Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chamita Walls

Weather: Cool mornings, warmer afternoons; men in village building a cement block wall along the road boundary; last snow more than a month ago, 12/22/2013.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens, prickly pear; leaves on German iris, yuccas, garlic, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, Saint John’s wort, vinca, coral bells, cheat grass; some rose stems green.

What’s red: Cholla, coral beardtongue leaves, some rose stems.

What’s grey or blue: Four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, pinks, golden hairy aster leaves.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Small birds, mice active.

Weekly update: It’s easier to say, "if there are rocks in an area, there will be rock walls," than it is to say, "if there is a need for a barrier and rocks abound, they might be used to build a wall."

In November I drove through Chamita, which is near the base of the northern Black Mesa. It lies on the tongue of land just north of the confluence of the Rios Chama and Grande. The land is the usual layers of soil and rock deposited when glacial waters were washing down bits of the Sangre de Cristo.

Later volcanic eruptions left a cap of lava along the top.

Rocks of all sizes fall down or wash out. It’s probably the source of much of the rock used in local walls.

With easy access to water and potentially fertile soil, the area has been settled for centuries. In 1541, Francisco de Barrio-Nuevo led a military unit looking for winter provisions for Coronado’s expedition. The Tewa speakers of what is now San Juan abandoned their pueblos on the two banks of the Rio Grande, when the Spanish drew near.

The men found good stores and well-made glazed earthernware. The glaze was made with silver.

Antonio Trujillo of Santa Cruz claimed he had been granted rights to the land by Juan Ignacio Flores Magollón, governor between 1712 and 1715. At the time he built an irrigation ditch and opened a field. He reapplied for his grant in 1724.

I wondered, since lava rock is now the preferred building material, if people there had pioneered its use.

The first thing I realized is the original settlements and out buildings were probably closer to the river than they are today. Road builders prefer harder, more stable ground. Insurance companies won’t cover flood plains, and banks won’t lend. What you see today from the road probably came after the road was improved.

The original community grew to 1,300 people and served as a trading center. However, by the time Manuel Trujillo was petitioning the United States for rights to his land in 1859, the population was closer to 300. Today it’s nearer 900 living in some 320 households sprawled along the roads.

The oldest wall I saw, that is the one made with the roughest cement, was along a road leading to the village.

Someone had hit it, and the damage had not been repaired. It was possible to see the interior was primarily cement.

There are walls that show the Española taste for extruded grout.

The local aesthetic, however, prefers large, irregular rocks embedded in cement rather than the rounded, more uniform ones used here.

One person did try to modernize his wall. Unlike people here who add more grout, he incised his to highlight the boundaries.


Bowden, J. J. "Town of Chamita Grant," website for New Mexico Office of the State Historian

Winship, George Parker. The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542, translator (1904)

Photographs: Most of the photographs were taken in November of 2013. Wall below was made from the cobbles we call river rock that lay beneath the lava.

1 comment:

Vicki said...

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