The path between Glorieta and Santa Fe, New Mexico, encompassing about 15 miles, makes its way over Glorieta Pass, to the near ghost-town of Glorieta and the one-time village of Canoncito at Apache Canyon. This old path was once a Spanish mission trail to the Pecos Pueblo, the Santa Fe Trail, the National Old Trails Road, and Route 66 (pre-1937), before becoming U.S. Highway 84 and later Interstate 25.
Nestled beneath the 10,000-foot Glorieta Baldy Peak, Glorieta Pass makes its way through the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in east-central Santa Fe County. Early Spanish settlers named the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains “Glorieta,” or bower, suggesting a “forested crossroads.”
By the time that the Santa Fe Trail came through the area in 1921, the pass had been utilized for centuries, by Pueblo and Plains Indians and Spanish and Mexican settlers and traders. This section of the road became the westernmost leg of the Santa Fe Trail, which ran between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Wagons with goods and settlers often rested at Pigeon’s Ranch, a hostelry and stage shop on the east side of the pass, before making their way up to the summit. In fact, it was here at the ranch that the first Glorieta post office was established in January 1875.
It was in this area that the three-day Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass was fought on March 26-28, 1862. The fighting began in Apache Canyon on the west side of the pass on March 26, 1862. The decisive engagement was fought two days later, east of the pass at Pigeon’s Ranch. The victory by the Union Army, which was primarily comprised of Colorado Militia, prevented the Confederate plan of marching up to Colorado to capture the gold fields and then turn west to take California. The westernmost battle of the Civil War, it is commemorated at Pecos National Historic Park on the east side of the pass.
In 1879, the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad was building their tracks through the area. It wasn’t until this time the town of Glorieta was established. The settlement grew with railroad workers and as a mining and lumbering supply center for the district. In 1884, the majority of the working force of some 250 population reportedly was employed by four sawmills and the Silver Lode Mining Company. At this time, the town boasted the Glorieta House Hotel, two general stores, and two saloons. In the next five years, it became known as the headquarters from which sportsmen reached the hunting and fishing grounds of the upper Pecos River.
In the early 20th century, there were a number of small mines operating in the Glorieta Mining District. About 2,500 tons of iron ore was shipped from the Kennedy Mine in the southern part of the district. Other mines included the Bradley Mine located about four miles north of the village, which was operated by a hermit miner who found gold, silver, copper, and lead. Other mines included the Fairview Lode Mine, the Jones claims, the Johnson’s Lucky Strike claims, and several others. Though some ores were brought out of these mines, the district was not considered to be of large significance.
After World War II ended, the Glorieta Baptist Assembly chose Glorieta as the headquarters for their western leadership center. Construction of the facilities began in 1950, and throughout the next ten years, approximately five million dollars were spent on the project. It opened in 1952. The Conference Center was sold in 2014 to a Texas-based non-profit group. Numerous changes were made after its sale, including the construction of a zip line, slides, diving boards and decks around the property’s lake. It continues to serve as a religious camp, which provides retreats, wilderness programs, conferences for children, adults, and families.
Glorieta had already dramatically declined in population by the time that the Conference Center was built, but in 1975, it still boasted a small mercantile store, a gift shop, a restaurant, and the Rio Grande Press, which occupied the former school building.
Today, however, none of these businesses exist in Glorieta. In fact, the only open service in the tiny community, comprised of a scattering of homes, is the post office, which is situated in the town’s old depot. The railroad is now part of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway system and continues to stream through the village right next to the post office.
Following I-25, the path continues for 5.5 miles before arriving at one-time village of Canoncito at Apache Canyon.
Canoncito and the Johnson Ranch
Canoncito at Apache Canyon was a small community with a history dating to the Mexican Territorial period. Canoncito was a trading point and the last stop for travelers along the Santa Fe Trail before reaching their destination in Santa Fe. Sometime later, the site where the village church would later be built became an informal gathering spot for public meetings, trading, and community functions.
In August 1846, during the Mexican-American War, Governor Manuel Armijo gathered his Mexican troops at Apache Canyon to defend New Mexico against the occupying American Army. Governor Manuel Armijo wanted to avoid battle, but several prominent leaders at the time forced him to muster a defense. However, before General Stephen W. Kearny and his 1,700 troops of the Army of the West were even in view, he decided not to fight. When some of the militiamen insisted on fighting, Armijo ordered a cannon pointed at them. The New Mexican army then retreated to Santa Fe, and Armijo fled to Chihuahua, Mexico. By the time Kearny and his men arrived in Santa Fe, they encountered no Mexican forces and claimed the New Mexico Territory for the United States without a shot being fired.
The village of Canoncito was settled by 1855 and in 1858, Anthony Johnson purchased land for a ranch and built an adobe and rock residence at the mouth of Apache Canyon. Johnson’s Ranch became a popular stop for stagecoaches on the last stretch of the trail before entering Santa Fe. Johnson was from St. Louis, Missouri and came west along the Santa Fe Trail in the late 1840s. He was employed as a teamster at Fort Union for a time. Johnson and his family lived there until 1869 when he sold the ranch. Ten years later he was found murdered.
In March 1862, the fighting during the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass began in nearby Apache Canyon on March 26th before moving east. As the battle was in progress, Major John Chivington and a few Union troops destroyed the Confederate supply train which was encamped near Johnson’s Ranch. This strategic move forced the Confederates to lose their stronghold and retreat from New Mexico.
From 1879 to 1880, the village supported a post office. The same year that the post office closed, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad came through the area, ending the trade on the Santa Fe Trail and Canoncito’s importance. The Our Lady of Light Catholic Church was built between 1880 and 1891. The one-story adobe structure was constructed into a slope at the side of Apache Canyon. Sometime in the late 1800s, a trading post-general mercantile was built across from the church. In the 1950s, the owner of Johnson’s Ranch leveled most of the buildings that were located just east of the church in Cañoncito.
Canoncito didn’t grow and today, only its church and cemetery, which have served the area for well over a century, remain. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
The church and cemetery can be accessed at Exit 294 on I-25 – Sleeping Dog Road. Travel just north to Old Las Vegas Highway, and take a right (northeast) to the church and cemetery.
Continue the journey along the old Santa Fe Trail and Route 66 by traveling I-25 for 11.7 miles to its junction with U.S. Highway 285, and north for 3.8 miles to West Alameda Street to reach downtown.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander, July 2018.
Sherman, James and Barbara; Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico, University of Oklahoma Press, 1975