“Along the Salt Mission Trail”
There are so many amazing ancient sites in New Mexico. The Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, established in 1909, are a set of three historic pueblo mission churches that the Spanish established in the 1600’s.
The Mission’s official name was Mission Nuestra Señora de Purísima Concepción de Quarai. Built in 1629, the Quarai Mission church once stood 40 feet in height with walls 3-6 feet thick. Over time its height has decreased to 20 feet tall. Contained within its own walls, the church is built in the tradition Spanish cross design. These early churches were described as “fortress churches”. The pueblo structure designs are similar to the Anasazi dwellings in Arizona.
Excavations at Quarai began in 1930’s, and revealed human remains and pottery shards dating back to 1250 AD. Tiwa speaking natives traveled through the Manzano mountains to settle in the area before the 1300’s. The surrounding house mounds represent various periods of abandoned ruins and then thriving homes.
During the excavation, a kiva was found in the monastery area, which has led to speculation about the mingling of the native practices with the Catholic. Stabilizing the structure during excavation was necessary to preserve it. Most of the surrounding area of Quarai has not been excavated. You can view many of the mounds on the walking tour.
There were between 600 – 700 people of Tiwan and Spanish decent living at this active trade center. Related to the Tanoan Pueblo people, the Tiwa had 2 northern groups, in Taos and Picuris and 2 southern groups in Isleta and Sandia. The Sandia group lived in the Quarai pueblo. Quarai was one of the few places that Europeans interacted with Native Americans.
Their farming, gathering of salt and location made trading a natural way of life. Salt, piñon nuts, corn, squash, beans and cotton were their commonly traded items. Quarai was one of the many villages of the Salinas Jurisdiction of the Spanish Empire. Despite their trading during peace, the Puebloan had times of war with the Spanish and the Apache. Apache attacks, drought and disease caused the people of Quarai to abandon the pueblo in 1670.
Quarai is part of the Salt Mission Trail. Located in the Estancia Basin on the eastern side of the Manzano mountains. The Estancia Basin, a lake that evaporated 10,000 years ago, leaving a rich salt supply that settlers relied upon in their travels. When the rich salt deposits were found, the area became an important trading area.
The Salt Mission Trail today is a 140 mile, mostly a loop, starting north at Tijeras and reaching south to Gran Quivira, another of the 3 Salinas Pueblo Missions. A pleasant day trip, it includes portions of Historic Route 66 along the journey.
New Mexico has many scenic byway drives throughout the state. If you are visiting the Albuquerque area, taking a day to follow the Salt Mission Trail and stop at Quarai Pueblo will give you a look inside a Puebloan culture. I think this grand architectural monument will amaze you.
Do plan historic stops on your journeys? Which has been your most memorable to date?
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Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument Quarai New Mexico Salt Missions Trail Sangres.com