Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pecos National Historical Park: Ruins Trail (Blog Hike #476)

Trail: Ruins Trail
Hike Location: Pecos National Historical Park
Geographic Location: south of Pecos, NM
Length: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2014
Overview: A mostly paved loop through ancient Pueblo ruins.

Directions to the trailhead: “North” (in interstate geography) of Santa Fe, take I-25 to SR 63 (exit 307).  Exit and go north on SR 63.  Drive SR 63 4 miles to the signed Visitor Center access road on the left.  Turn left and park in the Visitor Center lot.  The trail starts behind the Visitor Center.

The hike: When you think of American Civil War battles, names such as Gettysburg, Manassas/Bull Run, and Antietam probably come to mind, but did you ever hear about the Civil War battle in New Mexico?  Though only a territory at the time, New Mexico was the home to two Union forts: Fort Craig located 100 miles south of Albuquerque and Fort Union located on the Santa Fe Trail northeast of Santa Fe.  In 1862, Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley, nicknamed “Walking Whiskey Keg” for this enamor of hard liquor, led a group of 3000 Texans north from El Paso through the Rio Grande valley.  His objectives were to capture the Union forts, recruit new Confederate soldiers, secure the territory’s mineral wealth for the Confederates, and open a route to California ports for Confederate trade.
            On February 21, 1862, Sibley arrived at Fort Craig, where the two sides fought to a stalemate: Sibley did not have enough strength to capture the fort, but the Union did not have the forces to pursue Sibley.  Undeterred, Sibley continued up the Rio Grande valley, capturing an undefended Santa Fe on March 13.  By late March, Union forces commanded by Colonial John P. Slough decided to make a stand at Glorieta Pass, a narrow stretch of canyon used by the Santa Fe Trail as it heads “north” out of Santa Fe.  As a side note, we still use the Santa Fe Trail today, but we call this part of it I-25.
            On March 28, the Confederate and Union forces engaged in battle.  Although the Confederates pushed the main Union lines back, a small band of Union soldiers outflanked the Confederates and destroyed all of their supply wagons.  With no supplies, Sibley was forced to retreat first to Santa Fe and then ultimately to El Paso.  By July 1862, the Confederates had left New Mexico for good.
            Interestingly, the Union and Confederate armies were not the first to recognize the strategic importance of Glorieta Pass.  Some 400 years earlier, over 2000 Pueblo and Apache Indians lived here in a 4-story high pueblo made of stone and mud.  The American Indians were drawn here by the two reliable water sources nearby: Glorieta Creek to the west and the Pecos River to the east.  In the late 1500’s, the civilization was conquered by the Spanish conquistadors, who introduced Christianity and left the original pueblo in ruins.
Established in 1965, 6671 acre Pecos National Historical Park preserves the Civil War battlefield, the pueblo ruins, and the ruins of the Spanish mission.  While the best way to see the battlefield is by the park’s van tour, the ruins are best explored by hiking the 1.2 mile Ruins Trail described here.  The entire trail is very exposed to the sun, so be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen if you are hiking during the summer months.
Trailhead: Ruins Trail
            After passing through the Visitor Center, perhaps viewing the movie or exhibits along the way, step out the back door to begin the trail.  Immediately the sweet pinyon pine scent greeted me.  The rock-lined paved trail climbs slightly through the scant forest of pinyon, juniper, and ponderosa pines.  Interpretive signs tell you that the Pecos Pueblo was a center for trading activity.  American Indians from as far away as the Great Lakes and the Pacific Ocean came here to trade goods.
Prickly pear cactus in bloom
            At 0.2 miles, you pass the stone walls that defined the outer boundary of the pueblo.  A prickly pear cactus was blooming just outside the walls on my visit.  Just inside the walls sits the stone ruins of the south pueblo, a separate structure from the main pueblo.  Because this pueblo lies between the main one and the Spanish mission, some archeologists think this pueblo was built by American Indians who were allied with the Spanish after their arrival in 1540.           
Entrance to kiva
            Just past the south pueblo lies a kiva, an underground chamber used by the Pueblo Indians for ceremonial purposes.  You can climb down a ladder to get a closer look at the chamber if you wish.  Next on your tour is the trash mound, where the pueblo inhabitants buried their trash.  Much of what we know about this people comes from this mound’s excavation, which was performed by Alfred Kidder in the 1920’s.  Kidder is credited with developing techniques for unearthing and analyzing ceramics.  His techniques remain in use today.
            After passing a trail shelter that overlooks the Pecos River valley, the trail enters the ruins of the main pueblo.  As you walk along the trail, you are walking through the plaza area that sat in the middle of the pueblo.  In its heyday, the four-story-high structure would have completely surrounded this plaza with people living in small rooms on all stories.  The dirt and stone ruins beside the trail today are about half that height.
Walking through the plaza
            At 0.7 miles, you reach the ruins of the Spanish mission.  When I visited Pecos, scaffolding surrounded part of the structure as park officials were engaging in a preservation effort.  The mission ruins are the tallest ruins on this site, and the trail curves through some of the side rooms that served the main chamber.
Spanish mission ruins
            Past the mission, the trail reaches a secondary parking lot beside the maintenance area, where it turns sharply left.  The trail turns to gravel for the final leg of its journey back to the Visitor Center.  An interpretive sign points out wagon ruts from the old Santa Fe Trail just before you come out at the front of the Visitor Center, thus closing the loop and completing the hike.

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