Salinas Valley Pueblos in New Mexico: A Testament to the Past

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Spring was just around the corner when I embarked on a stimulating venture. About 25 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, my hometown, were located ruins of three separate Indian pueblos and also the remains of 17th century Franciscan mission churches. These three ruins—Abo, Quarai, and Gran Quivira—are collectively called Salinas Pueblo Missions.

Map of the Salinas Valley pueblos and missions in New Mexico

When driving to the sites, I am always struck by the harshness of the environment. How could any settlement provide for a robust population in such a barren expanse? Climate change over the last several hundred years, has rendered a hospitable environment to a hostile one.

I had visited the ruins in the past but I wanted to see them again with “new eyes” and a fresh perspective. Spring was the perfect time to do this as the trees were about to bud and the air had a crisp, spring feel to it. I first visited Abo, and a week later took in Quarai, then drove 25 miles further south to visit the impressive expanse of Gran Quivira.

I would like to share with you my impressions of the missions and pueblos and also some historical information about their interaction. Although each site is different, the three sites share the cultural clash between indigenous people and missionary efforts to spread their religion and the nascent modern way of life. Whenever there is contact between two or more diametrically different ways of life, there is bound to be conflict and tensions, but also sharing.

Abo Mission ruins, New Mexico, photo Denise Ames

As a world historian, interaction is a major theme in our long human past. Interaction is not always black and white, it takes on shades of gray as both negative and beneficial aspects are usually present. As I would find out this would also be the case with interaction between the Pueblo people and Spanish missionaries.  

The three pueblos had roots that would go as far back as 7,000 years ago. They, in turn, built upon the traditions of nomadic Indians who may have arrived in the area around 15,000 years ago (date is hotly contested). Pueblo in Spanish means village or town, and also refers to the indigenous people who live in these villages in present-day Southwestern US.

Quarai Mission ruins, New Mexico, photo Denise Ames

Two ancient southwestern cultural traditions, the Ancestral Puebloans—often called Anasazi—and Mogollon, overlapped in the Salinas Valley. The intermingling of these traditions resulted in the Abo, Gran Quivira, and Quarai societies, the ruins of which I was visiting.

By the late 1100s the Anasazi tradition from the Colorado Plateau, influenced the contiguous stone-and-adobe homes of the Salinas Valley people who were later encountered by the Spanish. Over the next 100 years the Salinas Valley became a major trade center and one of the most populous parts of the Pueblo world, with perhaps 10,000 or more inhabitants in the 1600s.

Gran Quivira Mission ruins, New Mexico, photo Denise Ames

By 1300 the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) culture was dominant, although the Salinas area always lagged behind the Anasazi heartland to the north in cultural developments. For example, the astonishing Chaco Canyon was a dazzling display of superb architectural, cultural, and scientific achievements.

The series will continue on Thursday, August 29.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel. Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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