Salinas Missions

Last May I took a trip down to the Salinas Missions, a national monument in New Mexico that holds 4 of the 6 Spanish Colonial churches in the US, built in the early to mid 1700s.  While only a short distance (by car) from one another, each mission has a very unique feel.  Abo, the first mission I visited, was very small, and in ruins feels very intimate. Because the interior walls have deteriorated so much, walking through the living space has the same strange feeling as walking through a house as it’s being built- a little bit “emperor has no clothes,” surely it would feel bigger if you couldn’t see straight through to the other side.

I found a quiet at the mission, imagining what it was like to study, work, and live here.  The land around the mission is broad open New Mexico landscape, the wind whistling in my ears as I wound my way around and through the building.

I next drove down to Gran Quivera, the most remote and southerly of the missions.  It was far warmer here, and with the storm clouds beginning to roll onto the horizon, getting humid enough to be uncomfortable (for a desert native, anyway).  Gran Quivera was a larger mission, with a robust pueblo foundation and the ruins of 2 churches- the first small and completed, the second ambitious and abandoned.  At Gran Quivera the tension between pueblo and church life felt more tangible, and I walked back and forth through the different ruins- the small, intimate pueblo rooms, tucked in tidily together, the large, tall church rooms, with hallways between them.  A terrible drought ultimately drove the Gran Quivera community away before the church could be finished, and it was hard to imagine that building such a large, foreign structure – so different from the kiva and nestled homes that had sustained them there for so long previously- had nothing to do with the community’s ultimate demise.

From here I drove up to the Quarai mission. This mission felt far more like a “city,” with a large cathedral and significant network of living and working quarters attached- it served as the local mission “headquarters,” and that feeling of authority still lingers.  Quarai, as a structure, is in relatively good shape, with enough wall left on the inside to feel like a building.  It was the most maze-like of the missions, without the ability to see through or over most of the walls.

Around the back of the Quarai mission was also a beautiful walking path, where I found some of my favorite infrared photos to date.

If you’re interested in the Salinas mission and can visit, I highly recommend it.  The park staff were wonderful, there are basic amenities at each location, and the history there is palpable.  I found the architecture study “In the Midst of a Loneliness” fascinating as well.

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