Environmental History of Sandia Mountains New Mexico in Albuquerque New Mexico Essay

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Sandia Mountains

Environmental History of Sandia Mountains

The view from the top of Sandia Peak is breathtaking. Showing off some of Nature's finest work, the Tramway glides along the cable climbing the rugged Sandia Mountains presenting spectacular views of the Rio Grande Valley and nearby Sandia Crest. Even though you're just a few miles from Albuquerque, the 15 minute tram ride has taken you far away from the everyday world. As your eyes sweep across the mountain range, appreciating one geological feature after another, you're taken by the spirituality of the scene. You have discovered what every Pueblo Indian knows, that this is indeed a sacred space. At the same time, you understand too why Robert Nordhaus was inspired to build the Sandia Peak Tramway to share this picturesque bounty with millions of tourists. For Sandia Mountains, past and present, is a place where residents and tourists, Native Americans and nature lovers, all share a special bond with their surroundings.

As impressive an engineering marvel as the Tramway is, it is easily eclipsed by Nature's stunning handiwork. Sandia Peak offers visitors dramatic views from its 10, 678-foot summit. Composed of jagged granite spires, cliffs and pinnacles studded with aspens, pines, spruce, fir and scrub oak, the western face of the rugged mountain range offers one spectacular vista after another. To the west and north lie volcano remnants. Across the Rio Grande, Mount Taylor rises in the distance. Redondo Peak of the Jemez Mountains stands out, rising from the Valle Grande caldera reported to be the largest volcanic crater in the world.

If you turn southward, looking past Albuquerque, home to a population of more than 887,000, you see the Estancia Valley and Manzano Mountains. Separating the two mountain ranges is Tijeras Canyon, itself traversed by Interstate 40 which follows the path of historic U.S. Route 66. Looking east, you see more of the heavily wooded Sandias. Beyond that, New Mexico's capital city of Santa Fe is visible. But the view from these mountains did not always include highways, bustling cities and urban sprawl.

In spite of the almost impenetrable barriers that the Sandia Mountains' western facade posed, the area has been home to humankind for thousands of years. Ancient peoples roamed their peaks in search of game, creeks and shelter. The Spanish built protective outposts along the canyons and intermarried with local tribes. The area witnessed the passage of Civil War soldiers en route to the infamous battle at Glorietta Pass, later known as the "Gettysburg of the West." Determined Anglo settlers cleared the hilly land and built cabins. Tuberculosis patients moved into primitive mountain resorts, in hopes of healing from the abundant sunshine and fresh mountain air. Rough dirt roads that once saw the passing of oxcarts evolved into highways and an Interstate (Smith 2006, 7-36). All manner of people embraced the challenges of survival in the Sandia Mountains. They left behind them photographic images that provide insight into what it meant to claim this historic region as home.

A photo taken in 1908 shows a woman and child riding in a horse-drawn buggy through Tijeras Canyon (Smith 2006, 13). There are no houses, power lines, telephone poles or pavement anywhere in sight. What kinds of challenges did these people face? We know that water was scarce, and drought was an ever-present reality. At Sandia Crest, at an elevation of 10, 678 feet, average annual precipitation amounts to 30 inches. By comparison the eastern foothills receive an average of 14 inches per year, while the western foothill receive even less, just 8.4 inches. The Sandias typically receive half their yearly rain total during the months of July, August and September (Stubbe 2005, 13). Living in such an arid environment would have kept residents close to nature, with almost constant reminders of their vulnerability to water shortages.

Transportation of any kind was difficult. Anything not grown or found locally required its movement over uneven rocky terrain. At the very least, it took grit and determination to survive in this region. More than that though, people would have had to connect to the area on some visceral or spiritual level.

In the seventeenth century transportation took the form of Spanish horses, mules and cattle at Sandia Pueblo. Even the availability of automobiles in the twentieth century did not immediately eliminate transportation problems. For example, Albuquerque residents found their way to Sandia Park in the early 1920s and 1930s, drawn to
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a lifestyle that included sledding, skiing and cooler summer temperatures. At that time, navigating the steep terrain of Tijeras Canyon en route to the Sandia Mountains posed a formidable challenge for the Model Ts and Model As to climb out of the canyon. Eventually though, following World War II, roads improved, automobiles became more powerful, and more people moved to Sandia Mountain towns (Hawkinson 2011).

