Today, there are nineteen pueblos sprinkled across New Mexico, predominantly in the northern half of the state. There are roughly 35,000 Pueblo people living in these areas along the Rio Grande and Colorado rivers.
The word pueblo comes from the Spanish word meaning “town”. Applied to a group, it is strictly a cultural designation, without a linguistic or tribal significance. Within these pueblos, there are three language groups: the Zuni, Keres, and Tanoan. These tribes differ in language and culture from the Apache and Navajo tribes, which were nomadic and spoke a language related to the Athapascan group.
The evolution of Pueblo peoples (sometimes referred to as the Anasazi – a term coined by the Navajos) began around 5500 BCE. Prior to this, only stone spear points have been excavated. However, after this date, traces of woven articles and temporary structures, which were moved seasonally, have been discovered.
From 500 BCE, the Pueblo peoples began farming corn, beans, and squash — using techniques that they probably learned from the Mayans — and kept domesticated turkeys. A trading system with the Mayans was established. As a result, New Mexican turquoise has been found throughout Central America. More permanent structures appeared, called “pithouses,” which were dug out from clay. During this period, Pueblo people were referred to as “basketmakers” because they created coiled and twined baskets.
By ACE 750, arrows were used, cotton was introduced and early pottery appeared. The Pueblo people constructed large villages around the Dolores River valley. They built these villages atop high cliffs (mesas) and the material used was mud brick (adobe). Another architectural achievement was the system of dams and stone cisterns used for water collection.
Around 900 ACE, public architecture was constructed and used for ceremonies and special events. Cliff dwellings and towers were built around 1150 ACE. Then the Pueblo people migrated from the Four Corners area to the south. In 1300 ACE, plaza-oriented pueblos were developed along the Rio Grande Valley and in the western areas.
When the Spanish arrived in the 1540s, there were 100 pueblos with 50,000 inhabitants. The Spanish swiftly developed a mission system. By 1617, eleven Franciscan churches had been erected and 14,000 natives had been baptized. The pueblo people resisted this colonization and conversion to Catholicism, resulting in the Pueblo Revolt in August of 1680.
Popè and the Pueblo Revolt
Popè was a Tewa medicine-man from the San Juan Pueblo. In 1675 he appeared before the governor of Santa Fe to plead for the release of tribal members, who had been arrested due to “witchcraft”. [Resources are unclear about whether his plea was successful.]
He then moved to the Taos area and began speaking out against the Spanish rule. The Santo Domingo, Picuris, and Taos pueblos quickly joined his rebellion and they formed a plan.
On August 10, 1860, over 400 Spanish settlers and 21 priests were killed, and all mission churches were destroyed. The Spanish fled the area, leaving it under Pueblo Indian control for over a decade.
During this time, Popè became a despot, putting anyone who spoke against him to death and hoarding women for himself. Tensions mounted, dividing the various pueblos and, after Popè’s death, the Spanish regained their hold on the area.
Following this, there was a period of harmony between the Spanish and Pueblos. They united against raiding parties of the Comanche and Ute tribes. The Spanish were finally able to subdue the Comanche and Utes with the Treaty of 1786. The Spanish and Pueblo people also inter-married creating mestizos–persons of mixed bloodlines.
Treaty of 1786
Comanche warriors were renowned for their horsemanship and bravery. They became known as the “Lords of the Southern Plains.” After crossing the Arkansas River, they dominated an area which became known as Comancheria. It included parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. By the 1740s, they were raiding and attacking previously-established tribes, such as the Apache, and the newly-settled Spanish.
In 1747 (and again in 1750) the French signed a treaty with the Comanche, and free trading ensued between the two. The Comanche were now armed with French weapons and, for the next 40 years, most New Mexico villages were raided. The Comanche also blocked communication between Spanish settlements in New Mexico and Texas.
It wasn’t until 1774 that the Spanish achieved their first victory over the Comanche. A combination of 600 militia and Pueblo Indians attacked a village of Comanches near present-day Raton. And, in 1779 the new governor of New Mexico, Juan Bautista de Anza led an army, along with Ute and Apache warriors, against a large Comanche camp. During the battle, the Comanche leader, Green Horn, was killed. Raiding by the Comanche fell by half thereafter.
