900 Years of History in Sandstone – The Salinas Pueblos, NM
“Long ago a Pueblo man showed Salt Woman hospitality, even though her body was rough and scaly. In return, she made her home nearby in a lake, so that people might come here with offerings and take away the salt that is her body.” Pueblo Legend
I’m standing in the middle of a brilliant red sandstone structure, bounded by blue sky and the Manzano Mountains. Inside these walls are the echos of 900 years of history linked with the rich trade of salt, Indian settlements and Spanish conquest. These are the stunning Salinas Pueblos where both wealth, change and tragedy have sown their seeds. It’s yet another of New Mexico’s hidden treasures and like everything here it’s practically deserted, totally affordable (free in fact), completely accessible (you can enter into the ruins), dog friendly (pooch is welcome on leash) and utterly fascinating.
But I digress and must get back to the story.
The seed of these amazing structures starts around 1100-1300 A.D. This was a time where migrating indians settled down and stone villages grew and flourished in the Southwest. Along the eastern slope of the Manzano Mountains, NM close to the precious salt flats, the Tompiro and Tiwa-speaking peoples of the Rio Grande established a cultural cooperation and thriving pueblos. Here they lived and traded corn, blankets, pottery and salt along massive trade-routes that passed through from the Pacific Ocean to deep inside Central America.
History changed in 1598 with the arrival of the Spanish expedition led by Juan de Onate. Prompted by fables of gold and riches they established a colony in the area. Although gold was never found, the salt flats proved a rich resource and in the early 1600’s Franciscan priests were sent to build missions and convert the locals to Christianity. Thus developed the churches and missions in the pueblos of Abó, Quarai and Grand Quivira.
But the union was a difficult and tenuous one. The Apaches, formerly trading partners of the indians, held raids on the missions for food and retribution against the Spanish slave trade. Then, in the 1660’s and 70’s massive drought devastated the region, starving hundreds of indians, forcing pueblos to be abandoned and finally resulting in revolt. By 1680 the Spanish had been expelled from New Mexico and the local indians had moved on.
The fine remnants of that time are where my shoes are treading today. The Salinas Pueblos are stunning ruins beautifully located, and deserted enough to send you deep in meditation to time long ago. We did a lazy drive around two of the three main pueblos, absorbing the history and stopping to peruse the visitor center, shops and galleries in Mountainair (for those with a sweet tooth, pick-up an authentic old-fashioned Ice Cream Milkshake in town). A fabulous day-trip and just another of those hidden treasures that have me falling head over heels in love with New Mexico.