The name of the monument comes from the dry salt lakes on the plains to the east of Mountainair.
The area was home to two ancient southwestern cultures, the Ancestral Puebloans and Mogollon, people with roots going back 7,000 years and beyond that to nomadic Indians as early 20,000 years ago.
Abó, Quarai and Gran Quivira were located along major trade routes between Rio Grande villages and plains tribes to the east. They traded, salt, maize, beans, squash, pinion nuts and cotton for dried buffalo meat, hides, flints and shells.
In 1598 the Spanish arrived bringing with them, horses, cattle, goats, fruit trees, wheat and metal.
Franciscan missionaries came with the soldiers, converting local tribes and building churches, citizens appointed by the governor were supposed to provide aid, protection and education but the system was abused and the area too remote for anyone to check up on what was really happening.
Eventually years of drought, wide-spread famine and a population decimated by European diseases to which they had little resistance led to the abandonment of the pueblos and missions during the 1670’s.
Gran Quavira, 25 miles south of Mountainair on highway 55, the largest of the missions is also where the most excavation has taken place, although the ranger at the park headquarters in Mountainair did tell us that there are plans to backfill the excavated pueblos in order to preserve them. Unlike Quarai and Abó, Gran Quavira is built of limestone.
At Quarai, about 9 miles north of Mountainair, the soaring walls of the red sandstone church stand high above the mostly unexcavated mounds of the surrounding pueblo.
At Abó just of highway 60 is a stone arroyo and spring where both the pueblo and the church obtained most of their water, apart from one pool of standing water, both were dry when we visited.
The historic Shaffer Hotel in Mountainair, we had a lovely late lunch in the dining room.
The Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument visitor centre, the sky really did look like that.
The monuments spiral out from Mountainair and although it’s a lot of driving, they are very interesting and well worth visiting.
Have fun, we are!