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Dates of visit:
November 3, 2010 -
November 7, 2010

For location of these sites in NM, click on the map:
Northern New Mexico

We rate this trip a:

Visit Highlights:
 Tent Rocks
 Pecos NHP
 Spanish Missions
 Ghost Towns
 Ghost Mining Camp
 Turquoise Trail
 Pecos Ruins
 Santa Fe


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Pecos National Historical Park, New Mexico

The People of Pecos

Autumn Trade Fair   Autumn Trade Fair

Autumn Trade Fair   Autumn Trade Fair

(NOTE: Text and images scanned from Pecos Historical Park, National Park Service site brochure.)
Pueblos, Plains Indians, and Spaniards swap goods during an autumn trade fair in this view of Pecos Pueblo about 1625 by artist Louis S. Glanzman. Its location beside a natural corridor across the mountains made Pecos a meeting ground for three cultures - Indian, Spanish and Anglo - that have shaped the American Southwest.
Illustration NPS/©Louis S. Glanzman

At midpoint in a passage through the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the ruins of a Pecos pueblo and Spanish mission share a small ridge. Long before Spaniards entered this country this village commanded the trade path between Pueblo farmers of the Rio Grande and hunting tribes of the buffalo plains. Its 2,000 inhabitants could marshal 500 fighting men. Its frontier location brought both war and trade. At trade fairs here Plains tribes - mostly nomadic Apaches - brought slaves, buffalo hides, flint, and shells to exchange for pottery, crops, textiles, and turquoise of the river Pueblos. The Pecos Indians were middlemen, transmitters and partakers of the goods and cultures of the very different people on either side of the mountains. They became economically powerful and practiced in the arts and customs of two worlds.

Cultural blendings did not change the essence of their life. The Pecos Indians remained Puebloan in culture, practicing an ancient agricultural tradition borne north from Mexico by the seeds of sacred corn. By the late Pueblo period-the last few centuries before the Spaniards arrived in the Southwest-people in this valley had congregated in multi-storied towns overlooking the streams and fields that nourished their crops. In the 1400s these groups gathered into Pecos pueblo, which became a regional power.

A Spanish conquistador described the pueblo in 1584: on a "high and narrow hill, enclosed on both sides by two streams and many trees. The hill itself is cleared of trees.... It has the greatest and best buildings of these provinces and is most thickly settled.... They possess quantities of maize, cotton, beans, and squash. [The pueblo] is enclosed and protected by a wall and large houses, and by tiers of walkways which look out on the countryside. On these they keep their offensive and defensive arms: bows, arrows, shields, spears, and war clubs."

Like other Pueblo groups the Pecos enjoyed a rich cultural tradition with inventive architecture and beautiful crafts. Their elaborate religious life, evidenced by many ceremonial kivas, reached out to the nurturing spirits of all things, animate and inanimate. Their finely-tuned adjustments to their natural and cultivated world rested on a practical science infused with spirituality. By story and dance tradition-bearers conveyed the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of centuries past Regulation of individual, family, and social life stemmed from a religion that bound all things together and counseled balance, harmony, and fitness as the highest ideals.

Ideals did not always prevail. Warfare between Pueblo groups was fairly common. The frontier people of Pecos had to be vigilant with nomadic Plains Indians, whose intent-trade or war-could be unpredictable. Neighboring pueblos viewed the Pecos as dominant. The Spaniards soon learned that the Pecos could be determined enemies or powerful allies.

Before the Spaniards


First to settle here were the pre-pueblo people who lived in pit-houses along drainages about 800. Around 1100, the first Puebloans began building their rock-and-mud villages in the valley. Two dozen villages rose here over the next two centuries, including one where Pecos pueblo stands today. Sometime in the 14th century the settlement patterns changed dramatically. Within one generation small villages were abandoned and Pecos pueblo grew larger.

By 1450 it had become a well planned frontier fortress five stories high with a population of 2,000. Why this sudden growth? Perhaps they had to gather on a rocky ridge to free up land for farming. More likely they needed defense against newly arrived Plains Indians. Whatever the reason, Pecos soon became a force to be reckoned with.

Land and Life

The land around the pueblo was a storehouse of natural products the Pecos knew intimately. They used virtually every plant for food, clothing, shelter, or medicine and turned every part of the game they hunted into something useful.