By 1786, another great Comanche leader, White Bull, was killed and a peace treaty was finally signed between the tribe and Governor de Anza. Following this, the Spanish and Comanches united against the Apaches. In 1924, American Indians achieved U.S. citizenship, and the right to vote. A federal law guaranteed their religious freedom in 1978.
Listing of Pueblos and Nations in New Mexico:
- Acoma Pueblo (Sky City): located on exit 102 of the I-40. Attractions include historic sights, a cultural center, casino and annual biking race. Annual Feast Day: September 2.
- Cochiti Pueblo: located off of SR 16 between Santa Fe and Rio Rancho. Attractions include a lake, golfing and the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Annual Feast Day: July 14.
- Isleta Pueblo: located on exit 215 of the I-25. Attractions include a lake, resort, golfing and historic church.
- Jemez Pueblo: located in the Jemez mountains near Los Alamos. Attractions include a museum and the Red Rocks area.
- Jicarilla Apache Nation: located in the mountains just south of the Colorado state line. The capital is Dulce on US 64. Attractions include hunting and fishing, and a casino.
- Kewa Pueblo: located off SR 22. Known for the arts and crafts. An annual Arts & Crafts Market is held over Labor Day. Annual Feast Day: August 4.
- Laguna Pueblo: located at exit 114 of the I-40. Attractions include a game ranch, casino, market and historic church. Annual Feast Days: March 19 and September 19.
- Mescalero Apache Tribal Lands: located in the Sierra Blanca mountains on US70. Attractions include a resort, casino, golfing, game hunts and historic church.
- Nambe Pueblo: located off SR 503. Attractions include a bison herd, crafts, and the Nambe Falls Recreation Area. Annual Feast Day: October 4.
- Ohkay Owingeh: located near Española on SR 74. Attractions include guided tours, casino, Indian dances, and a bison herd. Annual Feast Day: June 24th.
- Picuris Pueblo: located in the Sangre de Cristo mountains on SR 75. Attractions include a museum, archaeological sites, fishing and a buffalo herd. Annual Feast Day: August 10.
- Pojoaque Pueblo: located on US 285/84 near Santa Fe. Attractions include a cultural center, golfing, three casinos and a bowling alley. Annual Feast Day: December 12.
- San Felipe Pueblo: located on exit 252 of the I-25. Attractions include crafts and a casino. Annual Feast Day: May 1.
- San Ildefonso Pueblo: located on SR 502. Attractions include guided tours, fishing lake, a museum and artisan shops — look for the famous black-on-black ware pottery. Annual Feast Day; January 23.
- Sandia Pueblo: located on exit 234 of the I-25. Attractions include a resort, casino, golfing, market, and lakes. Annual Feast Day: June 13.
- Santa Ana Pueblo: located on exit 242 of the I-25. Attractions include a resort, golfing and casino. Annual Feast Day: July 26
- Santa Clara Pueblo: located west of Española on SR30. Their polished black and red pottery are well-known as are the Puye Cliff dwellings. Annual Feast Day: August 12.
- Tesuque Pueblo: located on US 285/84 north of Santa Fe. Known for their super-sized flea market in warmer months. Annual Feast Day: November 12.
- Zia Pueblo: located off US 550. Attractions include an arts and crafts complex. Several movies have been filmed around the pueblo. Annual Feast Day: August 15.
- Zuni Pueblo: located south of Gallup. Attractions include a museum, historic church and arts and crafts market.
In a few short years, Los Alamos, New Mexico grew from an ordinary school into a secret city of six thousand people. It is now a town that will never be forgotten because it was home to the infamous Manhattan Project.
From Boys’ Boarding School to Secret Scientific Lair
In 1917, Los Alamos, New Mexico, had one claim to fame: it was home to the Los Alamos Ranch School. Parents stashed their sickly sons at the institution in the hope that they would grow into strapping young men, equipped with a classical education. Tucked away in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Los Alamos seemed like a beautiful, if remote and uneventful, a place to grow up.
