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Agua Fria: What lies beneath

August 4, 2009, 12:00 am
By Julia Goldberg
Despite my inquisitive nature, the road closure sign on Agua Fria Road at the San Ysidro crossing, which has been in effect since July 6, initially inspired more dread/denial than curiosity. My own personal history with road closures on Agua Fria includes a variety of Kafkaesque experiences that, even 10 years later, still piss me off if I think about them. So, you know, denial...
But, as my fellow commuters on Agua Fria know, end-of-day traffic on Rufina—the most obvious detour—has been very congested (due, in no small part, I think, to the ongoing inability of most drivers to understand the protocol of roundabouts). A frustrated caller last week prompted me to try and find out, at least, when Agua Fria would reopen. In so doing, I discovered what I would have known already had I been paying attention: There's a major archaeological excavation going on and, despite the inconvenience to drivers, it will likely result in a massive addition to our knowledge of the history of the village.
And eventually new sewer lines and storm drains—but that's another story.
According to Robert Martinez, Santa Fe County's public works division director (who returned my call faster than anyone has ever done anything and reminded me there had been a public meeting on the closure in June), reconstruction of the county's portion of Agua Fria—from the city limits down to Airport Road, or thereabouts—was designed more than a decade ago and has been reconstructed in phases. This last phase has taken a while to get to, in part because of funding issues but, more particularly, because the area is near the LA 2 archaeological site.
(LA 2 is the second site ever recorded in New Mexico by the Laboratory of Anthropology; click here for a little more background on what that means). Two years ago, during the preliminary investigation, archaeologists got a hint of what was down there. Now they are back really digging into it (bad pun intended).
Cherie Scheick, who owns Southwest Archaeological Consultants, which is conducting the excavation, tells SFR that the LA 2 site was basically rediscovered in the early ‘80s during a project at the water booster station (the site has also been known as the Agua Fria schoolhouse site, and over the years some confusion has ensued about the location of one of the three Agua Fria Schoolhouses); if you want some more background regarding the time-periods this site represents, click here.
At any rate, because the county knew the site was registered with the state historic preservation division, it needed to do some recon before starting up roadwork. Southwest Archaeological Consultants did the initial testing of the site for the county a few years ago, Scheick says, “to try to alleviate some of the impacts to what was left of the site,” which extends well over five acres, although most of it, she says, is on private property.
Subsequently, it was decided to move all the sewer and storm lanes for the county's road work to the north lane and protect everything in the south lane. Now the excavation is happening. In addition to at least 10,000 artifacts, the archaeologists may have a portion of an old canal, and also are finding many “little pits” and “burnt corn cobs.” Such findings, Scheick says, are “consistent with outside use areas.”
Perhaps of greatest interest to the archaeologists is the stratigraphy, which basically refers to translating the layers of the site. “What you're trying to do, from top to bottom, is figure out how that sorts out in time, in relation to the outline of the pueblo,” Scheick says.
Reports generated from this work will be technical, but the firm, via a state mandate, also is required to create a public presentation of some sort. Scheick says the Agua Fria community has asked for an “interpretive display” at the Nancy Rodriguez Community Center (between La Familia and the Agua Fria fire station. The official name of that street is Prairie Dog Loop...really). So that's something to look forward to.
As for the road closure, expect that to continue through August into the first week of September. And, the county's Martinez says, the actual construction is tentatively scheduled for next year between March 15 and Sept. 17, so expect more closures then.
But, hey, when it's done, the road will be improved and we'll know lots more about the area.
Whether or not we will ever figure out how to navigate the roundabouts on Rufina Street (there are yield signs, people. What is so complicated?) remains to be seen.

 

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