Cabezon Peak watches over the slow deterioration of the town that once
was home to prominent New Mexico families.
Restored and refurbished, the stations of the cross,
the alter and the statue of Saint Joseph
Pictured on the right, Helen Sandoval, former Bernalillo City Council member, serves lunch at the potluck following Mass at San Jose de Cabezon. The Sandoval family and many volunteers are key to the restoration of the mission.
Iglesia San Jose de Cabezon: a New Mexico ghost town with friends
Among the ranches, cattle, cactus, and canyons surrounding Cabezon Peak is a ghost town with a refurbished mission. A blacktop highway races travelers past “Big Head,” a volcanic formation (elevation 7,786 feet) and its many well-kept secrets. Clouds of gypsum dust come into sight miles before we reach Mesa Blanca, east of San Ysidro and the Colorado Plateau. Here we are less than eight miles from the Continental Divide. After centuries of erosion, the terrain on either side of the highway reveals brilliant colors in sandstone formations and sheer cliffs.
Harsh changes in temperature with little to no running water much of the year leave only salt brush, snakeweed, prickly-pear cactus, and stunted grass. At the base of Cabezon Peak, the Rio Puerco, “Dirty River,” winds its way past the small town of Cabezon, now in ruins except for one residence and the catholic mission.
Although it is open to the public only three times a year during a mass followed by a potluck, this tiny community welcomes strangers into its midst for these few special occasions. With a smile and a heartfelt handshake, parishioners greeted guests from all around the country. After the mass we all partook of Southwestern hospitality and cuisine: enchiladas with green chili, pork posole in a red-chili sauce, tamales wrapped in corn husks, chicken taquitos to dip in guacamole, mesquite-barbequed pork sausages, and fresh spinach salad.
There is a catch. Iglesia San Jose de Cabezon, originally built in 1894, is now on private land, and the ghost town is fenced, gated, and guarded by a hermit—seventy-some years old—whom locals say is old and cantankerous, and would just as soon be left alone.
Outside the ghost town is the residence of Restituto and Annie Sandoval. Their home, built in 1872, was once a way station for the Overland Mail Route between Santa Fe and Prescott, Arizona. Two of the original bedrooms have survived the addition of larger modern accommodations, and the house is powered by solar electricity, since utility lines still have not reached this community.
For the past seventeen years the Sandoval family have been caretakers of San Jose de Cabezon church. Initially the church was in such bad shape the family used it as a hayloft until restoration was started. Iglesia San Jose is a mission of the Catholic church in Cuba. Both belong to the Archdiocese of Gallup, the Rio Puerco being the dividing line between the archdiocese there and the one in Santa Fe.
Cabezon is rich with history. As in most of the Four Corners region, Anasazi culture influenced the area first. After the departure of the Anasazi, Navajo herdsmen grazed their sheep in the shadow of the peak. Early Spanish settlements were established in the 1700s. San Jose de Cabezon is the second mission built at the site in 1894. In 1994, on its hundredth anniversary, a mass was held with about a hundred faithful community members and friends.
Restie Sandoval recalls that the church was still very much in disrepair—the doors and windows weren’t installed, the roof leaked, and the pews were too long. Annie Sandoval remembers it took an entire day for the men to cut a single pew in half because the wood was so hard and dense. This was done so there could be an aisle through the middle of the sanctuary. There were about nine pews in all, restored, painted, and reupholstered by a Bernalillo volunteer. The church bell was acquired and installed by another volunteer. From hayloft to mission, Iglesia San Jose de Cabezon was refurbished by the Sandoval family and countless volunteers as an integral piece of Cabezon history.
Another family member born and raised in Cabezon is Helen Sandoval, who served four years with the Bernalillo City Council and twelve years as board member of the Bernalillo Planning and Zoning Commission. When restoration of the mission started around 1992, “people from all over the country had carved their initials in the church wall, from New York to Seattle and everywhere in between. It had been looted of everything over the years—doors, windows, the stations of the cross—everything. The only thing from the original (church) is the back altar and the statue of Saint Joseph behind the altar,” said Sandoval.
