April 29, 2015

Highlights of Northeast New Mexico

Northeast New Mexico is an area where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains.  It’s a diverse area with a varied landscape and an interesting collection of historic sites and unique landmarks.  The Santa Fe Trail also winds its way through this part of the state, and we were able to see remnants of the trail at several of the sites we visited.

When we left Albuquerque on March 21, we first made our way to Pecos National Historical Park, where Tim worked before moving to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Since it was Saturday, none of his former coworkers were at the park, so we spent our limited time revisiting the ruins of the Pecos Pueblo and the Spanish mission complex. 

The Pueblo of Pecos served as a trade center for Pueblo and Plains Indians long before Spaniards explored the Pecos Valley.  The Franciscans arrived in the 1600s and built the most imposing of the New Mexican mission churches.  By the time the Santa Fe Trail was established in the early 1800s, however, Pecos was largely abandoned and became only a landmark along the trail.

The Ruins of the Mission Church at Pecos National Historical Park

If These Walls Could Talk. . .

Late afternoon is usually the best time of day to wander through the ruins, as the setting sun illuminates the adobe walls of the church.  Although storm clouds were building when we visited, it was still a peaceful time to walk among the walls and imagine the long history that is embodied in this site.

Soon it was time for us to press onward towards Las Vegas, New Mexico, where we spent the next two nights.  Las Vegas was founded in 1835 and became a major stop on the Santa Fe Trail.  There is something about Las Vegas that really fascinates me.  Perhaps it’s the Plaza, or the wonderful collection of historic buildings.  I think it also has something to do with the fact that Las Vegas is still a bit rough around the edges.  It’s not a pristine, fully restored town.  There’s still a lot of work to do, but there is so much historic fabric to work with, as well as so much local pride.  I like that.

I had visited Las Vegas on two previous occasions and was looking forward to seeing how much progress had been made.  I also really wanted to share my favorite parts of the city with Tim.  On Sunday morning, we drove downtown and spent the day there.  We enjoyed lunch at a Mexican restaurant on the Plaza and later visited the restored Plaza Hotel, as well as other historic areas in the city.  

The Plaza, Las Vegas, New Mexico

With some trepidation, we drove down to the railroad district to see if La Castaneda Hotel was still standing.  This grand hotel was built in 1898 by Fred Harvey to serve the passengers on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.  I love Harvey Houses and was dismayed on my last visit to see the deterioration and neglect that had befallen this wonderful Mission Revival style structure.  You can therefore imaging how ecstatic I was to learn that La Castaneda had been purchased last year by the owner of another Harvey House, La Posada in Winslow, Arizona.  Rehabilitation had already begun on La Castaneda!  I had stayed at La Posada in 2005 and had seen the quality of the rehabilitation work there and knew that La Castaneda was in good hands.

Rehabilitation of La Castaneda Has Begun

La Castaneda Is an Outstanding Mission Revival Structure

The Neighboring Depot Is Still Served by Amtrak

When we left Las Vegas on March 23 we stopped for a visit at the nearby Fort Union National Monument.  Fort Union was once the largest U.S. military installation on the 1800s Southwest frontier.  The fort was built to protect travelers on the Santa Fe Trail, as well as to serve as a major military supply depot for the region.  All that remains today, however, are the remains of adobe walls, as well as scattered chimneys, but the extensive interpretive panels give one a sense of what the complex must have looked like.  The park also preserves an amazing set of Santa Fe Trail ruts that once cut through the prairie sod.

Fort Union Was Once the Largest Fort in the Southwest

Santa Fe Trail Ruts

We spent much of our time talking with Tim’s former colleague, who is now Chief of Interpretation at Fort Union.  It was enlightening to hear of the work he has accomplished at Fort Union, including the new movie that we enjoyed.  The new interpretive panels that he produced enable visitors to understand the history and significance of the fort.

Good Interpretive Tools Are Invaluable in Helping Visitors Understand a Historic Site

We left Fort Union and drove to Capulin, New Mexico, where we spent the night.  Our plan was to visit Capulin Volcano National Monument the next day.  We knew that Capulin was an extinct volcano, but we weren’t sure what to expect at the park.  It turned out to be a fascinating place.  Capulin is the cone of a volcano that erupted between 56,000 and 62,000 years ago and is an outstanding example of recent volcanic activity.  Capulin is also significant as a symmetrical example of a cinder cone volcano. 

When Tim and I stopped at the visitor center we ran into the Chief of Interpretation who was manning the front desk.  We were fortunate to be the only visitors at the time, and we were able to spend a good amount of time with her to learn about the park.  We also talked with her about Tim’s consulting work, and she seemed very interested and gave us a tour of the facility.  There is a lot going on at this small park, and it would be a fascinating place to work for a couple of weeks.

Tim and I then took the scenic drive that spirals its way to the summit of the volcano, where we hiked the Crater Rim Trail.  As the name suggests, the trail encircles the rim of the volcano and provides expansive views of the surrounding volcanic field, as well as the snowcapped Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  Capulin is also one of the few places where you can walk into a volcano.  I took the short trail that leads to the vent at the bottom of the crater and was able to see what the inside of a volcano looks like.  Very cool!

Winding Our Way to the Top of the Volcano

View into the Volcano from the Crater Rim Trail

Walking into a Volcano

We ended up staying an extra night in Capulin because of the forecast for snow.  The snow began earlier than expected, and it turned very cold.  In the morning, we discovered that our water pump and macerator had frozen.  Luckily, the systems sustained no damage, and the sun helped to thaw everything out.

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