New Mexico is such a culturally and historically rich state. Combine this with gorgeous scenery and outrageously blue skies, and you have the perfect ingredients for fun and educational day trips.
We woke to a sunny day and decided to hit the road less travelled. Our destination was only a few hours south of home, following along an old trade route called the Salt Missions Trail. Winding rural roads took us through Spanish settlements and villages of stone and adobe, mostly old and crumbling, as we paralleled the eastern flank of the Manzanita and Manzano Mountains in central NM.
After an hour or two and a detour to the town of Mountainair (just because we love that funky place), we swung back north a dozen miles or so to the ”Mission and Convento de Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepcion de Cuarac” or as it was known by the Tiwa Indians , “Quarai.”
Quarai is one of three sites that are part of the Salinas Pueblos/Missions complex managed as a National Monument by the US Park Service. (The other two are Abo and Gran Quivara.) All are fascinating to visit. All have large Franciscan missions or churches surrounded by mostly unexcavated ruins of pueblos inhabited by a once thriving population of Tiwa who settled in the area in the 1300’s.
Quarai has the largest and most intact Mission of all three sites, constructed between 1627 and 1632, of local sandstone , mostly by Tiwa women (because the men were often hunting) under the ”direction” of the overseer, Fray Juan Gutierrez de la Chica.
The half mile loop trail takes you around and into the large Mission and adjoining convent, and by the original pueblo ruins, still buried. There are plenty of interpretative signs describing the history of the area, from the Tiwa settlement, to the arrival of the Spanish, to the abandonment of the the site for more than 140 years, and then resettlement by colonists. The Park Service has a nice visitor center full of displays, and if you want to know more, they’ve created a virtual tour available online that’s very good too.
We enjoyed revisiting Quarai.
Here’s the link for the virtual tour, so you can visit too! https://www.nps.gov/sapu/virtual-tour-of-quarai.htm