“Cabezon was a good life. At age six, I started at Harwood Girls’ School, a boarding school in Albuquerque. The roads weren’t so good back then, and we rode on the back of a flatbed truck. We stayed for the whole school year because transportation was hard to come by, but I didn’t mind. It made me more independent.
“My brother Restie and I counted up one day that there were seventy-five children in Cabezon in the mid- to late 1930s—that’s from about eighteen families that I can remember.”
Since the hundredth anniversary of the church, members of this resilient community have been holding mass three times a year while the Sandoval family, longtime friends Max and Angie Tachias, and other volunteers continue to restore the church building. I sat in a pew set on a packed dirt floor. Although it was the end of March, a fire had been built in the large potbellied stove halfway back between the pews on the right side of the sanctuary. I couldn’t feel the heat, but the air was pungent with a smell like campfire.
The church was packed; those fortunate and wise enough to come early were seated on upholstered pews. The choir, led by David Pacheco of Rio Rancho, formerly of the St. Thomas Aquinas Church, stood at the back of the small sanctuary and provided bilingual hymns. Some were old standards sung in English and in Spanish, blending and harmonizing diverse cultures and faiths. Other songs were written and composed by David himself. A generator on the back of a pickup truck parked outside supplied electrical power for the modern amplifiers. “The old rugged cross” or “Yo siempre amaré esa cruz” is clearly spoken here.
Father John Nolan of Cuba officiated at the mass, which honored church members who had passed on and parishioners suffering from disease or illness. The Irish Father with his thick Gallic accent led the congregation in eulogies, prayers, and communion, as friends and loved ones were remembered.
Tom Mace, a middle-school teacher from Albuquerque, learned about the event while exploring the area on spring break. Tom made inquiries of a local ranch hand who was filling his water truck from a cistern. One thing led to another, and soon the English teacher had a piece of information that brought him to the mission that Sunday.
As the service ended and peopled filed out of the refurbished Iglesia San Jose de Cabezon, a pair of free-roaming horses stampeded past the church and down the middle of the main street—the only street of this ghost town—kicking up dust and dirt into thirty-mile-an-hour spring winds toward Cabezon Peak.
The next masses at Iglesia San Jose de Cabezon are scheduled for July 24 and September 25. Mass begins at 11:00 a.m.
More of the history of this area can be obtained in the books Cabezon, a New Mexico Ghost Town, by Jack D. Rittenhouse, and Ghost Towns Alive: Trips to New Mexico's Past, by Linda G. Harris and Pamela Porter.
It’s Fiesta time at the Mission de San Antonio
During the weekend of June 12, the Mission de San Antonio de Padua will hold its annual fiesta. On Saturday night the traditional mass honoring St. Anthony, at 6:30 p.m., will be followed by a procession of the santos through the village of Placitas. The procession will be accompanied by mariachis, and an honor guard of the Knights of Columbus will be stopping at various locations for song and recitation. All will end up at the community center on the mission grounds to celebrate longtime members of the community and the eighty-fifth year of the mission.
On Sunday, June 13, the grounds will be open for more festivities. This year the fiesta committee is introducing some craft booths. Among our crafters and artists are Paula Dimit and Jamie Morales, of Albuquerque, who will be exhibiting and selling wood sculptures. Norma and Joe Pelmons, of Bernalillo, will have wind chimes and wood crafts, and the Patterson sisters from Placitas, Becca and Zoe, will have jewelry and pencil sketches.
There will be music: karaoke for those who wish to sing, and Trappie and the In-Crowd for those who would like to trip the light fantastic. Other activities will include bingo, an ongoing horseshoe tournament, game booths, and, at 12:00 noon, the matanza. There will be other food service for those who choose not to attend the matanza.
Event organizers invite you to come join in the celebration. There will be something for everyone.
El Rinconcito español
A ver si como ronca duerme.
(We’ll see if he sleeps like he snores.)
We’ll see if he puts his money where his mouth is.
Al país que fueres, haz lo que vieres.
(Whatever country you go to, do what you see.)
When in Rome, do as the Romans.
Agua que no has de beber, déjala correr.
(Water that you don’t need to drink, let it run.)
Waste not, want not.
SOS-panyol offers Spanish instruction that focuses on
oral communication skills. www.sospanyol.com.
