Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Unplanned Mission Trip

Today I went on a small expedition. The plan was to meet a friend of mine at his property near Torreon, NM to help him gather wood for the winter. I was armed with a well-drawn map and ready to go. I arrived at his property and he was no where to be found. Also there were no tire tracks on his property and it had been weeks since anyone had been out there. So, while I made it he did not.

I figured I had driven 50 miles from the city to a part of New Mexico I had never seen before so I might as well explore. I heard of a ruin near Punta del Agua so I went to check it out. What I found was the ruin of an old Spanish mission, the Quarai Ruin. The ruin is part mission, part Native American pueblo and both are part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. The monument consists of three ruins of three missions all with pueblos around them. They are all from around the 1600s. I went to two of them today, totally didn't plan it but they are pretty close to each other.

I have to say the Quarai ruin is really a nice place, especially this time of year with the leaves changing. You first see this massive structure popping out of the landscape as you drive in to it and are left wondering how exactly you are supposed to get to it. If you just keep following the road you will get to a little ranger station and be right there. Then all you have to do is follow the paved path around the ruin and read the signs to learn about it. You are allowed to walk into the mission and all around it. Mounds of earth with rocks sticking out all around the mission indicate where more of the pueblo buildings used to be and give you an idea of how large the place once was.

This is the view from the front of the mission. The mound of earth off to the left is part of the old indian pueblo.
This is a photo from inside the main building of the mission. It's impressive. The walls are eight feet thick at least.
I was amazed at how peaceful this place was and how pretty the layout of the whole thing was. The paved trail looping around it was really pretty with the changing trees and the picnic area was very quiet and scenic under a giant cottonwood tree. The only other people there with me were the ranger and a man with his six year old son. I got to overhear the man trying to explain the Spanish Inquisition to his son, that was amusing.

The paved trail around the monument was picturesque in the fall light with the changing leaves.
Enjoy a picnic under a massive cottonwood with a 400 year-old Spanish mission in view. Yes please.
From this ruin it is something like 20 miles to Abó which is part of the same national monument. It is on the way back to Albuquerque, so I decided to check it out.

Abó is a lot more of what I am used to when it comes to Spanish missions and ruins in New Mexico. It is more dry and deserty. Quarai was amazingly green for a New Mexico ruin, so I liked it better because it was so different than what I'm used to seeing. Read the National Park information I linked to at the beginning of the post and you'll probably be surprised at how well all three elements of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument were linked in the 1600s. The indians who lived in these pueblos were trading all the time with each other and other large tribes. It's funny because hardly anyone live out where these places are now. I'm willing to be more people were living in the pueblos than live in the areas now.

This is a view of the mission ruins at Abó. The large structure is the church and the mounds of dirt contain unexcavated pueblo ruins.
While not a scenic, to me anyway, as Quarai the path around Abó still has its more traditional New Mexico scenic points.

There are some more complete buildings surrounding the Abó ruins. Some of the buildings are a little more modern, mid 1800s, and the vegas are still in tact which makes for some nice shadows.
So the trip went well. I saw some great ruins I never knew existed. Both of these missions included kivas, which makes no sense to anyone but proves the Catholic missionaries and native peoples were willing to make some compromises on both sides. I didn't even have to cut any firewood.

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