When “History Comes Alive!” Doesn’t Equal Boredom: a Trip to El Rancho de las Golondrinas


By Noelle, Librarian Extraordinaire

So I don’t know about you, but whoever came up with the “History Comes Alive!” tagline didn’t really think it through.  It doesn’t sound particularly cool.  In fact, it still sounds like history will be pretty boring.

However, back in August, while on our second visit out to Santa Fe, New Mexico to visit my sister, my 7 year old daughter and I decided to try out a visit to El Rancho de las Golondrinas (Ranch of the Swallows), a historic ranch just outside the city.

El Camino Real isn’t a car

El Camino Real means the Royal Road or the King’s Highway in Spanish.  When people back in the 1700s traveled up from Mexico City to New Mexico, they followed this road and stayed often at various ranches en route, this particular ranch being the last stop before heading into Santa Fe itself.  These journeys from Mexico City to Santa Fe would take months and the people would take these very primitive wooden carts to carry their belongings—it is amazing humans made it anywhere in those.

As anyone with kids knows, we parents wish that every tourist attraction opened around 8:00am since we’ve already been up and ready to go somewhere for hours.  But we rolled into the ranch—the very first people there—at 10:00am.  We were greeted effusively by the gift shop/ticket lady who pointed out that the American Girl books that highlighted the Josefina character were based pretty much on the buildings at El Rancho de las Golondrinas and she immediately showed us illustrations in the book that would match what we would see on the ranch.

History is a hit when it is hands on!

I have to say that the ranch was filled with docents who were dressed the part and were very eager and happy to talk about the part of the ranch they were knowledgeable about.  It was wonderful to see so many people (apparently mainly volunteers) who were so dedicated to their jobs.

As we toured the 200 acres of the ranch, we got to try our hands at making dried vegetable strings just like they would have made years ago to preserve food.  We got to check out cool root cellars as well.

How would you like your chiles cooked, senorita?

The guides showed us how they cooked using adobe ovens outside.  These very large clay ovens would be lit and cooked with all day long.  And hey, they could double as a little sleeping hut—they were that big!

We also got to see an 18th century placita house complete with defensive tower, a 19th century home and all of its outbuildings, a molasses mill, a threshing ground, several primitive water mills, a blacksmith shop, a wheelwright shop, a winery and vineyards.  We got to see how people of the time period would have lived, where they would have slept, how they would have dressed and kept their food, and much more.  The barns had goats, sheep and chickens to visit, too.  The schoolhouse hosted a teacher who let us play some of the typical games of the time period.

We even got to try out the stockades.  Boy, those folks of Mexican descent knew how to discipline their kids!  Hmmmm….do they sell those in the gift shop?

The ranch also offered various spots where you could get some free water—which in a desert state in the summer, you can be sure we took advantage of.   And the gift shop was filled with plenty of neat (and naturally expensive) Mexican and New Mexican artifacts, toys and sundries.

At the end of our time at the ranch, we had to say that we had learned a lot, met many friendly people, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  We wished we had known about the Josefina connection previously—we would have read a couple of the books beforehand to prepare.  Apparently you can go on Josefina-specific tours at the ranch as well.

If you go to New Mexico in the summer, be especially prepared with hats, sunglasses, sunscreen and water wherever you go.  And stop off at El Rancho de las Golondrinas—history was better than alive, it was cool!

Learn more about the ranch at their website, www.golondrinas.org

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NoelleNoelle has been a children’s librarian for over 15 years. She’s also been a student teacher, worked as an online account manager, worked in a pet shop and as a supermarket checkout clerk, and as a dishwasher and fry cook. She is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter. You can read more of Noelle’s book reviews at Rave Reviews Log
Noelle can be reached at “Noelle @ DadDoes.Com”

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