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On Walkabout At: Coronado State Monument, New Mexico

I have written about many of the historic Native-American locations in New Mexico, but probably the easiest of all these historic pueblos to visit in the American Southwest is the Tiwa Indian pueblo of Kuaua at Coronado National Monument just north of Albuquerque, New Mexico:

The site is located on the western side of the Rio Grande River in the city of Bernalillo and is backdropped by the dramatic peaks of Sandia Mountain:


The first place I stopped at to see was the visitor center:


The visitor center at Coronado National Monument is actually quite well done and informative.  It is well worth watching the film to learn more about the site.  It is estimated that Kuaua Pueblo was first constructed in 1300AD by possibly descendants of the ancient Anasazi that inhabited cliff dwelling locations in the four corners areas and were later on in the 1500’s augmented by people that moved from nearby cliff dwellings such as the ones found at Bandelier National Monument in the mountains to the northwest of Kuaua.  The reason the pueblos like the one at Kuaua have served as place for other Native-Americans to migrate to is because of the permanent water source, the Rio Grande River:

Rio Grande River

It is not only fellow Native-Americans that sought refuge at this pueblo, but the first Spanish conquistadors as well led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado.  In 1540-1542 Coronado became the first European to explore the American Southwest when he traveled north from the Spanish colonies in Mexico:

He traveled into New Mexico with approximately 300 Soldiers and 800 Indian allies from Mexico.  Coronado is believed to have used Kuaua and other nearby villages as a base to explore the region.  There was a total of 12 pueblos along the Rio Grande in the Albuquerque area at the time that called themselves the Tiguex Province.  At first the Tiguex people were welcoming to the Spanish, but eventually the burden of supporting over 1,000 people who just suddenly showed at their door step became to hard to bear.  The Spanish were literally throwing people out of their adobe homes for their use.  Because of this the Tiguex eventually rebelled against the Spanish in what was called the Tiguex War that was fought in the winter of 1540-1541.  The Tiguex ending up losing the war after hundreds of their people were killed by the Spanish and 2 of their pueblos were completely destroyed and the other 10 badly damaged.  It is believed that Kuaua was never rebuilt after it was destroyed during this conflict.  This would be just the first of many more brutal conflicts with the natives that the Spanish would fight over the centuries to come.

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado

Some artifacts from these early Spanish explorers are on display in the visitor center:


Besides having displays on the conquistadors there are also plenty of displays that describe the life and times of the Native-Americans that called this pueblo home:


The Indians that lived here practiced agriculture as well as hunting local wildlife to augment their diet.  Since the Tiguex pueblos were located along a permanent water source they became natural locations for trade with neighboring Indian tribes.  Feathers from tropical birds and seashells from the far away oceans were excavated at the pueblo that was testament to how far goods were traveling to be traded in the Tiguex communities.   The Tiguex also were skilled potters, artists, and weavers.   Here is how one of the Spanish who traveled to the Rio Grande pueblos in 1610 described the Tiguex:

We visited a good many of these pueblos.  They are well built with straight, well squared walls.  Their towns have no defined streets.  Their houses are three, five, six, and even seven stories high, with many windows and terraces.  The men spin and weave and the women cook, build houses, and keep them in good repair.  They dress in garments of cotton cloth, and the women wear beautiful shawls of many colors.  They are quiet, peaceful people of good appearance and excellent physique, alert, and intelligent.  They are not known to drink, a good omen indeed.  We saw no maimed or deformed people among them.  The men and women alike are excellent swimmers.  They are also expert in the art of painting, and are good fishermen.  They live in complete equality, neither exercising authority nor demanding obedience.  [Gaspar Perez de Villagra – 1610]

Here is an example of one of the traditional ovens used by the native women that Villagra describes:

Traditional Pueblo Oven

It is clear that the Tiguex were not savages, but instead a very civilized, intelligent, and peaceful people, which is something that I believe many Americans do not picture when they think of Native-Americans.  Many Americans think of nomadic Native-American warrior tribes, but often forget how in the American Southwest an advanced civilized culture had taken shape that ultimately ended up being decimated by the Spanish, which Kuaua is one of many places in New Mexico that is evidence of this.

Kuaua was first excavated by archaeologist with the assistance of WPA workers in the 1930’s.  The archaeologists discovered over 1,200 rooms in the pueblo with some that had been built over the ruins of older ones:

Historic Picture of Coronado State Monument

Some of the uncovered even had walls that still had murals that were still visible on the walls.  You can see some of these excavated murals at a special section of the visitor center.  I could not take any pictures while inside this room due to park regulations unfortunately. However, I was able to find pictures of these murals on the Internet for everyone to see:

The Kuaua pueblo was declared Coronado State Monument in 1940 in honor of the 400th anniversary of Coronado coming to New Mexico.  Considering he destroyed the Kuaua pueblo during his expedition I kind of wonder if it is appropriate to name this site after Coronado?

After seeing everything there was to see at the visitor center I then proceeded to follow the trail around the grounds of the state monument:

Coronado State Monument 4

The trail has a number of markers along the trail that describe the history of the pueblo.  The park service has also partly reconstructed some of the adobe walls in order to allow visitors to better depict what the pueblo looked like all those years ago:

Coronado State Monument 1

Like the other pueblos in region, Kuaua also had a large kiva that was used for religious ceremonies and as a meeting place for the men:


While walking around the pueblo I couldn’t help, but appreciate what an incredible view the Tiguex people had from their pueblo of Sandia Mountain:

Coronado State Monument 3

After thoroughly exploring everything there was to see at the pueblo I then followed a trail down to the Rio Grande River.  I have seen the Rio Grande flow at very fast moving speeds before, but the day I visited Coronado State Monument the muddy brown river was flowing at a nice slow pace through this northern most zone of the Chihuahuan Desert:

Picture from Coronado State Monument

All in all it took me about a couple of hours to see everything there is to see at this state monument.  There are picnic facilities at the monument that are available for use for anyone looking to possibly eat lunch or dinner after visiting the site.  For people that don’t want to read every little thing and take pictures like I do then budgeting an hour to visit the monument is reasonable.  For anyone on a tight tour schedule, but would like to visit a Native-American historical site this is the place go considering its proximity to Albuquerque and the short amount of time it takes to explore the site.  So highly recommend checking the place out and hopefully it leads to people deciding to further learn more about the fascinating Native-American culture that even today thrives in the American Southwest.

Here is some administrative information about Coronado State Monument from the park’s website:

$3. A combination ticket, good for admission to both Jémez and Coronado State Monuments is available for $5. Sunday admission for New Mexico residents with ID is free. Wednesday admission is free to New Mexico Seniors with ID. Children 16 and under are always admitted free.$3. A combination ticket, good for admission to both Jémez and Coronado State Monuments is available for $5. Sunday admission for New Mexico residents with ID is free. Wednesday admission is free to New Mexico Seniors with ID. Children 16 and under are always admitted free.

Open 8:30am – 5pm Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesdays.


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