Store owner Ann Rustebakke takes a look at Chile
Hill’s fall display of hot red chile ristras.
Chile Hill Emporium began its business in 1975
as Southwestern Emporium on Highway 44, in Bernalillo, at the location
now occupied by Bernalillo Tire Company.
Rising from the ashes
A history of Chile Hill Emporium in Bernalillo
—ANN RUSTEBAKKE, OWNER, CHILE HILL EMPORIUM
While the newspaper and the sign near the entrance said “Jackalope,”
what burned to the ground on May 26, 2006, on the north side of
State Road 550, in Bernalillo, was Chile Hill Emporium.
First, some history. When Chile Hill took up residence west of
the river in 1985, it had already been in Bernalillo for ten years
on leased land on the east side of the river—where Bernalillo
Tire Company now stands, and across from KFC. It was called “Southwest
Emporium (You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!).”
When Highway 44—now US 550—and the bridge over the
Rio Grande were widened, land was purchased on the other side of
the bridge, and on the opposite side of the road, directly in front
of Coronado State Park. When the business moved, it became Chile
When this happened, in early 1986, the landscape west of the river
was very empty. The intersection where the Federal Credit Union
now stands was occupied by the All Tribes Mission School, with school
buildings and residences for staff and families. The land where
the Coronado Grill now stands was occupied by cows, which occasionally
escaped and came across the highway to eat the plantings at Chile
Hill. A very large bull once stopped traffic and had to be removed
by the sheriff’s deputies (among them our present sheriff,
John Paul Trujillo).
The traffic at this location was not heavy; the resident overseers
at Chile Hill used to remark how quiet it was. There were other
residents and homeowners to the west and south—some are still
there—both along Sheriff’s Posse Road and on land to
the west that had been designated as homestead lands. Artist Ed
Delavy lived to the north, toward the Coronado Monument headquarters.
After his death, his home was willed to the Sandoval County Historical
Society, which now occupies it.
Chile Hill’s move to the new location coincided with its
name change. It took just two months to drill a well, have telephone
and electric services put in, and the new building built.
The business sold locally grown produce (there was no growers
market) and natural food products: ice cream treats, drinks, vegetarian
main dishes, and cinnamon rolls from Albuquerque’s Frontier
Restaurant. Of course, there was New Mexico corn and chile products.
Green chile was roasted to order, and red chile was sold either
fresh or as ristras. Red ground chile was packaged on site.
Other Chile Hill specialties were Southwestern books, cards, locally
produced Indian pottery and jewelry, drums, rattles, flutes, beadwork,
baby moccasins, and, of course, harvest items like blue corn ristras,
parched corn, melons, pumpkins, and Pueblo oven bread, pies, and
The books (up to a total of some two hundred titles) all contained
Southwestern subject matter or were the work of local authors, or
both—many from small presses that were difficult to find among
standard bookstore offerings.
The work of local artists could also be found at Chile Hill. Jake
Lovato, who created the original window grills for the store, also
produced smaller pieces. Susan Junge’s large framed silk screen
prints of local views and Geraldine Brussel’s Many Mesas,
One Crow were favorites.
In the early 1990s, an addition was built on the west side of
the store to house the Bosque Health Clinic, where Jack Dembs and
Christina Wright served the public with acupuncture and massage
The building that housed Chile Hill and the land around it was
leased to Jackalope in 1995. Jackalope had previously leased, and
later purchased, land near the river next to Chile Hill. Jackalope
occupied the major portion of the Chile Hill and clinic buildings
for several years before constructing and occupying the large metal
building on the adjacent property in 1996.
Other major changes in the neighborhood were the expansion of
Bernalillo’s town limits to include property west of the river.
More recently the town also took over management of the Coronado
Park and Campground. The state of New Mexico still manages Coronado
Monument. Santa Ana Pueblo began the process that resulted first
in the creation of the Prairie Star Restaurant, then the development
of Tamaya Resort, golf courses, casino, and soccer complex.
Next, the subdivisions began growing up in Bernalillo and Rio Rancho.
Additional businesses have come into being (along with much traffic!)
where All Tribes School stood, and where there was marginal pasture
for cattle. This all happened in a twenty-year period, usually considered
one generation’s time.
Chile Hill has not disappeared. It is, however, temporarily eclipsed
because of the fire. “Should auld acquaintance be forgot,”
Chile Hill will be rebuilt. It will probably not look exactly the
same, but it will continue to specialize in New Mexico products.
All of our existing chile supply was destroyed by the fire, and
the choice has been made not to substitute chile from a different
source—we have been doing business with the same supplier
for twenty years.
The new chile crop will not be available until November at the
earliest, and we hope by then to have a building to sell it from.
We hope our customers will bear with us while we are busy rising
from the ashes during the next few months.
Last but not least, a big thank-you to the firefighters from the
surrounding departments, especially Bernalillo and Placitas, who
We are available by telephone at our usual number, 867-3294, if
you have questions.
Local businesses support 505 as New Mexico revisits
the need for a second area code
The board of directors of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce
has issued strong support for the retention of the 505 area code
in the five-county area comprised of Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa
Fe, Torrance, and Valencia.
