Coronado State Monument
Though named for Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who camped on this lush spot by the river during his 1540 search for gold, the monument (485 Kuaua Rd., Bernalillo, 505/867-5351, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily, $3) is actually a Native American relic, the partially restored pueblo of Kuaua (Tiwa for “evergreen”), which was inhabited between 1300 and the early 1600s.
The centerpiece is the partially sunken square kiva, its interior covered with murals of life-size human figures and animals in ritual poses. What you see are only reproductions—the originals have been removed for preservation, and a few are on display in the visitors center.
While not exactly worth its own special trip, the site is a good place to stop on your way up to Jemez, and the setting is good for a picnic. Seated on a bench facing the river and the mountains, with the city hidden from view behind a dense screen of cottonwoods, you get a sense of the lush, calm life along the Rio Grande in the centuries before the Spanish arrived.
To reach the monument, exit I-25 in Bernalillo and head west on Highway 550; Kuaua Road is on your right, before the Santa Ana Star casino. The monument is closed Tuesdays during the winter.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition