Pecos National Historical Park
The largest pueblo when the Spanish made first contact in 1540, Pecos was home to about 2,000 people, who lived among four- and five-story complexes built of stone sealed with mud.
The ruins of this grand community (Hwy. 63, 505/757-6032, www.nps.gov/peco, $3) are accessible to visitors via Highway 63 and then a 1.5-mile paved interpretive trail that winds through the remnants of the Pecos Pueblo walls, a couple of restored kivas, and, most striking, the remainder of a Franciscan mission. Free guided tours around various parts of the site run at 2 p.m. daily during the summer.
On a ridge facing out to the plains to the northeast and to the mountains behind, the park provides a beautiful view today; around 1100, when the area was being settled with the first villages, it also provided a livelihood. The ridge was part of a natural trade path between the Rio Grande farmers and the buffalo hunters of the Great Plains—both groups met in Pecos, itself an agricultural community, to barter. What began as a series of small villages consolidated in the 14th century into a city, with a layout so orderly it appears to have been centrally planned, and by 1450, the fortress of Pecos was the major economic power in the area.
Perhaps it was the city’s trading culture and relative worldliness that made the Pecos Indians welcome Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his men in 1540 with music and dancing rather than bows and arrows. Nearly 60 years later, Don Juan de Oñate visited the area and ordered that a mission church be built—an imposing structure with six bell towers and buttresses 22 feet thick in some spots. The building was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt, however, and the Pecos people dug a kiva smack in the middle of the ruined convent area—symbolic architecture, to say the least.
Soon enough, the Spanish were back, and they were even welcomed and aided at Pecos. When they built a new church in the early 1700s, it was noticeably smaller, maybe as a form of compromise. But even as a hybrid Pueblo-Spanish culture was developing, the Indian population was gradually falling victim to disease and drought. When theSanta Fe Trail opened in 1821, Pecos was all but empty, and in 1838, the last city dwellers marched to live with fellow Towa speakers at Jemez Pueblo, 80 miles west; their descendants live there today.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition