Coronado Historic Site in Bernalillo, New Mexico
After visiting the Coronado Historic Site, I have to say that the name is somewhat misleading and maybe even a little unfair. Read on to find out why.
The Ancient Ruins of Kuaua Pueblo
Just so we’re all on the same page, the “Coronado Historic Site” is the ancient ruins of Kuaua Pueblo. 2000 years ago native people were already hunting and living in the area. By A.D. 600 they had begun to construct pit houses.
Spurred by drought, immigrants from settlements to the west and to the north, such as Mesa Verde in southern Colorado, joined groups living along the Rio Grande during the 13th and 14th centuries. Kuaua Pueblo was first settled around 1325 and was occupied by 1200 people when Fransisco Vasquez de Coronado showed up around 1540. Coronado was searching for the mythical seven cities of gold, which he did not find. What he found instead were a dozen villages inhabited by Tiwa speaking native farmers so naturally he claimed to have “discovered” them.
Kuaua was the northern most of the twelve villages and it was this settlement that Coronado and his forces seized in 1540 and used as their wintering camp until the spring of 1542. And that, my friends, is why this site was declared a monument and why it’s official name is the Coronado Historic Site.
To be fair, all of this information (and a lot more) is readily available on the New Mexico Historic Sites website and in the exhibits of the on-site museum. They tell a pretty straight forward story and don’t try to put any spin on it.
Pre-Columbian Art at the Coronado Site
While Kuaua Pueblo was being excavated in the 1930’s, archeologists from the Museum of New Mexico discovered a square Kiva in the south plaza of the community. This kiva contained many layers of mural paintings and they represent some of the finest examples of Pre-Columbian art. Painstaking efforts allowed for the recovery of the murals and the kiva itself was reconstructed.
Now here’s where things get a little confusing. There was some kind of private mural viewing going on when I was there and I did not take an official tour. I’m pretty sure the kiva pictured above is the one in question and it is only accessible if chaperoned by a tour guide. However, it seems that the recovered murals are no longer in there anyway. They are now in a special area of the visitor’s center – where the private viewing was going on. All this just to say that I don’t have photos of the murals but there was a “No Photos Allowed” sign on the door so I wouldn’t have been able to photograph them anyway.
This small adobe structure, pictured above and below, is accessible to the public without the assistance of a tour guide. There’s not much in here except a large collection of grinding stones but check out the craftsmanship of the ceiling!
Abandonment of Kuaua Pueblo
It’s easy to see why people would choose this site to build a settlement. Aside from the spectacular view of the Rio Grande and the Sandia Mountains, this area would have necessary resources including water, wood, and an abundance of fish and wildlife. Sadly, conflict with Coronado and later Spanish explorers led to the abandonment of site within one hundred years of first contact. The modern day descendants of the people of Kuaua can still be found living in the surviving Tiwa speaking villages of Taos, Picuris, Sandia and Isleta.
Driving directions to the Coronado Historic Site
The Coronado Historic Site is located at 485 Kuaua Rd in Bernalillo, New Mexico. From I-25 take Bernalillo exit 242 west and turn north on Kuaua Rd. Bernalillo is only 16 miles north of Albuquerque, making the Coronado Historic Site an easy day trip for those visiting the Duke City.
The site was declared a state monument in 1935 due largely to the efforts of archeologist, Dr. Lee Hewett. Hewett was the leading archeologist in New Mexico in the 1930’s. He ran both the Museum of New Mexico and the School of Archeology at the University of New Mexico. It was Hewitt who sent a crew of archeologists lead by Gordon Vivian and Margery Tichy-Lambert to excavate the ancient village with the purpose of confirming that Kuaua was Coronado’s main camp in time for the 400th anniversary of his expedition in 1940.
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