Wandering East of Albuquerque

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Earlier this week, the dogs and I took a drive to the other side of the mountains east of Albuquerque to hike on a trail in the Manzano Mountains that we hadn’t walked on for a while. Our route took us through several land grant communities that have their roots back to the days when this part of the country was held by Mexico.

The land was granted in the 1830s and 1840s as a buffer against potential encroachment from Texas and the United States. When the communities were settled, their economy was based upon raising sheep.

Being far away from the Rio Grande and isolated on the other side of the mountains, they would have been in constant danger from raids by hostile Plains Indians. It would have been a very tough life. Many descendants of the original settlers still live in the area today.

Even though the communities are less than fifty miles from Albuquerque, there is still a sense of isolation and of it being a different place. Once past the outskirts of Albuquerque the first community on our route was Escobosa. Other than a highway sign and a small church, there is not much to identify Escobosa as a settlement.

San Ysidro Church in Escobosa

San Ysidro Church in Escobosa

As an aside, if you want to learn more about places like Escobosa or actually explore New Mexico, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of The Place Names of New Mexico by my friend Bob Julyan. The book is indispensable as it has great background information and interesting factoids on every town, settlement, and obscure crossroad in the State. It is the definitive New Mexico book.

Returning to the drive, the next land grant community on our route, Chilili, may be the most hostile place that you will ever drive through. The operative word for the community seems to be NO! I’m not sure if a sentence in Chilili would be considered complete without the word NO! I wonder what would happen if the word Yes snuck its way into a sentence.

Rather than trying to explain, let me share some pictures.

Immediately upon entering the Chilili Land Grant, you start seeing NO!

Immediately upon entering the Chilili Land Grant, you start seeing NO!

Chilili even has its own flag. I wonder if they have a song similar to The Bonnie Blue Flag?

Chilili even has its own flag. I wonder if they have a song similar to The Bonnie Blue Flag?

I guess someone has a sense of humor in Chilili.

I guess someone has a sense of humor in Chilili.

OK, I won't buy any land in your community.

OK, I won’t buy any land in your community.

And yet another NO sign.

And yet another NO sign.

This sign is in front of the church. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed at the end of the Mexican War. It included a provision to respect land grant rights in lands taken over by the United States. The bottom line is that Chilili probably considers itself a sovereign nation.

This sign is in front of the church. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed at the end of the Mexican War. It included a provision to respect land grant rights in lands taken over by the United States. The bottom line is that Chilili probably considers itself a sovereign nation.

There is a nice cross in front of the church.

There is, however, a nice cross in front of the church.

Upon exiting the land of No and returning somewhat to the world of normalcy, our route passed through beautiful New Mexico countryside. Being on the east side of the mountains where there is more rain, it is much greener than many parts of New Mexico.

The countryside is gorgeous and the recent rains have really greened it up.

The countryside is gorgeous and the recent rains have really greened it up.

Roadside shrines are quite common in New Mexico and this road was no exception. Many of them are for people killed in automobile accidents and are called Descansos. I am not sure of the purpose of this shrine.

Roadside shrines are quite common in New Mexico and this road was no exception. Many of them are for people killed in automobile accidents and are called Descansos. I’m not sure of the purpose for this shrine.

Here's a closer look at the shrine. I hope the pictures of animals do not mean that small children were involved in any possible accident.

Here’s a closer look at the shrine. I hope the pictures of animals do not mean that small children were involved in any possible accident.

Our route eventually took us to Tajique. Compared to Chilili, Tajique is a warm and welcoming community. There are even a couple of shops where you can pick up a snack.

Tajique has a roadside historical marker. Chilili does not. No surprise there.

Here’s Tajique’s historical  marker. Needless to say Chilili  does  not have a historical marker.

This store in Tajique will welcome your business.

This store  in  Tajique will  welcome  your  business.

Tajique may also be the firewood capital of New Mexico if not the entire world. There are huge piles of firewood everywhere. I imagine if we take this drive in a month or two we would see pickup truck after pickup truck pouring out of the mountains full of wood.

Firewood is piled everywhere in Tajique.

Firewood is piled everywhere in Tajique.

There are even wood piles behind the church. In a couple of months there will be many more piles.

There are even wood piles behind the church. In a couple of months there will be many more piles.

What a tough way to eke out a living. But for town like Tajique, gathering wood is the economic opportunity. Think of the effort it takes to find the wood, cut the wood, split the wood, haul it into town, and then stand by your truck on a cold day trying to sell it. Fortunately for the woodcutters, there is a market for the firewood as many homes in New Mexico rely upon wood for heat. I just hope that there is enough money in it for the woodcutters to make a profit.

One thing that is always fun when driving through the small towns of New Mexico is taking time to check out the cemeteries along the way, and every settlement including Chilili had one. They always give you a sense of the community, and in New Mexico the cemeteries happen to be quite colorful and are a form of folk art.

A view of the Tajique cemetery.

A view of the Tajique cemetery.

The Tajique cemetery from a different angle.

The Tajique cemetery from a different angle.

This punch tinwork is at the entrance of the Chilili cemetery.

This punch tinwork is at the entrance of the Chilili cemetery.

This statue is also in the Chilili cemetery.

This statue is also in the Chilili cemetery.

here's another view of the Chilili cemetery.

here’s another view of the Chilili cemetery.

