More than a decade ago, in a room of fresh College of Santa Fe students, most of whom were from out of state, a poetry professor introduced to us our new home: "This is the first place I've ever lived where I get the sense that this is blood-soaked ground."
Millennia of human history and centuries of colonialism have imbued in New Mexico a sense of our state as one contiguous battleground. The advent of the automobile, then, added to that blood some gasoline, motor oil, alcohol and no lack of tears.
As long as people have been dying on roads, memorials have been erected to their memories—commonly known as descansos, which literally translates to the plural of rest, landing or pause. And while marking the scene of a tragedy is an important role of these sites, some of these memorials aren't even for people who lost their lives in auto accidents—SFR's research into causes of death for the 12 sites we visited revealed those memorialized sometimes died in hospitals, in their homes, or otherwise not on the roads. Why their families chose these sites could have been for happy memories, the want for a public place to gather, or perhaps just because the surrounding scenery is so breathtaking. What a place to rest forever.
There's a sense of turning a blind eye when it comes to these memorials. Many are in areas restricted to pedestrians, but those who erect and maintain them seem to do so with impunity. While photographing these sites, police cruisers blew by without a second glance toward me poking around on the shoulder of a booming I-40.
An unspoken rule allowing personal shrines erected by families on land that is not their own seems like it would quickly get out of hand—but somehow, the roads and minds of our state have been self-policing. While some roads have more memorials than others, nowhere feels too full, and there seems to be an unofficial agreement between us all that we don't touch a memorial unless we built it. There is a law on New Mexico's books outlawing desecration of these shrines, and it seems to be one of the only laws in existence that people actually universally follow. (When photographing these sites, SFR did not disturb any aspect of them, even if it was clear something had fallen or broken. Each of these descansos remained exactly as we found it once we left.)
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people pass some of these sites every day. Others are tucked onto mountain roads and hear almost nothing but birdsong and wind. Each represents lives shifted, changed, ended and altered—and while we can't possibly know the stories behind each one, each of these stories could potentially be our own.
[…ben] J Sandoval
First part of first name is blocked
3.6 miles south of Chimayo on Juan Medina Road
Having only a partial name made research unfortunately impossible.
David, Bernadette and Bernice
17 miles west of Albuquerque on I-40
SFR has been unable to locate records of these particular people, partly due to one word being unclear and due to the common nature of the names that we could read.
However, the search served as a potent reminder that it seems every inch of New Mexico's roads are seeping with stories of drivers killed or injured, urging us even further to stay vigilant and safe out there.
3.4 miles east of Chimayó on Highway 76
Referenced in family members' obituaries as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, the wife of Octavio.
17 miles west of Albuquerque on I-40 W Frontage Road / Central Avenue NW
4.6 miles west of Pojoaque on Highway 502
Dec. 9, 1977-May 4, 2012
1.6 miles south of Truchas on Highway 76
Rose Simmons, Kate Klein, Alyssa Trouw and Julian Martinez
Died June 28, 2009
Between Santa Fe and Eldorado on Old Las Vegas Highway
The deaths of four teenage friends on a beautiful summer weekend night rocked Santa Fe hard. We had spent the day driving in convertibles and waving flags, trailing rainbow balloons in the Santa Fe Pride Parade; the next morning, we awoke to news of tragedy. The car of five teens collided with that of a drunk driver just after midnight. One student, the driver, survived.
At a memorial service shortly after the crash, Northern New Mexico media outlets trained their eyes on the families.
Kate's father Barry said of his daughter: "The world needed her."
Scott Owens was acquitted of vehicular homicide in the case, but later landed in jail when he was arrested twice more for drunk driving.
Juliana Reyes Vasquez
2007-Dec. 31, 2011
Intersection of St. Francis Drive and Siringo Road
"On Friday, the day of her death, 4-year-old Juliana Reyes Vasquez said something to her mother that gave a family friend the 'chills.'
"The girl told her mom 'that she loved her so much and that she should never cry for her.' … Several hours after making that remark, Juliana—an adorable child who loved being a 'girly' girl … died after a collision at a Santa Fe intersection."
–Albuquerque Journal, Jan. 4, 2012
This memorial as it appeared in 2015 is depicted on SFR's cover this week, in a painting by Erin Currier based on a photo by Enrique Limón.
37 miles west of Albuquerque
Forrest S Fukushima
1966-May 14, 1986
9.4 miles west of Pojoaque on Highway 502
"Over 50 friends and relatives of Forrest Fukushima, including his father Eiichi and younger brother Craig, gathered at a spot on NM 502 just east of Totavi to remember him Saturday.
A drunk driver struck Fukushima in 1986 while he was pedaling his bike up NM 502. He was reportedly training for an 'Iron Horse' competition when Alex Naranjo, who is now a municipal judge in Española, struck him with her car."
–Los Alamos Monitor, July 19, 2014
"Described as athletic, handsome and smart, Forrest Fukushima was just 19 years old when a drunk driver on NM 502 killed him in 1986. … Though the tragedy has long since faded from headlines, his fellow classmates from Los Alamos High School never forgot him, and whenever they'd cross paths professionally or socially, Fukushima's name would come up."
–Los Alamos Monitor, July 22, 2014
Ghost Bike erected and maintained by the Duke City Wheelmen
Jesse Rubio Jr.
March 17, 1997-Sept. 10, 2014
On the 98th St. NW overpass crossing I-40, Albuquerque
"Jesse was a senior at Atrisco Heritage High School where he was with the ROTC Marine Shooting Team and the Squad Leader, he was on the wrestling team, football team, track team and was an avid artist and loved music. Jesse planned to join the US Marine Corps."
– Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 14, 2014
"He had a beautiful smile, and a heart of gold."
– Plaque inscription
Presumably died Feb. 14, 2016; no further information available