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Communities abound in the Northern Rio Grande Heritage Area.

Española - The Heart of Northern New Mexico

Northern New Mexico’s history, culture and natural beauty invite travelers to seek authentic and real experiences. A common excursion is to drive N.M. 68 between Santa Fe and Taos. At first glance, there seems little reason to explore Española as one passes through the modern, urban clutter of Riverside Drive. However, the curious and persistent traveler will be rewarded by taking time to seek out some of the people and places of this historic, ancient valley.

The city of Española lies in the Rio Grande Rift of north-central New Mexico. It straddles the Rio Grande River and is nestled between the Jemez Mountain range to the west and Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east. Some 30 miles north of Santa Fe, it is bordered by ancient Santa Clara and Ohkay Owingeh pueblos. Pueblo Indians have lived in the area since the 1200s, maybe longer. The ancestors of today’s Tewa speaking Natives lived in villages along the Chama River and in the Jemez Mountains. They hunted abundant game, fished the streams and rivers and foraged for herbs, fruits and nuts. Eventually they built permanent settlements along and near the Rio Grande where their villages are today. The first Spanish settlement occurred with the arrival of Juan de Oñate in 1598 at Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. Oñate established the first successful European colony, San Gabriel, in what is now the United States—nine years before the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. For numerous reasons, the contingent of soldiers, settlers and Franciscan friars chose to establish a new capital in Santa Fe circa 1609. Following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, Mexican and Spanish settlers returned to the Española area to establish farming villages throughout the valley. Mexican and Anglo immigrants brought further change in the 1800s, creating the current mix of culture that is unique to the area.

The 1880s saw the arrival of the railroad from Colorado through Española on the “Chile Line” to Santa Fe, and a village sprang up around its depot on the west bank of the river. La Española, the nickname of a woman who ran a small restaurant near the railway on Oñate Street, was applied to the village, which slowly began to grow. While farming had been the economic mainstay, the railroad brought new jobs related to timber, sheep and the trading of goods and supplies.  The Manhattan Project, which built the first atomic weapons at nearby Los Alamos in the 1940s, provided an additional economic boost to the area.

With a city population today of more than 10,000, Española serves as a hub for 60,000 area residents and their shopping, medical care and other needs. An economic revival is slowing taking shape with development of a Main Street program supporting local entrepreneurs. Here visitors will discover a one-of-a-kind mix of cultures—Pueblo, Spanish, Mexican, Chicano, Anglo, Jewish and others—who proudly make Española their home. Native Pueblo and Hispanic Catholic religious traditions are seen in historic churches, arts, festivals and cultural events.

Here’s a brief guide to the Española area’s top attractions and destinations.


Begin your Española tour at the plaza, located on the west bank of the Rio Grande at the intersection of Paseo de Oñate and U.S. 84. Built in the 1990s, this plaza is not a typical city center as in Santa Fe or Taos. Rather, it lies along the old mercantile and train district for which the town was created. A number of interesting sites await you at the plaza.

Misión y Convento Museum
This is a beautiful replica of the Spanish church built in 1598 at nearby San Gabriel.  The structure consists of squared vigas and ornate corbels with a latilla ceiling in Spanish Colonial style. Its decorative flourishes include beautiful wood and tin works, colcha embroidery, impressive paintings by area artists, and dramatic reredos (altar screens) common to Northern New Mexico churches. It is open only by appointment or request. To request a visit, enter the adjoining New Mexico Regional Art Center’s Convento Gallery and Gift Shop (505-500-7126). The shop features a terrific selection of affordable, locally made paintings, prints, sculpture, jewelry and bultos, plus cards, CDs and other items.  The gallery, overseen by John Werenko, hosts changing exhibitions.  The compound also houses restrooms.

Vietnam Memorial and Arches of the Alhambra
Stroll to the bandstand and along the walkway past a series of fountains to the Vietnam Memorial and its imposing arches that commemorate Spain’s defeat of the Moors and the Columbus voyage in 1492.

Bond House Museum and Gallery, 706 Bond St., (505) 747-8535
Overlooking the plaza on a slight rise to the west is a historic home, which today houses a small but informative and interesting museum. Built in 1887 as the home of Frank Bond, one of the most successful Anglo merchants of the Territorial period, it features Victorian craftsmanship; exhibits of early Española’s history, the local pueblos and pottery; and changing art exhibitions. Also based here is the San Gabriel Historical Society. It is open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Free admission.

Paseo de Oñate—Main Street
Here you might wish to return to your car and drive or make the 10-minute walk to the next stop. Head east from the plaza on Paseo de Oñate and cross the city’s historic bridge over the Rio Grande to the intersection with N.M. 68. Turn left into the dirt parking lot of the Chimayo Trading Post. This stretch of Paseo de Oñate is still considered by many to be Española’s “downtown,” as it contained many businesses during the 1900s. Currently it is the site of Española’s Main Street Program, which is steadily working to revitalize the area.

Chimayo Trading Post, 110 Sandia Drive, (505) 753-9414
This is an authentic, old-style trading post with dark wood throughout. It’s a great stop to browse for Pueblo pottery, world famous “Chimayo-style” weaving works, Southwestern
books, antiques and memorabilia. Owner Leopoldo Trujillo will treat you to free coffee and colorful stories.

