Ancient Spaces and Sacred Places

Caves, Pueblos and Ruins of Northern New Mexico - July 2008

By the Wayside
Traffic on Route 66 and the nearby uranium mines made Grants, New Mexico a boom town in the 1950s and 60s. Now the mines have closed and the interstate takes more people past Grants than through it, but the old main street has many fading reminders of a better past.

Hard Floor, Harsh Light
El Malpais National Monument is a vast plain of ancient lava flows south of I-40 near Grants. Sometimes the outer surface of the lava flow would cool and harden while the still-molten rock beneath continued to flow - forming hollow spaces called Lava tubes. In some places, the floor still shows the ripples and waves of the last solidifying trickle of lava.

Underground Green House
Four Windows Cave is named for the large holes in the ceiling near the entrance. Moisture and light from these natural skylights create impressive mats of bright green moss on the floor of the cave below.

Holes in the Wall
In some caves, calcium leached from overlaying rocks has mixed with sulphide minerals from the lava to form a coat of white gypsum over the rough volcanic rock of the walls.

The Bridge
In other places, old lava tubes have collapsed to form narrow steep-walled canyons (the largest is called the 'Catepillar Collapse' for its winding path). Here a small section of the cave roof survived to form a narrow bridge.

Home on the Ridge
Acoma Pueblo is believed to have been first settled approximately a thousand years ago, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States. Until a road was blasted to the top in the 1950s, the only way up was by a narrow foot-trail carved into the mesa side.

Acoma Mission
The mission of San Esteban Ray was built under the direction of Spanish priests in the 1630s. Acoma was one of the first pueblos to resist Spanish occupation. Despite its location, Spanish soldiers fought their way to the top and killed many of the residents during a fierce three-day battle in 1599.

Thousand Year Old Street
I had some historic photos of Acoma from the early 1900s and thought there would be little change. While the street layouts were nearly identical, most of the actual buildings were quite different. Although they appear ancient, the adobe structures are constantly modified and re-built by their owners to meet changing needs.

No Vacancies
Galisteo was an old Spanish farming town located on the site of an even old pueblo village. The town has not changed much over the centuries and still has many buildings well over the century mark. The original Catholic cemetery (surrounded by a stone wall) has since filled up over the years and been replaced by a newer one nearby. A sign near the gate stated that burials in the old cemetery would only be allowed under special circumstances.

Death Comes for the Archbishop's Town
The small town of Lamy was named for Archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean Baptiste Lamy, who built the grand cathedral on the plaza and was the inspiration for Willa Cather's famous novel. As the main railroad access point for Santa Fe, the town was once a lively cross-roads, but has sadly fallen into decline in recent years.

Lamy Trainy
Appropriately, the only still active public building in town (besides the post office) is the small train depot museum which includes several historic train cars.

Pecos Blooms Again
Pecos (southeast of Santa Fe) was one of the largest and most powerful pueblos at the time of the Spanish arrival - with two main plazas surrounded by buildings up to four stories high. Disease and raiding comanches took their toll until the few remaining survivors abandoned the village in the early 1800s. The ruins later became a famous landmark along the nearby Santa Fe trail.

Underground Religion
Pecos includes two restored kivas - underground ceremonial chambers accessed through a hole in the roof. In the 1920s, archaeologist Alfred Kidder conducted an important series of excavations at Pecos that helped establish the order and chronology of different prehistoric cultures in the southwest. Today the ruins are a National Historic Park.

Walls and Sky
The original Spanish mission at Pecos was one of the largest in New Mexico, but was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. After the reconquest, a smaller adobe mission was built on the foundations of the first, but after the pueblo was abandoned it too fell into ruin.

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