A Fourth of July drive across central New Mexico to the town of Clovis offered some time to explore Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.
We had visited the National Park Service unit in the 1970s when it was named Gran Quivira National Monument.
During the earlier late-afternoon visit a major storm washed out a dirt road and a ranger was kind enough to allow us to park our VW camper and spend the night near the visitor center. An evening hail storm resulted in a visit we never forgot.
The monument was expanded and given a new name a few years following our visit. Having not returned for nearly four decades and with more to see than during our earlier stop, we decided it was time to explore this New Mexico gem.
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument preserves and interprets the ruins of multiple Pueblo Indian communities dating from the 1500s and 1600s.
The monument is comprised of three sites plus a small visitor center in the community of Mountainair, about 70 miles southeast of Albuquerque.
The visitor center contains a small museum, offers a 14-minute video and provides information about sites of the monument's three ruins that are each within 26 miles of Mountainair.
The history of the Salinas Valley pueblos is one of farming and hunting, trade, Spanish intrusion, religious conflict, and, finally, abandonment.
Population in the stone and adobe pueblos, some with more than a hundred rooms, is thought to have reached more than 10,000 in the early 1600s. By the 1670s, the villages had been abandoned.
A large pueblo often included several kivas, underground rooms used for religious purposes. Kivas were utilized by a specific group or society of Indians, each with its own rules and beliefs.
The motivating principle of the Pueblo religion was group survival. Members were required to assist other members in need.
It was important to please the gods by living good lives that would result in universal harmony.
During the 1660s and 1670s, drought and famine hit the Salinas Valley resulting in many Pueblo Indian deaths.
Population losses also resulted from recurring epidemics suffered by natives who had little resistance to diseases introduced by the Spaniards.
A final blow came with Apache raids. The remaining Salinas Valley Pueblo Indians departed their villages in the 1670s to live in the pueblos of Indians with similar cultures.
The three sites are quite impressive. Each includes a contact station with information and exhibits including a scale model of the pueblo. Site maps available at the contact stations guided us on walks through the ruins at each of the three sites.
The Abo site, southwest of Mountainair, was our first stop.
Here, we explored the pueblo walls and excavated rooms, including a kiva, of the Mission of San Gregorino de Abo. A wheelchair-accessible trail leads through the site's features.
With a prior reservation, a park ranger at the Abo site will lead a guided walk to Indian petroglyphs. The hike is a bit challenging and requires about half an hour.
The Quarai ruins, northwest of Mountainair, include scattered remains of the pueblo. Walls of the church and convento (the friar's residence) of Nuestra Senora de las Purisima Concepcion de Quarai are the tallest and most intact of the three sites. The convento contains an unusual square kiva.
Grand Quivira, south of Mountainair, is the largest of the three sites.
Prior to the Spanish arrival in the late 1500s, this was a vast city with several large pueblos and many kivas. One pueblo and small portions of others have been excavated along with several kivas and two churches.
As it turned out, we made a wise choice to revisit the monument, even though it wasn't on our original schedule and resulted in a late arrival in Clovis.
The sunny late morning offered perfect weather for exploring the sites where we encountered few other visitors on a national holiday.
David and Kay Scott are authors of “Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges” (Globe Pequot). Visit them at mypages.valdosta.edu/dlscott/Scott.html. View past columns at www.facebook.com/DavidKayScott. The Scotts live in Valdosta, Georgia.