Protecting a national treasure that embodies the American Southwest

August 31, 2022

There’s a reason New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment: it is filled with abundant wildlife, vast mountain ranges, alpine forests, sweeping desert landscapes and stunning sunsets. This enchanted landscape is also steeped with historical and cultural significance linked to Indigenous, traditional Spanish and Mestizo lineages, as well as English-speaking settlers. New Mexico’s lands are adorned with a living history that speak to the sacred connection between people, land, water and wildlife since time immemorial. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come each year to visit such spectacular wonders as the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the Valles Caldera and Bandelier National Monument. These places have rightfully been protected so that future generations can continue to enjoy them, while learning about our past and its connection to the present.

Unfortunately, there is an equally important landscape just outside the city of Santa Fe that doesn’t have these permanent protections, although this area embodies the very history and identity of the American Southwest.

Caja del Rio (Spanish for “Box of the River”), spans more than 106,000 acres and contains thousands of ancient Indigenous petroglyphs from the 13th to 17th century. These Pueblo rock etchings show the sacred connection that people have had to these lands, the water, and wildlife since time immemorial. The Caja also is the site of a major portion of the historic Spanish trail of “El Camino Real Tiera de Adentro,” the longest trade route in North America that ran from Mexico City to Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. This trade route through Caja del Rio served as the gateway to the City of Santa Fe, the nation’s oldest capital city. Later this route formed iconic portions of the famous Route 66, which fostered hope for the nation coming out of the Great Depression and became a symbol of adventure, freedom and westward movement.

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