Atop a small hill in the middle of New Mexico’s nowhere, stands the ruins of an ancient city. Perhaps as far back as 700 years ago, Pueblo Indians began building their homes here, with stone walls forming dozens of tiny rooms. Their stable agricultural society thrived here until the final years before they left the area, and abandoned their homes, in the 1670’s.
Even if you only have a passing interest in the Native Americans who lived here hundreds of years ago, the ruins are still worth a visit. It’s amazing to see structures that have survived for centuries.
As you visit, there are a few things worth noting: first, the cluster of small apartments that were home to, likely, hundreds of people (thousands more lived elsewhere in the surrounding Salinas Valley).
You’ll also see several round pits, known as kivas, which were used for sacred ceremonies and rituals. Long ago, these kivas were covered with a timber roof, and included a hole to allow smoke to escape, and Native Americans to climb in.
The most striking ruins at Gran Quivira were built after the arrival of Europeans. The San Buenaventura Church was completed in 1636, less than four decades after the natives’ first contact with Spanish explorers (don Juan de Oñate in 1598). Missionaries strongly encouraged the locals to abandon their religion and embrace Christianity. They weren’t especially thrilled with changing religions, partially because it was so tightly intertwined with their social structure.
From the backside, you can see the large rooms of the church…
… and appreciate the architecture that went into its design.
Note: This trip was first published in 2006.