Pecos National Historic Park is located off Interstate 25, approximately 25 miles east of Santa Fe, New Mexico. From Santa Fe, take the Glorieta-Pecos exit and proceed 8 miles through Pecos Village to the monument. Southbound travelers on the Interstate should take the Rowe exit and continue 3 miles to the ruins.
In 1927, Alfred Vincent Kidder invited his colleagues to join him at Pecos Ruins to discuss common archaeological problems and concerns. Kidder was nearing the completion of his excavations at Pecos Ruins that had begun in 1915, a project that would become a landmark in the history of New World archaeology. In addition to holding wide-ranging discussions on the status of southwestern archaeology, Kidder's peers had an opportunity to witness the results of his detailed and systematic excavation methods. The Pecos Conference became an annual tradition among southwestern archaeolologists and continues to the present day.
Kidder's work at Pecos was described by the archaeologist and historian Richard B. Woodbury as "unprecedented in North American archaeology in its extended focus on a single site, its large scale, its careful planning and organization, and its use of specialists outside archaeology." The project marked a departure in archaeology from artifact collecting for museums to recovering and interpreting archaeological data in order to better understand cultural history.
Pecos Ruins are situated on a rocky knoll in the middle of a wide fertile valley. Nearby, the Pecos River flows out of the high mountains to the north and continues its long journey through New Mexico to join the Rio Grande in Texas. High mesas border the Pecos Valley on its south side, and to the west lies Glorieta Pass, a gateway to the Rio Grande Valley and the site of a significant Civil War battle. From the ruins, the valley descends gradually eastward, eventually opening out onto the southern Great Plains.
All of this geography, beyond providing the people of Pecos with a beautiful and varied environment, played a part in the life and history of the pueblo. Close by were fertile farmlands, reliable springs, and fuel wood; the high country was rich in game, plant resources, and timbers for building; and materials for making tools, weapons, pottery, and basketry were also close at hand. But what gave Pecos a special advantage was its strategic location between the agricultural Pueblo communities of the northern Rio Grande and the nomadic hunting tribes of the plains. Trade became a central factor in the pueblo's economy. In their role as middlemen, the Pecosenos acquired wealth, but not without cost, for they frequently found themselves the target of raids by Apaches, Comanches, and Caddoans.
Pecos's history began after A.D. 800 when Puebloan settlers in the Rio Grande Valley moved into the upper Pecos Valley to form small, scattered pithouse hamlets. Over the centuries, the population slowly grew, but after A.D. 1200, it suddenly increased, probably as a result of immigration. The Forked Lightning Ruins, which is located in the monument, dates to this period, as does a pueblo underlying Pecos Ruins.
Pecos Pueblo was founded around A.D. 1300 and eventually grew to nearly 700 rooms arranged in a quadrangle of multilevel community houses around a central plaza. The pueblo was constructed like a fortress with high outside walls without doors. From its ramparts, Pecos warriors had a clear view in all directions. A perimeter wall provided an initial defensive line against attackers.
The inhabitants of Pecos were Tiwa-speaking Indians whose numbers eventually grew to 1,500 or 2,000 people. They were among the first North Americans to feel the impact of contact with Europeans. Less than fifty years after Columbus set foot in the New World, this pueblo was visited by the conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Coronado came to Pecos after a trying and fruitless search for riches among the Zunis and Southern Tiwas. His bad reputation among Pueblo Indians to the west had no doubt preceded him, and the leaders of Pecos encouraged him to pursue his quest on the bleak windswept plains of eastern New Mexico and Nebraska.
After Coronado, Pecos was spared further contact with Spaniards until 1590, when Castano de Sosa stormed and occupied the pueblo with a small, well-armed force. In his account of the expedition, de Sosa wrote that the pueblo was constructed of room blocks up to four stories in height, which the Indians reached by ladders that could be drawn up after them. De Sosa arrived in winter and noted that the men wore cotton blankets under a buffalo robe, and the women were dressed "with a blanket drawn in a knot at the shoulder and a sash the width of a palm at the waist." Over this they wore colorful blankets or turkey feather robes.
In 1618, Franciscan monks established a mission just east of Pecos Pueblo, which later included a massive adobe church and convento (living quarters of the padres) complete with carpenter shop, weaving rooms, tanneries, stable, school, and living quarters. The Franciscans introduced wheat, bread making, metal tools, new building methods, animal husbandry, and a religion that was revolutionary to the Indians. They also suppressed native religious practices. One of Kidder's findings was a cache of smashed clay figurines and a stone "idol" that had been broken and repaired.
The Pecos mission was destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 but resurrected after the Spanish reconquest of 1693-1696 in which the Pecosenos allied themselves with Don Diego de Vargas. The eighteenth century was devastating to Pecos. Epidemics of fever, measles, smallpox, and other pestilences decimated the population, and the pueblo was repeatedly invaded by Apaches and Comanches. By the latter part of the century, Pecos's once proud 500-warrior army had been reduced to a shadow of its former strength, and the pueblo was dependent upon the Spanish for defense. A dwindling population, however, lingered at the pueblo into the nineteenth century. In 1838, seventeen weary souls, Pecos's last occupants, trekked eighty miles northwest to join relatives at Temez Pueblo.
The most impressive ruins at Pecos are the standing remains of the eighteenth-century church, with its massive adobe walls and arched doorways. The footings of an older and even larger church are also visible. Visitors should stop first at the visitor center to see the monument's fine museum and pick up a trail guide. The trail leads up the hill to the ruins of the pueblo and mission. One kiva has been restored and may be entered by a ladder down the roof hatchway. The pueblo ruins, though in large part excavated in the 1920s, were backfilled to Preserve the adobe walls, which are vulnerable to weathering. In summer, the monument has a "living history" program that includes demonstrations by native craftspeople.
Pecos Village, located about two miles from the ruins, has sev- eral restaurants, a grocery store, and gas station. From the village, visitors can drive north up the Pecos River canyon to camping and picnicing areas and good fishing spots. From Santa Fe, a trip to Pecos makes a very pleasant and interesting half-day excursion.