CONTRIBUTIONS TO GENERAL GEOLOGY
PECOS NATIONAL MONUMENT
By ROSS B. JOHNSON
The scenographical arrangement of the surrounding country is remarkably picturesque; the view of Pecos, as it now lies, without the least addition, would form a beautiful picture, and more than a picture, for every cloud, every degree that the sun moves, gives such varied effects to the landscape, that one has a thousand pictures; but their effects are so fleeting, that although they last long enough to delight the spectator, it would yet perplex the artist to catch these changes. [Abert 1848.]
The ruins of the pueblos and missions of Pecos lie on the east bank of Glorieta Creek near its junction with the Pecos River at the south end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in north-central New Mexico. Here the Pecos River and Glorieta Creek have formed a broad rolling valley in which the red adobe walls of the mission church stand as a striking monument to a historic past.
This is beautiful country; the bright hues of red rocks are complemented by the varied greens of the junipers, piñons, and ponderosa pines. Northward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains stretch for miles in a blue mist toward the Truchas Peaks and forests of the Pecos Wilderness. A few miles south of the ruins the steep high escarpment of Glorieta Mesa marks, in a general way, the southern termination of the Rocky Mountain System, which here is represented by the Sangre de Cristos.
The escarpment of Glorieta Mesa has been formed largely by the Pecos River and its tributaries eroding the soft sedimentary layers. The Pecos flows southward from the high mountains in the north, parallels the mesa escarpment for 15 miles, and breaches the mesa near San Jose. About 1-1/2 miles southwest of the Pecos ruins at Cerro de Escobas is the highest point on Glorieta Mesa. It is the most conspicuous feature of the local landscape and rises to an elevation of 8,212 feet1,270 feet above the ruins. The slope of the escarpment here is very steep, rising 6 feet in every 10 horizontal feet.
Along the north side of the Glorieta Mesa escarpment is a 30-mile-long natural pass around the south end of the Sangre de Cristos that extends from Canoncito on the west to Starvation Peak on the east (fig. 1). The elevation of the pass is greater than 6,000 feet at all places, and it reaches its summit of 7,432 feet near the village of Glorieta near the west end of the pass. This pass has been used as a major travel route for more than 800 years by the Indians, Spanish, and Americans. The famous Santa Fe Trail passed through here and was superseded by the railroad, whose main-line tracks closely parallel the traces of the old wagon ruts. The modern four-lane divided highway, Interstate Highway I-25, carries high-speed automotive traffic through Glorieta Pass alongside the Santa Fe Railway. Glorieta Pass has been the locale of many important historical events, including the passage of Coronado's expedition in 1540-41; the construction of the two large mission churches at Pecos Pueblo; the capture and imprisonment of the men of the Texas Expedition in 1841; the passage of the American Army under General Kearny on its way to Santa Fe, Chihuahua, and California in 1846; and the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862.
Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006