Looking for something to do, and do it inexpensively, Barbara and I jumped into the car and made a drive over to the Pecos National Historical Park. The park sits between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Glorietta Pass in what is called the Pecos Valley. For over 10,000 years Pueblo and Plains Indians, Spanish conquerors and missionaries, Mexican and Anglo armies, and settlers traveling the Santa Fe Trail have all inhabited the area.
The first to settle were the pre-pueblo people who lived in pit houses around the year 800. Around 1100, the first Puebloans appeared and began building their rock and mud villages in the valley. Over a span of about two centuries about two dozen villages rose up, including at the site that we visited. Within one generation, all of the smaller villages were abandoned and everyone congregated in one large city, estimated to have held 2,000 inhabitants by the year 1450. That’s pretty amazing stuff!
Eventually the Spaniards came up from Mexico to search for the famous cities of gold. Of course, those turned out to be false rumors, likely told by the natives in order to keep these strange men with facial hair, metal chests and riding strange 4-legged animals moving on down the road. Pretty smart, huh? Anyway, not only did the Spaniards bring their more “civilized” way of life, but they also brought their own religion, that being God the Father and Christ the Son. Along with the new religion, they also built missions and that is what is now available to see.
Barbara and I really enjoy the Ranger led tours of places like this so we signed up for one once we arrived at the Visitor’s Center. It was great! As we walked along the trail leading up to the mission, the Ranger began explaining the lay of the land, the reasons why the natives chose to build here, and of their rich heritage. As noted earlier, the Pueblo lies at Glorietta Pass and along what eventually became known as the Santa Fe Trail. This is an area that everyone pretty much had to travel to get across the mountains, thus making it a rich trade center. The Puebloans knew how to trade and outside of their fortified city, many Native Americans from neighboring pueblos, the Plains Indians, and the Spaniards all arrived to trade for various items from flints and metals to slaves.
Our tour guide showed us the many pottery sherds that were lying everywhere one looked. The black pottery was the earliest and the white pottery with designs on it were the later pieces but were still before the Europeans arrived. It was all I could do to not palm a pot sherd but that’s not allowed and would have resulted in a stiff fine if caught. I also noticed lots of bone fragments on the ground as well and our guide said that what we were walking through was an archeologists gold mine…. a trash pit. She said that the bones could be either animal or human as those, along with other items, were tossed over the wall and into the field. It had been happening like that for thousands of years!
We eventually came to a Kiva, which is a special place to the Puebloan peoples; a ceremonial and social place located between the underworld, where the people had their origin, and the world above where they live now. The guide said that these Kivas are still used today by the Puebloan descendants for special religious ceremonies. Of course, the park closes down for these occasions.
Our guide, who is not from the area, was very knowledgable on the Pueblo and it’s history. She was also very animated, which helped to hold our attention.
After climbing back up from the Kiva, we continued on the trail which eventually led us to the mission. This was actually the second mission built there for in 1680 the Pueblo peoples revolted and kicked the Spaniards out and destroyed the original mission. Of course, within a few years the Spanish Army was back and in more numbers, overthrew the natives and reestablished the mission. All around the mission you can find remnants of walls that show the various rooms and what the archeologists believe that they were used for.
All in all we had a great time on this Park Ranger Led tour of well over 2 hours. It was a beautiful day, the group was small in size and our guide was awesome. I left Pecos National Park with added admiration and respect for the early natives, and with a new shirt as well. :-) Barbara and I highly recommend that if you’re in this area (near Pecos, about 30 minutes southeast of Santa Fe, NM) that you make it a point to visit this beautiful place.
Barbara caught this photo; a jet flying overhead of the ruins. The Old & the New.