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Nomad

SALT MISSIONS SCENIC BYWAY

Often the history of New Mexico is focused on events following the arrival of the Spanish, but this region has been populated for thousands of years by numerous tribes. The Pueblos of New Mexico are among the oldest settlements in the nation with a history going back 7,000 years or more (estimates vary); descended primarily from  three major cultures, including the Mogollon, Hohokam, and Ancient Puebloans. There are ruins and remnants of these ancient people throughout the Southwest, with a high density in New Mexico. With so many well-known examples, like Bandelier, Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, there are many lesser known locations that are overlooked.

 

The Salinas Pueblo Mission ruins are 60 miles southeast of Albuquerque, near Moriarty. Many New Mexicans have never visited, or heard of, these sites. They seem to be forgotten national monuments based on the number of other people present on the many occasions that I have visited.

 

The Salinas ruins encompass three prehistoric pueblos; Quarai, Abo and Gran Quivira. With up to 2000 inhabitants, Gran Quivira was an important trade hub in the region long before the Spanish arrived, positioned between the Anasazi people to the north and the Mogollon people to the south. There is evidence that the area had been settled for as long as 10,000 years (as I mentioned, estimates vary), probably due to the salt lakes nearby. Salt was a precious commodity, necessary for preserving food.

 

These communities served as trade hubs between tribes from the Plains, the Pueblos, the Pacific Northwest, Mexico, etc. The villages were a thriving urban oasis in their heyday. Trade and barter played a critical role in the culture, economy and existence of the settlement. During trade fairs and religious ceremonies, hundreds of Pueblo and Plains Indians would gather in the plaza. There is also evidence that the inhabitants served as middlemen between the pueblos on the Rio Grande to the nomadic tribes of the Plains. Part of the pueblo's year-round population was from the Plains.

 

Gran Quivira is the furthest from the mountains, with Abo and Quarai far closer to the eastern slopes of the Sandias. Gran Quivira had no consistent source of water nearby for agriculture, drinking, cooking or building. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, with horses and herd animals, the journey to a water source was a long one. This made on-site water collection and dry-land agriculture critical to the community’s survival. They approached water conservation with ingenuity. There are hollowed out basins throughout the ruins that are remnants of 30 shallow pits built to catch runoff. That supplemented 32 wells, ranging from 20 to 50 feet deep, and roof fed cisterns. Obviously the dearth of water is not a new problem in this region.

 

Each site has an impressive mission built by the Spanish Franciscans that arrived in the early 1600s. Actually, built at the direction of the friars by the women of the villages. The Salinas missions predate the more famous Spanish missions of California by more than a century. The most ambitious mission is at Gran Quivera; however, construction was abandoned when a combination of drought, famine, smallpox and Apache raiders led to the collapse of the community.

 

When the Spanish arrived, they discovered thriving communities. Whereas the Spanish Friars initially tolerated the local belief system, allowing ceremonial kivas to co-exist next to the church, they changed their policy by the 1660s, forcing those adhering to traditional beliefs to convert. It seems unlikely that the local population cooperated in more than a superficial manner. They have found many hidden kivas in the walls of Gran Quivira.

 

In the 1660s there was a prolonged drought, with multiple seasons of crop failure. Gran Quivira was decimated. Famine quickly followed; with 480 people starving to death during one winter. The Friars tried to transfer tons of grain, beans and livestock between the missions in armed convoys, but bad roads, Apache raiders and distance made it impossible to sustain the population. Smallpox, and other European diseases, took a toll on an already weakened population, as did Spanish demands for labor and tribute. In 1672, the people of Gran Quivira fled to Abo. They were the first forced to migrate, but within seven years all of the Salinas missions were abandoned, with the remaining population assimilating with the pueblos on the Rio Grande.

 

With history in every direction, there is a lot to discover in New Mexico. The Salinas Pueblo Missions provide insight into the early years of Spanish colonialism and conversion, but the settlement's 8000 year history prior to the arrival of the Spanish provides insight into how active and populated the region has been for thousands of years.

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Often the history of New Mexico is focused on events following the arrival of the Spanish, but this region has been populated for thousands of years by numerous tribes. The Pueblos of New Mexico are among the oldest settlements in the nation with a history going back 7,000 years or more (estimates vary); descended primarily from  three major cultures, including the Mogollon, Hohokam, and Ancient Puebloans. There are ruins and remnants of these ancient people throughout the Southwest, with a high density in New Mexico. With so many well-known examples, like Bandelier, Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, there are many lesser known locations that are overlooked.

 

The Salinas Pueblo Mission ruins are 60 miles southeast of Albuquerque, near Moriarty. Many New Mexicans have never visited, or heard of, these sites. They seem to be forgotten national monuments based on the number of other people present on the many occasions that I have visited.

 

The Salinas ruins encompass three prehistoric pueblos; Quarai, Abo and Gran Quivira. With up to 2000 inhabitants, Gran Quivira was an important trade hub in the region long before the Spanish arrived, positioned between the Anasazi people to the north and the Mogollon people to the south. There is evidence that the area had been settled for as long as 10,000 years (as I mentioned, estimates vary), probably due to the salt lakes nearby. Salt was a precious commodity, necessary for preserving food.

 

These communities served as trade hubs between tribes from the Plains, the Pueblos, the Pacific Northwest, Mexico, etc. The villages were a thriving urban oasis in their heyday. Trade and barter played a critical role in the culture, economy and existence of the settlement. During trade fairs and religious ceremonies, hundreds of Pueblo and Plains Indians would gather in the plaza. There is also evidence that the inhabitants served as middlemen between the pueblos on the Rio Grande to the nomadic tribes of the Plains. Part of the pueblo's year-round population was from the Plains.

 

Gran Quivira is the furthest from the mountains, with Abo and Quarai far closer to the eastern slopes of the Sandias. Gran Quivira had no consistent source of water nearby for agriculture, drinking, cooking or building. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, with horses and herd animals, the journey to a water source was a long one. This made on-site water collection and dry-land agriculture critical to the community’s survival. They approached water conservation with ingenuity. There are hollowed out basins throughout the ruins that are remnants of 30 shallow pits built to catch runoff. That supplemented 32 wells, ranging from 20 to 50 feet deep, and roof fed cisterns. Obviously the dearth of water is not a new problem in this region.

SALT MISSIONS SCENIC BYWAY