Living New Mexico history: El Rancho de las Golondrinas

Take a journey into the past at El Rancho de los Golondrinas, Santa Fe’s living history museum. This recreated Spanish Colonial village sits on over 200 acres in La Cienega, about 25 minutes southwest of Santa Fe. They are open seasonally from April through October. Weekends, Las Golondrinas really comes alive. Docents dressed in period costumes replicate life as it was in Santa Fe under Spanish rule. Many weekends bring themed fairs and festivals.

A short history of El Rancho de las Golondrinas

Chapel at Las Golondrinas, photo Steve Collins

The Chapel at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, photo/Steve Collins

The “Ranch of the Swallows” has a rich history. Much of the land in Northern New Mexico bestowed as land grants from the King of Spain. La Cienega, where Golondrinas is located, had no formal land grant. Land was acquired by “royal purchase”. The first owner of record for this large property was Miguel Vega y Coca who acquired the land in the early 1700s. For many years the estancia was a paraje (wayside camping spot) on the Camino Real, the royally chartered road that went from Mexico City to Santa Fe. It was the last stop for travelers heading to Santa Fe and the first for those on the southbound journey to Mexico.

El Rancho de las Golondrinas

The Navajo churro sheep in their enclosure, photo/Steve Collins

The Vega y Coca family raised livestock, including sheep. The wool was used to weave cloth for clothing and household items. They raised food crops and ground their own grain, first with metates and later in small water-powered mills. They made tools from iron imported from Mexico and had their own blacksmith shop. The Golondrinas Placita, the original fortified adobe hacienda, complete with its own chapel dating to at least 1710, was rebuilt on the original foundation..It comes to life on weekends when costumed docents reenact the household activities of that time such as spinning and weaving. They also demonstrate such skills as blacksmithing. Today, they also raise heritage breeds of livestock including Navajo churro sheep.

After New Mexico became a US territory, more roads were built and El Rancho de las Golondrinas was no longer a way station.

The next chapter

El Rancho de las Golondrinas,

The door to the chapel in theLlas Golondrinas Placita – with a carreta out front photo/teve Collins

In 1932, the Baca family, heirs to Vega y Coca, sold the property to the Curtin family. Lenora Curtin, one of the founders of Native Market, a predecessor to Spanish Market, married Y. S. Paloheimo, the Finnish Ambassador to the United States in 1946. They spent summers at the ranch and began to restore it. Living history villages are important in Finland and the Paloheimos decided to create one. The had the perfect property for it. In addition to recreating the original Spanish Colonial buildings on existing foundations dating to at least 1710, they brought buildings from other places in New Mexico including the Raton Schoolhouse, the big mill from Sapelló and the little mill from Truchas. They also built a few replicas of historic buildings form the colonial era including a Penitente morada (small chapel), based on the one in Abiquiu, NM. In 1972, the property opened as a living-history museum.

Living history today

 El Rancho de las Golondrinas

Mill at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, photo/ Steve Collins

El Rancho de las Golondrinas’ mission, in a nutshell, is to teach Spanish Colonel history and to infuse it with entertainment and activities that will engage people of all ages.

Visitors go back in time and experience life in New Mexico as it was during the Spanish Colonial era. There are 34 buildings, built on original foundations, brought from other sites or recreated on site. You’ll discover houses, a blacksmith’s shop, a school, a country store, a Penitente morada, a gristmill and many other buildings from Spanish Colonial New Mexico. Over 200 acres of fields that have been tilled continuously for over 300 years are planted with crops that were staples in colonial times including corn, beans, squash, and chile. At the yearly Harvest Festival they demonstrate how to turn the sorghum raised here into molasses. Las Golondrinas donates most of the food raised here to the Food Depot, the local food bank.

 El Rancho de las Golondrinas

Fresh bred is baked in hornos as it was in Spanish Colonial days, photo/Steve Collins

El Rancho de las Golondrinas holds festivals on the first full weekend of every month from May through October. The full schedule is on their website. The festival season ends with October’s Harvest Festival where visitors can help Golondrinas “villagers” bring in the harvest from the fields. There are also themed weekends throughout the season beginning in June. In 2008 a new annual event, Spanish Renaissance Fair was introduced. It’s become the most popular event of the season. On weekends throughout the season, visitors are treated to live demonstrations of traditional crafts as well as life skills and hands on activities from Spanish Colonial New Mexico. Everyone from young children to senior citizens family will enjoy these. Check their website for a complete schedule of events.

El Rancho de los Golondrinas

Los Voladores de Papantla return to ¡Viva México in July 2014 photo/Steve Collins

There is an admission charge for anyone over 13, with  special rates for teens and seniors. Festivals and themed weekends carry a somewhat higher charge. Wednesdays June through September are always free for New Mexico residents.


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2 Responses to “Living New Mexico history: El Rancho de las Golondrinas”

  1. Sean Paloheimo
    August 7, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Great article. Thank you so much for putting this out to the traveling community.

    • Billie Frank
      August 7, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

      Thanks Sean, and thanks to your family for giving this gift to our community. What a special place!

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