15 Mar 2017

Notes From the Road: A Rich History

The Peopling of the La Cienega Area

A few weeks ago, Sunrise hosted a presentation of local history by Mike Taylor, Lolly Martin, and Marcos Rosacker who discussed the history of the area from several perspectives.  Mike, Lolly and Marcus are friends who share a passion for the history and traditions of the La Cienega area.  Lolly worked at Golondrinas for 26 years and loves going through the archives at the New Mexico State Library.  Mike and Marcus are distant cousins and the descendants of the Romero family one of the first Hispanic families to settle in the valley.  Mike is a resident of La Cienega, works for the National Park Service and is an expert on the Camino Real.  Below are some interesting facts from the presentation but first allow me to provide some context on why people have been attracted to this region of New Mexico.

The La Cienega Valley and its springs were formed by volcanic activity over many thousands of years that included super volcano eruptions a million years or so ago. These volcanic flows created basalt barriers that the subterranean water flows from the Sangre Cristo mountains hit and are pushed upward to form the springs in the valley. Over 10,000 years ago, these sacred spring waters drew the ancient Clovis people, hunter-gatherers, as they migrated across the Siberia-Alaska land bridge down the western side of the North American continent, tracking large herds of game animals.

These Paleo-Indians were followed by the Archaic people, who were the first people to form into groups that remained in areas for extended period of times. These are the ancestors of the Pueblo people who moved down from Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado around 1200 C.E. And that group in turn is the ancestor group of the non-nomadic Pueblo People, who over time settled into the La Cienega area and constructed numerous pueblos in the area.

Humans, over thousands of years, have been drawn to this area with its ample water and bountiful game. Now for some interesting facts.

There were three routes of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (The Royal Inland Road) as it came into Santa Fe. The first route was simply coming up the Santa Fe River. But that most direct route wasn’t always available because flood events sometimes wiped out roads and crossings. This led expeditions to develop routes up the La Bajada escarpment, coming up from the village of La Bajada. This trail was a series of switchbacks and was actively used until the arrival of the railroad in1881. In another phase of its history the La Bajada trail become the avenue for the fabled Route 66 between 1926 and 1932 with as many as 1,200 vehicles a day (mainly tourists), making the zig-zag climb up the hill.

The third route of the Camino Real came up the Rio Grande River and appears to have followed the Galisteo River to the Galisteo Basin. The route, although longer, was likely easier for large expeditions, especially those with large herds of livestock, cattle, horse, sheep etc. The route had ample water and grazing and the trip was much easier on the animals. Some expeditions would have as many as 5,000 head of livestock. The large herds of animals would be sent out a day in advance of the wagon trains, and would flatten the wagon trails and remove (eat) the brush and bushes on the trail.

The first European-style mining was in the highly-mineralized Los Cerrillos hills south of Santa Fe, not too far from where Native Americans mined the turquoise that was traded with tribes as far away as California and Southern Mexico. Lead mines already dug by the people of the San Marcos Pueblo were expanded and modernized by the Spanish. Lead was useful for casting musket balls for their firearms and was a chief ingredient in the making of glaze paint widely used to decorate Pueblo pottery. Mining required smelters; some of the first smelters were located on the Tres Rios Ranch at the end of the La Cienega Valley where the Alamo Creek, La Cienega Creek, and the Santa Fe River all join and flow down the Santa Fe River Canyon to the fields in La Bajada and Cochiti Pueblo. Due to the three water courses coming together at Tres Rios Ranch, it was referred to as Las Bocas (the mouths) on the Camino Real.

Another interesting fact is that it appears that the La Cienega Valley was the intersection of the Tona people, which are subgroups of the Pueblo People. This overlapping of these three groups is unique to the La Cienega area. The Keres people are from the south of La Cienega, the Tewa are from the north, and the Tona people from the San Marcos area and Galisteo Basin did not survive the Spanish re-conquest of New Mexico after the Pueblo Revolt in 1692.

One of the things that came out of the history discussion, which I was unaware of previously, was the active slave trade between Santa Fe and Mexico that La Cienega was not immune from. In her research, Lolly came across a will from a well-to-do resident of La Cienega that included reference to slaves and their value.

Mike encouraged us to look at La Cienega as a cultural landscape that is defined as a geographic area (including both cultural resources, natural resources, and animals both domestic and wild) and is associated with a historic event, activity, or person, or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values. One interesting insight offered by Marcos is that in looking at the landscape now, don’t include roads in that observation. The roads in La Cienega are a recent (20th century) addition to the community.

I haven’t confirmed this but it is rumored that the famous San Ildefonso Pueblo potter Maria Martinez may have acquired clay from La Cienega to use in her incredibly beautiful work.


There’s a lot on the facilities-project plate, including dressing rooms for the Ojitos, new hot tubs planned for the southern end of the large pond below the Ojitos, and new leach fields across the arroyo on top of all the continuing facility’s maintenance. Pretty impressive, as is the following.

Big News: The Moonhouse and the Juniper Building

The renovation is complete and the Moon House will be ready for business very soon. The ramp from the parking lot to the Moon House is being re-done and smoothed out to make for easier access. Please look forward to the Moonhouse’s official “grand opening” in a few weeks.

Guest Comments

The highlight was the hike with Billy.

My strong connection to Sunrise Springs staff was unexpected.

I was treated as an adult, I could do what I wanted to do.

Carl Dickens

Carl Dickens, Human Resources Coordinator
Carl Dickens grew up in New Mexico, his parents having met and fallen in love here. After a brief stint in Alaska, the family returned to the warmth and light of the high desert. Carl was raised in the farming community of Los Ranchos, in the North Valley of Albuquerque, among alfalfa fields and arroyos. He began working at Sunrise Springs in 1984, the same year he and his young family moved to the valley. Carl remained at Sunrise Springs for five years, returning again in September of 2012. Carl is active in the local community and is passionate about the history of the area, preserving its agricultural traditions and water conservation.