion channels confined the Rio Grande. Along the river lies the longest contiguous cottonwood forest in North America. In New Mexico, this valley treasure is known as "The Bosque."

The remains of volcanic activity along an escarpment on Albuquerque's West Mesa can be seen in six volcanic cones -- actually only five now, since one cone has disappeared because it was mined for scoria (red lava rock).

Violent volcanic activity created the Jemez Mountains in north-central New Mexico. It is one of the state's most prominent mountain ranges, encompassing 1,300 square miles. One of the most significant features is the bowl-shaped Valles Caldera, created in one volcanic explosion of such force that it showered materials as far away as Kansas. The highest point in the range is 11,561-foot Chicoma Mountain. Redondo Peak, the second highest peak at 11,254 feet is in the middle of the Valles Caldera.

Alongside the Manzano Mountains, in the Estancia Basin, there was once a lake about 50-miles long and 23-miles wide. The water grew salty over time from evaporation. The basin dried up about 8,000 years ago. What remained was a series of playa lakes surrounded by gypsum and clay dunes, along with salt beds that were mined by early Pueblo Indians, as well as later Spanish and American settlers. The playa lakes vary in size from just a few acres in length to several miles.

Weather and Climate: The climate varies with elevation, but most of the region is semi-arid, with abundant sunshine, low humidity, and about 10 inches of annual precipitation. Temperatures range from 92-65 F in July to 47-23 F in January, with an average of 304 sunny days per year.

Visit Regional Data for a more detailed report of historical and future statistics on the region, including population, age, race, education, housing, etc.

Contact:  Kendra Montanari (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)



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MRCOG OfficeMid-Region Council of Governments
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Albuquerque, NM 87102
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