When the village of Las Trampas was established around 1751 it was initially considered too small to have its own resident priest, so Franciscans from the nearby Picuris Pueblo ministered to the faithful here. But around twenty years later a new church, dedicated to Saint Joseph, was built, being completed around 1776. It is considered possibly the finest example of early mission churches in New Mexico and has even been called "the most perfectly preserved church in the United States." Unsurprisingly it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
The church is well maintained, with its thick adobe walls coated with a fresh coat of mud every year, and its chunky bell towers recently restored. Its most striking external feature is the balcony that runs across the front, above the main door, seen clearly in my second photo. Experts disagree as to its purpose. Some say it was for the choir to perform during outdoor ceremonies, but others are less sure. The reason for the ladders propped on it is also uncertain.
Unfortunately the church is rarely open, and we weren’t lucky enough to find it so. Such a shame, as a photo I found on a photography website shows – have a look at this image of the beautiful altar which was carved and painted in the late 1700s.
A few miles north of Las Trampas Highway 76 meets Highway 75 and turns to the right. If at this point you instead turn left you will come to Picuris Pueblo, one of the more open pueblos in the area. Visitors are welcomed to a small museum telling the story of the pueblo, although this was closed on the day we were there – possibly because it was a Sunday, or possibly because it was already quite late in the season. But even with the museum closed the village is still worth a detour. There is a pretty lake, Tu-Tah Lake, with a few picnic tables set out on its shore, where we ate our lunch while watching a couple of local men, and a small boy, fish on the far side. The lake is stocked and I imagine permits could be got from the visitor centre/museum - when it is open.
There is also an attractive church, dedicated to San Lorenzo. This collapsed in 1989 due to water damage (to which adobe is prone if not properly maintained) but has been painstakingly rebuilt over an eight year period by hand by pueblo members, who followed exactly the form of the original 1776 design.
According to our Moon Handbook the pueblo maintains a herd of bison but sadly none were in evidence when we visited, or at least not within the area immediately around the village.