The organization said that to partition the state by area code
designation into two geographic areas would be the most desirable
outcome for the businesses and residents of the Greater Albuquerque
area and for the state as a whole, considering that approximately
47 percent of the state’s population resides in this comparatively
small area, according to year 2000 population estimates provided
by UNM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
“The overlay proposal just strikes us as an unnecessary
inconvenience for all New Mexicans,” said Terri L. Cole, chamber
president and CEO. “With that system in place, a call across
the street or next door may be to a different area code. To split
it geographically, with the five-county area keeping 505, we believe,
would provide the most convenience for the greatest number of our
state’s citizens,” she said. “We will urge the
commission to act quickly on this issue so that there is more transition
time,” added Cole.
Rick Alvidrez, vice chair of the chamber’s Business Advocacy
and Government Relations Division added, “In addition to being
an inconvenience to New Mexicans, the overlay would have tremendous
negative ramifications to large-scale users in the area, such as
the University of New Mexico, Sandia National Laboratory, Albuquerque
Public Schools, and Kirtland Air Force Base, among others, that
have thousands of phone lines already in existence with the 505
“We will lend tremendous support to keeping 505 in the five-county
area,” he said.
The chamber will testify at the Public Regulation Commission hearing
in Albuquerque scheduled for July 28. More information about the
chamber is accessible on-line at www.abqchamber.com.
An intrepid motorist braves the quickly patched
crossing of Las Huertas Creek late on July 5, the second day of
heavy rain and runoff. Flooding the previous night washed out the
crossing, isolating nearby neighborhoods.
Cost of flooding mounts as Las Huertas Creek overflows
County commission, Rio Rancho council pass disaster declarations
Welcome rains soaking Sandoval County early in July came at a price,
an estimated $1 million for damage to roads and other public property.
And that was before the deluge of July 22 turned Las Huertas Creek
into a raging torrent, washing out Camino de las Huertas, again.
County Public Works Department crews were out early the next morning,
Sunday, to fill in a breach estimated to be thirty feet wide and
ten feet deep.
Officially Placitas received 0.79 inches or rain plus a white
coating of hail, with the greater amounts on the Las Huertas headwaters
in the Sandia Mountains.
Work bogged down when a dump truck so new it still bore a paper
sticker backed too close to the end of the pavement and nearly overturned
as the roadbed collapsed. The truck eventually was freed by a front-end
loader lifting from the back and another pulling on a chain from
The washout scoured away the patch job done after a July 4 storm
that damaged two of the five-foot culverts so badly they were removed.
One witness to the second washout described a violent river lifting
the upstream ends of two of the surviving culverts, pushing them
aside and pouring over the road.
The patch had held during a July 5 storm, when runoff also threatened
to top the road. Camino de las Huertas remained open, even if crossing
the creek at the time was not for the faint of heart as runoff came
close to topping the road again.
Camino de la Rosa Castilla, the back door for residents north
of the washout, remained open, unlike after the July 4 storm, which
washed out culverts there, too. The recent storm also closed NM
313 between Bernalillo and the entrance to Sandia Pueblo for much
of the following day and flooded parts of Corrales and Rio Rancho.
Overall, the flooding earlier in July damaged twenty-six public
roads in the unincorporated areas of the county, according to Public
Works director Phil Rios. Particularly affected were La Madera,
on the east slope of the Sandia Mountains; the Jemez area; and Guadalupe,
in the western part of the county, where a Bureau of Land Management
bridge was swept away, he said.
The county was still filling and patching roads late in the month
and had yet to get to some washouts where residents had alternate
access to their homes, he said. A complete report of additional
damage from the July 22 storm was not immediately available.
Placitas logged eleven consecutive days of measurable rain, starting
on July 1, according to the National Weather Service data. Twenty-four-hour
totals recorded in the evenings ranged from 0.01 inches to highs
of 0.99, 0.80 and 0.84 inches on July 5, 6, and 8 respectively.
NWS data for Placitas on July 4 is missing, although one Albuquerque
TV station covering the Las Huertas washout showed a nearby rain
gauge holding four inches of water. The station didn't provide details.
A weather observer quoted in the NWS data also reported Las Huertas
Creek running full on June 26, when 1.11 inches of rain came down,
and again on June 27, with a reported 0.46 inches.
“Las Huertas Creek topped its banks,” an NWS spotter
Runoff early in July also entered Bernalillo from arroyos running
west under Interstate 25 and ravaged a hilly Rio Rancho neighborhood,
where unpaved Rio Oso Street disappeared beneath the flood. When
the water receded, it left behind a chasm five feet deep in some
places, exposing utilities and stranding cars in driveways that
took days to reconnect to the street.
Both the Rio Rancho City Council and the Sandoval County Commission
passed disaster declarations and forwarded them to the state in
hopes of getting financial help. State personnel recently inspected
damage in the county, although Rios was less than optimistic about
receiving much aid.
While simply restoring the damage would cost about $1 million,
Rios said the county has drawn up a wish list of permanent repairs
costing $2.8 million and currently being refined by the county's
engineer. Big-ticket projects, if approved, would go on a capital-improvements
list for work as money becomes available.
For Camino de las Huertas, Rios said the flooding damaged two
of the six metal culverts at the creek crossing. The repair options,
each increasingly costly, are installing heavier culverts protected
by a concrete blanket, building concrete box culverts, or building
a bridge, he said.
New Mexico Rail Runner Station, US 550
First-day passengers on the Rail Runner