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Albuquerque Innsights

A local innkeeper knows New Mexico secrets and tells anyone who will listen.

Villanueva, NM: Spanish Colonial Village and Beautiful Setting for a New Mexico State Park

Small town New Mexico. Well, that is what the majority of New Mexico is. In a state with 121,355 sq miles of space, and less that 2 million people to populate it, (over half of them living in greater Albuquerque), you can well imagine that most of NM is very rural.

If you would like to take a fun day trip to experience small town New Mexico, you have many, many places to chose from, in any direction you chose, but I want to tell you about a particular town in NM that I feel holds the essence of the culture and heritage of the state. This town is Villanueva.

Villanueva is a Spanish Colonial village east of Albuquerque and south of Las Vegas, (NM), in San Miguel County. It has the distinction of also being home to the beautiful yet little know Villanueva State Park set along the famous Pecos River. It is an unassuming, yet excellent example of small town New Mexico, with no semblance of tourism anywhere. When approaching this village from I-40 to the south, it is difficult to visualize a town out here on the plains. But just as you become reasonably sure you are headed to nowhere, the landscape instantly transforms from grassland to rocks and hills, and before you know it you are cutting through the rock hill and bursting into a picturesque hidden valley surrounded by yellow and red rock bluffs with a river running through it. You never saw it coming. I love it when that happens!

Villanueva residents number right around 2,250, or so. The per capita income is about $16,700, which may seem low, but is very typical in rural New Mexico. It’s not like they are all living at the poverty level, but rather that people in these small towns have different priorities and simpler needs than those of us living the rat race in metropolis. Additionally, not all income is reported in these small villages, and the art of barter is alive and well.

There are only 3.5 persons per sq. mile in Villanueva. It makes for very rural living. The village is 85% Hispanic, not surprising for a Spanish Colonial village. Although Villanueva means “new town” this new name came about in 1890, when it was named after the Villanueva family, (just as many NM towns and villages are named for the family that first settled or were most prominent).  The former name for this village was La Cuesta, meaning slope or hill, in Spanish. There is no industry, so to speak, but there are many ranches in this area and the fertile valley floor along the river is farmed, as it has been for hundreds of years. The sandstone rock in the hills surrounding Villanueva is collected and sold for landscaping use in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. And there IS that great New Mexico State Park, and the river and ruins to explore within it’s seclusion.

The elevation is just a bit higher than Albuquerque and lower than Santa Fe, at 5,867′. Whether you travel up from I-40 , or down from I-25, take your time because the drive is picturesque and the road is a sometimes curvy 2 lane blacktop. I have prepared a Google Map for a day trip from Albuquerque to Villanueva from our b&b. You can come into Villanueva from I-25 between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, but I think coming into the village from the south is more dramatic, (and shorter), so that is how I have prepared the route. Caution to you – the Google Map directions are very wrong as of this date, and will get you in trouble, so use the directions on my map. There is no formal lodging in the town, but there is camping along the river in Villanueva State Park. Get directions from a local or the folks at the general store to climb, (or drive), up the hill to the grotto. It is worth the trip to see the grotto itself, (pictured,) and take in the view of the village.

Also pictured is the Co-op well, two views from the grotto on the hill above the village, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and one of the many hand sewn panels from a mural in the church, this one representing the Leyba familia from the nearby village of – yes – Leyba.  Muy bueno!

I know the best things to do in Albuquerque!
Sarah Dolk, Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast
Expert on Destination Albuquerque and Central New Mexico!

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23 Responses to “Villanueva, NM: Spanish Colonial Village and Beautiful Setting for a New Mexico State Park”

  1. Chris Little says:

    The my mother was born in Villanueva, and I still have relatives there. My grandparents are buried in the graveyard there. I grew up in Denver and lived there untill I was about 20. After that, I lived in North Carolina, Missouri, Nurnberg, and traveled all over the eastern U.S., from Indiana to Florida. In ’96 I came to Albuquerque, met my wife, and settled down. My wife and I bought my grandparents house, and we will someday move into it and restore it. By the way, the population is only about 300. Wikipedia lists it at about 280. That picture at the top IS the town, except for a few lower houses. 3.5 people per square mile must mean San Juan county. In August, people roast chile, and the whole valley is filled with the aroma. There used to be a lot of orchards, and a lot of people still have a few fruit trees, but alfalfa is the only real farming activity now. Of course, some people still grow a few acres of crops, but it’s really a hobby. And there’s the fiesta every July, which starts as a parade in Sena a few miles up highway 3. It goes right by our house and ends at the church, a short walk down the road. There is food, bands, and equestrian shows. The dancing goes well past midnight… Some day we will live there.

  2. R.Montano says:

    My grandfather Abenancio Montano was born April 01,1875 in a town which is Now Villanueva, New Mexico which was once known as La Cuesta which is hill or slope in Spanish.Some Cibolaro Buffalo hunter’s of the 19th century originated from Villanueva.It was renamed in 1890,for a prominent local family.

  3. Samuel Villanueva says:

    My brother was just there a couple days a go and he came back with some picture that were beautiful.

    May God bless the name VILLANUEVA

  4. Tomas Segura says:

    My siblings and I were all born in Villanueva. My grandmother was Placida Villanueva Gallegos. To this day I have fond memories of going there to visit my grandmother. I had the best times, riding horses, and just being part of this wonderful community. I have lived in the biggest cities in the world, but this community is always with me. When the day comes for me to retire, if I can get back, I WILL!!!

