Cueloze: Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument
DIRECTIONS Mountainair is the logical jumping off point for any of the three mission sites. The quickest approach is from U.S. Highway 60 off I-25 about 50 miles south of Albuquerque. A connection with State 47 passes Abo and then Mountainair. Take State 55 north out of Mountainair for Quari or south for Gran Quivira. WHEN TO GO Just about year round barring extreme weather conditions MORE INFO Salinas Missions National Monument, P.O. Box 498, Mountainair, NM 87036, (505) 847-2585
The view from 6,650 feet elevation Gran Quivira Ruins at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument takes in 360 degrees of piñon-juniper forested meadows where the mountains east of the Rio Grande River meet the Great Plains. During the 1500s, before the Spaniards arrived, Cueloze, as the inhabitants called it, was a thriving outpost of the Anasazi world. Numerous building complexes held up to 3,000 rooms and sheltered as many people, making it one of the largest pre-Colombian pueblos in the Southwest. Surrounding fields were terraced and irrigated via elaborate water catchment systems. Maize, squash, melons, beans, and cotton flourished.
Cueloze commanded a unique trading position on the Anasazi frontier. Influenced greatly by plains Indians, the local diet was rich in buffalo meat. These people were taller, more robust than the average Anasazi. Salt from dried lake bed deposits gave them a trade specialty. Unearthed parrot feathers, copper bells and mother-of-pearl jewelry came from an economic trade network stretching from the Mississippi to the Pacific, from Colorado to Central America.
Cueloze played a central "melting pot" role for pre-Colombian cultures in the region. By 800 A.D. distinctive pottery from the Mogollon culture of southern Arizona was being produced. The population grew steadily as local agriculture increased. The most lasting influence came in the 1100s from the sophisticated Chacoan Anasazi peoples to the northwest. Multi-storied pueblos, water control systems, and elaborate kachina rituals in underground kivas had completely transformed the indigenous culture by the 1300s. Cueloze enjoyed a prosperous existence on the Anasazi frontier until the Spaniards arrival in the 1620s.
Ironically, the brief, unsuccessful Spanish occupation left the most imposing ruins. The San Buenaventura Mission ruins tower 50 feet over surrounding pueblo walls. The church measured 140 feet long, 70 feet wide, with 6 foot thick walls, ornately carved, massive ceiling beams supporting herring-boned "latia" cross members and an altar built 8 feet above the ground. Constructed in 1660, the mission was abandoned less than 20 years later in the face of escalating Apache raids and drought. The Spaniards and Indians left Cueloze in despair for the Rio Grande valley.
Gran Quivira, Abo, and Quari ruins are three related sites at the Manzano Mountain's southern end included in Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. They form a lopsided triangle with Mountainair village in the center. Gran Quivira lies 25 miles south on Highway 55. Abo is nine miles west on highway 60, and Quari lies eight miles north on highway 55. An additional visitors' center in Mountainair offers in depth information on all three sites.
The rational for grouping them into one park comes from the presence of native stone missions at each. They formed the core of a nine-pueblo-strong region the Spanish called their "Salinas Province." Salt, hauled in long burro trains, all the way to Chihuahua Mexico for silver ore processing in the great mines, was their primary interest in the area.
Although the three churches were constructed from the same basic plan, each mission site has a distinctive character. Quari mission, located in lush, spring-fed, cottonwood-shaded meadows in the Manzano Mountain foothills, epitomizes the strength of conviction that sustained Franciscan fathers in New Mexico. It's La Purisma Concepcion De Cuarac church was part of a huge fortress-like compound containing priest and staff quarters, storerooms, an inner plaza and garden with small orchard, stables, even a watch tower or "torreon." Built in 1630, abandoned in 1670, like the other Salinas missions, it was not in use for long. The sprawling Abo ruins, with beautifully constructed walls and large integrated kivas, are located near a perennially running stream at the Manzano Mountains southern tip on the salt trade route into the Rio Grande valley. Exquisitely wrought, diversely detailed petroglyph panels nearby give it added character.
Driving from one mission site to the next is half the fun. The deserted back roads provide a montage of forested peaks, mesas, azure meadows, and stunning views through an area little changed from the Anasazi heyday. Sleepy Mountainair, an old railroad town, offers a glimpse of rural New Mexico, several decent eateries, and lodging. The Salinas visitors center, in the refurbished historic Shaffer Hotel, is a must-see.
Spanish influence eventually came to dominate the pueblo world. But in the Salinas province it was short lived. The thriving area supported a pre-Colombian population of 10,000. Success came from adaptation to and maintaining balance with a harsh environment. The wind's lonely refrain across crumbling pueblo walls sings a song worth remembering.