by Dr. Denise R. Ames
My first stop on a visit to the three Salinas Pueblo Mission ruins was the San Gregorio de Abó Mission. Located just west of the town of Mountainair, New Mexico, it straddles 370 acres of land. The pueblo (village) was built and settled in the 1300s, while the Spanish commenced building the mission in 1581. I turned off the main road and took a winding road through a scrub-brush New Mexican landscape. I wondered how native people could survive in such an inhospitable environment.
When I crossed over a dry creek bed, I realized that hundreds of years ago this must have been a flourishing place with ample water to supply their immediate needs and water their crops. Perhaps, not as inhospitable as I imagined.
The imposing “bones” of sizable mission church greeted me as I entered the parking lot of the Abó National Monument. Along with the eerily-quiet ruins, the visitors center was locked up and there were no other visitors besides myself. It felt a bit unnerving. I shook off the foreboding feeling and got out of my car.
Since there was not another living soul around, I tried to reset my mind to imagine what it would have been like to be a native Abó woman living in the pueblo, and also what the everyday life of the missionaries might have been. The pueblos were in existence hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived.
I started my tour at the mission. Excavations and rebuilding were successful in giving me a sense of the function of the structure. Of course, the most space was allocated to the nave (center part of the structure) with towering red sandstone walls and an altar at one end. Plenty of doors and windows meant the adjoining structures could be accessed from the main church.
Along with living quarters for the missionaries, some of the adjoining structures housed animals, grains, and other food items. The inhabitants ate wild plants, raised turkeys, and hunted rabbits, deer, antelope, and bison. Also, the Spanish introduced sheep, goats, cattle, and horses to the native people.
There was a looping trail in back of the mission that led to a dry creek bed. I had fun exploring the creek bed. I could imagine children frolicking in the warm summer months in the cool creek waters. Differences in elevation in the creek bed meant there were probably waterfalls and deep troughs would have served as an ideal swimming hole. I could visualize youngsters diving off the rocky platforms into a pool of crystal-clear water.
Abó mothers were probably happy to see their children occupied as they toiled at their daily tasks. Women were usually the ones who stitched the typical garments men wore everyday—breech cloths—a long rectangular piece of tanned deerskin, cloth, or animal fur. It is worn between the legs and tucked over a belt, so that the flaps fall down in front and behind. They also crafted bison robes, antelope and deer hides, and decorative blankets of cotton and yucca fiber. Turquoise and shell jewelry, obtained by trade, brightened rituals.
As I finished my trail loop and arrived back at the parking lot, a vehicle pulled up breaking my spell of imagining myself hundreds of years ago in this environ. It was an interesting experience and I was eager to explore the other two mission ruins: Quarai and Gran Quivera.
As I got back in my car, I took a final glance at the towering mission church and the less imposing adobe and brick houses flanking its perimeter. The juxtaposition of the different structures was a testament to the two different ways of life and how they were able to negotiate—peacefully and violently—those differences.
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