Immersive New Mexico: History Lives at Our Historic Sites

Visiting New Mexico’s eight historic sites is a road trip north and south along El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, and east and west on Route 66. From there, you’ll venture off the beaten path to follow in the footsteps of people who made and changed history. Statewide, the sites offer immersive cultural experiences you can’t get from a book or movie. Why not hit the road?

With the exception of the Taylor Mesilla Historic Site, which opens in 2025, all sites are open and free to Museum of New Mexico Foundation members year-round for self- and ranger-guided tours, arts and crafts activities, history presentations and hiking. Special events offer even more reasons to engage with and celebrate New Mexico’s rich, complex history. Opportunities to
support education and public programming across all eight sites through a private gift via the Foundation also abound.

On the following pages, site directors and other staff members share their favorite historical anecdotes and experiences. Visit for event calendars and driving directions.

Los Luceros Historic Site
Los Luceros was established in 1703 as a ranch on the eastern bank of the Río Grande via a Spanish land grant, and pot sherds on the property date Indigenous presence to 1150. The ranch has a storied ownership legacy, changing hands many times before becoming a historic site in 2019.

Mary Cabot Wheelwright bought Los Luceros in 1923. She’s best-known for establishing the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in 1937, in Santa Fe, with Hastiin Klah, a Two-Spirit Diné (Navajo) medicine man and weaver. In the 1940s, they recorded and described 18 sacred Diné Great Star Chants in the Los Luceros Hacienda, the property’s oldest structure.

Many anthropologists in the early 20th century believed Native culture would soon disappear and that it was up to them to preserve its memory. “They were wrong—Native culture is doing just
fine,” says Los Luceros instructional coordinator Rebecca Ward. “But it’s possible Hastiin Klah wanted to record the chants, just in case.”

However, because the chants aren’t meant to be heard by people outside the Navajo Nation, Ward says it’s possible that Wheelwright didn’t ask permission to record them. “She was an armchair anthropologist, not university trained,” Ward says.

Jemez Historic Site
The stone remnants of the 700-year-old village of Gisewa were once home to the ancestors of the present-day people of Jemez Pueblo (Walatowa). The Spanish established a Catholic mission there around the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, but the Walatowa people soon left the site and moved to their current home.

“The people from Jemez Pueblo believe their ancestors are still there, and they have a connection to them,” says Katrina Gallegos, regional manager for Jemez and Coronado historic sites. Staff teach the site’s rich history, but a robust calendar of demonstrations puts the focus on ongoing pueblo lifeways.

Instructional coordinator supervisor Marlon Magdalena, from Jemez Pueblo, is well-versed in site history; in 2005, he built a roof for the ancient kiva at Gisewa with his uncle, who was a ranger there. He also plays the flute and has incorporated information about the tribe’s history and craftsmanship into his lesson plans.

Interpretive ranger Brenda Tafoya, also from Jemez, is a potter from a well-known artist family. She grew up in the New Mexico art world and oversees securing artists to participate in the annual December Lights of Gisewa holiday event. She’s the first person that people meet when they come to the visitor center, where the Friends of Jemez Historic Site recently opened Towa Gifts, a shop featuring items made by Native artists from around New Mexico.

Coronado Historic Site
Native peoples hunted wild game and gathered wild plants in the lush Río Grande valley. These ancient settlers constructed earthen dwellings on the terraces above the big river and farmed the flood plain below, joined by Indigenous travelers from what would become southern New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. Together, they built the Village of Kuaua around A.D. 1300 —eventually constructing more than 1,000 rooms and 10 ceremonial kivas. Tiwa-speaking people lived there until the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, and then the Keres-speaking Tamaya took up residence for a time until moving to their current home at nearby Santa Ana Pueblo.

In the 1930s, archaeologists looking for evidence of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado’s presence in the area dug into the ground and found an intact pueblo. How an exact replica was built on top of the city underneath during the WPA era is a fascinating tale of old-fashioned archaeological and anthropological methods. That story, of the people who lived at the site and their descendants, are brought to life by dozens of docents as well as expert speakers and presenters on Indigenous and Hispanic topics.

Coronado has the most active events calendar of all the historic sites, offering four guided tours a day, regular live music events, Ranger Read-Along at the Martha Liebert Public Library in Bernalillo and more.

Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner Historic Site
The Diné (Navajo) and N’de (Mescalero Apache) peoples were forcibly removed from their lands and relocated to the Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation during the American Civil War. Hundreds of Diné died on the Long Walk, and more than 1,500 Diné and N’de died of starvation and disease on the reservation before they signed a treaty permitting them to leave in 1868. The Bosque Redondo Memorial was designed in collaboration with the Navajo Nation and Mescalero Apache Tribe with financial support from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.

Regional manager Aaron Roth says archival documents indicate the military pitted the tribes against each other. He adds that the two very different cultures didn’t get along well at Bosque Redondo—but emphasizes that oral history is more nuanced. “In the last year, I’ve met three families who told me they’re part Navajo and part Mescalero because their great-great grandparents met here.”