New Mexico is not the only place to check cemeteries. They are worth checking out everywhere. here's a picture of a cemetery I took in Massachusetts last winter.

New Mexico is not the only place to check cemeteries. They are worth checking out everywhere. here’s a picture of a cemetery I took in Massachusetts last winter.

After passing to Tajique, the dogs and I made it to our hiking destination and had a great walk. And as for a wandering lesson, there is always something to learn and see on the journey whether it is on foot or behind the steering wheel.

17 Comments

  1. Can you post this on Facebook?
    Will Hoffman

  2. Great photos and story. I haven’t been down that road in a while. Thanks.

  3. As a young boy 7-10 l had the best memories of my life without a doubt, l long for the days to come back. My uncle Chester Dow had the La Jara ranch for several years, l could write a book on my great experences through those years. l went to school in Chilili rode my horse to school and loved every minute of it. l so remember the general store in town and the old timer indian guys that hung around the store. l am now 76 but l remember that time as being the best time of my life and would love to be able to see it again. l now live in AZ. THANK YOU LYLE FISK

    • Hello!
      My grandmother was born and lived her early years in Chilili, NM. She is now 80. I want to understand her early life and retrace my families life, but she never wants to talk about it and when she does it is often negative memories of her father. It would appear she is 4 years older than you. I wonder if you knew her or her family during your years there as a young boy. I would love to connect with you if possible. Thank you.

    • My material grandparents were from Chillii, Justo and Eulalia Tapia. Being my godparents, they named me Claudina. So I’ve always wondered, they must of been close to Claudina Dow. Would any of the Dow’s remember the Tapia family? Thanx

      • Hi Claudia – my grandfather was born in Chilili NM almost 100 yrs ago. His sister married into the Tapia family. My dad has a cousin Rosa (Tapia) that lives in Arizona where we live. My grandfather’s name was Luis Rudolfo. My great grandmother was Angelita Moya from that area. Distantly we are related to the Tapias. But more so related to the Moya’s of that area.

        • Hi Jane-
          Don’t recognize the Tapia names . However the Moya’s yes. My uncle’s married 2 Moya sister’s . Uncle Epifanio Tapia married Margarita Moya, Uncle Tomas Tapia married the other sister, don’t recall her name. They have been in Merced, Ca and surrounding areas since the 1950s.
          I used to go visited my grandparents in Chilli as a child. So many sweet memories.

  4. Loved your coverage of Chilili. keep up the good work Lyle fisk

  5. Totally agree about Chililli. I feel like I am supposed to drive through it with my eyes closed.

  6. Chilili sounds like a great place to receive a great education and life experience!

  7. My grandparents, Will and Lena Shelton, lived in Chilili in 1915. My grandmother always described it as “lovely.” Sounds like it has changed.

  8. I grew up one mile from Escobosa. Our property bordered the National Forest. Went to elementary through high school with others from Chilili, Escobosa, and other small villages up in the East Mountains. Beautiful place to grow up. Never experienced problems except for dangerous roads in winter and forest fires once in a great while

  9. I drove through this area just a few days ago. The signs in Chilili led me to search for an explanation of the hostile feeling. Thank you for your article.

  10. I lived just so of chilli in the 80s the hostility was explained this way to me. when the gringos started settling the many areas of n.m. they sent out paperwork in English to be filled out by the locals claiming which was whose. many of the locals did not read or speak English so they discarded the paperwork. with no formal claim to properties the powers that be assumed ownership-big problem!

  11. my great grandfather and my grandmother and many many generations of the family lived and buried in chiili nm. Delores Lucero my grandfather name manual Gonzalez. we raise uncle Charlie. my grandmother is buried in the Lucero private cemetery. but most of my aunt’s uncles cousin buried in the cemetery next to the church. spend many years going to that little church over the years. all my grandparent children born in chilli except aunt Jane and uncle Danny. my grandmother married manual Gonzalez, grandpa Lucero gave grandma some land and then grandma grandpa raised a family of sixteen. four died in as babies buried at the church cemetery in chili. they raise bean pumpkins squash. my mom Caroline and aunt Nora and uncle Gilbert helped in the fields. then in the middle of the thirties they moved into Albuquerque, mom said it was getting too hard to live off the land. but even harder in Albuquerque. move to a small one-bedroom place off Broadway then Martinez town. then grandma met the good people who owned a famous restaurant back at that time and sold grandma some land way out in the mesa. no roads nothing. it was located now on the corner of southern and Dallas.. grandma paid 50.00 a month. grandpa pulled the back of his boot in the ground and the story goes on from there. life was built and full of memories . a book is in the making.

  12. Thank you David Ryan for the wonderful pictures and background on land grant towns along the way. I happened to discover Route 337 as a way to avoid a trip south on I-25 as was driving slowly in a 30 yr old Jeep Comanche pickup purchased in eastern OK. It was a beautiful sunny but cool windy day and a wonderful drive through the eastern mountains. Entering the area through Escobosa and the Chilil was almost surreal as if I had entered another world with a history almost 400 years old. I did take a few photos shame on me. Took a pleasant snack break in Tajique at Ray’s One Stop and chatted with the proprietor. Continued south to 55 and Salinas Pueblo Missions of Quarai and Abo. So glad I stumbled on to this wonderful bit of country and it’s remarkable history.

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