Last updated: January 15, 2023
Because of its remote and rugged locale, La Bajada Mesa is among the best preserved and historically significant sections of El Camino Real today, with well-worn tracks, swales and other reminders of travelers past etched permanently into the landscape. By far, the mesa’s most defining feature is at its southwest edge, where the volcanic escarpment upon which the mesa sits towers 600 feet high over the plains below. Appropriately known as La Bajada (The Descent), the overlook is one of New Mexico’s most spectacular natural landmarks.
Beyond its importance as a geological landmark, La Bajada escarpment is a major cultural landmark. The routes built to cross La Bajada between 1598 and 1932 follow precontact pathways across the mesa, indicating its importance to native cultures who utilized natural topography, grade changes and drainage systems to best utilize the mesa top. Following the arrival of Spaniards in the region, La Bajada stood as the dividing line between New Mexico’s primary economic and governmental districts: the Río Abajo (lower river) and the Río Arriba (upper river).
Location (Approximately 18 miles from downtown Santa Fe, NM.)
Experiencing El Camino Real today across La Bajada Mesa is a stimulating test of nature and one’s spirit of adventure. The rutted mesa road, which moves through Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands, requires a high-clearance SUV and adequate provisions for hiking or emergencies. For a close-up view of the various El Camino Real tracks taken and abandoned through time, the best, and most authentic, option for exploring the mesa is on foot.