Coronado Expedition

From Cibola To Quivira

by Jay W. Sharp

It was late August in that fateful year, 1540. Coronado, with his advance guard, had conquered the province of the Seven Cities of Cibola, which turned out to be, not the hoped-for kingdoms of gold and silver, but rather the Zuni Puebloan villages of earth and stone. He had sent Pedro de Tovar to investigate another province of seven cities, which also turned out to be, not kingdoms of gold and silver, but rather Puebloan – in this case, Hopi – villages of earth and stone. Meanwhile, he knew, his expedition’s main column, with more than 1000 people and several thousand head of livestock, was advancing slowly but steadily up the trail from Culiacan to overtake him with a high expectation of getting rich. He hoped that new supplies, transported on three vessels captained by Hernando Alarcon, would soon reach him somehow from the Gulf of California. He had dispatched Melchior Diaz to solidify the Spanish grip on the new settlement – San Hieronimo de los Corazones – in the central Sonoran Desert then to hurry on westward in an ill-fated search for Alarcon’s ships along the coast of the gulf. He had sent Garcia Lopez de Cardenas to investigate stories of a large people and a great river—a march which would lead to the discovery of the Grand Canyon.

Lures to the East

By now, Coronado and his conquistadors had occupied the Cibolan community of Hawikuh for six weeks. "The Seven Cities are seven little villages…" Coronado wrote in disappointment to Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza on August 3. "They are all within a radius of 5 leagues." He summoned the Cibolans, whom he described as "fairly large" and "quite intelligent," to submit to the Spanish monarchy and convert to Catholicism. He invited visits by the "lords" of more distant Puebloan villages. He inquired about other settlements in the region, hoping to learn of empire and treasure. "As far as I can judge," he told Mendoza, "it does not appear to me that there is any hope of getting gold or silver, but I trust in God that, if there is any, we shall get our share of it…"

As the weeks passed, he learned of pueblos to the east, many of the them located along a river the Spanish would someday name the "Rio Grande" – the "Great River" – and as August drew to a close, he welcomed two visitors—a striking young chief he would call "Bigotes" (Whiskers) and an aging tribal governor he would call "Cacique" (Boss). He learned that the two had come from Cicuye (now known as "Pecos"), a large and important pueblo and trading center in the east, beyond the Rio Grande. He accepted their extended hand of friendship and their gifts from Pecos. He gave them the hospitality of his newly conquered Zuni village and gifts from Mexico and Spain. He learned more about the villages to the east and the "cattle" (the bison, or buffalo) of the Great Plains.

Coronado Expedition

Intrigued by what he heard, Coronado dispatched Hernando de Alvarado and some 20 conquistadors and a friar to accompany Bigotes and Cacique back to Pecos. He charged Alvarado with scouting the eastern Puebloan provinces and the great buffalo plains. He hoped for new clues which would lead him to the elusive kingdoms of gold and silver.

Guided by Bigote and Cacique, Alvarado followed a trail which ran eastward, across a rugged mal pais, the great lava flow in west-central New Mexico; past the Acoma Pueblo, a spectacular village atop a towering mesa; and to a Rio Grande Puebloan province, the Tiguex villages near today’s Albuquerque and Bernalillo. With Bigotes and Cacique, Alvarado followed the Rio Grande as far upstream as Taos. He returned downstream to Tiguex then headed eastward, guided by Bigotes and Cacique over a trail now unknown, to Pecos, located along the upper reaches of the Pecos River. From there, with new guides whom he called "The Turk" and "Sopete," Alvarado followed the Pecos River for some miles downstream. He crossed to the Canadian River and followed it downstream to the western edge of the Llano Estacado and the Great Plains, where he encountered the buffalo.

