From the halls of Jose Rafael Moneo's architectural masterpiece, the Spanish Ambassador's residence on Foxhall Road in Washington DC, H.E. Ramon Gil Casares and National Park Service (NPS) Director, Jonathan Jarvis recently celebrated the collaboration of the NPS with the Embassy of Spain to create the "Travel Itinerary for the Colonial Missions of the Southwest" (http://www.nps.gov/subjects/travelspanishmissions/index.htm).
The reception highlighted the Spanish presence in the Southwest through the existence of numerous Spanish Missions dating from the 1700s and the combined attempt to turn these archeological jewels into tourist destinations complete with a bilingual guide to the history and beauty of the sites. As the Spanish Ambassador pointed out, "Two and a half years ago, Spain concluded an agreement with the National Park Service. Today we are proud to announce its first substantial results: the Bilingual Itinerary of the Spanish Missions in the Southwest..."
The itinerary features over 35 missions spread throughout Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, with such colorful and indigenous names as; San Jose de Tumacácori in Arizona and Nuestra Señora de Porciúncula in New Mexico. The missions reflect Spanish colonial heritage in the United States. As described on the NPS website they:
"... bring alive the stories of Spanish colonial missions in the Southwestern United States. Missions were communities aimed at converting American Indians to Roman Catholicism and to Spanish ways of life. The diversity of American Indian and Spanish peoples led to distinct histories at each mission. The destinations featured in the Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary reflect hundreds of years of American Indian and Spanish heritage –from the early settlements and conflicts to the creation of new cultural practices to the unforgettable architecture that became a cherished focus of preservation in the twentieth century."
These scenic treasures bring to life another time that many of us are familiar with only through film and literature. The desert lands where they sit are filled with magic and enchantment. The combination of Native American and Spanish customs, the hues and contours of the landscape and the religious traditions of the Spaniards all intermingle in different ways. Each Mission is another chapter, a different story. For a brief moment at the Spanish Embassy on the evening of October 15, 2015 we were transported to these sites by expert archeologists from the Park Service who offered insights into a wild, exotic, distant time. A land and a place filled with tragedy and suffering, but of incredible beauty and nobility as well.