By Carol Romero-Wirth and Renee Villarreal
Standing atop La Bajada, looking to the north and west, the vast, undulating plateau stretches out toward the horizon before dipping down toward the Rio Grande at Buckman Canyon.
Within the wild, free-range area known as Caja del Rio, are 104,000 acres loosely overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the State Land Office. Therein lies a treasure trove of historical and cultural significance linked to Indigenous, traditional Spanish and Mestizo lineages, as well as English-speaking settlers — a truly unique cultural crossroads of the Southwest over many generations.
The dry-land farming techniques developed and perfected many centuries in the past continue to be used by land-based communities today, and still intrigue study by archeologists and water conservationists alike.
Its denizens include bears, cougars and other carnivores, as well as elk, mule deer and big horn sheep. Collared lizards and rattlesnakes rule the turf, and the skies are filled with raptors. It is a critical wildlife habitat and corridor.
The area is sacred to the Tesuque, Cochiti and Santo Domingo pueblos, with ties to the territory going well back into time.
Yet this rugged landscape on Santa Fe’s doorstep, so steeped in local history, culture and natural resources, suffers from continued encroachment. The well-publicized vandalism of La Cieneguilla petroglyphs is but one example. Poaching is prevalent. The land has become a dumping ground for humanity’s waste of all kinds.
A community cleanup day last year sponsored by local conservation groups filled and hauled off two large, roll-off dumpsters in a matter of hours. Caja del Rio has become a drinking and party headquarters, with stacks of wooden pallets already set for the next, destructive bonfire. Off-road vehicle use churns the dusty ground into rutted shambles.
The disrespect for the area cannot and must not continue. It is why the Santa Fe City Council recently joined the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Native American Fish & Wildlife Society and the Santa Fe County Board of Commissioners in passing a resolution seeking greater protection of this fragile and significant landscape.
This is an area that can be a tremendous boon to New Mexico, providing wonderful recreational, educational and spiritual opportunities for all.
We must zealously and conscientiously protect, preserve and conserve this Northern New Mexican jewel for our communities and the generations to come.
To learn more about the protection of Caja de Rio, check out the Caja del Rio Coalition’s website at cajadelrio.org. This diverse coalition is made up of tribal and spiritual leaders, Hispano traditional land stewards, conservationists, sportspeople and local elected leaders, among others.
Carol Romero-Wirth represents District 2 on the Santa Fe City Council. Renee Villarreal represents District 1 on the council.