(The Caja del Rio near Santa Fe. Photo by Jim O'Donnell)
THE CAJA AT THE CROSSROADS…LITERALLY
If the plans for a highway, utility lines and the country’s highest bridge come to pass, the Caja del Rio will be drastically altered. The 107,068 acres on this plateau are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. However, these are sacred lands for the area’s pubelos who must play a key role in how the lands are used. Caja del Rio is principally piñon-juniper savanna and blue grama grassland, with canyons plunging into the Santa Fe River and other tributaries of the Rio Grande. The land is dotted with cinder cones and features a dramatic basalt escarpment. Caja is one of the most ecologically rich and significant wildlife corridors in New Mexico. As part of the Western Wildway Priority Wildlife Corridor, Caja plays a critical role in connecting a vital wildlife corridor that runs along the Upper Rio Grande Watershed from the state of Colorado through New Mexico. The plateau and canyons are vital habitat for a diverse range of plants and animals. Beyond the large, iconic predators and prey, the Caja is home to gray fox, badger, burrowing owls, mountain plover, long-billed curlew, and spotted bat. A threatened songbird, the gray vireo, can be spotted among the junipers and piñons on the plateau. The Caja is one of the last great opportunities to protect the West as it has existed for thousands of years.
THE LAND OF THE CAJA PLATEAU MATTERS FOR ITS HISTORIC AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
The human story of the Caja begins with prehistoric Puebloans who farmed on the mesa top using complex irrigation systems and fished and hunted in the canyons below. The land supported many villages with archaeological stories yet to be told. Countless well-preserved petroglyphs cover the black basalt escarpment and canyon walls: thunderbirds, elk, spirals, stars, hand prints, fish, hunters, and many, many more. The Spanish came to the Caja as well. The historic route of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro from Mexico City to New Mexico passed through the canyons of the Caja. The original Route 66 also transverses the mesa top and is now a seldomused dirt road. The history of the American West exists on this plateau in all of its complexity. It remains a spiritual place for many of the nearby pueblos and its importance to those communities cannot be overstated. We must do all we can to save this remarkable landscape for people today but also for the generations ahead.
THREATS BEYOND A HIGHWAY
While the proposed highway to the Los Alamos National Laboratory is an immediate threat, the Caja region is facing ongoing challenges-from illegal dumping to vandalism of sacred sites. From poaching to unregulated shooting and off-road misuse, these threats have been recognized in the past and other attempts to protect the plateau have not succeeded. We believe this is the right time to take on the challenge of permanent protection for the Caja del Rio.
WHAT WE ARE WORKING ON
The Caja del Rio is a national treasure and deserves permanent protection. We are working with pueblos and local communities to determine the most appropriate combination of administrative and legislative designations. One such designation is a National Conservation Area (NCA), which is designated by Congress to conserve, protect, enhance, and manage public land areas for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. NCAs feature exceptional natural, recreational, cultural, wildlife, aquatic, archaeological, paleontological, historical, educational, and/or scientific resources. We also believe that parts of the Caja plateau would be eligible for Wilderness designation and are exploring the possibility of Wild and Scenic River status for the area as well.
Please help us continue our work to protect Wilderness, wildlife, and water in beautiful New Mexico. To give, donate securely online at: bit.ly/protectcaja.