Where are the missions?
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is located near the town of Mountainair in central New Mexico. The national monument features:
- Main visitor center at Mountainair with a small museum
- Three mission sites with visitor centers and restrooms at each
- Bookstores and gift shops at each visitor center
- Accessible paved walking trails with wayside exhibits
- Periodic night sky events
- Free admission
The park’s website can be accessed here.
Why is this site significant?
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument preserves the ruins of three pueblos which were important trading hubs long before Spanish explorers arrived in the 1580s. Salt was harvested from nearby dry lakebeds (salinas) and became the primary commodity for trade at these pueblos. Due to the abundant salt trade, the Spanish government named the area the Salinas Jurisdiction. Other commodities such as pinion nuts and squash were used for trade purposes as well. The missions were built by Spanish priests who were sent to the Salinas Jurisdiction during the early seventeenth century to convert the Puebloan people to Christianity. Drought, famine, disease, and marauding Apaches drove the occupants of these sites away during the late 1600s. While the mission buildings remain today as important archaeological sites, there are still unexcavated mounds which contain remnants of the original pueblos.
Abo (pronounced Ah-bow) was the first stop on our visit. The site is located nine miles west of the main visitor center in Mountainair.
Spanish missionary Fray Francisco Fonte arrived at Abo in 1622 and took up residence in the pueblo until a church and convento (living quarters) could be built. Over the next six years, the Puebloans under Fonte’s direction, built Abo’s first mission church and convento, Mission of San Gregorio de Abo. In 1629, under the direction of another priest, renovations began on the original church and a larger church was built around it. The remains of the second church are what we see today.
Interestingly, Abo’s church also features a kiva which is where Puebloans held their own religious ceremonies. No one knows why the priests would have allowed a kiva to be built in a Catholic church. However, popular belief is that the priests allowed the kivas as a compromise in order to aid in the Puebloans’ transition to Christianity.
Abo was abandoned in 1673 and remained unoccupied for over a century. Spanish sheep herders settled into Abo around 1815 only to abandon the site in 1830 because of Apache raids. Permanent settlers, namely the family of Juan Jose Sisneros, arrived in the late 1800s and claimed Abo as their home. Descendants of the Sisneros family still live in the area today. The State of New Mexico took over the site in 1938.
After visiting Abo, we backtracked to Mountainair, and then it was on to our next site, Gran Quivira.
Gran Quivira (pronounced Gran Kuh-veera) is located 25 miles south of the Mountainair visitor center. The largest of the three Salinas Pueblo Missions, Gran Quivira is also the most excavated. Contact with Spanish explorers first occurred in 1583, then again in 1598 when the Don Juan de Onate expedition arrived and referred to the pueblo as Las Humanas.
Gran Quivira became a satellite mission of Abo in 1629, and at that time, construction began on the first mission church, Iglesia de San Isidro. Construction of the newer, larger church, San Buenaventura, began in 1659 under the direction of its new priest, Fray Diego de Santander.
Gran Quivira was once a large city occupied by 1500 – 2000 people. A few yards east of the San Buenaventura church lies a small hill, now known as Mound 7. Excavations of the large mound during the mid-1960s revealed the remains of a 226-room pueblo as well as an older pueblo underneath.
According to the National Park Service, indigenous people lived on and around the site for 1200 years. We thought this was interesting because Gran Quivira did not have a nearby water source. Residents had to carry water from distant springs to the site.
By 1672 the people of Gran Quivira had gone, leaving the once grand city to lie abandoned for more than 100 years. Eventually, travelers and explorers began to show interest in the site during the mid to late 1800s. President Taft preserved Gran Quivira by establishing it as a national monument in 1909.
Now on to Quarai…
Quarai (pronounced Quar-eye) is located eight miles north and one mile west of the main visitor center in Mountainair. Fray Juan Gutierrez de la Chica established the Quarai Mission in 1626, and under his direction construction began on the church in 1627. The church, La Purisma Concepcion de Quarai, was completed in 1632.
Like Abo, Quarai has a kiva in its convento. Spanish missionaries most likely thought it would not be a good idea to completely disregard the Puebloan’s old religion while attempting to establish new beliefs. The artist’s rendition below shows what Quarai pueblo might have looked like at its peak.
Like Abo and Gran Quivira, drought, famine, disease and attacks by hostile Apaches caused Quarai’s people to abandon the site in 1678. Settlers Juan and Miguel Lucero brought their families to live at Quarai in the early 1820s when some of the buildings were still habitable. The Lucero family made repairs to the convento and church and then built new homes which are now known as the Lucero Structures.
Apache raiders destroyed the Lucero’s homes and burned the church in 1830, causing the Lucero family to abandon Quarai. Some of the Lucero family returned a few years later and began rebuilding as well as adding additional structures. Miguel Lucero sold the property in 1872. Today, the Hopi and Zuni people claim they are descendants of the people of Quarai.
