Pros: Interesting historical ruins. Beautiful surrounding landscape. Close to Santa Fe.
Cons: Most of the park has limited or no access for visitors.
Indian civilizations, Spanish Missions, and occasional violence fill the history books of the state of New Mexico USA. Pecos National Historical Park in Pecos, NM contains all these elements, and offers a great introduction to the history of the southwestern United States.
I visited Pecos (pronounced PAY-cos) in June 2005 while vacationing in nearby Santa Fe, New Mexico. The park covers 6,600 acres of land on a small mesa, near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The surrounding landscape is one of rugged beauty with rolling hills, Juniper-laced mountains, and the Pecos River.
Remnants of history
Pecos National Historical Park has the remains of a Spanish Mission and a pueblo of the Pecos Indians. The mission has just a few high-standing walls and the outlines of different rooms within its interior. The mission's reddish brown colors were very photogenic against the blue skies and mountains when I visited late in the afternoon. You can walk through and all around the mission but should not touch any of the walls.
The remains of the pueblo are largely stone and mud walls, about 2 feet high. It spans over several thousand square feet of ground. There is also a reconstructed kiva, which is a round pit covered with a wooden roof. It is about 10 feet deep and 20 feet across. We climbed down into the kiva using a wooden ladder.
The kivas were used for religious ceremonies by the Pecos, and contained a fire pit and vent. We saw a mouse and a very big insect when we climbed into it on my visit, so we exited quickly not knowing what else was down there.
The original pueblo building was a rectangular collection of rooms and most likely built of stone and mud. It was several stories high and they used ladders to access the roof. There are no entranceways since they used the roof for exiting and entering the structure. It is believed they used the rooms for sleeping the storage of crops and weaponry. You can walk between the ruins of the pueblo but not into the rooms of any specific building.
This immediate area was a natural crossroads of culture and trade for the Indian people starting about AD 800. They originally lived in small pit houses grouped together in villages. Over time the Pecos Indians became dominant and consolidated their civilization into a pueblo, which may have housed up to 2,000 people.
The Pecos were skilled farmers and traders, and also warded off intrusions by the Plains Indians into the area. The Pecos' culture was flourishing in the mid 16th Century when the first Spanish explorers arrived in the area.
In 1621 the Spanish built their first mission in the area and some of the Indians converted to Christianity. Eventually the heavy-handed Spanish rule and religious conflicts with Indians holding traditional beliefs led to a revolt; the Spanish were driven out of the area for twelve years and the original mission was destroyed.
When the Spanish Reconquest occurred in 1692 they returned with a more co-operative attitude. The pueblo and a new mission existed together until changing trade routes, disease, and raids from neighboring Comanche Indians reduced the Pecos to just a few hundred in number. By 1838 the mission and pueblo were completely abandoned and fell into ruins.
Visitors should pay the entrance fee here and pick up a brochure. There is a small museum and a 10-minute film about the area is shown at the Visitors Center. The film provides a good background of both the Pecos and the Spanish Mission. Restrooms, beverages and a small gift shop are also available here.
There is a 1.25-mile hiking path between the Visitors Center and the ruins. The path and most of the ruins are handicapped accessible. You can also drive around and park adjacent to the ruins area. A small picnic area is nearby.
A battle of the US Civil War was fought in nearby Glorieta. Although it is part of the park's land, it is not accessible to visitors unless a guided tour is arranged in advance. An old ranch is part of the park and is accessed further south on Route 63. However, I did not visit this area.
There is not much else nearby the park, and my friend who lives in the area does not recommend any of the restaurants in Pecos. Drive 30 miles west to Santa Fe or 40 Miles east to Las Vegas, NM if you want a meal.
It you go
Pecos National Historical Park is about 30 miles east of Santa Fe, NM. Its an easy side trip from the city using Interstate 25 to Route 50, then south on Route 63. The park is open from 8AM to 5PM daily except for Jan. 1 and Dec. 25. If you want to take photographs the late afternoon sun offers some great lighting contrasts.
Cost to enter is just $3 and payable at the Visitors Center. The ruins and surrounding flora can be seen in about 1 hour and Id recommend another 30 minutes for the Visitors Center. There were only a handful of other tourists here during my visit, but a tour bus arrived as we were leaving. My understanding is that it is rarely crowded. Pecos National Historical Park is well worth the time and price to visit if you want a taste of New Mexico's history.
Pecos National Historical Park
Pecos, NM 87552
© trailhound. 2005.