Española Valley Fiber Arts Center, 325 Paseo de Oñate, (505) 747-3577,
Retrace your route across the Rio Grande to find the lively Fiber Arts Center on your right. Th-e facility is a friendly, excellent resource for weavers, fiber artists and textile enthusiasts. Walk-in weaving sessions are common.

Hunter Arts and Agricultural Center, Corner of Paseo de Oñate, Railroad Avenue and Los Alamos Highway, across the street from the plaza.
This building, splashed with a set of striking murals, is also home to a local dance company called Moving Arts Española, the Food Hub, and other community-minded programs.


Española Farmers Market and Cultural Center, 1005 Railroad Ave., (505) 685-4842,
The farmers market offers a wonderful chance to mingle with area farm families and to purchase the freshest fruits and vegetables (including chile), fresh and dried herbs, horno-roasted chicos, lamb and more. Open Mondays from October through June, and Fridays from July through September.

Sostenga! Center for Sustainable Food, Agriculture and Environment, 1027 Railroad Ave., (505) 747-2256
This project of Northern New Mexico Community College includes a commercial kitchen; a small store, La Tiendita; and a demonstration farm. It also hosts the Annual Garlic Festival in June and other events. Call to arrange a tour.


Get a feel for the larger Española community on this 10-minute drive. Continue north on Railroad Avenue from Sostenga, turn right at Fairview Lane and continue across the intersection with N.M. 68. Turn right on McCurdy Lane and head south along the rural lane until you reach the village of Santa Cruz and its outstanding church.

Santa Cruz/Holy Cross Catholic Church, 126 S. McCurdy Road, (505) 753-3345 for tours
Your visit will be enriched with this stop. The area, bordering the Santa Cruz River, was home to several Pueblo villages in the 1200s. Spanish settlers established small ranches and farms along its fertile banks in the early 1600s. The area was abandoned following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, then re-established as the Santa Cruz Land Grant in 1695. Many important and dramatic events in New Mexico history occurred in Santa Cruz. The church was built between 1733 and 1748 and contains beautiful examples of paintings, woodwork, metal craft and statues by New Mexico santeros. It is a beautiful example of New Mexico mission church architecture and still serves as a primary source of Catholic faith, education and cultural tradition.


Santa Clara Pueblo/Kha P’o – “Valley of the Wild Roses”. Located along N.M. 30 a few miles south of Española; park near the church. (505) 753-7330
Santa Clara offers a chance for visitors to experience Pueblo culture from ancient to modern. Tribal members are especially known for their fi ne pottery, as well as jewelry and other arts, and there are many studios and galleries within the pueblo where one can buy such goods. If you can catch a ceremonial dance held in the central plaza, you are in for a treat. Major public dances are held annually on June 13 (San Antonio Feast Day with Comanche Dances) and on August 12 (Santa Clara Feast Day with Harvest & Corn Dances). Admission to the pueblo is free. Photography permits cost $5. For inquiries, contact or visit the Governor’s Office.

Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo – “Village of the Strong People”. Located just north of Española off
N.M 68; turn left on N.M. 74 and proceed one mile to the plaza area and park. (505) 852-4400.
Ohkay Owingeh, formerly known as San Juan Pueblo, is the largest of the Tewa pueblos and the site of the earliest permanent Spanish settlement in 1598. The village is home to many artisans who excel in pottery, weaving, embroidery, jewelry and sculpture. The main plaza features two churches, several tourist shops and the Governor’s Office. Admission is free, but photography is not allowed. Ceremonial dances open to visitors include Christmas events, King’s Day on Jan. 6 and San Juan Feast Day on June 24.

Puye Cliff Dwellings, (505) 927-6650,
Santa Clara Pueblo also oversees and manages these remarkable, ancient cliff and mesa-top dwellings located near the pueblo. The National Historic Landmark site also includes an original Harvey House and a small museum. Tribal members provide guided tours. It is open daily, weather permitting, except the week before Easter, June 13, August 12 and December 25. Photography is allowed.

Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project. (505) 852-1351,
This long mesa northwest of Española running just west of the Rio Grande shelters more than 55,000 petroglyphs (rock inscriptions) made by early Puebloans. Public and private tours on this private preserve are offered year-round.

Black Mesa Golf Club, 115 N.M. 399, just a mile southeast of the city on U.S. 285/84. (505) 747-8946
Launched in 2003, this Baxter Spann-designed course with dramatic views is one of America’s most affordable public-access courses. Each green is distinct, framed by natural ridgelines and arroyos. Open daily, weather permitting. Pro shop, instruction, driving range.

There are many options for overnight stays in Española, from inexpensive motels to B&B s and the following hotels.

Santa Claran Hotel & Casino
460 N. Riverside Drive
(505) 367-4900 or 877-505-4949
This full-service hotel—including suites, meeting services, restaurants, bar, indoor pool, bowling center and adjoining casino—is owned by Santa Clara Pueblo in the heart of Española.

Ohkay Casino & Resort
Located just one mile north of town at 291 N.M. 68;
(505) 747-1668
Another full-service hotel and casino complex, with a seasonal outdoor pool; owned by Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.

Inn at the Delta
304 Paseo de Oñate
(505) 753-9466
Noted for its Pueblo Revival architecture and Spanish Colonial decorative theme, this small hotel/ B&B is owned and operated by the local Garcia family. Two rooms have wood-burning fireplaces.