Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico – Home of the Kawaik People

Route 66 bisects the heart of pueblo land. The initial 1926 alignment through this part of new Mexico curved north from Santa Rosa to Santa Fe, and then south to Albuquerque and Los Lunas, returning to an east-west alignment near Laguna. Route 66 through new Mexico was realigned in 1937 to eliminate this dramatic “S-curve” through the state and reducing its mileage from 506 to 399. The new alignment left Santa Fe and Los Lunas behind, but Laguna remained along Route 66.

The villages of Mesita, Laguna, and Paraje are located on Route 66. When traveling the Mother Road westbound, take Exit 117 off I-40 onto the north service road (old Route 66). Mesita, the easternmost village of the Laguna Pueblo, is comprised primarily of a scattering of homes on both sides if I-40.

Owl Rock at Mesita, New Mexico

Owl Rock at Mesita, New Mexico

Mesita was established on the south bank of the San Jose River in the 1870s by a faction that split from the Laguna Pueblo people. The split was due to the growth of Protestant Christianity in the area after the arrival of the Baptists in 1850 and the Presbyterians in the 1870s. The word “Mesita” means “small mesa” in Spanish but the Puebloans’ name for the village is “Tsé Ch’ ééhii”, which means “Red Rocks Pointing out horizontally”.

In the 1880s the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad reached the area and extended its tracks from Albuquerque towards Gallup through Mesita. Its station was named “El Rito”, meaning “tiny river.”

In 1932, when Father Agnellus began his assignment at Laguna, he undertook the construction of four more churches, two of them in Laguna villages. In Mesita, there was an old chapel, built in 1915 and dedicated to St. Anthony. This church was used until 1936 when the new chapel was completed and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The active church continues to stand today.

Stay on old Route 66 for another five miles to Laguna. Along the way look for Owl’s Rock to the right about two miles west of Laguna. A bit further down you’ll come to the notorious Deadman’s Curve, a 180-degree bend in the road to the left. You can bet this turn scared more than one old Route 66 traveler in days past. Approaching the village of Old Laguna, follow the sharp left turn, then turn right onto Highway 124 through the village.

Tzu-chey, Pueblo Indian, at the Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, by Henry G. Peabody, 1902

Tzu-chey, Pueblo Indian, at the Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, by Henry G. Peabody, 1902

Old Laguna was the first village of the pueblo. Its highlight is its historic St. Joseph Mission Church built in 1699. Sitting atop the hill, it can be seen for miles around. The old village also displays a number of old adobe buildings in various states of repair.

Stay with Highway 124 across the railroad, to New Laguna, where the buildings are generally newer and comprised mostly of homes.

Another three miles down west of New Laguna, Route 66 travelers will come to Paraje, another village of the pueblo. Paraje means “place” or “residence” and many villages were first called names like Paraje de Belen or Paraje de Bernalillo because they served as a stopping point for travelers. The village is comprised mostly of homes and ruins of a few old buildings, but its active church continues to stand. The St. Margaret Mary Mission Chapel was constructed by the local residents of Paraje village in 1935.

West of Paraje, Route 66 (NM-124) continues westward through Budville, Villa Cubero, and San Fidel before the old road meets back up with I-40.

Contact Information:

Laguna Pueblo
2 Capitol Rd
PO Box 194
Laguna, NM 87026

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2019

Also See:

Ancient Cities of Native Americans

Ancient & Modern Pueblos – Oldest Cities in the U.S.

New Mexico Route 66

Pueblo and Indian Reservation Etiquette


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