At the end of most journeys, Ruth and I play “Best of Trip”. This is when we announce our favorite experience. On our 3 week summer, 2015 domestic drive covering a dozen states, that choice was especially easy for me. And it came with a bonus since it was a totally unexpected attraction on a special day.
The Pecos National Historical Park is 25 miles southeast of Santa Fe. I had no idea how important this place was but began learning as soon as we entered the visitor center. Ruth & I were greeted by Jamie, ranger/geography teacher from Mount Shasta, California, who issued an invitation. “This is Peace Day,” she told us. “Want to take a walk with me up to the mission and pueblo and see some of the events?” Every year for only one day, the Jemez people return to their pueblo from a nearby village with a treasured painting. They place it on the altar of the Pecos Pueblo Mission Church with great ceremony, dance, bake bread, etc., and we just happened to be there for La Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles.
On our walk up to the mission Jamie took us down into a kiva, showed us bone shards, talked about juniper trees and native plants, and called this “the place to go through, the marketplace, and the most sacred cemetery of The West”. All 3 are indisputably accurate. Historically, there has been a significant community at Pecos since humans began settling here at the most important crossroads on the North American continent. Spear points from the last Ice Age have been found. At one time there were 14 pueblos on this one mesa above Glorieta Creek with 100 rooms in each and an estimated population of 2,000 Native Americans. There were 27 kivas; 2 have been restored. Apaches came here to trade flint and slaves with the Jemez. Commanches raided. Coronado came through looking for gold. Franciscan priests brought Christianity to the Jemez, and 2 Spanish Colonial missions were built. The one being used at the time of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt that temporarily halted Spanish rule was destroyed. The walls of the 2nd remain. Civil War soldiers camped in this mission church. Confederate President Jefferson Davis wanted western minerals and a California port. After the 1862 Battle of Marieta Pass, his dream collapsed. The Santa Fe Trail brought Mormons, messengers, traders, settlers, etc. Ranchers, like the founders of Forked Lightning, worked the area. Route 66 wandered through. Academy Award winning actresses Green Garson & Jane Fonda have both lived in the area. Garson paid to have the Pecos National Historical Park’s Visitor Center built and supervised its constriction. Visitors can tour her home nearby.
The Visitor Center is exceptional. A lot of reconstructed pottery is on display because noted archeologist A.V. Kidder spent 12 seasons at Pecos excavating an eons old hillside trash heap beginning in 1915. His efforts lead to a new science, Southwest archaeology. Research is ongoing via the Pecos Conference.
It’s hard for me to think of another place in North America where so much happened. I truly don’t think it exists.