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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEl Rancho de los Golindrinas  (Ranch of the Swallows) is a living history preserve just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It recreates life in New Mexico back 150 years ago…or maybe more. Structures at El Rancho are original to the site or were moved there from other places in northern New Mexico. In some instances the buildings are replicas of existing or former structures…you can’t easily move an adobe building.

Life was simple. People farmed, raised livestock, were religious, were largely self sufficient, were law-abiding, and they understood their role in the larger community. They were also isolated and took care of one another.

I visited El Rancho de los Golondrinas in early October during their Harvest Festival, one of several events…and the last one of the year. This is one of the top-rated Harvest Festivals in the country and there were a lot of other visitors as well as people in period dress performing various tasks or offering information. I recommend visiting the place any time it is open but during these special events there will be more activity and more to see. There will also be artisans and craft people offering items for sale and some good food as well. There is a very reasonable admission fee….they do have livestock to feed and it is a large area to maintain.

There are several clusters of buildings. Those that you will encounter near the entrance will mostly be original adobe structures. There will be a few log structures that are preserved in their original place or were dismantled and relocated. The Mora House, for example, is a full replica building based on one in Mora, New Mexico. Everything you will see is folk vernacular construction with emphasis on durability and function but with an ample supply of artistic carving and decorative touches where possible.


There is a noticeable separation in the design and layout of the residential and work areas. Certain tasks were performed close to the residential structures…or within these structures…and other tasks were centered at some distance. In the case of the grist mill there had to be a reliable water source to turn the water wheel.


Some structures were clustered together with common walls and surround a central plaza area. While far from being opulent, the living spaces were airy and reasonably comfortable.

There were specialized spaces set aside for cooking, weaving, food preservation or processing, storage and, of course, the family chapel.

Religion played an important role in everyday life. Family chapels were common. Priests were not always available. The group known as Los Hermanos Penitentes was a men’s lay religious society, a brotherhood,  that originated in Europe. The members would step in and provide religious leadership for the isolated communities and farmsteads in the absence of ordained priests.  The brotherhood maintained their own private meeting places, or moradas, which served as chapels for their ceremonies.

Working areas such as the tanning shed, blacksmith shop, and threshing floor were located a short distance from the residential areas. Livestock were kept close at hand when penned up. There is a system of acequias, dating back to the 1700s, delivering irrigation water to the fields.

Not everything was made of adobe. This was an forested area and log workshops and primitive residences were built of logs.  There are a number of corrals and livestock pens. a large variety of Nubian goats were raised for meat. Sheep were raised for wool. There are several underground cellars used for storage and preservation.


The Mora House represents the home of a well-off sheep rancher, based on an existing home in northern New Mexico.

The mill is particularly interesting and offers an example of how ingenious and enterprising the water powered milling operation could be. The mill operated from a large water wheel and ground the grain, wheat or corn, on stone millstones. There was a grain and flour storage area and a sorting area where the ground flour was sorted according to the grind — fine to coarse. The mill was substantially built — there was a lot going on with wheels, pulleys, and grinding stones turning and considerable vibration when it was operating.


The upper floor was  for grain and flour storage. A lever operated a chute that delivered the flour to the sifting bins.

Transportation of produce would be by mule, burro  or ox cart. Some exotic items were available in the area due to the close proximity of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Trail. There also were horses for everyday ranching and transportation purposes.

Life was hard with few comforts but there were opportunities for celebration, music and dancing. There were plenty of grapes for winemaking. There were roving musicians during my visit and a number of people performing traditional New Mexican country dances.

I recommend a visit if you are in the area and have a day to spend walking over the 200 acres of the ranch. The place has an informative web site with other photos and a calendar of events.   https://golondrinas.org/

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