Before Alvarado left the Rio Grande, he dispatched a courier to report to Coronado, encouraging the general to bring the expedition to the Tiguex province for the winter. "…there are twelve villages," he wrote. "The houses are of earth, two stories high; the people have a good appearance, more like laborers than a warlike race; they have a large food supply of corn, beans, melons, and fowl in great plenty; they clothe themselves with cotton and the skins of cows and dress of the feathers of the fowls…"

When they reached the Great Plains, guided by The Turk and Sopete – two plains Indians who had been captured and enslaved by Bigotes and Cacique – Alvarado and his party felt all but overwhelmed by the immense buffalo herds. They were "…the most monstrous beasts ever seen or read about," he said. "…I do not know what to compare them with unless it be the fish in the sea…because the plains were covered with them."

If Alvarado felt impressed by the buffalo, he would be stunned by the stories spun by one of his guides—The Turk, a Turkish-looking plains Indian who had been captured and enslaved by Bigotes and Cacique. To the northeast, said The Turk, lay a land called "Quivira," a province with kingdoms of gold and silver. In fact, The Turk claimed, he himself had once owned a golden bracelet from Quivira, but he had had been forced to forfeit the ornament to his captors, Bigotes and Cacique, who still held it.

Alvarado’s enthusiasm for buffalo evaporated like a drop of rain on a hot summer day in the desert. Enthralled by another opportunity for treasure, he rushed back to Pecos, where he demanded that Bigotes and Cacique turn over the golden bracelet immediately. As a conquistador, he simply felt entitled to the bracelet. The two chiefs said they knew absolutely nothing about such an ornament. Denied his entitlement, Alvarado clamped manacles on Bigotes, Cacique, The Turk and Sopete. Over the protests of the people of Pecos – until now, accommodating hosts of the Spaniards – he marched the four back toward Tiguex, planning to force them to reveal what they knew about a golden bracelet and a new kingdom of gold and silver. He would report what he learned to his general.

Coronado’s March from Cibola to Tiguex

Coronado, learning from Alvarado’s messenger about the relative abundance of Tiguex – in the heart of the eastern Puebloan communities – had already decided to move his expedition to that province on the Rio Grande in preparation for the onrushing winter. He dispatched Garcia Lopez de Cardenas – just returned from his discovery of Grand Canyon – to secure quarters. Cardenas, with a small party of conquistadors, Mexican Indians and Cibolan guides, trekked eastward across the mal pais, past Acoma to Tiguex. He effectively commandeered the Tiguex pueblo of Alcanfor – now a ruin near the community of Bernalillo – "inviting" the residents to find other accommodations for the season. "…they took nothing but themselves and the clothes they had on…" said the chronicler Pedro de Castaneda. Cardenas soon received Alvarado’s party, which arrived at Alcanfor with the four "guests" in shackles and new stories of kingdoms and treasures. Cardenas and Alvarado would anxiously await the arrival of Coronado.

Coronado Expedition

Meanwhile, Coronado welcomed the main body of his column, its marchers suffering from a bitter winter storm, to Hawikuh. He had prepared warm quarters and food – something at that point more important even than treasure – for the weary travelers. He digested the distressing news that Melchior Diaz, a trusted lieutenant, had failed in the attempt to contact Alarcon’s resupply vessels in the Gulf of California and, indeed, that Diaz, killed in a bizarre accident, now lay buried beneath a mound of stones on the Devil’s Road in the Sonoran Desert.

Nevertheless, Coronado would push on with the expedition. As soon as he had the main column settled in at Hawikuh, said Castaneda, "the general…took 30 of the men who were most fully rested…" and embarked for the winter quarters on the Rio Grande. He had ordered the main column "to proceed to Tiguex by the direct road, after the men had rested twenty days." It was now late November.

"On this journey, between one day when he left [Cibola] and midday of the third day, when they saw some snow-covered mountains [western New Mexico’s 9000-foot-high Zuni range], toward which they went in search of water, neither the Spaniards nor the horses nor the servants drank anything," said Castaneda, "They were able to stand it because of the severe cold…" According to authority Joseph P. Sanchez, writing in The Coronado Expedition to Tierra Nueva, Coronado and his men may have passed El Morro, a 200-foot high sandstone monolith and ancient trail marker for travelers. They crossed the mal pais, that primal black landscape born of molten stone. They passed Acoma, "a rock with a village on top, the strongest position that ever was seen in the world…" as an unknown Spaniard would write in his chronicle of the trip. From Acoma, Coronado apparently either proceeded due east or turned southeast, according to most authorities. He struck the Rio Grande downstream from the Tiguex province, perhaps at a pueblo as far as 75 or 80 miles to the south or possibly at the Isleta Pueblo only a few miles to the south. He traveled upstream to Alcanfor, rejoining Alvarado and Cardenas at the expedition’s quarters for the winter.