Farming supplied most of their diet. Staple crops were the usual trio of corn, beans, and squash cultivated along Glorieta Creek and the area's many other drainages. Water was as important to the Pecos as to us. They built check dams to slow the runoff of rain and grew their crops where topsoil collected. Yields were apparently considerable. In 1541 Coronado found the pueblo storerooms piled high with corn, a three-year supply by one estimate.

KivaKIVAS are places to Puebloan peoples-ceremonial and social spaces located between the underworld, where the people had their origin, and the world above, where they live now. Kivas are derived from semi-subterreanean pit-houses that preceded the surface house-blocks of later Pueblo times. Spiritually the kivas represent a step back toward the people's origins, allowing a closer communion with the spirits of the underworld.

Shapes and sizes of kivas vary. Common to most are the ventilator shaft, deflector, firepit, and sipapu - the hole in the floor symbolizing the place of humans' emergences and point of access to the spirits below.

Large pueblos like Pecos have many kivas that are used, as with today's pueblos, by different clans or societies. Each performed its ceremonies and rituals attuned to a specific spirit or power that in turn granted or denied the pueblo's needs for abundant crops, plentiful rain, good hunting, health, success in war.

The kiva ceremonials, rituals, and offerings were a mosaic of the people's duties to the spirits. If they were not performed, the world would become unbalanced, and the life of the people would suffer. It is no wonder the Franciscan fathers could not stamp out the kivas.


Red PotLocation, power, and the ability to supply needed goods made Pecos a major trade center on the eastern flank of the Puebloan world. Pecos Indians bartered crops, clothing, and pottery with Apaches and later with Spaniards and Comanches for buffalo products, alibates flint for cutting tools, and slaves. These Plains goods were in turn swapped west to other pueblos for pottery, parrot feathers, turquoise, and other items. Trading could go quickly or take weeks.

Rings left by tipis set up for long spells of bartering are still visible in the area. Uneasy relationships between Pueblos and the Plains tribes made hostilities a continual threat. The rock wall circling the pueblo, a relic from trading days, was too low to serve a defensive purpose. It was probably a boundary other tribes were not allowed to cross.

Encounters with the Spaniards

The idea of a new Mexico, another land of great cities weighted with gold, appealed to latecomers who thronged Mexico City after the conquests of the Aztecs and Incas. Ambitious seekers needed only direction. Shipwrecked Cabeza de Vaca stumbled back into Mexico in 1536 after wandering over New Spain's northern frontier. His tales - rich cities farther north, mixed with tantalizing legends of lost bishops and seven cities out in the wilds - gave the direction. In 1540 Francisco Vasquez de Coronado pursued it like a vision quest.

With an army of 1,200 Coronado made his way into the country north of Mexico. Six months into the march he rode into a cluster of Zuni pueblos, Cibola, near present-day Gallup. He attacked the Zuñi at Háwikuh, taking over that main town and its food stores for his famished soldiers. At Cicuyé later called Pecos - 150 miles east the reception was different. The Indians welcomed him with music and gifts. A Plains Indian captive at Pecos told of a rich land to the east, Quivira, and Coronado set out to find it in spring 1541.

Wandering as far as today's Kansas he found but a few villages. His Indian guide confessed that he had lured the army onto the plains to die. Coronado had him strangled. The expedition turned back. After a bleak winter spent along the Rio Grande, the broken army returned to Mexico empty-handed-and was harassed by Indians most of the way. In Coronado the Pecos Indians and their Pueblo neighbors felt the wrath of a powerful world. They saw gray-clad priests' plant crosses for their gods. But the strangers left and the Pueblos settled back into their old ways.

Colonizers and Missionaries

Spaniards did not come to New Mexico to stay for another 60 years. New Spain's frontier had slowly advanced with discovery of silver in northern Mexico. In 1581 explorers began prospecting for silver in the land of the Pueblos. Their failures foreshadowed a truth that determined much of Spanish New Mexico's history: the province held neither golden cities nor ready riches. But the ability of the settlers to farm and to herd there focused the joint strategies of Cross and Crown. Pueblo Indians would be converted; their lands would be colonized.

