Coronado State Monument

The Re-Dedication of New Mexico’s
Coronado State Monument - 3/11/2006

by Ben Moffett

Justin Rinaldi was among those in attendance when New Mexico’s Coronado State Monument, on the outskirts of Bernalillo, north of Albuquerque, was dedicated amid great fanfare on May 29, 1940.  It was New Mexico’s flagship event of the 400th anniversary of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s exploratory expedition into the Southwest.

New Mexico's Coronado State Monument visitor center and museum.

Also among those on hand for the 1940 dedication were Governor John E. Miles and Don Juan Francisco de Cárdenas, the Ambassador of Spain.  Rinaldi, then a sophomore at Bernalillo High, performed for them, other assembled dignitaries and an overflow crowd.  Outfitted as a conquistador in Coronado’s expedition, he marched and danced on a huge outdoor stage during a reenactment of  the Spanish explorer’s arrival.

Rinaldi, now age 80, returned on March 11, 2006 for the re-dedication of the monument, which protects the ruins of the Tiguex Puebloan village of Kuaua.  It is located on a bluff fast against the west bank of the Rio Grande, overlooking the fabled El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro – the Royal Road to the Interior Lands – across the river.  With Rinaldi was his grandson, also named Justin Rinaldi, a high school sophomore who was experiencing some of what his grandfather had in 1940.



Young Rinaldi soon learned, if he didn’t know already, that the 2006 re-dedication was more than the just-completed renovation of the visitor center at the monument.  It was also an anniversary celebration of two events significant to historians and the people of the desert Southwest—the 75th anniversary of state legislation creating the state monuments system, and the 100th anniversary of the Antiquities Act, the landmark federal law that authorizes a U. S. President to declare historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest to be national monuments if they are located on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States. 

New Mexico Lt. Governor Diane Denish with 80-year-old Justin Rinaldi pointing at original dedication on the wall behind them.

Both acts served to build a foundation and  precedent for historic preservation in the United States, according to National Park Service historian Richard Sellars, Ph.D., keynote speaker at the re-dedication.

“The acts provided momentum for the preservation of the pre-history and history of this country,” said Sellars.  “They were particularly important catalysts in the Southwest.  It was rampant vandalism of ancient archaeological sites that spurred Congress to pass the Antiquities Act in 1906, resulting in the creation of many national monuments in the Southwest.”

In a roundabout way, the early legislation also nurtured a kernel of generational pride in Southwest history and culture—as exemplified by the Rinaldis.  It fired political support for such legislation as the 1968 National Historic Trails Act and, by extension, the addition of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail in October, 2000, as well as other trails across the Southwest and the nation.  The new historic trail, in turn, fostered a chain of fresh interest along its length, including new construction. El Camino Real International Heritage Center is one example. (See Support associations such as El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Trail Association also sprang up.

Grandfather Rinaldi, an alum of the University of New Mexico and Regis University, went on to become a writer and “amateur historian,” in his words, intent on instilling the history of “tierra adentro,” into new generations not only of his extended family, but beyond.  “As a student of history, especially the history of New Mexico, I have made a special effort to speak to young people from grade school to the university level in hopes they will realize that U. S. history doesn’t revolve around the eastern seaboard,” he said.

The younger Rinaldi understands where his grandfather is coming from, having taken a class in New Mexico history in the seventh grade at Bernalillo Middle School.  “I’ve been to the state monument before,” he said.  “And I was eager to return with my grandfather, whose stories I have heard many times.”


Such proud traditions as those exhibited by the Rinaldis were likely enabled not only by legislation, but also by those behind it—a cadre of Southwest historians and archaeologists hell-bent on examining historic and prehistoric sites and making their findings available to the public.

Kaua kivas (semi-subterranean ceremonial chambers)

They were spearheaded by Edgar Lee Hewett, nicknamed “El Toro” because of his controversial, flamboyant style and tenacity toward discovery and preservation.  Hewett led the excavation of the Kuaua Ruins at Coronado.  He was instrumental in writing the Antiquities Act and facilitating its passage.  The act was then adopted almost word for word in the 1935 legislation creating New Mexico’s state monuments.  Other notable preservationists or archaeologists of the day, famous across our desert Southwest, were Adolph Bandelier, Alfred Kidder, Neil Judd and Jess Nusbaum.

