A self-guided 1/2 mile trail leads to the mysterious 17th century church, whose towering walls of red sandstone evokes the turrets of a medieval Spanish fortress. In 1630, Franciscan missionaries, charged with saving the souls of the native people, forced the Tompiros to construct their mission. Driven out by famine, disease and Apache raids by 1672, Quarai was abandoned along with its sister missions, Abo and Gran Quivira, scattered in a 50 mile radius in the Estancia Basin. Gran Quivira is considered the best-preserved of the ruins, all built atop pueblo villages, but each is worth a visit and speaks most eloquently and is most photogenic at sunset.
Its a short jog down NM 55 to the village of Mountainair, founded in 1910 when the railroad came through, bringing health-seekers and homesteaders to claim and prove up on government giveaway 160-acre plots. These tough folks lived in dugouts and practiced dryland farming, built schools, churches and communities that celebrated hard work and persistence in the face of the toughest blows nature could deliver. Those that managed to stick it out built small spreads, and their descendents continue to live and ranch in the area.
The Shaffer Hotel is Mountainairs most colorful stop. Built by local blacksmith and jack of all trades Clem Pop Shaffer in the 1920s, the primary-colored dining room is an eye-dazzling example of Pueblo Deco architecture. New owner Joel Marks is in the process of restoring lodging rooms with private baths, and he intends to bring in a four star chef from Portland, Oregon to make the hotel a dining destination worth the drive. Of the stone fence embellished with Pop Shaffers fanciful stone critters beside the hotel, Ernie Pyle wrote, You can find in that fence practically everything in the Western hemisphere or the Sears Roebuck catalog. The Shaffers grand opening is scheduled for July, meanwhile, the Kowboy Kafe continues to serve decent red chile and homemade pie.
Mountainairs main street is sprouting interesting shops and galleries, like the Cibola Arts co-op and Abo Trading Company interspersed with traditional businesses like the must-see Gustins Hardware, with its array of stuffed and mounted animals. The town will celebrate its annual Sunflower Festival on Aug. 28.
Mountainair is located 65 miles southeast of Albuquerque, making for a 130 mile trip.
This article was first published in
site design: © 2002-2006 word of eye; content (except book jacket blurbs): © 2002-2006 Sharon Niederman