Upon arrival, he learned of The Turk’s tales of Quivira and its kingdoms of gold and silver, somewhere far out on the Great Plains.

That Winter at Tiguex

"…The Turk said that in his country there was a river in the level country which was 2 leagues wide, in which there were fishes as big as horses, and large numbers of very big canoes, with more than 20 rowers on a side, and that they carried sails, and that their lords sat on the poop under awnings, and on the prow they had a great golden eagle," according to Castenada. "He said also that the lord of that country took his afternoon nap under a great tree on which were hung a number of little gold bells, which put him to sleep as they swung in the air. He said also that everyone had their ordinary dishes made of wrought plate, and the jugs and bowls were of gold."

With the potential for treasure rekindled, Coronado sought confirmation of The Turk’s stories from the prisoners Bigotes and old Cacique, turning vicious dogs on them to extract the "truth" he yearned to hear. Both denied The Turk’s claims. Coronado, mesmerized by renewed visions of gold and silver, chose to believe The Turk.

Coronado Expedition

Meanwhile, with winter in full force, Coronado faced a growing hostility among his Puebloan hosts, whose help, friendship and trust the Spaniards had abused. He had displaced the residents of a village to gain winter quarters for his expedition. He held Puebloan chiefs in chains, baiting them with dogs. He protected a well-connected conquistador who had raped an Indian woman. He sanctioned his officers’ appropriation of the clothing and provisions at the expense of the Indians. He soon triggered a rebellion by the Tiguex, who murdered a Mexican Indian ally and stole and killed Spanish horses.

After a futile attempt to restore peace – on Spanish terms – Coronado declared war on the Tiguex, attacking the pueblo called Arenal. After a bloody battle with heavy casualties on both sides, Coronado’s conquistadors torched the village. According to Herbert Eugene Bolton in Coronado: Knight of Pueblos and Plains, the soldiers, like sharks in a feeding frenzy, massacred Puebloans who fled the smoke and flames. They took captives, tied 200 of them to stakes and roasted them alive. They took another 100 captives, "who began to struggle and defend themselves with what there was there…," said Castenada. "…the horsemen chased those who escaped. As the country was level, not a man of them remained alive, unless it was some who remained hidden in the village and escaped that night to spread throughout the country the news that the strangers did not respect the peace they had made…" In the aftermath of the battle, Coronado dragged his four captives – Bigotes, Cacique, The Turk and Sopete – to the smoldering scene of the destruction and death so they could see first hand what happened to those who defied Spanish might.

Although Coronado had won the battle at Arenal, he knew that he now faced a war with the Tiguex. Thankfully, at just that moment, near the end of December in 1540, Coronado learned that the main column was arriving from Cibola. He desperately needed the reinforcement.

Gaining confidence with growing numbers, Coronado sent emissaries to the other Tiguex pueblos to solicit peace, promising them that they would be "pardoned." He soon found that the skeptical Indians rejected the offers for peace – as always, on Spanish terms – and that they had gathered forces at the largest Tiguex village – Moho – to make another stand. Coronado tried, without success, to storm Moho, taking many casualties. He then laid siege to the pueblo, finally bringing it to its knees in a holocaust of blood and enslavement near the end of March in 1541. "That ended the siege," said Castenada, "and the town was captured, although there were a few who remained in one part of the town and were captured a few days later." Again, Coronado hauled Bigotes, Cacique, The Turk and Sopete to a smoldering scene of the destruction and death to witness Spanish conquest. He then solidified his triumph over Tiguex by sending conquistadors to torch and demolish other pueblos in the province and to loot provisions for his army. Now it was time to think about Quivira and its kingdoms of gold and silver.

