This past week I was fortunate to go along on a SiteWatch visit with folks from the Ojo Caliente vicinity in New Mexico. We visited several sites up and down the Ojo Caliente Valley. To orient readers, the area lies north of Española, New Mexico, along the route of U.S. 285 heading north toward Tres Piedras and Colorado.
My companions Tim, Betty, and Harvey work with the Taos branch of NM SiteWatch, headquartered in Santa Fe. They visit sites on a regular schedule to check condition and be sure no one is illegally digging. The Taos-area Bureau of Land Management coordinates the program locally.
For me, the trip was especially significant. As a young graduate student at New Mexico State University in the late 1980s, I was thrilled to work with Jonathan Haas and Winifred Creamer on the Northern Rio Grande Research Project for several years. We excavated stratigraphic test pits at a couple dozen sites up and down the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Working at these large Pueblo IV village sites inspired me, and I undertook a spatial analysis of more than 80 village sites in conjunction with my master’s thesis. The Ojo Caliente Valley contains nearly a dozen large villages where people lived in the period from A.D. 1250 to 1575. Compared to other areas of the Southwest, relatively little excavation work has been completed on these sites.
Thus, the recent trip was truly a “back in time” experience for me. I’ve been fortunate to work on many, many sites over the last 30 years, yet I have encountered few that compare in size and scale to the massive pueblos of the Northern Rio Grande. I’ve spent much time in the Chacoan world over the last 20 years, but Chacoan sites pale in comparison to the huge sites that lie to the east. Room counts for these spectacular villages range from the low hundreds to more than 2,000 (at Pecos Pueblo and a few others).
Another point of great research interest for me: many of these sites represent the dwellings of emigrants from the Four Corners area, who left their homes in the late 1200s. I’m currently developing a research project that will examine this migration process. Stay tuned…