Our second day in Santa Fe dawned bright and clear but for some reason we couldn’t gather the enthusiasm for a hike. Perhaps that second helping of southwestern chili peppers at dinner – while delicious – was ultimately ill-advised? But what to do – other than air-out our hotel room? Fortunately, I’d been reading Hampton Sides’ excellent Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West (Doubleday, 2006) which recounts the history of Kit Carson, the Santa Fe Trail, and our appalling treatment of the indigenous peoples of the Southwest who got in the way of Manifest Destiny. So we thought it might be good to visit two extremes of this story along the Santa Fe Trail: Fort Union National Monument to the east and, a little closer to Santa Fe, Pecos National Historical Park.
What struck us most about Fort Union, which was in use between 1851 and 1891, was the huge wind-swept area it covered and how poorly its adobe block construction has stood the test of time.
The most enduring part of the fort is the maximum security block of the military prison, because it was constructed of native limestone.
Pecos Pueblo (Cicuye)
By the late Pueblo period – the last few centuries before the Spainards arrived in the Southwest – people in the valley shared by Glorieta Creek and the Pecos River had congregated in multi-storied towns overlooking the streams and fields that nourished their crops. In the 1400s, these groups gathered into Pecos Pueblo, which became a regional power. Needless to say, the arrival of the Spainards, with their religion and their diseases, changed all of that. Although Cicuye had a population of around 2,000 and extended for a quarter-mile along the ridge, what stands out today are the remains of the mission church that the Spainards plopped down on top of the pueblo’s remains.
It’s not until you walk to the end of the tour path that you find an obvious pre-Spanish construct, a renovated kiva.
We found the lessons from history these visit provoked to be an instructive way to spend a fine day in New Mexico. Another important lesson from recent history was to go easy on those chili peppers…