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Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area

Cultural District
Alfalfa field in winter – Glenna Dean

The Northern RIo Grande National Heritage Area was recognized by the US Congress in 2006 for its mosaic of living cultures and traditions, including the Jicarilla Apache Nation, eight Indian Pueblos, descendants of Spanish Colonial settlers, and more recent arrivals from various heritages.

The Heritage Area comprises a unique mosaic of Native American and Spanish Colonial architecture, languages, traditions, and land use set in stupendous scenery and cultural landscapes that reflect a "very long Present "instead of "the past" or "dead history." Native Americans still live in their ancestral homelands and Spanish-speaking people have lived in ancestral villages for generations. The feel is authenticity, of continuity from deep roots.

The Heritage Area comprises Rio Arriba, Santa Fe, and Taos counties (some 10,000 square mils) and is accessed by US and NM highways and scenic byways as well as county roads, forest roads, trails, and paths. Public land (US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, State Parks, Municipal parks and open space) are readily available for hiking, biking, horseback riding, rafting, canoeing, fishing, sailing, hunting, etc. See individual locations for outdoor amenities.

History of Area

The Native American presence dates back at least 12,000 years but most Indian Pueblos occupied today date from the 18th century or later. Taos Pueblo, a World Heritage Site, dates from much earlier and is still occupied today. Spanish explorers arrived in the Heritage Area in 1540 and colonists arrived beginning in 1598. The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 ejected Spanish settlers but they returned begining in 1692 to a more thoughtful coexistence with the Pueblo people. Spanish rule passed to Mexico in 1821, and then to the US after the Mexican-American War ended with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The difficult adjustments required under American law are still in process, most notably in claims for the return of lands held in common for centuries but transformed into public land by the Americans, and the defense of irrigation water rights held in common by acequia associations now recognized as subdivisions of state government but rooted in preColumbian as well as Spanish Colonial practices. Public awareness of the amazing place that is northern New Mexico grew exponentially after WWII's Manhattan Project in Los Alamos continued into the Los Alamos National Laboratories, and the successful marketing of Santa Fe and Taos as cultural destinations.