Points of Interest: History, Conservation & Culture in Santa Fe, NM

The landscape and ecology of Santa Fe Canyon have played a continual role in the history New Mexico’s capital city since its initial habitation by the early Native Pueblo People. The topographical character of the canyon defines one of the major sources for the Santa Fe watershed. www.santafewatershed.org Generations of later residents continued to rely upon this ecosystem for their agriculture and subsistence lifestyles. The river that finds its origins in the Canyon runs down to the City and all the way through the traditional villages of Agua Fria and La Cienega, on to La Bajada and Cochiti Pueblo, then to its eventual confluence with the Rio Grande. Although Santa Fe’s population has inhabited the upper Canyon for many years, it remains an intact ecosystem corridor for deer, bear and other wildlife.

Audubon Society, pictured above

At the end of the road reaching into Santa Fe Canyon, you will find the Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary, grounds for the local Audubon offices and its network of trails exploring the surrounding foothills and the pinon/juniper ecosystem. www.nm.audubon.org   



The canyon is an excellent environment for bird watching. You can download a pdf  version of the Audubon’s new guide by clicking this Birding Santa Fe Canyon button.


The Davey Estate

While at the Audubon Center, you can also visit the restored home and studio of painter Randall Davey, one of Santa Fe’s cherished artists in the early half of the 1900’s. This home was built on the site of one of Santa Fe’s earliest sawmills, which provided lumber and timbers  for the construction of the original Fort Marcy  in 1846, at the foot of Bishop Lodge Road. Now restored to a state reminiscent of Davey’s time, it is decorated with his paintings and period furniture. Docent led tours are offered at the home by the Audubon Society. www.nm.audubon.org

 The Nature Conservancy

Adjacent to the Sanctuary you can check out the restoration efforts of the Nature Conservancy in the watershed. www.nature.org Although Santa Fe links its existence to the health of the watershed ecosystems, generations of un-enlightened practices have had their adverse affects. The Nature Conservancy is an avid partner in the task of maintaining the stability of these ecosystems, working with the City of Santa Fe in optimizing and protecting these vital resources. From this point in the Canyon down to Santa Fe’s Water History Park- a building currently undergoing a historic restoration, residents strive to maintain the health of the precious ecosystem to which the city owes its survival.

Water History Park and Museum

At the base of what we know as Apodaca Hill, directly across from Cristo Rey Church, there is a beautiful park. Nestled in among the tall conifers is a building which housed Santa Fe’s first and only hydro-electric plant. Built between 1894 and 1895, (see newsletter from summer 2007) this facility provided the first electrical power in Santa Fe. Employing gravity to generate force, water was released from a holding reservoir located above on Talaya Hill, and piped down to be focused onto a large Pelton Wheel that in turn operated a turbine to generate the electricity. Afterward the water flowed into the adjacent reservoir through a slough located roughly under the current sidewalk to the east of the building to be held in supply for Santa Fe’s residents. While the park is open to the public, the building remains closed pending restoration. Plans are in the works for creating interpretive exhibitions within the building and throughout the park highlighting the history of water use in the city.

Cristo Rey Church

 A stone’s throw from the Water History Park is a classic example of Pueblo Revival architecture which was built in the 1930’s by John Gaw Meem, renowned Designer and Preservationist. The church’s altar screen is a forty foot tall stone retablo carved by Bernardo Miera Y Pacheco in 1760. This relic of Santa Fe’s Colonial Period was salvaged from the demolition of one of the Spanish’s first chapels, known as La Castrense, which stood near the present Plaza in downtown Santa Fe.

 The Acequia Madre

In the time of the first Spanish Colonists, a network of irrigation was over-layed onto the landscape of Santa Fe. Inhabitants derived their subsistence and security from the water carried in these ditches. Access to the water was for all, to be insured by a Mayordomo who oversaw engineering and maintenance carried out by the parciantes (or users by share). The Acequia Madre is one of  a small number of ditches still in use today. It’s source is found in the middle upper Santa Fe Canyon. Up until current times, water was conveyed through this network for agriculture and domestic use all the way to Agua Fria Village and beyond.