It’s no secret that the state of New Mexico is brimming with rich history and cultural attractions, and the Pecos Valley is no exception—especially when it comes to the Pecos National Historical Park. The site commemorates centuries of human traditions and travel, including the original path of Route 66 and the Santa Fe Trail.
Here, you’ll find ruins from ancient Native American Pueblos, the site of the Civil War’s Battle of Glorieta Pass, and a dude ranch that has been visited by many celebrities. In 2018, Pecos National Historical Park was designated as one of the top 17 places to visit in the United States by CNN.com.
It would be nearly impossible to take in everything the park has to offer in just a day (or two!), so we put together this list of must-see attractions within the park to get you started.
Start at the E.E. Fogelson Visitor Center
Start your experience at the E.E. Fogelson Visitor Center, which will give you backstory and all of the information you need to experience the park to its fullest. Friendly National Park personnel will be there to greet you, and there is a short video, narrated by Oscar winning actress Greer Garson, and amazing displays of artifacts to help kick off your adventure. Grab a booklet to take with you and reference as you’re taking in the sights.
Meander Through the Pecos Pueblo
Well-maintained trails through the Pueblo ruins make it easy to explore remnants of ancient Native American tribes who once called this area home. Explore excavated kivas (circular sacred rooms used for ceremonial rites) and see the irrigation systems of the remarkable Native Americans who settled here.
The Pueblo is one of the most significant in the Four Corners area, as it was the trading center between the Plains Indians and those living along the Rio Grande River. The tour is self-guided and easily accessible. Take some time on your walk to explore a little and bring a picnic to enjoy at one of the picnic tables in the area.
Marvel at the Ruins of the Adobe Church
Take advantage of the unique opportunity to go down the ladder into the kivas and explore them firsthand. Enjoy the majesty of the ruins of the Spanish mission church. The church was destroyed during the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680 and then partially rebuilt by the Spanish in the early 17oos. To see the adobe ruins, walk along the 1.25-mile round-trip Ancestral Sites Trail.
Hike on the Civil War Trail and Go Back in Time at the Glorieta Pass Battlefield
If you have time, make the short trek on the 2.25-mile round-trip Glorieta Battlefield Trail, which will give you a glimpse into one of the key battles of the war. Many people don’t realize that the war reached this far west, but the Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862 was the defining moment that stopped the Confederate incursion into the Southwestern territories.
You can take a self-guided tour, or book a reservation for a guided tour with a local ranger, either way, you will learn about the timeline of events and why the war efforts pushed west. The trails have the whole story on signs along the path and plenty of places to stop and sit and take in your surroundings.
Arrange a Guided Tour to Forked Lightning Ranch
The Forked Lightning Ranch plays a large role in the history of the Pecos National Historical Park. As the Pecos Pueblo’s population dwindled during the 19th century, settlers began to occupy the lands along the Pecos River, and one of them was a Polish immigrant named Martin Kozlowski. In the 1850s, he built a trading post and way station along the Santa Fe Trail. This trading post became a headquarters for the Union Army during the Battle of Glorieta Pass and remained in the Kozlowski family until the 1920s. In 1925, the post and surrounding land was purchased by Tex Austin, who dubbed it the Forked Lightning Ranch. Austin eventually turned the property into an upscale dude ranch and a luxurious getaway.
Since then, the ranch was owned by Buddy Fogelson and actress Greer Garson. Many celebrities visited the ranch over the years before it was donated to the Park Service. The ranch showcases breathtaking New Mexican architecture, is steeped in history, and is well worth a visit! The park rangers run guided tours of the ranch on certain days, so check the website ahead of time.
Know Before You Go
Entry to the park is completely free, as are all the guided tours. Hours vary by season, so check the website or call 505-757-7241 for more information.
Camping is not allowed in the park, but the town of Pecos is just a few minutes away and you’ll find plenty of lodging and dining options there.
Written by Sarah Strohl for Matcha in partnership with New Mexico Tourism Department.