Colorado Plateau Hike & Camp 2014 travel blog

View of Sangre de Cristo Mtns en route to Santa Fe, NM

Map: Pecos National Historic Park, proximity to the Santa Fe Trail and...

Pecos National Historic Park Visitor Center

Start of self-guiding trail with Pecos North Pueblo ruins in distance

The Pecos Pueblo included living and working rooms for over 2000 people

Descending into a kiva - the center of Pueblo life

Kiva interior - these underground spaces were used for important ceremonial activities

Large pueblos had more than one kiva, perhaps serving different families or...

Like the North Pueblo, the South Pueblo was 5 stories high, with...

Glorietta Creek - an important water source for the pueblo

Pecos Pueblo, high in the Glorietta Pass, gave it a military advantage...

The second (smaller) Mission is being restored to its 1717 condition

Mission wall restoration uses adobe plaster similar to that used on all...

Wooden beams in the existing Mission structure can be dated and analyzed...

Ruts of the important Santa Fe Trail near Pecos Pueblo

El Camino Real followed ancient trade routes used by Puebloans and Aztecs

Friday, 9-May (morning) -- Pecos National Historic Park

Trip miles: 36.8 + 72=108.8 miles

Route taken: US-84 → I-25 S → NM-63 N → Pecos → NM-63 S → I-25 S → US-84 W → NM-502 W → NM-4 W I-25 is a 75mph highway still. NM-63 is 65mph. NM-502 and NM-4 are 55mph slowing to 45mph on the winding sections.

Average Gas mileage: 25.5

Weather: sunny, cool and windy. Warmest temperature was 65F driving through Santa Fe at 11:00. Windiest place was the Juniper Campground in Bandelier NM between 15:00 and 17:00

Elevation: 6470 ft → 6600 ft via 7562 ft Glorietta Pass


- Pecos self-guided trail

- Bandelier Falls Trail

It was cold at 6:00 this morning and difficult to leave the warm tent. At least there was no wind! The sun started to warm us up as we ate breakfast and packed up to leave. Two hours later we were on the road with ice in the cooler and a full tank of gas. Driving south and west we left the high plains behind while the Santa Fe mountains loomed larger ahead. Behind them were the even higher snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range.

About Pecos National Historic Park: This NHP in the Pecos Valley is only a short distance off I-25, about 17 miles east of Santa Fe. As early as 800 AD the pre-Puebloan pithouse dwellers lived along drainages in this valley, with the Puebloan peoples starting to build small villages about 1100 AD. This location became an important trading hub for Puebloan farmers, hunting tribes from the Great Plains and tribes from more tropical regions to the south. A portion of the Santa Fe Trail is still visible on the grounds at Pecos. In the 1300's the small villages were abandoned as the people moved to Pecos, which by 1450 had evolved into a well-planned fortress housing 2000 inhabitants in buildings up to five stories high.

NOTE: Ancestral Puebloans used to be incorrectly referred to as 'Anasazi' peoples, a Navajo word meaning 'foreigner' or 'ancient enemy'. Modern Puebloans requested that the reference be changed to the more correct and respectful 'Ancestral Puebloan' peoples, which is how Puebloans refer to their ancestors. In fact, the Ancient Puebloans did not 'mysteriously disappear' as was commonly thought. Instead they merged with other cultures and moved to other areas, where their descendants still live in modern pueblos today. The National Parks have updated most of their literature and almost all of their signage accordingly.

Their farming techniques were well adapted to this high-altitude, arid region. Not only did the Puebloans use pumice mulch and dig irrigation channels and check dams to take advantage of the small amounts of rain, but they also planted their main crops of corn, beans and squash in various agricultural zones to ensure that at least one area would thrive no matter what weather prevailed that year. The Puebloans also developed successful methods of drying and storing food in bountiful years to carry them through years of bad harvests, a fact documented by the Spanish conqueror, Coronado, in 1541 when he found a three-year supply of corn in the Pecos storerooms.

The Spanish colonization efforts were not successful at Pecos until 1621 when a Franciscan missionary presented himself to the Puebloans as a builder and healer. They helped him construct the first Catholic Mission Church, an impressive adobe building with towers and buttresses. However, by 1680 Indian resentments of Spanish demands resulted in the Pueblo Revolt, which destroyed the Mission. The Spanish returned in 1692 and were welcomed back at Pecos. A new, smaller church with a larger working area (convento) was built on the same site, emphasizing the desire to teach and interact with rather than convert the Puebloans. The pueblo was abandoned in 1838 after many years of slow decline. The people moved 80 miles west to join the Towa-speaking Puebloans in the Jemez Pueblo, where their descendants live today. The current-day Puebloans revere Pecos as a sacred place.

The Pecos Visitor Center, its landscaping and other park buildings are beautifully designed to suit the cultural preservation that is its mission. A section of the landscape labels native plants and gives a general description of how the Puebloans used each one. The easy 1.25 mile self-guided trail through the ruins is definitely worth stopping for. Borrow a plasticized copy of the trail guide at the Visitor Center to read about the historic feature of each numbered point on the trail. Along the trail are partial restorations of the Pueblo homes and of the later Catholic Mission church and Convent buildings and grounds. We took the opportunity to climb down the ladder into one of the 'kivas', a circular underground room used for many different purposes, including religious ceremonial rituals. Kivas were, and still are, a signature feature of the ancient and modern Puebloan villages. They symbolize the origin of the people from the earth.

The Pecos Pueblo excavations began in 1915 when archaeologist Kidder put to the test his new theory of examining layers in the trash heaps (middens) to plot a historical time sequence of the pueblo. Not only was he able to identify periods of occupation, but he developed a fairly accurate picture of the daily lives of the Ancestral Puebloans here.

With baby carrots as our snack of choice today we drove over Glorietta Pass and through Santa Fe to Bandelier National Monument. Everything through the city and along the way looked very arid. What struck us as strange was that the lanes on Santa Fe's main roads seemed narrower than in most cities, even though there were 3 or more lanes. In fact, the larger tanker and dump trucks had their outer tires riding on the lane lines on both sides. We made a mental note to not return on I-25 heading north where construction had traffic backed up for a few miles.

About Santa Fe: The capital city of New Mexico is the oldest government seat in the U.S.A. Well before it was an American city Santa Fe was a northern frontier town of Spain. Although the Santa Fe Trail was important for America's east-west trade, the El Camino Real between Santa Fe and Mexico City existed even earlier, possibly being the first Euro-American trade route. Just like the Santa Fe Trail, El Camino Real was built over footpaths blazed decades before by ancient cultures. Santa Fe is a good base camp from which to explore northern New Mexico's Wine Trails, modern Pueblo cultures, contemporary art, outdoor activities and a variety of cuisines. Sante Fe has a distinctly Pueblo appearance, with its low, adobe-style buildings and Pueblo-inspired decorative designs on the walls and bridges.

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