On a mission in the Southwest

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Whether you’re planning an actual road trip or just daydreaming at your desk, the National Park Service has dozens of fun travel itineraries to peruse.

Just released is the “Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest” tour taking in locales in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. It incorporates stops along some National Historic Trails, some within the National Park System, and other spots listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

From the early 17th century, and 200 years on, religious missions were established over a vast area of the Southwest U.S. (and northern Mexico). Roman Catholic missionaries didn’t just build churches but communities that aimed to convert American Indians to Spanish faith and customs. What resulted was a blending of beliefs and styles that led to new cultural practices.

Remarkable architecture is another legacy of Spanish colonial influence and is a big part of the lure of these preserved places. Some stellar examples, among the NPS sites included in the itinerary, are within the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, including Gran Quivira (San Buenaventura de las Humanas and San Isidro).

Gran Quivira was a vast complex of pueblos and kivas covering more than 600 acres even before the Spanish moved in. From 1583 onward it transitioned into a hybrid community with public areas, private housing and both churches and kivas. (Established in 1909, Gran Quivira also happens to be one of the oldest monuments in the National Park System.)

Some blend of the richness of history, the clarity of light, and the fleeting presence of spirits at these bygone missions make them magnetic to the explorer’s heart. Time to hit the road!

Photo © Heather Hansen

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