    • zack says:

      Hi tomas.. My wifes grandfather was Frank villanueva gallegos. Whos mother was Placida. Trying to see who your parents are to figure out how u would be related

  5. Patsy Martinez says:

    I am so glad so many of you found my home town, it is such a beautiful place. The Park, the Grotto where our Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, Beautiful Memories.
    I lived across the street from Chris Vigil and Bonifacio and Lucia Flores. Now the is house occupied by Sally And George Sena
    My parents were Juan. T Gallegos and my mother was Gregoria Martinez we moved their from Anton Chico New Mexico. My Tia Josefita and tio Clemente Salinas lived across the street. And I love the beautiful church. I remember when they had finished the tapestry. we were cleaning the church late at night because my sister MaryAnn was getting married next day. Lots of fun and wonderful people live their.
    I remember the fiestas and the rodeos and the dances at( Crisotmo and Adelaida Vigil’s) nice dances. Down the hill the Gonzales Live. And the Ramirezes, The Torres, I hung around with Sylvia and Josie Madrid. My step brothers are Juanito Gallegos and Catalino Gallegos. My Step dad was known by the name Juan Pata. I will be going to the fiestas this weekend.

    • Patsy, Bonifacio Flores was a first cousin to my dad. Boni went to Pueblo, CO in 1953 to see my dad. They had a great time and went out to celebrate.
      My Grandfather Alfredo Flores married Virginia Gonzales and they had 4 children, Florentina, Donato, Senovia and Antonio.
      I was born in Villanueva in 1945. I have been to Villanueva several times and I miss the people and church where I was baptized.
      If you know someone who is directly related please let me know.

  6. Robert Vilanueva says:

    I had left New Mexico on April 16, 1980, and plan on returning within two years. Santa Barbara, CA is fine, but there is no place like home. Will be seeing you all soon!

  7. JD says:

    We have a little place there right in the village overlooking the valley. The little store there used to have the best tamales in NM. Villanueva is a beautiful little place that makes you feel like you’re going back in time 50 years. If you’re going to Albuquerque from Las Vega, NM take Rt 3 which goes south from I-25 thru Villanueva and connects with I-40.

  8. Simon says:

    Although I am originally from Virginia, my wife’s family is from Villanueva (last names Gallegos and Galiz). On October 13, 2012, we were married in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. It is the most beautiful church I have ever seen and the people of the town and church were absolutely wonderful to us! Thank you, Villanueva!

  9. renee says:

    My mother is Tillie Baros. Her grandfather is vincente villanueva. Her mother aneda villanueva her aunt chana villanueva. She was born in villanueva. I am 52. She just passed away recently. I would love to one day live there is any land for sale? She shared a rich history with numerous stories that still captivate my soul.

    • adobenido says:

      Our neighbor here in Albuquerque has a house that was her mother’s in Villanueva, and it is possible for sale. It isn’t very easy to find land there.

  10. My husband and I accidentally took this route to see my brother in the Tijeres area yesterday. We were coming from Denver and Google maps showed this as a shortcut. We were absolutely surprised by this little gem in the valley. We both a sort of spiritual experience as we saw the simple lives, the beautiful community, the incredible scenery. This place is what road trips were made for. I was born and raised in NM and I don’t think I fully appreciated my roots until yesterday. Thank God for this special little slice of heaven in NM.

  11. adobenido says:

    Bill. Thanks for posting here. I no longer have any contacts in Villanueva, they have all passed on. I suggest you contact the parish offices at the church there and see if they can help you. Our Lady of Guadalupe, (575) 421-2548.

    • renee says:

      Its been almost 1 year since I last wrote. Thank you for your reply. I would love any info on a house or property for sale. God willing one day I may live and walk the ground my mother once did as she was raised on and recall the many wonderful and rich stories of her youth and my roots. What beautiful people this town has produced. Anyone with a good heart would have loved my mother. She was an angel.

  12. Israel says:

    Also, my mom and her siblings received a letter from some attorneys about retrieving back the state park, but they couldn’t win it back because the government took it over.

  13. Israel says:

    Hello, My mom’s last name is Gallegos, her parents originated from this town, but they moved away, so once they decided to leave, the government took over the land and turned it into a state park. When my grandma died they buried her over there. I want to learn more about my moms origins.

  14. Terry Villanueva says:

    I found this little town and park a while back when I was on my way to visit a friend in Nevada. I was pretty surprised to see it. I told my dad about it and he didn’t believe me so I took a picture of the road sign. The only time I ever actually drove to the town, it looked very unkept with abandoned buildings everywhere. Maybe I should have driven in a bit further to see it all correctly.

    • adobenido says:

      Thanks for posting here. Perhaps you can show this blog post about Villanueva. I don’t know how long ago it was for your visit, but it was looking better and better every time I visited it a few years back. I plan on another visit soon. Are you from NM?

  15. BILL HEINEMANN says:

    Since Vilanueva is a small community, maybe you could help me.

    I am looking for an old friend who settled in Villanueva. His name is (Christopher) “Kit” Colvig. (He is known in Jalisco as “Cristobal”). He does some farming.
    I googled his name and found a newspaper article from 2007 about him in Villanueva, but have no way to find him. Maybe you could help spread the word.
    He would be in his mid 60’s now. He is Caucasian, but spent much time in Mexico and converses well in spanish.
    Thank you for your courtesy,
    Bill Heinemann AKA “Guillermo”

    • Mary Colvig says:

      Hey Bill: I was searching to find out some information on my father – Kit Colvig. Curious as to why you’re looking for him too. He does in fact live there. Did you ever get any response?

      Please let me know.

    • adobenido says:

      Mary, Try calling the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, (575) 421-2548

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