In Pursuit of Wildness: Abo Ruins

In Pursuit of Wildness: Abo Ruins | RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel

In the 2009 documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Director Ken Burns spoke about the grandeur of a world known as Yellowstone National Park, as well as less familiar National Park Service areas, such as Abó Ruins, an integral part of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico.

Burns once said: “We are all co-owners of some of the most beautiful places in the world. And ownership suggests only modest, in this case, responsibilities. Go out and visit your property. Make sure it’s being taken care of. That is, be a good constituent of them, and make sure they’re being taken care of for future generations.”

Those words linger in my mind as I ride my motorcycle along some quiet highways in central New Mexico. At least once a year I travel to the badlands of New Mexico to reconnect with my heritage and explore some of the state’s many lesser-known national park areas.

My sister Elva and her husband, Robert Esquibel, live on their 40-acre ranch next to the Abó Ruins. I’ll take this opportunity to visit them and explore this area. They know that I plan to write a story about the area and they immediately offer some colorful history. Robert’s father, Nick, was a subsistence farmer and grew many crops, including pinto beans. He was also a schoolteacher and conservationist. We walk around the ruins and the history begins to unfold. “Federico Sisneros, Abó’s caretaker, is buried just over there,” Elva tells me. The small visitors center offers a wealth of history, but I can’t stop thinking about the man buried here.

The Sisneros family has been in New Mexico for over 13 generations. The early families attempted to settle in Abó but were attacked by Apaches and left; they returned when the area became more peaceful, building houses near the pueblo ruins.

Federico Sisneros was born in 1894, and when he was 5 years old his father gave him the responsibility to care for the Mission San Gregorio de Abó. Initially his job was to keep the family’s sheep from licking the old stones for salt. Eventually, the sheep would destroy the ancient walls, which were considered holy. Sisneros married and began a family of his own and continued to care for the ruins at Abó. In the early 1930s, he sold Abó with the understanding that it would be better cared for under the protection of the state of New Mexico. Sisneros continued to live nearby and care for the ruins.

In Pursuit of Wildness: Abo Ruins | RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel

In 1980, the state turned Abó and Quari, another state monument, over to the
National Park Service. The sites were combined with Gran Quivara National
Monument to form the new Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. Sisneros
stayed on as National Park Service ranger, caring for and living next to the monument. He led numerous tours of the area.

I remember Sisneros from my days working for the National Park Service. He was
considered at the time to be the oldest living park ranger. Sisneros’ lifetime devotion as a caretaker didn’t go unnoticed. In 1981, he received the prestigious Superior Service Award for his decades of work. I recall being very proud of him and his dedication, even though I never met the man.

Sisneros worked until the day he died, March 12, 1988. His final wish was to be buried on the north side of the ruins of San Gregorio de Abó. In a rare case of bureaucracy, the National Park Service honored his devotion and granted his final request.

Ken Burns’ challenge was admirably met by Federico Sisneros, Abó Ruins honored caretaker.

Facts & Info

Visiting Abó Ruins can be an easy daytrip; enjoy a picnic while there.

Gran Quivira National Monument was established on November 1, 1909. Quarai
and Abó, themselves national monuments since 1962, joined the Gran Quivira
National Monument in the early 1980s. In 1988, the monument was renamed the
Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument; it continues to stand as reminder of a time when the cultures of the American Indians and the Spanish converged.

To Do

Stop at the visitors center for information on a variety of activities, including ranger led tours, self-guided walks, picnicking, and stargazing.

One of my favorite motorcycle rides (256 miles) when visiting Abó is east on US
Route 60 toward Mountainair, then south on NM 55, stopping by Gran Quivira, and then continuing south on US 54 to Carrizozo, then east on US 380 to Capitan, then south to Ruidoso, Tularosa, Alamogordo, and finally Las Cruces.


The Salinas Pueblo Missions Visitor Center in Mountainair is open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The three park Mission Units (Abó, Quarai, and Gran Quivira) are open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. Salinas Pueblo Missions is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The park may also be closed due to inclement weather. During winter, call ahead to check the status.


Admission is free.