The state of New Mexico took over Quarai in the 1930s and preserved the site as a state monument. In 1980, the National Park Service expanded Gran Quivira National Monument to include Quarai and Abo. Renaming of the monument to Salinas Pueblo Missons took place in 1988.
Visiting Salinas Pueblo Missions
There are few accommodation options in the small town of Mountainair. However, there are several options for hotels and RV parks in the cities of Socorro which is south of the national monument and Belen which is north. Both cities are less than an hour’s drive via I-25. Undoubtedly, a visit to the missions would make a perfect day trip from Albuquerque, which is just over an hour north, also via I-25.
We didn’t find much in the way of eateries in Mountainair, but there are a couple of cafes as well as a deli in the local grocery store. Furthermore, we found only one convenience store gas station, and of course the prices were high.
Regardless of where it’s located, the national monument was absolutely worth the trip. The history, the wide-open spaces, and the scenery made for a wonderful road trip adventure. We spent about an hour at each pueblo mission site, and the drive time added another hour and a half to our visit. As always, we recommend making the visitor center the first stop. We also recommend visiting during the spring or fall as the summer heat and the winter cold may be uncomfortable for some.
Thank you so much for joining us at New Mexico’s Salinas Pueblo Missions!
Need additional road trip ideas? Take a look at these other great New Mexico destinations:
Fort Union National Monument
Albuquerque to Taos Road Trip: Things to Do
Pecos National Monument
Ruidoso Road Trip: Things to Do
Happy, safe travels, y’all!
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.
57 thoughts on “New Mexico’s Salinas Pueblo Missions”
I love the name of the town Mountainair. So many settlements seem to bear the name of what was visible or in this case, on the wind so to speak. So much history in the “New” world, which was not so new to those who lived there. Thanks for sharing Kellye. Allan
Thank you, Allan. Mountainair doesn’t really live up to its name, but there is another place called Mountainaire in Arizona that does.
Oh my gosh, what terrific places to visit. I want to be in your suitcase!
Thank you, Neal. There’s nothing more unique than the beauty and history of the Southwestern US. You’re welcome to hop aboard anytime. And Robert is invited too.
Lol. Aww. Thank you.
Thank you for this tour. When I think of Missions, I always think of Texas. Now, I know of others. The fact that a water source was far away Gran Quivira seems puzzling to me. Life had to be so hard.
Thank you, Betty. I can’t imagine having to tote water from so far away or the hardships the people endured. Sadly, it was after leaving the pueblos that their ancestors had everything taken from them.
Great photos. I am always amazed seeing such wide open spaces of land. So many parts of the country are overbuilt. It’s nice to know there’s pristine natural beauty waiting to be seen. Thanks!
Thank you! I think the wide open spaces are why we love the Southwestern US so much. That and the history.
Great tour, Kellye & Mike. We definitely would want to visit New Mexico as part of any Western trip. So much history, so much natural beauty there!
Thank you, Bruce. New Mexico is an interesting place. The history is so interesting, and parts of the state are absolutely gorgeous. I hope you get to visit someday.
Very interesting architecture!
Thank you for visiting our post!
The missionaries may have had harsh lives yet built large structures from brick. I guess there must have been large population groups living in that area then. The position of these missions seem to be such that they lie in vast exspansive and isolated areas. I imagine this to be a reflective place to visit. Thank you for sharing your trip.
Thank you, Sandy. Visiting these places can be spiritual, however, we visit for the history.
Many years ago an American friend of ours wrote a book on the missions in CA. Amazing history you’ve written about and the settlement then abandonment, I can spend hours wandering about ruins but then again I seem to buy shoes that you can actually walk in unlike my better half.
Thank you! These are very interesting places to see, but I understand they’re not for everyone. We enjoy visiting for the history lessons.
How interesting! We missed seeing these sights on our NM road trip despite spending a night in Socorro – I guess you can’t see everything in a few weeks! It was fascinating to compare these ruined pueblos with the still-inhabited ones we did visit, Acoma and Taos. I was interested to read about the kivas incorporated into the churches as we didn’t hear about that in either of those two places, although I know that in Acoma it was the native people who actually built the church. Some say they were forced to, others that they did so in gratitude as the friar had saved the life of a child. I wonder whether in Abo and Quarai the inclusion of a kiva was a sort of bribe to get them to build the churches?
I understand. We haven’t been able to see it all in the matter of a few years. While we have not been to Acoma, we have been to Taos, and those are the ones to visit if you have limited time. The kivas in the churches are still a mystery, but your theory of a bribe makes sense. Thank you for reading the post and for your comment.