Geologically speaking, the seventeen mile long mountain range is a fault block range uplifted during the last 10 million years as part of the formation of the Rio Grande Rift. The range consists of Sandia granite topped by limestone and sandstone. The mountains get their distinctive pink color from potassium-feldspar crystals embedded within the Sandia granite. A typical resident of the region probably knew only that he or she was surrounded by the beauty of nature on a year-round basis. In any case, the region's geology affected its weather and its resources that shaped the lives of residents.

Early inhabitants of the region included the Pueblo people, whose name comes from the Spanish word for "village." In their native Tiwa tongue, the name for Sandia Pueblo is Napeya or Nafiat, meaning "at the dusty place" (What-When-How 2012). The very name that the Pueblo people gave to their home evokes images of environmental challenges.

For thousands of years, early Pueblo peoples have lived in the Sandia Mountains area. In the 14th century, the Sandia Pueblo settled in its current location in the Sandia Mountain region. By the time of the arrival of Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1539, the Pueblo people numbered 3,000 and comprised twenty pueblos (Sandia Pueblo 2009).

Beginning with the early 1600s, the Sandia Pueblo people were involved in an ongoing series of battles to repel Spanish efforts at conquest. First they fought against the Spanish after decades of resentment over religious persecution, demands for tribute payment, and forced labor to build churches and work Mexican mines. Later they battled against raids by neighboring indigenous tribes (New Mexico State Record Center and Archives 2012).

On August 10, 1680 the Sandia Pueblo took part in the Pueblo Revolt that drove the Spanish from the region until Diego de Vargas reconquered it in 1692. Still however, they did not enjoy freedom and peace because Pope?, the Native American leader of the rebellion, and Luis Tupatu, his successor, extorted tribute much as the Spanish and raiding tribes had done. Several times during the Pueblo Revolt, the territory governor Antonio de Otermin ordered the by-then abandoned village to be burned (Indian Pueblo Cultural Center 2007).

Still, in spite of repeated attempts by the Spanish to reconquer the area, the Sandia people continued to return, resettling the area permanently in November 1742. Twenty years later Governor Tomas Cachupin ordered Sandia Pueblo to be rebuilt, intending it to be a buffer between the Albuquerque settlement and raids by the semi-Nomadic Navajo, Apache and Comanche. Over time, wars with Spanish conquistadors and raids by neighboring indigenous nations took its toll on the Sandia Pueblo, which dwindled from 350 in 1748 to just 74 by 1900 (New Mexico State Record Center and Archives 2012).

By the 1960s, their battles had taken a litigious turn. Tribal authorities were battling with state and federal authorities over long-standing claims to the Sandia Mountains east of the ridge. Not surprisingly, the Sandias opposed the construction of the Sandia Peak Tramway in 1966. Over the centuries, Pueblo people repeatedly showed themselves willing to fight to live in the region.

What motivated the Sandia people to fight so tenaciously? They must have felt a strong connection to their land and their culture, even while their struggles to keep their land and their culture continue today. They fought to retain what was dear to them.

Today the Sandia Pueblo is one of 19 pueblos located throughout New Mexico. At one time the largest pueblo with over 3000 people, Sandia Pueblo currently has just under 500 members. The Sandia Mountains provide the source of their spirituality. In addition, the mountains provide plants, animals, and other resources which are critical to the people's survival in this desert region (Sandia Pueblo 2009).

Sandia Pueblo comprises 22,877 acres of land, with 1,700 acres in farming and 1,900 in grazing in a climate that is mountain arid. The community pumps water from a 530-foot well and stores water for irrigation at El Vado Lake. From there, water ultimately flows into the Rio Grande River where it is fed into irrigation ditches for use by farmers. The Pueblo also leases areas for sand…

Sources Used in Documents:

Reference List

Benedict, Cynthia. 2009. Contemporary American Indian uses and tribal consultation, U.S. Forest Service, http://www.fs.fed.us/outernet/r3/cibola/projects/nepa_reports/hondo/tribal_uses_specialist_report.pdf (accessed March 22, 2012).

Hawkinson, Bruce. 2011. History A brief, unresearched history of the Sandia Park Scenic Byway neighborhood. Sandia Park Scenic Byway Neighborhood Association, http://www.sandia-park.com/History_and_Maps.html (accessed March 22, 2012).

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. 2007. Sandia Pueblo, http://www.indianpueblo.org/19pueblos/sandia.html (accessed March 22, 2012).

New Mexico State Record Center and Archives. 2012. Sandia Pueblo, http://www.newmexicohistory.org/filedetails.php?fileID=1220 (accessed March 22, 2012).

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