Rededication of Coronado Monument;
bring items for annual scrapbook
The New Mexico National New Deal Preservation Association will help celebrate the annual rededication of Coronado State Monument on May 29 at 3:00 p.m. A panel will discuss our remarkable state treasures and how we can save, preserve, and keep alive our stories, characters, artifacts, buildings, crafts, art, and music. Bring your stories, copies of old articles, and photos of Coronado State Monument for the annual Coronado Legacy Scrapbook.
Placitas prekindergartners Talis Frouge, Brittany Holden-Rhodes, and Sara Jane Watson sell homemade lemonade and baked goods to benefit the library’s summer literacy and arts enrichment program.
Happy Birthday to the Placitas Library
President Placitas Community Library, Inc.
The Library has met a milestone in completing one year since becoming incorporated on May 20, 2003. It has been a whirlwind of happenings. We would like to thank our many donors and volunteers who helped get the new library ready for last month’s grand opening which was an incredible success and a fun filled day.
The library is located at 1 Tierra Madre Road, just west of the Merc, and is now open every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Ana Rutins is organizing a summer reading and arts enrichment recreational program for young and old alike. It is sponsored by the Optimist Club and will be held throughout the summer on Friday mornings. Call Anna at 771-3082 to sign up.
Pepi Strahl has graciously reaffirmed to house the library until we find a permanent location. Tom Ashe secured four acres adjacent to the Placitas Fire Station and is willing to hold onto it and work with the library board if they choose to accept this lot. Other options include land the McCallisters are willing to donate next to the Merc, land donated by Peggy Walden next to the Community Center on Camino de las Huertas, four acres at Tunnel Springs and SR 165, and the present location.
Once again we ask everyone to please support the final selection for a permanent site. Certainly the library board will consider all possibilities. Contact us at www.placitaslibrary.com and log in your preference, or call Sue Strasia at 867-0026 and leave a message. We will review the results of the survey during our next monthly meeting on June 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the library. Please join us and remember to bring a chair. We need to determine a location for us to proceed in requesting funds.
Give the bears a break
—New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
It’s springtime and that means New Mexico’s black bears are coming out of hibernation. It also means the problems associated with improper handling of household trash, bird feeders, and barbecue grills are just beginning.
So far this year the Department of Game and Fish has received several calls, as bears, fresh out of their dens, begin their search for food. Normally, in spring, bears feed on newly greening grasses, insects that are just appearing, and occasionally on carrion that they may find. But too often what they find is garbage.
Officials are once again reiterating that it is people who cause the problem.
Rick Winslow, bear biologist for the department, expressed concern that early habituation of bears to people and their garbage many times has dire consequences for the bear.
“According to department policy, if a bear is trapped three times by the department, that third time the bear is killed,” said Winslow.
Household trash with melon rinds and other fragrant offerings represents easy meals to bears. Winslow said people need to keep their trash cans in the garage or inside a closed metal shed.
Other steps to follow:
- Feed your pets indoors or bring any leftover food indoors.
- Bring in birdseed and hummingbird feeders at night.
- Keep barbecue grills inside.
A law that department officers expect to enforce this year makes it illegal for anyone, intentionally or through negligence, to cause a nuisance-animal problem by baiting, feeding, or enticing animals into an area. That would include garbage that attracts a bear into an area where it causes a nuisance or safety problem.
Give the bears a break: handle your trash responsibly.
Cochiti receives federal grant to develop adobe-making business
Over $200,000 has been awarded by the Administration for Native Americans, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, to the Pueblo de Cochiti Housing Authority for an adobe-making business that would generate revenue to support the local housing authority.
The funds provide $214,367 to the Cochiti Pueblo Housing Authority over three years. The purpose of the grant is to promote social enterprise and self-sufficiency among Native American communities. The grant will specifically be used for an adobe-making business.
The pueblo’s social enterprise will involve producing traditional adobe while gradually increasing the types of styles available. All the adobe would be available for distribution to the open market as well as to the housing authority’s projects.
One of ANA’s primary objectives is to foster the development of stable, diversified local economies and economic activities that will provide jobs, promote economic well-being, and reduce dependency on public funds and social services.