I found the contrasts fascinating as well: the geography (snowy mountains and arid planes), the combination of the kivas in the churches! I’ve not heard of that combination before, either. The theory of kiva as an incentive or bribe to build the church is interesting, especially since more than one church seems to feature it?
Fascinating and really well presented Kellye, as always. I do enjoy the names of these missions and appreciated the pronunciation guide ha ha. And yet, I think Mountainair wins top prize, such a charming name. Plenty of new vocabulary for me to wrestle with too both Spanish and English. The structures are so curious and handsome, particularly La Purisma Concepcion de Quarai. The isolated location and general lack of facilities sound like a challenge for two non-drivers like us. I guess we’ll have to come visit you one day so you can show us around 😉
I know you’re kidding, but we would LOVE to have you visit sometime. Thank you for reading the post and for your nice comment.
What interesting offbeat places with fascinating histories. Salt created such riches in so many places around the world, we’ve come across several similar boom-and-bust stories elsewhere and it’s always fascinating. Love reading blog posts about places I’ve not previously heard of.
Thank you so much, guys. What’s interesting to me is that there are so many European churches, and other buildings, that were built way before these, and they’re still being used today.
We were told in Colombia that at one point salt was more valuable than gold. The native people appreciated gold for its beauty and used it to create wonderful items, often linked to their beliefs, but it couldn’t sustain life as salt did, through its ability to preserve food for the difficult winter months.
Wow! Hallowed grounds.
I’d love to be from a town called Mountainair! We visited quite a few Spanish Jesuit Missions in South America, as well as salt mines/lakes which always have an interesting history surrounding them. Maggie
Thank you, Maggie! Don’t you just love learning?
For sure! Thanks for checking out the post, Ray!
Wonderful tour! It is amazing that some of those structures are still intact. It’s nice to get off the beaten path and explore new places.
Thank you, Lyssy. This one was definitely off the beaten path, but so worth the trip.
Such an interesting post. I’d like to visit New Mexico one day as my son has been there on business and in his free weekend time has explored the National parks surrounding Santa Fe.
Parts of New Mexico are not very scenic, but some parts are absolutely breathtaking. Thank you for reading our post!
Wow, new places to explore in NM, a state I love to visit! Your post was great, very informative and also inviting (as in “go see these places!”) Well done!
Aww, Annie. You’re so sweet!
New Mexico has so many little pockets of areas to explore, many of which are unknown to most people. Very interesting!
Thanks for sharing this idea in New Mexico. So historic and amazing images. Anita
Thank you for visiting our site, Anita!
Loved reading about your visit. So much to see, cover and include in your post. I’m really enjoying finding out so much about America from your posts. Problem is I now want to come and explore everything.
Thank you, Brenda. Come on over – there is a lot to see. Our goal is to visit all of our national park sites, but they just added two more last week. It’s a lofty goal, but we’re having a great time trying to accomplish it.
That must be a lot of Parks.
It’s pretty impressive that some of these mission buildings remain today and it’s neat to see the ruins compared to the artist’s rendering of how they might have looked. Sounds like a great day trip from Albuquerque. Thanks for sharing. Linda
Thanks for reading the post, Linda! Have a great day.
Ravie de vous lire et de vous suivre dans vos visites!
C’est tellement intéressant de se pencher sur les ruines et les civilisations d’autrefois..
Merci pour cet article!
Really fascinating read on these old missions! What is left of the buildings are really beautiful- especially that picture from within at the Quarai mission. Following along on your roadtrips to these interesting places always is a highlight of my day 🙂
Aww, thanks, Meg! We love learning the history of our great country.
I really enjoyed reading about this and seeing all your wonderful pictures Kellye! What a treasure to still have all the remains that are left. Thank you!
What a beautiful place, thanks for taking me there! I have never been to Salinas Pueblo, it’s great and there is so much history as well. There are some really old mission buildings which are well-preserved. Love the photos! Thanks for sharing your personal experience visiting it. Hopefully one day I will have a chance to go there.
Thanks so much for reading the post!
Very beautiful photos! You get a good feeling of how it must have been there. Ruins have their own stories to tell anyway.
Thank you, Fred! We appreciate your nice comment.
Really interesting – I’d never had New Mexico on my list to explore, but it’s definitely been added now 🙂
I’m so happy that you share the places you go. Reading your posts this morning in Missouri, I’ve ‘visited’ spots in several areas I’ve never been. Kind of like they say about reading books- transported to other places. 1590- hard to imagine people endured such hardships as raids, even back then. Fascinating history lessons. Thank you.
Thank you for reading and for your sweet comment!
I’m sorry I’m so behind in reading.
Very interesting! Hope to visit here someday!
Thank you for checking out the post. Those missions are kind of out in the middle of nowhere, but they are super interesting.