This article first appeared February 22, 2017 in the ABQ Free Press
Oak Flats and Salinas Pueblo Missions
New Mexico has many lonesome roads that lead to stunning vistas.
The roads carry a vibrant history, intersecting commuter life and pastoral pasts. This weekend’s edition will take us down a few of them.
From snowy plains to widely-colored undergrowth, the scenic byways ahead connect the distant landscapes. Be sure to eat a big breakfast and pack a snack before hitting the long day on the road.
Head east on I40 and take the Tijeras exit, 175. Follow the signs south on NM 337 S to Oak Flat Road. The signage will guide you to the picnic area.
Albuquerque to Oak Flats Group Picnic Area: 24.9 miles
Oak Flats Group Picnic Area is an underappreciated spot. It has its own trail system and lovely views.
Take a short hike through the tall pines and low oaks. There are any number of ways to complete a hike through the spider web-like trail system.
The sun slides across the sky, a reminder of time. Hop in the car and begin the first part of the day on the Salt Mission Trail Scenic Byway.
Continue back to NM-337 south.
Oak Flats Group Picnic Area to Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument via the Salt Mission Trail Scenic Byway: 39.5 miles
The Salt Mission Trail meanders about the Estancia Valley, which used to be a lake until it evaporated leaving loads of salt about, hence the name.
The trail pays a sort of tribute, an acknowledgment to the hardworking native peoples who inhabited and continue to inhabit the area.
The Sandias look so much different from this angle. They bob about as the road veers left and right, up and down. The open plains below tease you, there’s still miles to go before the mountains smooth out, turning into the valley that eventually opens to the eastern plains of New Mexico.
It’s quite different than many of the views you find in New Mexico. The occasional grazing horse completes the picturesque scene.
When NM-337 hits NM-55, make a right to stay on the Salt Mission Trail. Make a right on B076 in Mountainair. It’s maybe a mile in to the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.
The tale of the Salinas Pueblo Missions is a common one. The people thrived and struggled together until the Spanish came and conquered, bringing with them religion, monarchy and disease, which eventually crushed the three pueblos – an all too familiar tale of westernization.
At any rate, the Salinas Pueblos Missions National Monument, all three ruins, is the largest in southern New Mexico.
There is no fee to enter the parks, a special treat for visitors. The paved trail weaves about the foreground of the spectacular, red ruins. It stops at little plaques with information about certain points of interest.
The wide-open views disappear behind the church. The entire area didn’t exist in the same state pre-Spaniards, but it was an area of significant trade. That all changed with the advent of a new religion and way of life.
Despite their resistance, the Pueblo peoples eventually worked with the Spaniards until their untimely death between 1630 and 1680.
After the half-mile walk around the ruins, take the Spanish Corral Trail. It’s about a mile long and will provide some lovely nature interactions.
When you get back, use the restroom before the remainder of the long drive on our next scenic byway.
Back onto NM-55 again, make a right on US-60. When the road forks, stay right to make it on NM-47.
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument via the Abo Pass Trail to Albuquerque: 80.6 miles
The Abo Pass Trail connects the Salt Mission Trail to the El Camino Real Scenic Byway. It runs through three different counties and it is a popular cycling route.
The scenic byway takes you along the railroad tracks then drops down to the base of the Manzano mountains, the Rio Grande valley visible below.
The route was another common trade route for native folks in the early 15th century. The Sandias become visible once again, looming over Albuquerque.
Follow the road into Belen and follow the signs to make the way home on I-25.