Peñasco is one of the largest historical villages in the mountains south of Taos.
It has been home to the local Native Americans, Picuris, since time immemorial.
Spanish men adventurers and missionaries arrived in the early seventeenth century and married into the local indigenous families. Their descendants continue to farm and raise animals through the present day.
More recently, people from other areas of the US - and the world - have settled in the area, drawn by the beautiful scenery, climate, and rich culture.
Peñasco through the ages
Beginnings and geology...
Peñasco (which means 'Rocky' in the local Spanish dialect) is characterized by its llanos and lush valley. Peñasco's elevation is 7,685 feet, and it sits at the foot of the beautiful Jicarita Peak - which is 12,835 feet in elevation. The area is rich in geological history, and attracts students and 'rock hounds' from across the US. As you drive or hike in the area, you'll notice an abundance of rounded boulders. These were formed millenia ago when the area was covered with glaciers which carried rocks along and wore them smooth. In more recent history, minerals were mined locally, including : pink muscovite, lapidolite, schist, quartz, biotite, calcite, in the Harding Mine site and vicinity. For a Harding Mine Permit and Release call 505 277 4204
Picuris Pueblo: One of the oldest continually occupied settlements in North America - a northern Tiwa (part of the Tanoan language family) speaking community, Picuris Pueblo sits on the western slopes of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
The people moved to their current site in approximately 1250.from the Pot Creek area, which is a few miles south of Taos, on the High Road. Traces of their original settlement can still be seen there. The reasons are unclear, but Pot Creek may not have been as defensible from frequent raids by the Plains Indians in the east.
The Picuris' own name for their pueblo is Pinguiltha, meaning "mountain warrior place" or "mountain pass place."
When the Spanish first arrived, Don Juan de Oñate originally named the pueblo Pikuria—'those who paint'.
As withTaos Pueblo, the people of Picurís were influenced by Plains Indian culture, particularly the Apaches.
The pueblo was visited by the Coronado expedition in 1540 and in 1598 Oñate established the San Lorenzo de Picurís Mission. It is believed that the original church was built soon after 1620 and by 1629 San Lorenzo was an important mission.
Tu-pa-tu the pueblo governor was heavily involved in organizing the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and, after succeeding Po-pé (the main leader of the revolt) he went on to become a powerful and influential chieftain.
The Picuris abandoned their pueblo in 1680 but soon after 1692 (following the reconquest by De Vargas) the pueblo was rebuilt on or near the old site.
Picurís was once one of the largest Tiwa pueblos, but as of the 2000 census, the 1,801 registered tribal members were scattered across the US and only 86 of them lived on the Pueblo. There is still great pride in being a tribal member and continuing the tribal traditions.
Spanish Settlements and Agricultural Traditions
According to local historical documents, Peñasco was 'founded' in 1796, with three small Spanish settlements.
The first immigrants brought with them agricultural traditions and animals, including the churro sheep that were so important for their fleeces and meat. Interestingly, records indicate that no women or families were brought from Spain, and the original settlers intermarried with the Picuris people to start the family lines that still exist today.
The first farmers melded their Spanish and north African irrigation methods with those of the pueblo Indians, and established the first acequia systems in New Mexico. The acequias and governance systems are still in use today, and are the oldest form of self-government in the country. You can read more about this interesting history here.
In the late 1960s young people arrived from other areas of the US, and Llano San Juan - just outside Peñasco - became the center for the southwest Hog Farm - a commune for artists, musicians, farmers, and other alternative lifestyles. Some of the original residents still live in the area, and have fascinating stories to tell of their - often hard - experiences eking a living from the land and working to be self-sufficient.
More recently people with familial roots here are returning to live in the Peñasco valley, joining newcomers who are attracted to this beautiful area. Ancestral homes are being restored and revitalized, and there's a huge contribution of new skills and energy to the community.