top of La Bajada escarpment south of Santa Fe. Cochiti Pueblo
has shut access to La Bajada, saying it needs to protect the
area from further visitor abuse. Tripp Stelnicki/The New Mexican
Cochiti Pueblo has shut access to La Bajada, the cultural and
geological landmark, saying it needs to protect the area from further
The steep escarpment south of Santa Fe is now inaccessible to
hikers, historians and others even a nearby villager who
says the small community's source of water has been fenced off.
At the base of the 600-foot basalt cliff, blockades erected
by the pueblo threaten trespassers with hefty fines. A barbed wire
fence has been erected across a road bordering the traditional village
of La Bajada. An unmarked, waist-high barbed wire fence blocks the
road at the top of the mesa.
locked iron gate bars the road to the base of La Bajada, the
iconic escarpment that once bedeviled Spanish settlers and
Route 66 motorists. Cochiti Pueblo has blocked access to the
area, which had been used by hikers and aficionados of the
history of the area, saying it wants to protect the area from
further deterioration. Tripp Stelnicki/The New Mexican
Cochiti Pueblo's closure of the area has upset nearby residents
and others who visited the area to hike or take photographs, thinking
the land was public.
"We're trying to find the money for lawyers," said Alonzo Gallegos,
a lifelong resident of La Bajada village. "But it's going to be
a long process. They're a sovereign nation. What can we do?"
barbed wire fence abuts the traditional village of La Bajada,
warning trespassers against entering land belonging to Cochiti
Pueblo. A village resident, Alonzo Gallegos, said the village's
water source is situated on the other side of the fence, and
the residents were only recently granted limited access to
go beyond it. Tripp Stelnicki/The New Mexican
Jacob Pecos, the pueblo's natural resources director, said the
tribe wants to protect its borders from the deterioration caused
by visitors and time.
"We've lost so much," Pecos said. "The pueblo is trying to hang
onto and protect everything it's got left.
"It's been abused for a long time," he said of the escarpment
area. "There are a lot of good people, but there are also the ones
who do damage.
We want to protect our land for our future
Pecos said he expects the area to remain closed indefinitely
but that it is possible permits might be issued for special uses.
The area includes a part of El Camino Real, the Spanish colonial
road linking Mexico City and Santa Fe, as well as an abandoned stretch
of Route 66, the iconic highway from Chicago to Los Angeles. The
Route 66 roadway and surrounding artifacts were listed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 2005.
barbed wire fence stretches across the rocky roadway at the
top of La Bajada. The land belongs to the forest service,
according to a map of parcels kept by the county assessor,
but some would-be visitors suspect it was erected by Cochiti
Pueblo to protect the land. The assessor's map shows the land
becomes the pueblo's roughly halfway down the escarpment.
Tripp Stelnicki/The New Mexican
Andy House, a former president of the Route 66 Association,
has hiked the area many times and said he doesn't understand what
Cochiti Pueblo is trying to protect against.
"It's just landscape," House said. "There's nothing to steal.
It's just people hiking."
Keith Kofford, a member of the Albuquerque-based Route 66 Association,
used to visit the site frequently to hike, take photographs and
search for long-lost signage.
"I just am floored and flabbergasted they would shut the thing
down without a word of warning," Kofford said.
Pecos said the pueblo will respond to association members who
have sought information about the closures, but he added that whether
visitors want to hike, hang glide or simply explore the space, the
pueblo's primary concern is its resources.
"I guess this has some history and meaning to those people,
as well, but nobody more than the pueblo," he said.
old postcard showing an automobile on La Bajada. Courtesy
Gallegos said the barbed wire fence on his street in La Bajada
village appeared this year. On the other side of that fence, he
said, is the source of the village water. La Bajada's water system
Residents recently received a key that allows them to pass the
fence and access the source of their water, Gallegos said. That
access, he said, came with a warning from the pueblo not to venture
beyond strictly defined parameters.
"It's sad to see," Gallegos said. "This road's been open since
the 1600s, and then they block us off without even coming to us
or talking about it. They just did it."
A La Bajada community meeting is scheduled for July 15 to discuss
the village's rights of way. A memo posted on signs and front gates
around the village says the meeting will take place "pending agreements
with the Pueblo de Cochiti."
Pecos said there are no rights of way, only a "prescriptive
use" that occurred in the past. But, he said, "We're currently working
with villagers right now toward perfecting some kind of right of
way. We're not prohibiting them; that's not the case."
Past users of the closed area say they were under the impression
the land was public and part of the Santa Fe National Forest. The
pueblo said it obtained the land from the forest in 1984.
A map of parcels kept by the Santa Fe County Assessor's Office
shows forest land ends at roughly the midpoint of the La Bajada
escarpment. Cochiti Pueblo land, down and to the west, begins at
Part of the switchback trail at the top of the mesa that has
been blocked by a barbed wire fence is within the forest parcel,
not the pueblo's.
Pecos said the fence belongs to the Forest Service and keeps
cattle from coming down the road. A forest spokeswoman said she
was not sure the fence belonged to the Forest Service and would
be surprised if the pueblo had erected a fence on forest property.
Several times in recent years, advocates have pushed to obtain
national monument status for the La Bajada escarpment and adjacent
A National Park Service webpage for La Bajada Mesa encourages
visitors to drive the rocky rutted mesa road to the edge of the
escarpment but cautions against rattlesnakes, off-road motoring
and traveling down the escarpment slope.
The road has eroded and is rough, the park service warns. And
halfway down, it says, the land belongs to Cochiti, where permission
is needed to enter.