On Rims & Ridges: The Los Alamos Area since 1880

On Rims & Ridges: The Los Alamos Area since 1880

On Rims & Ridges: The Los Alamos Area since 1880

On Rims & Ridges: The Los Alamos Area since 1880

Synopsis

The Pajarito Plateau in northern New Mexico encompasses the Bandelier National Monument and the atomic city of Los Alamos. On Rims and Ridges throws into stark relief what happens when native cultures and Euro-American commercial interests interact in such a remote area with limited resources. The demands of citizens and institutions have created a form of environmental gridlock more often associated with Manhattan Island than with the semiurban West, writes Hal K. Rothman. Before the coming of the railroad in 1880 the Pajarito Plateau was open, capable of supporting the small-scale agriculture of the Pueblo Indians and seasonal Hispanic pobladores. In the half-century after the arrival of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, the area was gradually claimed by competing special interest groups: the original inhabitants, archaeologists and anthropologists, homesteaders, ranchers, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Rothman describes howthese groups with diverse purposes - economic, cultural, aesthetic, spiritual - staked out every inch of land, often clashing over it. Today all of them maintain a presence on the plateau, and any land management decision elicits a response from each. Too often political clout determines the direction of socioeconomic growth. The long-term effects of federal land policy and technology on expanding population in shrinking space, on the transformation of culture and the environment, are seen clearly in Rothman's study of the Los Alamos area - and the implications for the future of much of the rest of the American West are chilling.

Excerpt

Late on a typical summer afternoon in northern New Mexico, the sun drops behind the Jemez Mountains and bathes the area to the east, the Pajarito Plateau, in an array of glorious golds, reds, and browns. As the evening skies darken, the light creates an eerie glow amid the broken mesas and canyons of the region. From atop Tsankawi Mesa, vaguely in the shadow of the mountains to the west and overlooking the Rio Grande valley to the east, the view is of a complete world. To the north, Española, Abiquiu, and the San Juan and Taos mountains form a rim to the bowl of the valleys of northern New Mexico. To the east, across the Rio Grande, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rise, imposing their power on the entire area. To the southeast and south, a glint from the glass of Santa Fe and its environs appears, and in the distance is the hazy image of the very tip of Sandia Peak, what the Tewa Indians call Turtle Mountain, and the Sandia Range outside of Albuquerque.

Facing the Jemez Mountains, the heart of the Pajarito Plateau unfolds. It is a land of immense contrast. Its muted colors and seeming solitude entrance people who have grown up in noisy cities. Well-worn foot trails and mounds of prehistoric blocks remind modern people that they are not the first to admire its beauty. But the spires of the installations of the modern town of Los Alamos offset the darkening sky. The red and white of painted water towers contrasts with the darker tones of natural vegetation. Power cables strung along the canyons and atop the mesas create horizon lines of their own. The glow of electric lights reaches Santa Fe. The . . .

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