Looking Back & Moving Forward: The Northern Region of New Mexico Historic Sites

By Matthew Barbour


Photo Patrick Moore.

Jemez Historic Site Light Among the Ruins.


The Northern Region of New Mexico Historic Sites includes: Coronado and Jemez Historic Sites. Coronado Historic Site was opened preserve the ancient village of Kuaua and to interpret the Coronado Expedition, while Jemez was established to preserve and interpret San Jose de los Jemez Mission and Giusewa Pueblo. They are two of the five original State Monuments established in 1935, the others being Abo, Quarai, and Pecos. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Cultural Properties. On October 16, 2012, Jemez Historic Site was also designated a National Historic Landmark.

In 2017, the Northern Region has focused on a broader telling of New Mexico history. We have dramatically updated exhibits at Coronado Historic Site to highlight contributions by Coronado’s Nahuatl-speaking allies, the impact of African American explorer Esteban, and the importance of current collections research on telling the story of Kuaua Pueblo. Jemez has seen the installation of a new temporary exhibit, “Native American Easel Art,” which depicts Pueblo life in paintings by both known and unknown early twentieth century artists. The Northern Region has also partnered with Jemez Pueblo Community Library to set up a small display at the library, “Jemez Contributions to Native American Easel Art.”

Historic preservation continued. Staff, contractors, and volunteers labor steadily to preserve the ruins of Giusewa and Kuaua Pueblos, as well as the momentous San Jose Mission. Over the last year, this work is funded by a number of sources, including a National Park Service grant, wages for teen laborers provided by the Sandoval County Summer Youth Program, and generous donations made by the Friends of Coronado Historic Site. Civic engagement is pivotal to growing both financial resources and public support for preservation work. In the summer of 2017, the Northern Region launched “Dig Kuaua,” a friends group-supported archaeological excavation at Coronado Historic Site. We see this project as a first step towards more substantive changes in preservation management with excavations helping staff better understand the extent and condition of buried portions of Kuaua Pueblo. The project revealed unexpected architectural elements, rare forms of pottery, projectile points, and a colonial metal artifact possibly linked to the Coronado Expedition. Encouraged by the success of “Dig Kuaua,” we’re exploring the idea of a “Dig Giusewa” at Jemez Historic Site in the summer of 2018.

Photo Ethan Ortega

Friends group members participate in Dig Kuaua

The dig also served as a membership drive for the Friends of Coronado Historic Site, which grew from 340 to over 400 members. Currently, it is the largest friends group in New Mexico Historic Sites, with most of its members living in and around Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. Northern Region staff has also focused on outreach that targets these metropolitan areas. Staff visited over forty schools and presented at over twenty regional events throughout the state, on a variety of topics, from Native American music to recent archaeological work at Kuaua Pueblo and even Islamic empires in the sixteenth century.

Our on-site events, both traditional and innovative, are attracting new visitors. Recently, on December 9, Jemez Historic Site hosted “Light among the Ruins,” its annual holiday celebration, with 4,455 visitors attending. The Northern Region is also embracing new and unexpected programming ideas. On Memorial Day Weekend 2017, Coronado Historic Site hosted a Native Roots reggae concert.

As the Northern Region moves forward into 2018 several large projects loom on the horizon. Work is already underway on an overhaul Jemez Historic Site’s core exhibit. The new vision will utilize the existing layout, but update the exhibit through the use digital media. The goal is to correct errors in the current story of the Jemez people, while adding a section on geology and a music corner.

Photo Matthew Barbour.

Preservation work at Jemez Historic Site.

The year 2018 also represents the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System Act. Coronado Historic Site is located on the El Camino Real and wool from sheep raised in the Jemez Mountains was the key commercial good traveling along the Old Spanish Trail. The Northern Region of New Mexico Historic Sites will be partnering with the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, USDA Forest Service, and Texas Historical Commission to celebrate the anniversary with events at both sites highlighting the importance of these trails on New Mexico History.

The first event of the year takes place on March 24. “The New Mexico Art Auction” is sponsored by the Friends of Coronado Historic Site and features art from all of New Mexico’s cultures including old and new pottery, furniture, glass, paintings, textiles, toys, musical instruments, sculptures and much more. All profits go to support Kuaua Pueblo at Coronado Historic Site. Additional events, including a possible summer concert and archaeological excavation, will be announced soon.

Currently on display for December and January at Coronado Historic Site is “Visions of Christ’s Birth in New Spain”. The display explores cultural and historical diversity in Pueblo and Spanish nativity scenes. Also still on display until April in Jemez is “Native American Easel Art.”

Come visit us and see what else we are up to. Coronado Historic Site is located at 485 Kuaua Road in Bernalillo and Jemez Historic Site is 18160 Highway 4 in Jemez Springs. Both are open from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM. Admittance is $5.00 per adult. There is never a charge for children. Both are free to New Mexico seniors on Wednesday and all New Mexico residents on the first Sunday of every month. For more information please visit: http://www.nmhistoricsites.org/.

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