Don Juan de Oñate was first to pursue this mixed objective, in 1598. Taking settlers, livestock, and 10 Franciscans he marched north to claim for Spain the land across the Rio Grande. Right away he assigned a friar to Pecos, richest and most powerful New Mexico pueblo. The new religion got off to a shaky start. After episodes of idol-smashing provoked Indian resentment, the Franciscans sent veteran missionary Fray Andres Juarez to Pecos in 1621 as healer and builder. Under his direction the Pecos built an adobe church south of the pueblo, the most imposing of New Mexico's mission churches - with towers, buttresses, and great pine-log beams hauled from the mountains.

The ministry of Fray Juarez from 1621-34 coincided with the most energetic mission period in New Mexico, now a royal colony. It was a Franciscan-led time of mission building and expansion. Its success bred conflicts as church and civil officials vied for the Indians' labor, tribute, and loyalty. The Indians suffered the struggles as religious and economic repression.

War and Reconquest

Decades of Spanish demands and Indian resentments climaxed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Indians in scattered pueblos united to drive the Spaniards back to Mexico. At Pecos, loyal Indians warned the local priest, but most followed a tribal elder in revolt. They killed the priest, destroyed the church, and - symbolizing the discontent - built a forbidden kiva in the mission's convento itself.

Twelve years later, led by Diego de Vargas, the Spaniards came back to their lost province, peacefully in some places but with the sword in others. Vargas expected fighting at Pecos, but opinion had shifted. The Indians welcomed him back and supplied 140 warriors to help retake Santa Fe. A smaller church built on the old one's ruins was the first mission reestablished after the Reconquest, and most Pecos sustained Spanish rule until it ended.

For their part the Franciscans moderated their zeal. Tribute was abolished. As allies and traders the Pecos became partners in a relaxed Spanish-Pueblo community. But by the 1780s disease, Comanche raids, and migration had reduced the population of Pecos to fewer than 300. Long-standing internal divisions-between those loyal to the Church and things Spanish and those who hung on to the old ways - may have contributed to this once powerful city-state's decline. The function of Pecos as a trade center faded as Spanish colonists, now protected from the Comanches by treaties, set up new towns to the east. Pecos was almost a ghost town when Santa Fe Trail trade began flowing past it in 1821.

The last survivors left a decaying pueblo and empty mission church in 1838. They joined their Towa speaking relatives 80 miles west at Jemez pueblo, where their descendants still live today.

A.Y. Kidder, Pews, and Southwestern Archeology

Kidder excavationMysterious evidence of buildings at Pecos inspired romantic speculation by Santa Fe travelers who left the main trail to camp here: The ancient flame of Moctezuma burned in a hidden recess; the feathered serpent of the Aztecs lay coiled up here. Such stories vanished as archeologist Alfred Vincent Kidder began to excavate the site in 1915.

Kidder came to Pecos to test his theory of dating by stratigraphy against its great trash mounds. No known Southwest site "seems to have been lived in continuously for so long a period," he said. A site's bottom layers would be its oldest he knew. As pottery and other remains changed layer by layer, sites should be datable, at least relatively if not absolutely. He could plot the general time sequence of many Southwest sites.

Kidder's 12 field seasons at Pecos formed the basis for Southwestern archeology as a new science. The great trash mound on the pueblo's east side - looking at first like a natural part of the ridge - proved a time capsule. As he trenched into it Kidder found centuries of discards in exact chronological order. It was a treasure trove of scientific data.

With no sophisticated dating technology Kidder identified-the periods of occupation at Pecos by changes in pottery styles and techniques. In 1927 he invited archeologists working at sites across the Southwest to Pecos to develop a classification system to help identify the cultural development of Southwestern peoples. Their system, Basketmaker and Pueblo, is still used, and the Pecos Conference still hosts Southwestern archaeologists each year.

Kidder dealt in more than the site's chronology. He pieced together a picture of ancient life here. His work and work that followed help us to understand the powerful, complex people who flourished for centuries in this spacious valley.

The Way it Was

North PuebloNorth Pueblo … Pecos Pueblo's peak of power and influence spanned 1450 to 1550. A Spanish visitor in 1591 noted its 15- or 16-room houses arranged in blocks "four and five stories high" with ladders that "can be pulled up by hand." Houses were "neat and thoroughly whitewashed." We don't know precisely what either the north or south pueblo looked like, but thanks to Kidder and to other archaeologists we can speculate. The north pueblo has few outer-wall openings and may have been built for defense. The pueblo was built with shaped stone plastered over with mud. Ground floor rooms were mainly for food storage, with living spaces on upper levels.