The Trail from Tiguex to Quivira

"Through the long, cold, winter months while the army was encamped on the banks of the Rio Grande," said Bolton, "the captive Turk continued to talk about the wonders of Quivira, teasing the imagination of the Spaniards with new revelations nicely spaced, and stimulating their manifest desire to see the country farther on…"

Coronado wanted to believe The Turk’s tales. On the Great Plains, he might find an opportunity to salvage his expedition, so far, a failure. He had found no treasure at the Zuni or Hopi villages. He saw the possibility of repaying the investors slipping away. He saw his big chance to get rich fading. He fretted about a tarnished reputation in Mexico and Spain. Now, he thought, he had to investigate The Turk’s stories of treasure as a matter of duty to the Spanish monarchy.

Bigotes told Coronado The Turk lied. Cacique told him The Turk lied. Sopete told him The Turk lied. In fact, said Castaneda, "There were already some in the army who suspected The Turk, because a Spaniard named Cervantes, who had charge of him during the siege at Moho, solemnly swore that he had seen The Turk talking with the devil in a pitcher of water." How could you trust a man who speaks with the devil in a pitcher of water ?

Still, in late April, 1541, Coronado put his entire expedition on the trail into the Great Plains, bound for Quivira and The Turk’s purported kingdoms of gold and silver. According to Bolton, the column now included more than 1500 marchers, including conquistadors, several wives, Mexican Indian allies, servants and slaves. The herders drove 1000 horses, 500 cattle and some 5000 sheep. "The Turk asked why they loaded the horses so heavily with supplies, saying they would become tired out ‘and unable to bring back all the gold and silver they would find.’"

Although the precise route will likely remain forever unknown, Bolton suggested that the trail from the Tiguex province to Pecos may have led northward up the Rio Grande then turned northeast past the northern end of the Sandia Mountains, the range immediately to the east of Albuquerque. It could have led past Cerrillos, the village near the ancient mines which yielded the turquoise for the prehistoric Chaco Anasazi Puebloan trade with Mesoamerica. Plausibly, the trail led from Cerrillos up through Lamy Canyon and then through Glorietta Pass near the site where Union and Confederate forces would clash in a bloody Civil War battle almost exactly 321 years later. It descended through the pass to the Pecos Pueblo. Between Tiguex and Pecos, the column filed past numerous ruins of earlier pueblos, some apparently abandoned in the wake of relentless attacks by Indian tribes from the Great Plains, a warfare which began well before the arrival of the Spanish.

When he left Pecos in the first week of May 1541, having released Bigotes and Cacique to the great joy and relief of their people, Coronado would rely on The Turk as his guide, with Sopete soon calling the route into question. Two of our foremost authorities, Richard and Shirley Cushing Flint, writing in The Coronado Expedition to Tierra Nueva, suggest that the trail led due south from the pueblo at first, away from the Pecos River. It ascended a gentle slope onto the Glorieta Mesa, bore southeast across fairly level terrain, then descended through Blanco Canyon back to the Pecos River. It followed the right bank, to a ford a few miles downstream from the junction of a tributary called the Gallinas River. It was a four-day journey.

Probably because of heavy spring snow melt, the Pecos had "…a large, deep current…," according to Castaneda. The column "had to stop here to make a bridge so as to cross it. It was finished in four days, by much diligence and rapid work, and as soon as it was done the whole army and the animals crossed." Coronado, following the directions of The Turk, likely conducted his column due east, according to a paper by archaeologists Donald J. Blakeslee, Richard Flint and Jack T. Hughes in The Coronado Expedition to Tierra Nueva. Coronado rejected the advice of Sopete, who advised the column should have headed, not east, but northeast.

