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Ancient History Beyond Albuquerque

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Isleta Pueblo

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Taking the older Route 66 alignment from Albuquerque west is by far the most interesting choice as you pass by a number of historic sites and old towns that once thrived upon the Mother Road. Heading south some 13 miles, you will first come to the Isleta Pueblo.

Isleta Pueblo - Home to the Tiwa Tribe

Originally established about 1200 A.D., the Isleta Pueblo is home to the Tiwa tribe, who descended from remote Shoshoncan stock, the first people to enter the Americas some 30,000 years ago. Due to its location on a strip of land projecting from the Rio Grande River, the conquering Spaniards gave the pueblo the name of Isleta, meaning "little island.”

Around 1629, refugees from outlying pueblos converged on the Isleta Pueblo abandoning their homes due to savage Apache raids. When the Pueblo revolt began in 1680, the pueblo was called home to about 2000 people including a large number of Spaniards. Though Isleta was spared the massacre that occurred at other pueblos due to its Spanish residents, a large number of its native members fled to Hopi settlements in Arizona. Others accompanied the Spanish to their retreat at El Paso del Norte.

After the rebellion the Isleta people returned to the pueblo having submitted to Governor Otermin. However, secretly their allegiance was with the other pueblo peoples. When Governor Otermin found this out he burned the pueblo and forced the remaining members to El Paso.

In 1692, when De Vargas re-conquered the Pueblo he found the Isleta church, established in 1612, in ruins and the pueblo abandoned. Around 1710, the original Tiwa Indians reoccupied the pueblo and in 1716, the original church was rebuilt and named St. Augustine. Still standing today, the St. Augustine Mission is one of the oldest in the United States.

The pueblo now houses a population of about 4,000 where traditions, songs and dances are still practiced and passed down from generation to generation. Though continuing to live with much of their ancient culture, the Isleta Pueblo also operates several modern businesses enterprises, including the Isleta Casino & Resort.

 

Isleta Pueblo wraps around the northern portion of the village of Bosque Farms, a small agricultural community that has evolved into a suburban village of the Albuquerque metropolitan region.

 

Los Lunas - History Through the Ages

Just another nine miles down the road brings you to Los Lunas, New Mexico, a city rich in its diversity of history. Sheltered from the urban crawl of Albuquerque by the Isleta Indian Pueblo to the north and the Rio Grande River to the east, this small town of some 10,000 people enjoy the charm of small town living with easy access to the metropolitan amenities of nearby Albuquerque. From the prehistoric Ancient Publoan (Anasazi) Indians, to Spanish explorers, to the many who traveled this piece of the Mother Road in its early days, Los Lunas provides much to explore for the nostalgic history buff.

 

In the beginning, the area that would become Los Lunas was located on the San Clemente Land Grant. In 1716, the land was given to Don Felix Candelaria after his mother had petitioned for the land.

 

Petroglyphs near Los Lunas, New Mexico

Petroglyphs near Los Lunas, New Mexico

 

Shortly afterwards Luna family made claim to the grant and took possession and a small settlement was formed. In 1808, Antonio Jose Luna was born, who eventually would become a civic and political leader. Often referred to as the father of Los Lunas, he grew up to marry Isabella Baca, daughter of a prominent family from Belen, a community ten miles south of Los Lunas. The tradition continued as Antonio and Isabella’s son also married into a prominent family. The Lunas family dominated Valencia County for almost a century. Through their influence the county seat was moved from Tomé to Los Lunas in 1876.

When the Santa Fe Railroad arrived in the 1880's, a depot was built that facilitated the movement of livestock, hay, general merchandise, and passengers to and from the developing city.

More transportation arrived in the city when the first alignment of Route 66 came through in 1925. Before long a number of services cropped up in the city.

Today, the Los Lunas area has numerous opportunities to peek into the past, not only the "recent” past of vintage Route 66, but also into the history of prehistoric Ancient Publoan Indians and Spanish Explorers.

While in Los Lunas be sure to check out The Luna-Otero Mansion, dating back to 1881. Preserved today serving as a fine restaurant, the Mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Steaks, great hot chili, and exquisite deserts are its claim to fame for those with a ravished stomach. For others, who may be looking for an altogether different experience, the old mansion is said to be haunted by Josefita Otero. Believe it or not.

In the downtown area there are several historic structures and Route 66 era buildings including the town offices located in Old Route 66 cabins, Teofilo’s Restaurant that dates back to 1912, the White Café, the Huning Mercantile established in 1860, the San Antonio Mission built in 1790, and Sam's Tires - a 1928 Route 66 gas station.

While not on Route 66, a short six mile side trip south on US-85/NM-314 to Tomé Hill is well worth the drive. Dominating the landscape between Los Lunas and Belén, this landmark along the El Camino Real (the Royal Road), has been used as a religious site, a refuge from hostile enemies and floods, and as an observation point since prehistoric times. More than 1,800 petroglyphs have been recorded on the hill, some of which date back more than 2,000 years. At the foot of the hill is a large steel sculpture called La Puerta del Sol (Gateway to the Sun) is intended to reflect the diverse cultures of the region. The sculpture is the beginning of a 10-acre park which will include pathways, picnic tables, and interpretive panels telling the story of Cerro del Tomé and the people of Tomé. A self-guided tour of the ancient petroglyphs, sculpture and Camino Real history is currently available.


Nearby, the
Tomé Immaculate Conception Church in has an extensive museum, with a history exhibit and hand-carved wood saints. Tomé is the oldest Hispanic settlement in Valencia County, established in 1739.

 

Another four miles south of Tomé, is the old city of Belén, where you can see the Harvey House Museum in one of the original railroad depots. In 1910, the depot housed on of the famous Harvey House restaurants.

 

Returning to Los Lunas, you will head west on New Mexico Highway 6 to continue your journey along the Mother Road. This stretch, passing through numerous rock mesas in the Rio Puerco Valley on your way to Laguna, is one of the most beautiful on all of Route 66.

 

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated September, 2010.

 

Also See:

 

The Haunted Luna Mansion

Pueblo and Indian Reservation Etiquette

 

The Luna-Orega Mansion in Los Lunas, New Mexico

The Luna-Orega Mansion in Los Lunas, New Mexico

 is said to be haunted.

 

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New Mexico Historic Book CollectionNew Mexico Historic Book Collection - 33 Historic Books on CD - The New Mexico Book Collection is a collection of 33 volumes relating to the history of  New Mexico and its people primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries. Several of the volumes have great period illustrations and portraits of relevant historical figures.  Includes titles such as the Illustrated history of New Mexico By Benjamin Read (1912), The Spanish Archives of New Mexico, Volumes 1 & 2 by Ralph Emerson Twitchell (1914), Historical Sketches of New Mexico: From the Earliest Records to the American Occupation (1883), and dozens more.

 

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