Mission ComplexMission Complex … To Spanish Franciscans mission meant both an idea, converting Indians to Catholic Christianity, and a place, the mission complex of church and convento where this work took place. The convento was the mission's heart: priest's quarters, workshops, corrals, stables, kitchen, kitchen garden, and dining room. Here the priest taught Indians new ways of building, carpentry, and caring for livestock. There were two building periods. The first church (above) was finished in the early 1600s. It was huge - 150 feet from entrance to altar - but its convento was relatively small.

The second church, finished in the early 1700s, stood within the foundations of the first but had a convento twice the size of the earlier one, showing more emphasis on teaching the Pecos trades than on converting them..

Download complete article ... Pecos Brochure ...  (860 Kb)

Text, b&w images, painting source:
Pecos National Historical Site brochure, National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior

Pecos Ruins
Pecos Ruins at Pecos National Historical Park, NM

Pecos Ruins - Geology, Archaeology, History, and Prehistory

Pecos Pueblo on the Santa Fe Trail by Marc Simmons ... There is one historic place in New Mexico that I return to again and again. It is the ruined pueblo and Spanish mission of Pecos in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos, 25 miles east of Santa Fe. I have been there at all seasons of the year and in every kind of weather. No visit is ever quite the same.

Once on Christmas Eve, many years ago, I attended a wedding in the old, roofless church. Friends from Santa Fe brought a justice of the peace and had him perform the ceremony from the adobe platform that had once held a stone altar. Afterward, the wedding party, with the JP in tow, piled into cars and returned to Santa Fe where a local bar had been reserved for the reception. In the course of the evening, the bartender happened to hear that the nuptials had been celebrated at Pecos ruins. "Oh, that's not possible," he exclaimed. "The old pueblo is just across the line in San Miguel County and your JP has no (more)

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The Prehistory of the Pecos Indians by Larry Nordby ... The ability to adapt to environmental conditions is one of the most critical challenges facing human populations. This was particularly true of the prehistoric Indians of the upper Pecos River Valley, whose cultural remains are the main feature at Pecos National Monument.

It is through the science of archaeology that an understanding of the evolution of a settlement like Pecos can be developed. The Pecos Indians left behind countless tools, weapons, and other artifacts, as well as the remains of homes. From all this excavated material, archaeologists have been able to create a scenario of how these ancient people solved their problems of subsistence and survival. This understanding of the long distant past has been an essential element in comprehending more recent events at the site.

The chronology of the upper Pecos Valley that I present in the following pages may serve as a useful framework for understanding the prehistory of Pecos ruins. As I describe each successive time period, (more)

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The Presence of the Past: PECOS PUEBLO by John L. Kessell ... The bishop, solidly built, square-jawed, and Solemn, yet curiously dwarfed by his own vestments, moved with great dignity, planting the point of his pastoral staff with every other step and proceeding so smoothly that the high-peaked miter he wore did not bob up and down but seemed instead to float on an even plane. The Indians were impressed.

Only the third bishop in two centuries to visit colonial New Mexico, Dr. Pedro Tamarón y Romeral and his entourage had ridden out from Santa Fe through high, forested mountains to the pueblo and mission of Pecos. His Excellency, an inveterate tourist, took in the scene with pleasure. Pecos, easternmost of the multi-storied stone and mud apartment complexes the Spaniards called pueblos, stood on a rocky, flat-topped ridge in a mountain valley of brick-red soil. Pinion and juniper trees and clumps of chamisa dotted the landscape. The Pecos River, born in the ponderosa high country, flowed past a mile or so east of the pueblo and then bent southeastward, skirting for fifteen miles the massive brow of Glorieta Mesa before breaking free toward the plains. (more)

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From Chaos To Order: A. V. Kidder At Pecos by Richard B. Woodbury ... The ruins of Pecos Pueblo, once the easternmost major Pueblo village and guardian of the Rio Grande Valley against the Plains Indians, had long been known but were little understood until the intensive research conducted at this important site by Alfred V. Kidder (Right). Kidder's excavation program at Pecos from 1915 to 1929 was unprecedented in North American archaeology in its extended focus on a single site, its large scale, its careful planning and organization, and its use of specialists outside archaeology. But most significantly, the Pecos excavations started a significantly, era in American archaeology by showing the importance of stratigraphic information for reconstructing cultural history and by emphasizing the recovery of data over the collection of objects for museums, an approach that had been traditional among some of his eminent predecessors and contemporaries. Kidder once said that archaeology should turn "from things to what things mean."

