Seeking the Seven Cities of Gold

Muffy Clark Gill “Tomahawk Garage” watercolor and ink travel sketch

A little bit of history before I talk about our next story in this newsletter:

During the 1540’s after hearing rumors that there were cities of gold in northern New Spain (present day New Mexico), Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado  and a group of soldiers set out on a quest of discovery to find what was known as “The Seven Cities of Gold”. They traveled from Mexico City north into central New Mexico. There they found the city known as “Cibola” or gold (the present day pueblo of Zuni)  and other “cities” that were settled in Pueblo style villages by indigenous Americans. However they didn’t find any gold, but they did discover turquoise and other metals that are still being found today. Ironically gold was discovered by later settlers in the 19th century. During our recent travels through central New Mexico we came across the routes and some of these pueblo cities that the conquistadors tried to conquer and dominate as well as some other surprises.

Traveling north from Ruidoso, we discovered the lovely little city of Carrizozo. It became an unexpected rest stop when we drove through the semi-restored downtown and saw many interesting buildings and art galleries to photograph and explore. I was especially charmed by “Gallery 408” and their collection of local and national artists.

We enjoyed lunch there at Honey Girl’s Cafe
and then made a stop at The Valley of Fires Recreation Area. The valley is the remains of an ancient lava flow that spread itself over the desert landscape 2,000-5,000 years ago.

There is camping available as well as nature trails walking through the old lava flows. The gold the Spanish were looking for was discovered at the nearby former mining town of White Oaks.

Continuing north to our next campsite at Manzano Mountains State Park, we passed through the city of Mountainair, home to the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. There are three different ancient pueblo sites that we visited: Quara


and Gran Cuvira

that the conquistadors discovered and tried to convert their members to Christianity. The churches that were built were largely destroyed in the late 1680’s along with the pueblo villages they tried to convert. The Indians fled to north central New Mexico to rebuild their lives there. Today the churches still stand in various states of repair. At Abo there was a team of young students working on restoring mortar that had decayed around the building stones.

After touring these structures we had lunch in Mountainair at the Shaffer Hotel, an amazing hotel and restaurant that was built in the 1923 by an eccentric folk artist named “Pop” Shaffer after his livery stable burned down.
“Pop”Shaffer and his wife
On the way to lunch we had passed by an unusual historic homestead called “Rancho Bonita”, that we found out had been Pop Shaffer’s residence.
The ceilings of the restaurant
the fireplace
the restaurant furniture and chandeliers
were all made by this creative folk artist and are great examples of Native American style Art Deco.

Scary Gate!

The food wasn’t bad—a green chile burger with fries was all of $8.00! Next door was an art gallery featuring local artists.


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