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Coronado Historic Site celebrates its 75th anniversary

Coronado Historic site volunteer Cheryl Russell, center, facing camera, tells a story to visitors. (Gary Herron/Rio Rancho Observer)

Coronado Historic site volunteer Cheryl Russell, center, facing camera, tells a story to visitors. (Gary Herron/Rio Rancho Observer)

Francisco Vasquez de Coronado would have loved to have lived long enough to see this: Coronado Historic Site celebrating its 75th anniversary.

State Cultural Affairs Secretary Veronica Gonzales kicked off Coronado Historic Site’s year-long celebration of its 75th anniversary last Saturday.

“If you haven’t been to the Coronado State Monument recently, now is the time to revisit or experience it for the first time,” Gonzales said in her opening remarks. “The monument has flourished in recent years because of its dedicated and passionate staff, and an active and well-organized ‘Friends of Coronado State Monument’ group – and an innovative collaboration with students from New Mexico Highlands University.”

The Museum of New Mexico’s founding director, Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett, as re-enacted by Ron Overley, invited Gonzales to make the first cut in a celebration cake prepared by the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa’s award-winning pastry chef. The cake and an afternoon’s worth of tours, exhibition openings and re-enactments were enjoyed by visiting local officials, long-time Coronado Historic Site supporters and friends, and hundreds of visitors there to enjoy the day.

While Adolph Bandelier was the first American archeologist to visit the site of Kuaua in the early 1880s, Coronado Historic Site’s importance in the history of New Mexico dates back two millennia to when indigenous peoples were living and farming in the vicinity.

Hewett, also a leading archaeologist in New Mexico during the 1930s, was convinced that Kuaua was the pueblo that Vasquez de Coronado and his forces had seized in 1540 in their search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. To get to Kuaua, Coronado and his men probably traipsed through what are now River’s Edge neighborhoods on the west side of the Rio Grande.

Hewett’s efforts resulted in the site being declared a state monument in 1935. The dedication ceremonies on May 29, 1940, launched a statewide observance of the Coronado Cuarto Centenario. In July 2013, the site was designated Coronado Historic Site.

Although named for Vasquez de Coronado, the site’s significance comes from the multiple pre-contact cultures living there, beginning with the Tiwa about 1325 CE and continuing to the present.

Today, Coronado is also appreciated for the murals in the kiva – one of the few extant kivas in the Southwest – whose walls are painted with hundreds of figures. Masked and costumed dancers, animals, birds, snakes, fish, corn plants, clouds, lightning and droplets of moisture depict, in the words of a member of Santo Domingo Pueblo, “everything that we believe. They show us how to live. To us, these paintings are everything we live for.”

This neatly sums up the true importance of not only Coronado Historic Site, but also all seven of the historic sites throughout New Mexico.

“New Mexico Historic Sites are seven storyed places where the past becomes real,” Gonzales said. “They invite you to hit the road, explore and get out in the golden New Mexico sun. It’s your chance to follow in the footsteps of indigenous people, Spanish conquistadors, Civil War soldiers, lawmen – and, yes, even our fabled outlaws.”

Coronado Historic Site is on US 550 at 485 Kuaua Road, west of the Rio Grande in Bernalillo. (kuaua.com)

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