Roth also questions the official record of November 3, 1865, when about 350 N’de escaped. “According to the archives, 200 horses were stolen from the Navajo corrals by the Apache. But it appears to me the Apache probably had a deal with the Navajo, because it seems unlikely that 200 horses just disappeared. Navajo families have told me the nomadic Mescalero helped their ancestors escape, taking them into Mexico and circling back to their native lands when it was safe.”

Fort Stanton Historic Site
Fort Stanton is among the most intact 19th-century military forts in the U.S., but this complicated historic site has also been a tuberculosis sanitorium, a WWII POW camp and a women’s prison. The Ninth Cavalry, one of four racially segregated regiments known as the Buffalo Soldiers, was stationed there during the Spanish and Indian Wars. Several of the 88 buildings on the site date to the fort’s founding in 1855, although all buildings require preservation and development.

Dr. Paul M. Carrington was the Fort Stanton Hospital medical director from 1901 to 1912. He oversaw implementation of patient tents, a fresh-air tuberculosis treatment advocated by doctors before the invention of streptomycin, an antibiotic, in 1943. Other hospitals adopted versions of tent accommodations, including Santa Fe’s Sunmount Sanitorium.

“He [Carrington] conducted an influential study on the benefits of New Mexico's high desert climate in treating TB patients,” says Oliver Horn, regional manager for Fort Stanton and Lincoln historic sites. “Carrington—who suffered from TB himself, like many other caregivers—revealed that among the advanced cases at Fort Stanton, 12% were cured and another 27% significantly improved. The results were viewed as nothing short of a medical miracle at the time, published in newspapers across the country.”

Lincoln Historic Site
Lincoln is famous for one of the most violent periods in New Mexico history, when the frontier was ruled by gunslingers like Billy the Kid and Sherriff Pat Garrett, who killed the Kid. Visitors can explore the Old Lincoln County Courthouse’s exhibits that recount the Lincoln County War in 1878 and spend time in other preserved buildings.

In the lesser-known Horrell War of 1873, the lawless Horrell brothers killed several Hispanic lawmen. Regional manager Oliver Horn highlights the heroics of Juan Bautista Patrón, who led the local militia that defended the community and helped drive the Horrells back into Texas.

“Patrón was born in Santa Fe and attended El Colegio de San Miguel— today’s St. Michael’s High School—and moved to Lincoln when his father established a store in town. His father was killed by members of the Horrell clan. Patrón emerged as a major leader in the community and organized local resistance against the Horrells,” Horn says. “Afterward, he took over his father's store and became the de facto town teacher, as well as an advocate for the building of a church, which didn’t happen in his lifetime. He was elected to the Territorial Legislature in 1877, and in 1884 a group of Texan cowboys—purportedly agents of the Santa Fe Ring—assassinated him."

Fort Selden Historic Site
Fort Selden was established at the end of the American Civil War, and Indigenous farmers inhabited the land as early as 400 C.E. In 1598, the area was a campsite on El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. Today, visitors roam adobe ruins and learn about frontier and military life.

“We have a photograph of General Douglas MacArthur from when he lived at Fort Selden. He’s about three years old and he has little ringlets in his hair,” says instructional coordinator Alexandra
McKinney. “It’s such a contrast to the pipe-smoking general from WWII.”

MacArthur lived at Fort Selden from ages three to six, when his father, Arthur MacArthur, was a captain and post commander there in the 1880s. He wrote fondly of New Mexico in his memoirs, claiming he learned to ride a horse and shoot a gun at Fort Selden before he learned to read, and that he once met a camel there. McKinney explains that when New Mexico was briefly under Confederate control during the Civil War, Jefferson Davis imported camels from the similarly arid Middle East to assist in building the railroad.

“But the Confederacy only held in the Southwest for one year. After the Union Army kicked the Confederates out of New Mexico, all these camels were roaming around,” McKinney says. “Twenty years later, little Douglas MacArthur ran into one.”

Taylor-Mesilla Historic Site
Though not yet open to the public, the Taylor-Mesilla Historic Site is located on the mid-19th-century Mesilla Plaza. It was the residence of J. Paul Taylor, a well-known New Mexican educator and legislator, and his wife, Mary, a historian, writer, photographer and translator who grew up in a nearby border town. The Taylors lived on the Mesilla Plaza for 70 years, filling their home with New Mexican art and artifacts.

“Mary Daniels Taylor wrote the literal book on Mesilla,” says instructional coordinator Alexandra McKinney. “She’s instrumental in telling the story of this region.” A Place as Wild as the West Ever Was, published in 2004, is out of print. But Taylor also took thousands of photographs of local residents, the town and its celebrations and events, all of which are housed at New Mexico State University.

This article and images are from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Member News Magazine.