When Alfred Kidder chose the ruins of Pecos Pueblo for excavation in 1915, it was no casual decision but an appropriate development (more)

Download complete article ... From Chaos To Order ...  (813 Kb)

The Geology of Pecos by John V. Bezy ... Will Durant wrote that "civilization exists by geological consent." His observation is particularly meaningful at Pecos Pueblo, which became a cultural crossroads because of geologic circumstance. Human activities here have centered around the Glorieta-Pecos corridor, a thirty-mile-long natural passage eroded between the Sangre de Cristo Range and Glorieta Mesa by mountain streams. The high middle section of this corridor is Glorieta Pass. Since prehistoric times, travel and commerce between the peoples of the upper Rio Grande Valley and the Great Plains have funneled through this strategic portal.

Three great geologic provinces join in the vicinity of Pecos National Monument. To the north and east, the Rocky Mountains reach their southernmost extension in the Sangre de Cristo Range. The Basin and Range province begins on the south and west at Glorieta Mesa and the Rio Grande Depression. This vast region of parallel mountains and intervening basins continues south into central Mexico. On the east, the Glorieta-Pecos corridor opens onto the Great Plains, which stretch for nearly 900 unbroken miles to the Mississippi River. Viewed from this perspective, the Glorieta-Pecos corridor is a gateway of continental significance. (more)

Download complete article ... The Geology of Pecos ...  (490 Kb)

PECOS PUEBLO - December 31, 1590 by David Grant Noble ... Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, leader of the first European exploratory expedition into New Mexico, visited Pecos Pueblo in 1541 as he journeyed north on a futile quest for gold. Forty years later, another explorer, Antonio de Espejo, also came to Pecos where he forced villagers to provide food and then kidnapped two local men. When Gaspar Castano de Sosa arrived here the morning of December 31, 1590 with a force of thirty-seven men, he was understandably not welcomed.

Pecos at this time stood four to five stories high and was built around a central plaza containing kivas. It was a fortress-pueblo, encircled by a defensive stone wall, and protected by a force of some five hundred warriors. Access to rooms was gained by interior doorways at the second floor level and residents could walk across roofs from one room block to another. (more)

Download complete article ... PECOS PUEBLO - December 31, 1590 ...  (382 Kb)

Source of articles:
Pecos Ruins - Geology, Archaeology, History, and Prehistory by David Grant Noble,
Ancient City Press, Santa Fe, NM

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Site Gallery - Pecos National Historical Park
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Santa Fe, NM Churches, NM

We return to Santa Fe with the express purpose of revisiting the historic houses of worship. This is avideo compilation of revisiting the three jewels of Santa Fe. For images of a prior visit to Santa Fe, visit ...
Santa Fe 2001

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Download article ... The Miraculous Stairs ...  (144 Kb)
Download article ... San Miguel Mission ...  (310 Kb)

Turquoise Trail, New Mexico

On the eastern side of the Sandia Mountains, abutting east side of Albuquerque, meanders a road that reveals a history of New Mexico that beckons locals and visitors alike ... the historic towns of Cerrillos, Madrid, and Golden. We revisit them ... we also suggest you visit our primary page for this attraction:
Turquoise Trail, NM

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Salinas Pueblo Missions, New Mexico - Quarai and Abo

Once is never enough ... we revisit them ... we also suggest you visit our primary pages for this attraction:
Quarai Mission and Abo Mission

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Kelly Mine, New Mexico

It's been 10 years since our last visit. Presumably nothing has changed, but we needed to delve wider into this well-known central New Mexican attraction. We also visit a rock shop for a geology lesson in smithsonite - the famous product of this mining region. We also suggest you visit our primary page for this attraction:
Kelly Mine, NM

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