Hewett was also instrumental in the founding of Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park.  In 1907 he helped establish and was the first director of the School of American Archaeology in Santa Fe.  In 1909 he established the Museum of New Mexico as the education and public outreach division of the school—all before New Mexico became a state in 1912.

The year-long 75th anniversary celebration, honoring Hewett, his peers and latter-day leaders of state parks, was set in motion by José Cisneros, director of New Mexico State Monuments, as an educational tool to lure both adults and young people into the monuments for the purpose of learning about their heritage.  Cisneros selected the re-dedication of Coronado State Monument as the kick-off event because the recent renovation naturally focused attention on the historic events that happened there. 

Those who attended the re-dedication, sponsored by a new support group, Friends of Coronado State Monument, discovered that the Pueblo Revival style John Gaw Meem Visitor Center had acquired a modern heating and cooling system and a state of the art sewage system.  New viga ends were added, replacing rotted ones.  Most important to art buffs was the renovation of the Kuaua Room, including updated lighting.  The room contains some of the treasured kiva murals discovered during 1935 excavation work by archaeologist Gordon Vivian.

Vivian and his crew knew they had found something extraordinary when an uplifted hand and a portion of a mask painted on a layer of plaster in a kiva became visible.  The figure was one of hundreds, dating to the 16th century, that appeared on the kiva walls as excavation progressed.  Today the delicate murals, moved to the visitor center and other locations for preservation purposes, are regarded as among the finest examples of prehistoric mural art in the United States.

The Kuaua story at the site, in fact, is so compelling compared to Coronado’s short stay that had the monument been opened at any  time other than on the 400th anniversary of Coronado’s expedition, it would likely have been named “Kuaua.”

The village was occupied by generations of Kuauans who began building the multi-storied village in the early 1300s.  By the 1500s, 1200 rooms of adobe construction connected together to form the village, one of about a dozen Tiwa-speaking sites located along a 30-mile corridor on the Rio Grande.  The villages held  a strategic position on the pre-European trails that utilized  the river resources, and were a superb  zone for prehistoric commerce. 

But in February, 1540, an event occurred that would permanently change the way of life for the Kuaua, their neighbors on the Rio Grande, and beyond.  About 1400 miles to the south, an army led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado departed the frontier town of Compostela, Mexico, in search of the legendary Seven Cities of Cíbola.

The Coronado expedition spent two winters, 1540-41 and 1541-42, and left in the spring of 1542.  The Coronado party was initially welcomed, but acts of brutality by the Europeans and resultant retaliation by the Tiwa people ultimately resulted in warfare and the Kuaua way of life was never the same, despite a respite from European contact until the late 16th century, when Spanish exploration resumed. 

Much of what is known about Kuaua is the result of historical records, including Spanish journals written by members of the Coronado expedition.  Other vital information came from the late 19th and early 20th century excavations and from oral histories by modern descendants of the Tiguex people.

Rio Grande, just east of the monument.

Members of both nearby Sandia Pueblo, whose original language is Tiwa, and Santa Ana Pueblo, whose original language is Keresian, claim ties to Kuaua, and often appear at special events at the monument.

Today’s visitor will find a walking trail behind the visitor center that goes through some of the restored ruins, including a reconstructed kiva, where artifacts from a hands-on teaching collection can be held.  This is part of the monument’s effort to educate school children about their history.

To promote education, Cisneros said special 75th  anniversary events will be held throughout 2006 at each of the six monuments in New Mexico’s system, including the three units situated along El Camino Real.  In addition to Coronado, there is Fort Selden, near Las Cruces, and the newly-opened El Camino Real International Heritage Center, between Truth or Consequences and Socorro.

“When you put children, or adults for that matter, in an historic setting, all the senses kick in and what is learned is not soon forgotten,” said Cisneros, who during his career has served as superintendent of such historic sites as San Antonio Missions, Bandelier and Gettysburg.  “It’s easier to learn about the Kuaua when you stand inside a kiva, rather than when you read about a kiva in a textbook. 

“The real trick is getting them there,” Cisneros noted.  “Special events such as the Coronado re-dedication are helpful.  Working closely with teachers is important, too.”

For additional information, contact:
Coronado State Monument
(10 miles north of Albuquerque)
485 Kuaua Road
Bernalillo, New Mexico 87004
Contact: Scott Smith

Seven Cities of Cíbola
Coronado National Memorial
Francisco Vázquez de Coronado


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