The trail eastward would have led 65 or 70 miles to Tucumcari Mountain, a peak only a few miles southeast of the New Mexico community of Tucumcari. It continued east for another 35 or 40 miles, ascending a wide and gentle drainage to the table lands of the Llano Estacado and buffalo country. With the direction set by The Turk and protested by Sopete, the trail now turned, not northeast, but southeast, into an utterly trackless landscape. From here, the expedition would see, said Coronado, "…no more landmarks than as if we had been swallowed up in the sea…because there was not a stone, nor a bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub nor anything to go by." The entire expedition, including the guides, was soon lost. Apparently, the passage trended generally southeast. Blakeslee, Flint and Hughes surmise that it eventually reached the eastern escarpment of the Llano Estacado, apparently at a drainage called Blanco Canyon, where the Spaniards discovered an encampment of nomadic buffalo hunting Indians called "Teya." Blakeslee and his colleagues are not without evidence. They report that archaeological surveys of the site in the canyon, 45 miles northeast of Lubbock, Texas, have yielded 16th century Spanish copper and iron crossbow points, a chain mail glove, a chain mail vest fragment, scabbard tip, knife blade, harness hardware, horseshoes, horseshoe nails and carpenter nails.

Evidently advised by the Teya in Blanco Canyon that The Turk had misled him, Coronado, at last, lost faith in the Indian. He now recruited Sopete as his guide. He turned his expedition to the north. Blakeslee and his co-authors suggest that the trail may have led across Quitaque Canyon, Los Lingos Canyon and Tule Canyon—drainages which spill down the eastern escarpment of the Llano Estacado. It appears to have reached Palo Duro Canyon at about the location of the modern Texas state park, where Coronado camped for two weeks to hunt buffalo. Again, Blakeslee and the other authors are not without tangible evidence. They report that "…a single fragment of chain mail and a sixteenth-century Spanish spur have been found…" in the area.

It was late May. Crucial provisions were running short after the long detour by way of Blanco Canyon. The horses were suffering from the hardships of the trail. Coronado "…after consulting with the captains, determined to proceed with 30 of the best men who were well equipped, and that the army [that is, the rest of the expedition] should return to the river [to Tiguex on the Rio Grande]," according to the Relacion of the Suceso ("an account of the event"), written by an unknown chronicler and translated by George Parker Winship in his The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542. "…this was done at once."

"…after proceeding many days by the needle [of a primitive compass] it pleased God that after thirty days’ march we found the river Quivira [the Arkansas River], which is 30 leagues [roughly 78 miles] below the settlement [of Quivira]." Apparently, if the trail, in fact, proceeded generally northward from Palo Duro Canyon, it would have led by a prehistoric passage across the Texas Panhandle and the Oklahoma Panhandle into central Kansas and the Quiviran province. There, they found, not the hoped-for kingdoms of gold and silver, but rather, simple Plains Indian villages. "The houses which these Indians have were of straw, and most of them round, and the straw reached down to the ground like a wall…" said Juan Jaramillo in his chronicle, published in Winship’s The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542.

Although Coronado saw that the "country presents a very fine appearance," as Jaramillo said, he had found no treasure. A month passed. Coronado knew that the summer had neared its end. He would soon face bitter cold and short provisions. He could see the Quivirans growing more hostile by the day at least partially as a result of intrigues with The Turk. Coronado heard that more distant villages only offered more disappointment. Finally, he, with the concurrence of his conquistadors, decided to give up the search for treasure, return to Tiguex and rejoin the main expedition for the winter.

Prior to beginning the journey back, Coronado released Sopete, who, in good faith, had guided the Spaniards from Blanco Canyon to Quivira. Bowing to the wrath of his force, Coronado allowed the conquistadors to torture The Turk into confessing that he had conspired with the Pecos Pueblo to lead the expedition astray, hopefully to its doom. Coronado then gave the order to execute The Turk, but in secret to avoid provoking the Quivirans. Soldiers put the former guide "under guard and strangled him that night so that he never waked up," according to Jaramillo. Two or three days into the return journey, said Jaramillo, "The general raised a cross…at the foot of which he made some letters with a chisel, which said that Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, general of that army, had arrived here." Coronado rejoined his full expedition at Tiguex about the middle of September 1541.

