CORONADO NATIONAL MEMORIAL
?As a result of this expedition, what has been truly characterized by historians as one of the greatest land expeditions the world has known, a new civilization was established in the great American Southwest? reported the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1939. ?To commemorate permanently the explorations of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado?would be of great value in advancing the relationship of the United States and Mexico upon a friendly basis of cultural understanding,? stated E. K. Burlew, Acting Secretary of the Interior in 1940. It would ?stress the history and problems of the two countries and would encourage cooperation for the advancement of their common interests.?
The site was first designated ?Coronado International Memorial? in 1941 in the hope that a comparable adjoining area would be established in Mexico. Despite interest by the government of Mexico, the Mexican memorial was never created; therefore, Coronado National Memorial was established by Harry S. Truman in 1952.
The Huachucas are one of nearly forty mountain ranges in the borderland region called ?sky islands,? for they stand like islands surrounded by a desert ?sea.? This series of mountains, arranged like stepping stones across the land, is often termed an ?archipelago.? Nurtured by a temperate to subtropical climate, the sky islands exhibit exceptional biological wealth. The Sierra Madre and associated ranges of southeast Arizona have been identified as one of three centers of megadiversity on our planet.
The memorial contains 4,750 acres with elevations ranging from 7,825 feet to 4,825 feet protects the Montezuma Canyon watershed, which drains most of the memorial into the San Pedro River to the east. Very steep mountain side slopes and nearly vertical cliffs and escarpments are typical of the northwestern portion of the memorial. The northern portion of the Memorial consists of a prominent ridge that generally trends west to east. Inside the park, this ridge is dissected with numerous canyons draining to the south and southeast into Montezuma Canyon.
The southeastern part of the memorial is a broad, gently sloping fan terrace dissected by numerous drainageways. Riparian zones are most distinctive in the main drainages, but what little permanent or semi-permanent water there is occurs in a few isolated seeps and steel cattle tanks.
Coronado's Seven Cities:
Early in the 16th century, Spain established a rich colonial empire in the New World. From Mexico to Peru, gold poured into her treasury and new lands were opened for settlement. The northern frontier lay only a few hundred miles north of Mexico City; and beyond that was a land unknown. Tales of unimaginable riches in this land had fired the Spanish imagination ever since Spain's discovery of the "New World".
Such was the situation in 1536 when Cabeza de Vaca and three tattered companions, sole survivors of the shipwrecked Narvaez Expedition, arrived in Mexico City after eight years of wandering through what is now the American Southwest. Everyone listened intently to their story of an incredible land to the north comprised of seven "large cities, with streets lined with goldsmith shops, houses of many stories, and doorways studded with emeralds and turquoise!" Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), was anxious to explore this new land to determine if the stories were true.
Though Fray Marcos' report was garbled and exaggerated, Viceroy Mendoza was convinced of the cities' existence. He promptly began planning an official expedition and chose his close friend, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, to lead it. Quickly organized, the expedition left Compostela, on Mexico's west coast, on February 23, 1540.
On July 7, 1540, they arrived at Hawikuh, south of present-day Gallup, New Mexico, and first of the fabled Cities of Cibola. But a major disappointment awaited the Spaniards. Instead of a golden city, they saw only a rock-masonry pueblo occupied by Indians who were prepared to defend their village. The pueblo, well-stocked with much needed food, became Coronado's headquarters through November.
While at Hawikuh, Coronado sent his captains out to explore the surrounding region. Hernando de Alvarado marched eastward past Acoma and Tiguex pueblos to Cicuye (Pecos) pueblo, near modern-day Santa Fe. It was here that they met "The Turk," a Plains Indian who astounded them with his tales of an unbelievably rich land further to the east, called Quivira. The Turk's stories renewed hopes among the Spaniards of finding the great wealth that had thus far eluded them, however, with winter approaching, further exploration had to wait until spring.
Upon arriving at Quivira, near modern-day Salina, Kansas, they were disillusioned once again. The villages before them were nothing more than primitive grass huts. When pressed for an explanation, The Turk finally confessed that the story of Quivira was nothing more than a plot conceived by the Pueblo Indians to lure the Spaniards out onto the plains in hopes that they would become lost and eventually die of starvation. In furious anger at having been so gullible and so easily led astray, the soldiers executed The Turk. Coronado and his men soonafter began their long grueling return march back home mired in bitter disappointment at having failed their mission
Coronado, his dreams of fame and fortune shattered, finally reached Mexico City in the spring of 1542. Ten years after his return, at the age of 42, he died in relative obscurity. He could not know, however, that his courage had set the stage for the larger-than-life saga of the great American West. The Indians' religions changed subtly to incorporate the teachings of the priests who accompanied him. Furthermore, he brought back knowledge of the once mysterious land and people to the north and opened a way for later Spanish explorers and missionaries to colonize the Southwest, developing the distinctive Hispanic-American culture we know today.