However, the world was changing. In 1939, fission was discovered. Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt, outlining advances in the nuclear field and how they could be used in bomb-making. In response, a fairly basic reactor research program was launched.
The British, on the other hand, took these scientific developments seriously. They offered to share information from their more advanced nuclear program, with the US. At the time, Britain had been at war with Germany for a year and they were motivated to explore nuclear weapons. Yet it wasn’t until the 1942 Quebec Agreement, between Churchill and Roosevelt, that collaboration began. But where could the US hide a nuclear program?
A man called Percival C. Keith was on the planning board for the Office of Scientific Research and Development. His two sons had been summer campers at the Los Alamos Ranch School. He thought it would make a great base for the top-secret project Y. Oppenheimer, who owned a ranch in the Sangre de Cristo area and had been horseback riding in the Jemez Mountains, agreed. Now Los Alamos had a secret identity.
Life on the Down Low
Two men were in charge of the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer, a Jewish physicist who was horrified at the rise of the Nazis, led the scientific team. General Leslie R. Groves, a disliked but highly effective leader, handled the military presence.
The plan was to house thirty scientists in the Los Alamos School Buildings. These scientists arrived by train in Lamy, New Mexico, struggled on to Santa Fe then began the arduous thirty-five mile trip to the secret city beyond. Given that there were sometimes as many as six Nobel Prize Winners in Los Alamos, it could also be called America’s smartest town.
Buildings were thrown up as fast a possible but construction could not keep pace with the population, which grew to six thousand. Many residents lived in rough conditions and the whole town suffered from water shortages. This led to creative water-saving techniques such as lathering with soap before stepping into the shower, ‘which could be disastrous if the water didn’t come on,’ said local, Jane Wilson.
Los Alamos was not your typical town. There was zero unemployment and most residents were in their twenties or thirties. No one was permitted to travel more than one hundred miles away. Long-distance phone calls and outgoing mail were monitored. Mail did not come directly into Los Alamos, instead of arriving at PO Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Babies born in Los Alamos also had this PO Box listed as their place of birth—must have been one full PO Box.
Nearby Santa Feans were fed various rumors about Los Alamos: it was a camp for knocked up Women’s Army Corps members, or it had something to do with submarines. It was pointless to ask because the Los Alamos inhabitants weren’t telling.
Spies and Lies
Still, word began leaking out… and where there are secrets, there are spies. The Allies were in a race to create a nuclear weapon and whoever got there first would win the war. The stakes couldn’t get much higher.
First, you need to know about the Venona Project, a highly classified program that decrypted messages between Soviet handlers and their spies. Some less important security threats remained at large to protect the existence and success of the Venona Project.
Klaus Fuchs spied for the Russians both in the UK and, later, in Los Alamos. He passed sketches of Fat Man to his handlers. When his duplicity was uncovered, he went to prison for fourteen years and subsequently moved to East Germany.
Next was Theodore Hall, a prodigy who graduated from Harvard when he was only eighteen. For reasons unknown, he sashayed into the Soviet Embassy on a vacation to New York City, to offer his services. He never served time, presumably because it wasn’t worth risking the Venona Project to imprison him.
David Greenglass worked as an army machinist in Los Alamos. He was the brother of Ethel Rosenberg who, along with her husband Julius, was executed as a spy in the 1950s. While debate continues about Ethel’s guilt, her husband was the one who approached Greenglass about spying for the Russians.
The machinist handed over sketches of Fat Man components. When captured, he turned on his sister and brother-in-law and testified against them in exchange for a plea bargain. In 2001, he confessed to perjuring himself regarding his sister, Ethel’s, role in events to knock some years off his sentence and prevent his wife, Ruth, from going to jail. He and his wife were last known to be living in New York under aliases.
There may or may not have been a fourth spy at Los Alamos. Documents released from a KGB archive mention a person with the codename Perseus, who worked in the town. The Venona Project also came across references to this individual, but the KGB snapped shut the archives, leaving the West to wonder about the spy in the shadows.