The Unforgettable Plains

Judging by the chronicles translated by Winship, it seems that the Spaniards felt more sense of awe and fear in the Llano Estacado than perhaps in any other land crossed during the entire expedition. They sensed something primal and elemental and terribly powerful in the empty pale blue sky, the overwhelming summer sun, the stunningly starlit night skies, the grassy tableland, the relentless winds, the multitudinous buffalo herds, the prowling gray wolf packs, the nomadic peoples, the towering and incomprehensibly violent thunderstorms. While the mountains of northern New Mexico recalled those of Spain, the Llano Estacado felt like a strange and alien land, threatening, frighteningly mysterious.

Coronado Expedition

Coronado described the plains as "…so vast that I did not find the limit anywhere that I went, although I traveled over them for more than 300 leagues. And I found such a quantity of cows…that it is impossible to number them, for while I was journeying through these plains, until I returned to where I first found them, there was not a day that I lost sight of them."

"The country is so level that men became lost when they went off half a league. One horseman was lost, who never reappeared, and two horses, all saddled and bridled, which they never saw again. No track was left of where they went…" according to the "Translado de Las Nuevas," written by an anonymous chronicler and translated by Winship.

An advance party nearing the eastern escarpment, said Castaneda, "…killed a large number of bulls [buffalo]. As these fled they trampled one another in their haste until the came to a ravine. So many of the animals fell into this that they filled it up, and the rest went across on top of them. The men who were chasing them on horseback fell in among the animals without noticing where they were going. Three of the horses that fell in among the cows, all saddled and bridled, were lost sight of completely."

"The maintenance and sustenance of [the nomadic buffalo-hunting] Indians comes entirely from the cows, because they neither sow nor reap corn," according to the "Translado de Las Nuevas." "With the skins they make their houses, with the skins they clothe and shoe themselves, of the skins they make rope, and also of the wool; from the sinews they make thread… from the bones they make awls; the dung serves them for wood… the stomachs serve them for pitchers and vessels from which they drink; they live on the flesh; they sometimes eat it half roasted and warmed over the dung, at other times raw; seizing it with their fingers, they pull it out with one hand and with a flint knife in the other they cut off mouthfuls…they drink the blood just as it leaves the cows… they have no other means of livelihood."

While the expedition camped in Blanco Canyon, said Castaneda, "…a tempest came up one afternoon with a very high wind and hail, and in a very short space of time a great quantity of hailstones, as big as bowls, or bigger, fell as thick as raindrops, so that in places they covered the ground two or three spans or more deep. …there was not a horse which did not break away… …some of them dashed up on to the sides of the ravine so that they got them down with great difficulty… The hail broke many tents, and battered many helmets, and wounded many of the horses, and broke all the crockery of the army…"

During the two-week encampment presumably in Palo Duro Canyon, hunters, said Castaneda, "…killed 500 bulls. The number of these they were there without any cows was something incredible. Many fellows were lost at this time who went out hunting and did not get back to the army for two or three days, wandering about the country as if they were crazy… Every night they took account of who was missing, fired guns and blew trumpets and beat drums and built great fires, but yet some of them went off so far and wandered about so much that all this did not give them any help…"

The Sad Winter of 1541/1542

With the expedition reunited at Tiguex for the winter of 1541and 1542, Coronado bore a heavy burden of discouragement and despair, according to Bolton. Although he would have redefined the Spanish notion of the North American continent and established a Spanish claim to vast new empire, he had found no treasure for his men and his sponsors, no great new estates for his conquistadors, no willing new subjects for the crown, no willing converts for the Church. He had alienated the Indians. His Sonoran colony, San Hieronimo de los Corazones, had collapsed. He saw his own popularity eroding, morale declining, disputes emerging, provisions and supplies dwindling. His camp not only suffered from the winter cold, it endured an infestation of lice. Coronado yearned for his family.

