Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, well-preserved remains of ancient Native American pueblos and 17th-century Spanish missions, central New Mexico, U.S. The monument’s three separate sites—Quarai, Abó, and Gran Quivira—are loosely clustered around the town of Mountainair, about 80 miles (130 km) southeast of Albuquerque.
It was established in 1980 from the former Gran Quivira National Monument (1909) and two state monuments and covers about 1.7 square miles (4.4 square km). The monument is named for the salt deposits found in the area; the Spanish word salinas means “salt mines.” A visitors’ center is in Mountainair.
The Abo Pueblo community was established in the 11th Century on the edge of the existing pueblo culture and was often attracted by roaming Nomadic Tribes of the eastern plains.
San Gregorio de Abó Mission (located in Mountainair, New Mexico) was one of three Spanish missions constructed in or near the pueblos of central New Mexico? These missions, built in the 1600s, are now a part of the Salinas Pueblo National Monument which includes San Gregorio de Abó Mission, Quarai, and Gran Quivera. The mission at Abo was established in 1625 by Fray Francisco Fonte.
Gran Quivira Ruins
After exploring the ruins of Abo, I headed to Gran Quivira, the largest of the Pueblo missions. I was the first visitor of the day at that site too. The ranger, a 65 year old woman with dark red hair and an East Coast accent, was extremely knowledgeable and very friendly. Because I was the only visitor, she gave me a 1-on-1 walking tour of the entire site and told me quite a bit about its history.
Gran Quivira began as a cluster of pit houses 1200 years ago. Pit houses were dug into the ground with wood roofs covered in layers of earth, accessed by a ladder that led to a hole in the ceiling. They served as the typical dwelling of the Pueblo people before the Spanish came and introduced the concept of doors and windows. Home to 1500-2000 people, Gran Quivira was an important trade center and remained so after the Spaniards arrived.
The Pueblo people struggled to maintain their way of life despite drought, disease, famine, Apache raids, and forced labor required by the church and the colonial government. Christians outlawed native religious practices, including the use of Kivas, but such practices continued in secret.
The Pueblo people witnessed friction between the church and colonial government, revealing weakness and opportunity for rebellion.
Esteban Clemente, a Pueblo leader plotted a revolt in 1672 but was discovered and executed by the Spanish. Eight years later the Pueblo people united and drove the Spanish out of New Mexico. The Spanish didn’t return to resettle the Salinas area until after 1800.
The Gran Quivira Ruins are located about 25 miles south of Mountainair, at about 6500 feet (1981 m) above sea level. There is a small visitor center near the parking lot. A 0.5 mile (0.8 km) trail leads through partially excavated pueblo ruins and the ruins of the uncompleted mission church.
The Gran Quivira, as it has been called for over a hundred years, is by far the best known of the Salinas pueblos, and in fact, is one of the most celebrated ruins in all of the Southwest. This is not strange, since it is altogether the largest ruin of any Christian temple that exists in the United States; and connected with it from the first, there has been the glamor of romance and the strange charm of mystery, which adds tenfold to ordinary interest. How and when it first received its deceptive title of “Gran Quivira” we may never know; there are dozens of traditions and theories and imaginings.
From the days of Coronado the name of “Quivira” had been associated with the idea of a great unknown city, of wealth and splendor, situated somewhere on the Eastern Plains; and it is not at all unlikely that when some party from the Rio Grande Valley, in search of game or gold, crossed the mountains and the wilderness lying to the east and was suddenly amazed by the apparition of a dead city, silent and tenantless, but bearing the evidence of large population, of vast resources, of architectural knowledge, mechanical skill, and wonderful energy, they should have associated with it the stories heard from the childhood of the mythical center of riches and power, and called the new-found wonder the Gran Quivira.
The square holes along the top of the walls were used for wooden support beams. The Pueblo workers had to chop down trees from a distant site and then haul them to the settlement.
The missionaries were very strict and did not allow the wood to touch the ground, else it could not be used in the construction of the church.
After the tour, I stayed to enjoy the warmth of the ranger station and talk to the ranger for a little while longer. She was such a sweet lady. She said she’d been working for the Park Service for five years and it was her favorite job she’d ever had. She told me the National Parks department was currently hiring, and asked if I was a veteran. I told her I was not, and with a touch of disappointment she added that veterans get hired first.
After leaving Gran Quivira, I stopped to explore a little abandoned schoolhouse on the side of the highway.
On my way to Quarai, the third Pueblo mission site, I passed through the town of Mountainair, where I stopped to check out a few recently abandoned buildings.
By the time I arrived at Quarai, there were at least half a dozen other visitors already there, which meant I didn’t get to talk 1-on-1 with the ranger. I didn’t mind too much, since I’d been fortunate to have such great experiences at the other two Pueblo sites. The sun had begun to warm the air, and I wandered around Quarai for a while, enjoying the beautiful scenery.
The Quarai Ruins are located about 8 miles north of Mountainair, at about 6650 feet (2026 m) above sea level. There is a visitor center and a 0.5 mile (0.8 km) trail through the ruins.
In a forest, an interpretive sign reads that when Francis Gardes traveled through the area, he heard birds sing a song called “When Explorers Came”. Francis Gardes’s trail became Francis Garde National Historic Trail, and it passes through Quarai.
Thanks for checking out this article. If you enjoyed it, please feel free to share it on Facebook. While you’re at it, please subscribe and follow me on my social media sites.