History & Culture

Tributary of the Rio Grande

Tributary of the Rio Grande

The Rio Grande Flows Through It

Within the heritage area boundaries are many significant historic sites and a cultural landscape that reflects long settlement of the region. These include Taos Pueblo-a World Heritage Site-and other American Indian and Spanish Colonial places designated as National Historic Landmarks, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and/or the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties.

Toward the end of the Ice Age, families of hunters came to the Northern Rio Grande high country and found huge mammoths and other animals to scavenge and smaller animals to hunt.

The Rio Grande rolled on as climate moderated and temperatures rose. Over the course of thousands of years, the landscape changed as water wore down the steep mountain slopes. The great dissected whole came to host herds of elk, mule deer, even bison and pronghorn antelope as the waters filled with trout that fed raptors and other animals.Groups of families of hunters and gatherers returned to different sites at different times to hunt, gather, and then farm.

As farming became more important, villages grew larger and more complex. Over hundreds of years, the landscape near the rivers was blanketed with fields of corn, beans, squash, cotton, and other crops.

Then the first Spanish explorer came to the Northern Rio Grande. His return to Mexico City opened the way for dozens of explorers, hundreds of settlers, and livestock. The seeds of wheat and shoots of grapevines also arrived along with a complex of irrigation techniques that forever changed the daily activities and cultural practices of native villagers.

Eventually, the area passed from Spain to Mexico after it won independence. Later yet, English law confronted Spanish law in the division of lands and recognition of land and water rights. Yet the old traditions continue today, unbroken, from farming with acequia irrigation on Tribal lands and Spanish land grants to fiestas, feast days, and religious observations in native languages and 18th century Spanish.

The reason for the Rio Grande National Heritage Area is to conserve and protect these traditions.

The Rio Grande rolls on into the future...

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