As that sad winter drew to a close, "the general went out on horseback to amuse himself, as usual, riding with the captain Don Rodrigo Maldonado," said Castenada. "He was on a powerful horse, and his servants had put on a new girth, which must have been rotten at the time, for it broke during the race and he fell over on the side where Don Rodrigo was, and as his horse passed over him it hit his head with its hoof, which laid him at the point of death, and his recovery was slow and doubtful."

Healing, but possibly with some permanent brain damage, Coronado "recollected what a scientific friend of his in Salamanca had told him, that he would become a powerful lord in distant lands, and that he would have a fall from which he would never be able to recover," said Castaneda. "This expectation of death made him desire to return and die where he had a wife and children."

In early April of 1542, a little more than two years after he led his expedition in a pageant of splendor from Compostela, the 32-year old Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who indeed "would never be able to recover" from his terrible fall, gathered his great expedition and turned southward toward home, completing an epic journey of more than 4000 miles.

Coronado Expedition

Following Coronado’s Trail

Although Coronado’s expedition ranks among the most famous in the history of North America, generations of scholars have not been able to pin down the exact routes which the party followed across Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. In most instances, they have no more than a few tantalizing clues about the trails. However, researchers have been able to identify some of the specific sites which Coronado and his conquistadors either visited or passed, thanks to various chronicles and to 16th century Spanish artifactual materials.

1. From the Border Crossing to Cibola

The Coronado National Memorial visitor center and museum, operated by the National Park Service, lies in the general vicinity of Coronado’s crossing into the American Southwest. It is located at the southern end of the Huachuca Mountains, near today’s border between Arizona and Sonoran and about half way between Douglas and Nogales. Close to the visitor center and museum, you will find an overview into the valley of the San Pedro River, which Coronado’s expedition likely followed for some 100 miles northward.

Unfortunately, the presumed trail, which crosses the northeastern Sonoran Desert, ascends the forested Mogollon Rim, and leads to Cibola, or the modern Zuni Pueblo, is largely inaccessible by car. The ruins of Hawikuh, where Coronado and an advance guard defeated the Zunis in the battle of July 7, 1540, lie about 10 miles south southwest of Zuni. You should inquire at the tribal office in Zuni about possible Hawikuh visits or tours.

2. From Cibola to Tiguex

From Zuni – Cibola – you can follow State Highway 53 east and then north, and while the asphalt roadway does not coincide with Coronado’s probable trail to Tiguex, it will take you past the forested Zuni Mountains, on your left, where Coronado and his conquistadors found badly needed water. You will pass the El Morro National Monument, the 200-foot-high monolith which likely was seen by Coronado; it served as a dramatic way station on prehistoric and early historic trails, a prominent slate for prehistoric symbols and historic inscriptions, and a village site for 13th century Puebloan peoples. You will skirt the northwestern edge of the mal pais lava beds which punished Coronado’s men and horses during various journeys east and west.

You will intersect Interstate Highway 40 at Grants, New Mexico. If you turn eastward toward Albuquerque, you will, within 12 to 15 miles, discover the intersection to the Indian Reservation Road 38, which will take you south a dozen miles to Acoma, the lofty pueblo which captivated Coronado as well his captains and soldiers. You can return to IH 40, turn east to Albuquerque, then head south on State Highway 314 for 12 miles along the Rio Grande to the historic pueblo of Isleta, which Coronado and his troop passed en route upstream to their 1540/1541winter quarters at Alcanfor, in the Puebloan province of Tiguex. Isleta would become the home of a famed Spanish mission church, which still stands and hosts services in the middle of the community. You can travel north of Albuquerque on IH 25 about a dozen miles to Bernalillo and the Coronado State Monument Park and the ruins of the Tiguex pueblo called Kuaua, no more than a few miles north of the likely location of Coronado’s winter campsite. The park museum houses an exhibit of perhaps the finest Puebloan ceremonial chamber murals still in existence.