The Day the Sun Rose Twice
The men and women in Los Alamos put in ten to twelve hour days, six days a week. Finally, the bomb was ready for testing. A stretch of government-owned desert in south-central New Mexico (White Sands Missile Range) was picked as the testing site. It was given the codename Trinity. At 5:30 am, on July 16th, 1945, a bomb called The Gadget was detonated. The blast was the equivalent of setting off 20-22 kilotons of TNT. The force shattered windows 120 miles away and could be seen from a distance of two hundred miles.
“We knew the world would not be the same… I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita… ‘Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that one way or another.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer
The effects of this testing are still felt today. Those living around the test site report higher cancer rates, as do residents near later Nevada and Utah test sites. The US Senate has made January 27th an official remembrance day for those who died as a result of nuclear weapons testing. However, ‘downwinders’ seeking help with their medical bills face an uphill battle.
“A few people were probably overexposed, but they couldn’t prove it, and we couldn’t prove it. So we just assumed we got away with it.” – Louis Hempelmann (Medical Services and Monitoring Director of the Trinity Project)*
Dropping the Bomb
There remains high-level of controversy among historians about whether or not the US could have ended World War II by any other means. The argument at the time was that using the atomic bomb would secure an unconditional Japanese surrender and prevent more American soldiers from being killed.
On August 6th, 1945, President Truman authorized the dropping of an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The weapon, nicknamed Little Boy, was more destructive than 20,000 tons of TNT. The precise number of those who perished is unknown, but it is estimated that at least 150,000 people died as a result of the blast, either immediately, or from radiation poisoning within five years. At the time, the city’s entire population was roughly 350,000. Three days later, a bomb known as ‘Fat Man’ was dropped on Nagasaki. This weapon claimed the lives of 70,000 people within a year. The Japanese surrendered on September 2nd, 1945.
“The physicists have known sin, and this is a knowledge that they cannot lose.” Although Oppenheimer made this statement two years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by the 1960s, his opinions shifted. “I carry no weight on my conscience,” he said. Perhaps he, like several of his colleagues felt that, as they had no control over the end use of the atomic bomb, they also bore no responsibility for its impact on the world.
Leo Szilard, the scientist who came up with the idea of a nuclear chain reaction and who was vital in launching the Manhattan Project, came to detest the military application of his work. He sent out petitions and campaigned to prevent the atomic bomb from being used against Japan. “I opposed it with all my power, but I’m afraid not as effectively as I should have wished.”
Szilard was not the only Los Alamos scientist to lament the outcome of the Manhattan Project. Here’s what George Kistiakowski, the director of the implosion program, had to say. “Nowhere did the prostitution of scientific integrity match that of the Atomic Energy Commission’s technical staff, including the weapons laboratories and extending to its present-day successors.”
And how did Einstein, whose letters to President Roosevelt eventually led to the Manhattan Project’s creation, feel?
“I have always condemned the use of the atomic bomb against Japan but I could not do anything at all to prevent that fateful decision.” – Albert Einstein
The Los Alamos Lab
Today, Los Alamos is still a company town, with many of the roughly eighteen thousand residents working for the lab. According to LANL’s official website, ‘the primary responsibility of the laboratory has been to maintain the effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear deterrent.’ However, Los Alamos employees are also dedicated to making advances in biofuels, vaccines and supercomputing.
The Bradbury Science Museum
You won’t be able to just wander into the lab itself, but you can visit the Bradbury Science Museum. It is divided into three main sections: history, defense, and research. The history section obviously deals with the Manhattan Project, which had such a huge impact on shaping Los Alamos, but there is also a helpful atomic timeline and a movie fittingly entitled ‘The Town That Never Was.’ The most striking displays in the Defense Gallery are the sobering replicas of ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man.’ There is also a lot of information about nuclear weaponry and supercomputing. The research section contains exhibits on mapping the brain, the human genome project, global climate change, and space.
Every Halloween, the town puts on ‘Trick or Treat on Main Street.’ The museum’s contribution varies from year to year, but they don’t call it High-Tech Halloween for anything. Who needs candy when you can have science experiments? These can include live tarantulas, chemical reactions, and liquid nitrogen demonstrations. Did I mention that 1500 of the residents hold PhDs? Even the holidays are smarter in Los Alamos.
