When Spanish Franciscan missionaries came into the Salinas District of central New Mexico, they found large settlements of Tiwa and Tompiro speaking natives living in large farming settlements.
The Franciscans built missions nearby and set to work converting the natives to Christianity.
Both the Indians and the missionaries depended on rain and snow melt to irrigate their crops. Sometime during the 1670s, an extended drought drove them out of their homes. They never returned.
This wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Over the years, many pueblos and missions were abandoned because of natural disasters, conflicts, or for other reasons. But with a few years, new groups of Indians or missionaries usually moved in, modifying and reusing the abandoned structures.
But no one ever came back to Salinas Pueblo. The churches and pueblos stood empty for four centuries, preserving their original footprints, construction methods, and building materials.
At Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, you can tour these sites and see how Indians and Spanish missionaries constructed their homes and churches.
The San Isidro convento was a former Indian home renovated as housing for the Franciscan priests. The beamed ceilings in the Abo and Quarai churches push the limits of wall-and-lintel construction. San Buenaventura church was abandoned before it was finished, providing a rare glimpse into a 17th-century construction site essentially frozen in time.