The evidence of human history on the La Bajada Mesa has been dated to at least 8000 years before the present where volcanic rock provided the tools needed to harvest the abundant prey that migrated up and down the Rio Grande.
Fast forward to the 1300s and after consuming nearly every living thing atop Chapin and Wetherill Mesas in southwest Colorado, the Mesa Verdean ancients sojourned east over the continental divide into the Chama and Rio Grande valleys then settled the Caja del Rio Plateau and Santa Fe. The Santa Fe River canyon was the easiest route to traverse the 600 foot La Bajada escarpment but frequent flooding often made the gap impassible for the ox and horse-drawn wagons used by Spanish invaders along the Royal Road or El Camino Real.
In 1695, “La Majada Land Grant” was awarded to Field Captain Don Jacinto de Palaez for his efforts in reconquering New Mexico. La Bajada Village was subsequently established at the base of the escarpment and first documented by the Franciscan Church in 1737. [US Forest Service]In the 1800s engineers from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway diverted its main line from the craggy promontory building it alongside the Rio Galisteo instead.
In the Twentieth Century, dynamite, Cochiti Pueblo workers and convicts carved what would become US 85 and Route 66 replete with 23 hairpin turns then I-25 was blasted through the basalt east of La Bajada Village.
The Galisteo Dam was constructed in 1970 by the Army Corps of Engineers and built solely for flood control and sediment impoundment on the Rio Galisteo because of its long history of violent floods including one that wiped out the Kewa or Santo Domingo Pueblo. The pueblo and main line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad were relocated to accommodate the dam project which now serves Amtrak's Southwest Chief and the New Mexico Rail Runner.
Cloudbursts in the upper Galisteo are not uncommon and flooding in 2012 caused serious erosion to an overpass on I-25.
In 2014 county residents stuffed themselves into the Santa Fe Convention Center to witness a hearing by commissioners on a proposal to create a new mining zone on La Bajada Mesa. Although the State of New Mexico does not recognize gravel operations as mining, proponents argued that the area already has a history of mining.
Nearby Cochiti Reservoir at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Santa Fe River is a radioactive sewer impounding millions of cubic yards of contaminated silt from decades of bomb making at Los Alamos and the effluent from thousands of upstream septic systems.
Before reaching La Bajada, the water flows west from the Santa Fe River through a pipeline traversing the Pueblo of Cochiti, Pueblo of Santa Domingo and US National Forest Service land. Below the diversion, the natural stream bed is dry. Cochiti leaders say the amount of water flowing into the pipeline exceeds the amount allocated to La Bajada’s 52 acres of farmland as a result of modifications made to the diversion structure. In short, the pueblo accuses the acequia community of taking too much water from the river. The situation offers a window onto one of New Mexico’s most pressing problems: Less and less water is flowing through the state as climate change and persistent drought tighten their grip. [Santa Fe Reporter]
All images property of interested party.
Now, the New Mexico Department of Transportation has moved the two southbound lanes to the northbound side of I-25 constricting traffic and slowing commuters sometimes to a crawl or even stopping thousands of vehicles on La Bajada Hill.
Back in July, the New Mexico Department of Transportation started the 2-years-plus rebuild of Interstate 25 up La Bajada, just south of Santa Fe, with soil mixing to stabilize the roadway and slope mitigation. That’s because the road is quite literally sliding off the hill. The almost $40 million project ($39,904,622.33) is scheduled to run through November 2024. It’s a big job on a section of road with an interesting history, according to NMDOT District 5’s Jim Murray. Murray explains “the geotechnical analysis of the current conditions has determined that the most cost-effective way of correcting the issue is to improve the existing embankment by soil mixing methods – in lieu of completely replacing the entire embankment. This soil mitigation effort will greatly improve the embankment/fill conditions and allow for a new pavement section to be installed without the current dipping/sagging/cracking issues coming back.” [Albuquerque Journal]
Today, dust is blowing off the mesa after New Mexico Gas Company ripped up ground and crossed the Rio Galisteo with a $60 million, 35-mile, 20 inch natural gas pipeline. A 12-inch line "built by the U.S. Department of Energy in the 1940s, is reaching the end of its useful life and is difficult to replace because it cuts through national forest area, including the Valles Caldera National Preserve."