*This Louis Hempelmann quote was reported by researchers Thomas E. Widner and Susan M. Flack.
Across the Southwest, ten markers and monuments commemorate the longest military march — by the Mormon Battalion — in U.S. history. Between July 1846 and July 1847, a volunteer group, made up entirely of Mormons, marched nearly 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego. They carried supplies, as well as establishing a southern wagon route.
Just prior to this (in April 1846) the U.S. and Mexico began fighting over the land now making up the state of Texas. At the same time, the leader of the Mormons, Brigham Young, was seeking assistance from the U.S. government to move his growing religious community westward. The Mormons had been based in Illinois but felt persecuted there. Eight days after the war broke out, Young offered a deal to the government: Young would put together a military unit of 500+ men to serve for a year, if the government helped the Mormons settle in the west.
Within three weeks Young had raised the 500+ men, and each was paid a military salary. In total, the Mormons earned $30,000. (To be certain that the Mormon Church received the money, Young sent Orson Pratt to collect their first wages.) They were outfitted in Fort Leavenworth and were under the command of Captain James Allen (the commanding officers were not Mormons). Upon Allen’s death, Phillip St. George Cooke became the commanding officer.
This was the only military unit in U.S. history to be based around one religion. As a result, there was some friction over the issue of medical procedures. The Mormons, encouraged by their elders, refused standard medical treatment. The physician, Dr. Sanderson, became a hated man.
The route of the march began in Iowa, following the Oregon Trail until it connected to the Santa Fe Trail. At Santa Fe, all of the infirm soldiers were sent to Fort Pueblo to recover. The battalion was reduced to 397 soldiers, along with several civilians to help with laundry and cooking. (Twenty-two soldiers and eight civilians perished, mostly due to illness). From here they took the Old Spanish Trail to the Rio Grande, essentially following the modern-day route of I-25 to southern New Mexico, before turning west.
The only skirmish that the battalion faced was against a herd of charging bulls near the San Pedro River in Arizona! The Mexicans essentially retreated, and the Native Tribes provided some assistance. As the battalion passed through Temecula, California, they cleaned up after a massacre between the Californios and Luiseno tribes.
The march was completed within seven months, so the remaining service time was spent training and building a blockade against a mutinous army officer, John C. Fremont. The battalion also helped to construct Fort Moore.
After the Mormons’ service was completed, eighty men re-enlisted. Others headed north to Sutter’s Mill and discovered gold, during the great California Gold Rush. One of the officers, George Stoneman, became a cavalry general in the Union Army then was elected Governor of California. Stephen Clark Foster, another officer, was elected as mayor of Los Angeles.
There are multiple monuments, including those in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Salt Lake City and Tucson. The one above is located off the I-25 freeway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Follow the signs from the highway. It’s free and open 24/7. Parking lot. No amenities.
Disclaimer: We do not endorse any specific religion and are presenting this piece for its historical value. The only note of the Mormons’ religious activity during the march is when they encountered petroglyphs produced by ancient Native Tribes, near Deming in Cook’s Canyon. They believed the petroglyphs were signs supporting the Book of Mormon.
The Enchanted Circle sounds like the title for a young adult, fantasy novel where good witches battle evil ones, in an attempt to save their coven. The Enchanted Circle I’m talking about is definitely magical, but you won’t be burned at any stakes. The moniker belongs to a loop in Northern New Mexico that often earns a spot on scenic drives lists.
The route is 85 miles long and provides stunning views of alpine meadows, crisp streams, wildflowers, and wildlife such as birds and elk. Despite sticking my head out of the car window like a dog, I didn’t personally spot an elk. Lane offered to hold a pair of antlers over her head, but it wasn’t the same.
We began the drive from Taos, NM. As the road grew more remote we began placing bets on which of the many branches belonged to Julia Roberts. “Pull over,” I shrieked, nearly causing us to wreck. I leaped from the car before it was in park and plunged down a slope. It was my first opportunity to try out my river shoes— a purchase from REI that the salesperson claimed would enable me to hike and trot along swift-moving rivers without face-planting. Wading into the water, I began striding upstream, trying not to kick up silt in the clear water. Trees hugged each riverbank, forming a natural arch where they met in the middle. Patches of sunlight glinted through the gaps in the leaves, creating dappled patterns in the water. The shoes did as promised: I remained upright, if undignified.
