Touring N.M.

Cruise the Salt Missions Trail

Along the Salt Missions Trail, we discovered Laguna del Perro, a salt bed east of Willard that has been mined for centuries.
Jon Knudsen, March 2018

It was late morning on Super Bowl Sunday when MaryAnn and I pulled out of our driveway and headed for Tijeras Canyon. Our destination was the Salt Missions Trail, a 140-mile loop that features old Route 66 on the north end and the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument on the south.

We blew through Tijeras and Edgewood on 66 and were halfway to Moriarty when we pulled over for the Midway Trading Post, an abandoned vestige of Route 66 western exotica with “Indian Curios” written in letters big enough to see while barreling through the high plains. Next to it was a smashed up steel boxcar adorned with a very big New Mexico 66 highway emblem. A smaller sign read, “I drove retribution road!”—a story so complicated I can only urge you to Google “retribution road nm” for details.

From Moriarty, our Salt Missions Trail went due south on Highway 41. I had heard there were some salt beds east of Estancia, but I didn’t see any. We started down a ranch road towards what looked to be a depression and escarpment, but the road petered out at a corral. We turned our 4Runner around slowly so as not to rile the twenty or so cows wandering around us.

We continued south. Our old map showed dry lake beds east of the town of Willard. Highway 41 t-boned at US 60. To the west is Mountainair — to the east, Willard two miles away. We turned east. About 5 miles past Willard we came to a huge dry lake bed known as Laguna del Perro. During the Pleistocene Era this lake was 150 feet deep. It eventually evaporated leaving salt beds that have been mined for thousands of years.

These dry, white lake beds are how the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument got its name: “Salinas” means saltworks in Spanish. Both the pueblos and missions mined, used and traded salt.

We made the 25-mile run to Gran Quivera down Highway 55 from Mountainair before heading home. All these missions are so beautiful, but we decided to forgo stopping at either Quarai or Abo on this trip. After all, the trip back would be a slow drive up the back side of the Manzano Mountains. And one more thing — the Super Bowl started at 6:30.

Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired teacher at UNM. Email him at


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