This little known national monument is located in the prairie lands of central New Mexico and home to three 17th century Spanish missions alongside the ruins of pueblos dating back to the earliest periods of European civilization.
The Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument contains the earliest remnants of Spanish Franciscan missions that were led to spread Christianity to these sparsely populated grasslands. The place marks the earliest accounts of contact between Pueblo Indians and Spanish Colonials.
The three missions and surrounding pueblos settlement is in ruins, which isn't that surprising, given its age. Although in ruins, it is remarkably well-preserved largely thanks to the general remoteness and lack of urbanization in this region.
New Mexico's central grasslands offer a remote and serene outdoor experience. Combine this with the history and unique architecture of the ruins and you have a place that captures both the heart and the mind.
The largest excavated site at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, and perhaps the most remote, is the Gran Quivira, followed by the Quarai and Abo sites that are much older and still largely unexcavated.
Exploring these ruins in this remote and wild landscape presents a fascinating day out for all those who visit here.
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is located in the protected Mountainair region of central New Mexico. The I-25 South from Albuquerque leads to Belento. From there take the NM 47 that connects to US 60. Drive east for about twenty miles to reach the Mountainair headquarters.
An alternative route is to take the historic highway route from the north if you want to further indulge and explore this remote and eerie landscape dripping in rich history and culture.
Camping within Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument or the private lands surrounding it is strictly prohibited but campgrounds are available in the Manzano Mountains State Park, about 40 miles away.
Camping at Manzano Mountains State Park surrounds you with Ponderosa Pine Forest and excellent hiking trails. RV Sites have electric hookups and can accommodate rigs up to 45 feet in length.
All three mission sites can be reached via cars but the exploration of the site itself must be done on foot. At the Quarai Mission site, a quarter-mile loop trail takes visitors along unexcavated pueblo mounds to the 40 ft high church walls that is but one of the three Spanish missions here.
The Abo site also has a half-mile trail that takes visitors to more unexcavated Tompiro pueblo sites. The Gran Quivira site is by far the largest and most well-preserved of the three and offers stunning views of the surrounding prairie lands.
You can spend an entire day simply hiking past unexcavated ruins and towering remains of Spanish missions. Hiking enthusiasts can also venture on to the one-mile Spanish Corral Trail.
The remoteness of the region and the fact that this part of central New Mexico is protected means that visitors can spot plenty of wildlife and unique desert plants that grow abundantly even in these arid and harsh environments.
From yucca to currants and other fruit-bearing plants like the Buffalo Gourd can all be found growing around the foothills of the Manzano Mountains that begin their ascent from the Salinas Pueblo Missions. These plants are food for a variety of bird species including the infamous roadrunner, and also provide sustenance to the small mammals that dwell in these lands.
A museum and visitor center at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is often the first stop for most visitors as it allows them to catch up on the history, culture, and significance of this land that had been settled by native pueblos for as far back as 300 B.C.
The museum and visitor center has books and displays that showcase the different tools and artifacts made and used by the people of Las Humanas that were found and preserved during the excavation process of this historic site.
Home to three historic sites, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument offers plenty of places to enjoy a picnic overlooking some truly beautiful mountain and prairie scenery.
Picnic shelters are available at both the Quarai and Gran Quivira sites that offer visitors the chance to relax and take in the history and views of this ancient and largely unchanged landscape.
The elevation, remoteness, and lack of light for miles make Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument a great place to spend the night looking up at the stars that light up the massive skies that New Mexico is known for.
Star gazing here is a one of a kind experience as everything about this place gives you the feeling of being flung back to a more ancient and nomadic time.
Not bringing your camera to Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument can be tragic as this place is simply amazing for taking photographs. The 300-year-old Spanish missions with their collapsed walls, arches, and fallen stairs towering over unexcavated pueblos followed by a desert and mountain backdrop are images that you would likely see in a sci-fi movie or history magazine.
The remoteness and lack of urbanization in the region have kept this land's rich history well preserved which can still be captured beautifully by your camera lens.