Three historic sites in the sparsely-populated grasslands of central New Mexico, southeast of Albuquerque, are protected as Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, a relatively little-known preserve with low annual visitation. Centerpiece of each are the ruins of 17th century Spanish Franciscan missions, dating from the earliest period of European colonization, when the settlers began to spread Christianity to the local Tompiro and Tiwa Indians.
The sites also have relics of ancient pueblos, mostly overgrown and unexcavated but one village is large and well preserved. Although all structures are ruined and have been abandoned for over 300 years (since around 1677), the general remoteness and lack of subsequent settlement in this part of the state have left the remains in excellent condition.
The northernmost site, and the least visited, is Quarai, in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains - this contains a sizeable red brick church plus outbuildings and grassy mounds with pueblo foundations. Twelve miles south, the Abó ruins receive more visitors as they lie along a main road (US 60), but are similar to Quarai except the surroundings are more desert-like, less tree-covered, with long distance views across open plains to the mountains. The third and most extensive site is 20 miles further southeast, at Gran Quivira; this too is based around a mission complex, next to a multi-room pueblo village, both rather different in appearance to the reddish sandstone buildings further north, being instead made of white-grey limestone.
The national monument headquarters is in the small town of Mountainair along US 60 though each site also has its own visitor center. No fee is charged for entry, and the ruins are open between 9 and 6 pm (5 pm in winter); there is no access at other times.
Map of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
The Quarai mission is reached via quiet country roads north from US 60 or west from NM 41; a side road forks off Hwy 55 at the village of Punta
, leading to the small car park next to the visitor center, which has a limited selection of books and a guest book suggesting that visitation is only between 30 and 50 each day. A quarter mile loop path winds through unexcavated pueblo mounds to the massive, 40 foot high church walls at the center of the mission, for which the full name is Mission Nuestra Señora de Purísima Concepción de Quarai
. Like Abó to the south, the ruins bear some resemblance to the much older Anasazi dwellings in places like Wupatki
in Arizona, but here the walls are taller and more sturdily built. They slope inwards slightly towards the top, and have quite intricate windows, though the roof is long gone, as is the adobe that once covered all the exterior brickwork. Features include the nave, apse, convento and two circular kivas, suggesting that the missionaries sought to appease the Puebloans by integrating their traditions with those of the new religion. A longer path crosses a stream and climbs a little across a bushy hillside, providing an elevated view of the site.
Another short spur road leads to the Abó ruins (Mission San Gregorio de Abó
), located along US 60, 9 miles southwest of Mountainair and 29 miles east of I-25. Abó also consists of a tall central church, completed in 1659, with many single-storey connected rooms, and a number of lesser structures nearby, dating from both before and after the mission period. A dry wash runs past just to the west, beyond which are more unexcavated Tompiro pueblo sites, toured by a half mile trail. Original elements of the church include thick buttresses supporting the sandstone walls and a wooden stairway used by the choir.
The Gran Quivira site, most remote of the three, is reached by driving 26 miles south from Mountainair along Hwy 55, over flat and completely unsettled land used for only cattle ranching.
The mission and pueblo sit on top of a low limestone hill with good views over the surrounding prairie, and are similar in appearance except that the mission buildings are rather more elaborate and well constructed. The pueblo (originally known as Las Humanas
) has 7 kivas and well over 200 rooms, partly reconstructed so that the walls are around 3 feet high - reminiscent in layout and style of Tuzigoot
in Arizona. To the south are low wall remnants from the first church to be built on this site, Mission San Isidro
(finished in 1631), but the second church just to the west is much more prominent, even though it was never completed. This is Mission San Buenaventura
, dating from 1659 - it has thick, precisely-angled walls (up to 30 feet high) separating the various rooms, with neatly-designed doorways, windows and roof timber support holes.
PDF format plans of the three mission sites, from the National Park Service:
, Gran Quivira