The Pecos National Historical Park on the Santa Fe Trail provides guests to its visitors center one the best exhibits of New Mexico history on display in the state.
The little museum at the park located outside of the village of Pecos just 35 miles east of Santa Fe offers guests a well-designed and easily absorbed account of the park and the state’s fascinating history.
The interpretive display begins with the story of the native Indians who called the area home long before it became a national historical park.
On display are pots, tools and other ancient artifacts that help illustrate the lifestyle of the Pecos Pueblo Indians while they dwelled in the valley located on the edge of the Great Plains.
A model diorama inside a glass display case within the center depicts the four stories-tall, adobe and latilla constructed pueblo with its covered porches whose design influence can be still be seen in some downtown Santa Fe hotels today.
At the height of existence in the 1400s the pueblo boasted seven hundred rooms and housed about 2,000 Indians. It served as a regional trading center and drew nomadic plains Indians to its doorsteps to trade goods and services.
Large, colorful, illustrative panels also grace the walls of the museum to complement brief blocks of text that spell out in greater detail the series of historical events instrumental in shaping the park and the state’s history.
Visitors will learn of the arrival of Spanish conquistadors whose settlements throughout the area led to the Indians’ eventual abandonment of the pueblo.
Visitors will learn how the Spanish had built a mission next to the Indian pueblo which was later destroyed during a widespread Indian uprising in 1680 that drove the Spanish out of New Mexico.
The mission was later rebuilt after the Spanish returned some 12 years later.
Meanwhile the Indians moved on to more a more hospitable location and many of their descendants can now be found now living at Jemez Pueblo outside of Albuquerque.
The Spanish mission ruins and excavated remains of the Indian pueblo may be the most dominate features of the park today but the visitor center might be its best attraction.
The historical display inside further documents the role that the Santa Fe Trail played in bringing Anglo settlers to the area in search of trade with the local Spanish and Indian populations.
There is also a good accounting of the one of the pivotal battles of the civil war often referred to as the Gettysburg of the West during which Union and Confederate forces clashed over much of the same ground that the park occupies today.
The museum’s large, lively, illustrative panels really capture the spirit of these historical events and make for compelling viewing even for those of limited attention span.
And the center’s display also pays homage to the park’s primary benefactors, Texas oilman and cattle rancher, E.E. “Buddy” Fogelson and his wife, the famous actress, Greer Garson.
The couple donated most of the money and many of the exhibits to build and equip the visitor center and left their nearby Forked Lightning Ranch headquarters and accompanying land to the park, too.
The Fogelsons’ involvement speaks of an era during which Santa Fe had been discovered and became a playground for the rich and famous who reveled in its earthy ambiance and Southwest art and culture.
Visitors to the center who examine the building’s design will find it is an excellent example of classic Southwestern construction which incorporates carved wooden beams, adobes, vigas and latillas as well as tin work and stucco.
The visitor center store features a great selection of park and Southwest related books, gifts and mementos while some stunning artwork hangs from the wall.
A 1980s-era short film about the park narrated by Garson, which features early fly-over cinematography, can be viewed in the attached Kiva Auditorium inside the center too.
The auditorium is a fine place to linger after most moviegoers have departed as it is a quiet and contemplative place.
After a tour of the historical displays and a viewing of the film, visitors can then roam the spacious park grounds to take in the preserved ruins of the Spanish mission and excavated remains of the Indian pueblo.
This is all set amid a stunning backdrop of forested mountains framed by an expansive sky.
Another interesting feature of the park is its limited fishing program on a three-mile segment of the Pecos River that wends its way through the park. There are also self-guided tours of the Civil War battlefields for those seeking a hike.
Visitors will find that the Pecos National Historical Park offers a well rounded, historical and recreational experience along with great scenery, all wrapped up in an easy day trip out of Santa Fe.
For more information see the parks webpage at http://www.nps.gov/peco/index.htm or call the visitors center 505-757-7241.
If You Go:
Take I-25 out of Santa Fe towards Las Vegas and get off at the Pecos/Glorieta exit #299 at State Road 50. Drive into town and make a right at the stop sign at the intersection of State Road 63. Follow for a couple of miles to the visitor center entrance. Those coming south on I-25 from Las Vegas can take the exit # 307 onto St. Rd. 63 to get to the park.