On Sunday I visited the Salinas Pueblo Missions on the far side of the Manzano Mountains. From Albuquerque Mai and I took the road south down the sinuous Rio Grande rift valley for 40 miles and then veered eastward up to Abo Pass. There are three main ruin sites to explore.
It is easy to zoom in and out of Albuquerque. I like seeing the agriculture in the South Valley and the buffalo herd by the river at the Isleta Pueblo. During winter you can see Cranes in the fields. Then it’s on past the volcanic escarpment with creosote dotting the rippled and folded desert plains. The long chain of the Manzanos presides over the eastern horizon. Los Lunas feels like a suburban boomtown with cookie cutter homes snug up to the Interstate, a movie theater, shopping. Off the interstate in Belen we passed over the river and into rural New Mexico. Approaching the mountains the plains are sparsely populated with loose herds of cows and horses. Joining highway 60 and climbing Abo Pass juniper and red sandstone abound. It is these locally quarried rocks, the Abo Formation, that the missions were built from.
I visited two of the missions and learned lots but left with even more questions. This place is a confluence of cultures and geography. The pueblo people were here and then the Spanish came from Mexico looking for riches and converts around 1600. They forged an economy of agriculture and hunting, and traded salt from the nearby salt lakes. It’s an austere landscape where the mountains meet the high plains. Bison and pronghorn belong here. I took the roads on the eastern flank of the mountains back to Tijeras and on home to Albuquerque. The crisp colors of earth, stone and sky and unsettling vastness on this trip impressed me, but a brief hike in the foothills (following three pictures) reminded me that Albuquerque is a sweet spot too, in the echo of the arced and banked Sandia range, with the flow of the west mesa’s volcanoes somehow answering back, and the plaited and fertile river running between these massive landforms. New Mexico is defined by open space and stabilized by rural traditions. Now if we may develop an inclusive economy that brings good health and lasts.