3. From Tiguex to Pecos

From the old Tiguex province, which encompassed Albuquerque and Bernalillo, you will not find any road which overlays Coronado’s most likely trail to Pecos, but you can take IH 40 east across the pass between the Sandia and Manzano mountain ranges and turn north on State Highway 14, the "Turquoise Trail." It takes you through the quaint villages of Golden and Madrid and into Cerrillos, located in the center of the Indian turquoise mining region through which Coronado likely passed en route to Pecos. Cerrillos, which has a mining museum, has served as a set in the theatrical motion picture Young Guns and the television miniseries Lonesome Dove. From Cerrillos, SH 14 will take you to an intersection with IH 25, a few miles southwest of Santa Fe. If you travel eastward on IH for 20 to 25 miles, you will find the intersection to SH 50, which will take you straight through the site of the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass – a conflict often called "the Gettysburg of the West" – and into the village of Pecos. From there, you turn south on SH 63, which will take you to the Pecos National History Park and the Pecos Pueblo, where Coronado paused with his entire expedition before embarking for the Great Plains. Check at the National Park Service visitor’s center about arranging a tour of the Glorieta battlefield. You can follow the pathways through the Pueblo Ruin in a self-guided tour.

4. From Pecos to Blanco Canyon

From Pecos to Blanco Canyon, Coronado’s route is much disputed among scholars. If you were to drive south from the Pecos region to IH 40 and turn east to Tucumcari, New Mexico, you will see, just to the south, Tucumcari Mountain, which Coronado’s expedition probably passed. Continuing eastward on IH 40, you will ascend the western escarpment of the Llano Estacado and emerge on the flat plain where the immense herds of buffalo once grazed. At the community of Vega, Texas, you can turn southward to Floydada, about 50 or 60 miles northeast of Lubbock. On the north side of the town square, you will discover the Floyd County Historical Museum, a small and nondescript institution which holds exhibits of several of those treasured artifacts which have proven the presence of the Coronado expedition in the nearby Blanco Canyon.

5. From Blanco Canyon to Quivira

From Floydada and Blanco Canyon, you can drive northward near the eastern escarpment of the Llano Estacado to Palo Duro Canyon, a startling natural sculpture carved by wind and water in the heart of the high plain. From there to central Kansas, Coronado’s route is basically unknown, but at the Coronado-Quivira Museum in Lyons, about 35 miles northwest of Hutchison, you will find exhibits about the Spanish explorers of the region.

6. Other Coronado Sites

During the expedition, many pueblos and sites which did not lie along the primary trail were visited by Coronado as well as his scouting parties. Many of those pueblos of Coronado’s time have long since been abandoned, but a few remain as thriving communities, for instance: Taos, a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark about one and a half hour drive north northeast from Santa Fe, which would foster a major Puebloan revolt against Spanish rule in 1680 and would give rise to a thriving art colony in the 19th and 20th centuries.

San Ildefonso, about a half hour drive north northwest from Santa Fe, which would set the standard for the artistry and craftsmanship of modern Puebloan ceramics, primarily because of the work of Maria Martinez and her husband; Zia, about three quarters of an hour drive north northwest of Albuquerque, suffered devastating losses in the 1680 revolt of the pueblos but, in modern times, as an expression of friendship, would still loan its tribal sun symbol to New Mexico as the state’s insignia; and the Hopi villages, a couple of hours northeast of Flagstaff, would manage to sustain and nurture ancient tribal traditions into modern times, primarily because they were the most isolated of all the Puebloan communities. Of all the sites in the Southwestern landscape visited by the conquistadors of Coronado, there was none more spectacular than the incomparable Grand Canyon, that masterpiece of the master sculptor.

Jay W. Sharp


More Trails

Desert Trails
Trails of the Native Americans
Coronado Expedition from Compostela to Cibola
Chihuahua Trail
Chihuahua Trail 2
The Juan Bautista De Anza Trail
Jornada del Muerto Trail
Santa Fe Trail
The Long Walk Trail of the Navajos
The Desert Route to California
Bradshaw's Desert Trail to Gold
A Soldier's View of the Trails Part 1
A Soldier's View of the Trails Part 2


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