I was persuaded back into the car and we continued our ascent. Pretty soon, the land flattened out into a lush, alpine meadow. Any moment, I expected to see Heidi skipping along beside us. Sadly, she proved as elusive as the elk. To our left, the white-crested summit of Wheeler Peak towered over us. A lot of people don’t realize that the Rockies start in Northern New Mexico. Wheeler Peak soars to 13,161 feet and is the tallest mountain in the state. You can score bragging rights by hiking to the summit. Choose between two hiking trails (Bull-of-the-Woods or Williams Lake) but, if that’s your main goal in visiting the area, it’s best to drive the Enchanted Circle in a clockwise direction, as both trailheads are accessible via Taos Ski Valley.
The Enchanted Circle is also great for skiers. A short detour onto the 434 takes you straight to Angel Fire. Aside from having an awesome name, the town offers a plethora of winter activities, including night skiing, ice fishing, sledding, snowmobiling and sleigh rides. Wait, sleigh rides? Guess that solves the mystery of the AWOL elk. Angel Fire receives an average of 210 inches of snow per year, which probably means something to those of you coordinated enough to strap a wooden board or two onto your feet and avoid death.
The next stop on the circle is Eagle Nest Lake, situated in the Moreno Valley. Lane got an evil gleam in her eye and suggested I test out my river shoes in the lake. The dark, blue water looked inviting, so I scampered along a dirt path, ran in up to my knees then screamed. Ever camped out in a freezer? Me either, but I suspect the temperature would be comparable. Lane was gasping with hysterics when I staggered back to the car. I hoped one of the Eagles that gave the town and lake their names would divebomb her, but there’s never an eagle around when you need one. However, there are plenty of fish in the 2,400-acre Eagle Nest Lake, which is renowned for its rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. You can fish from the warmth of the lake’s banks or rent a boat in the village of Eagle Nest. Allegedly there are frequent sightings of bear, mule deer, eagles, wild turkeys and those devious elk around the lake.
Lane is fascinated by ghost towns. Her obsession has led us to drive up bumpy riverbeds, enter territory that comes with stern warnings about bears, and visit plaques in the middle of nowhere. She was thrilled to learn we would be passing Elizabethtown, a ghost town on the Enchanted Circle. I was less impressed by the couple of crumbling stone walls that constituted the site, but diehard Ghost townies might disagree.
The area surrounding Red River is arresting in its beauty, especially during fall, when the aspens provide yellow pops of color. The town has a decidedly Old West vibe. In fact, it hosts “Days of 1895,” an event dedicated to Red River’s pioneer days and mining history. Watch mock bank robberies and shootouts at Frye’s Old Town, a Western-style trading post. If you chose to drive the Enchanted Circle by motorcycle, schedule your trip for the Memorial Day weekend when Red River holds its annual rally.
By Questa, Lane was feeling guilty about the whole cold plunge experience. She steered me toward a petite lake that was sun-warmed and gorgeous. All was forgiven. Questa is the only stop on the circle that is not geared towards tourists. However, roughly ten miles further down the road is San Cristobal.
The author D.H. Lawrence had a ranch here. He traded the property with socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan, in exchange for his Sons and Lovers manuscript. While the ranch itself is not open to the public, you can visit the memorial. Lawrence so loved Northern New Mexico that he had his ashes returned here, after his death in France. The presence of Lawrence’s ranch on the Enchanted Circle caused me to realize that I have been inadvertently stalking the author. I went to the University of Nottingham in the UK, the author’s birthplace, which is now regarded as a major international center for research relating to the writer. Now here he was again, in a remote region of New Mexico. As we circled back towards Taos, I decided that following in the footsteps of D.H. Lawrence was almost as good as seeing an elk.
The Enchanted Circle follows State Routes 64, 522 and 38. The most common starting place is Taos.