Early Spanish colonists in regions of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado sought locations where irrigation works could be constructed to make new settlements possible. Between 1867 and 1872 four Hispanic villages, based on an economy of irrigation, agriculture, and livestock grazing, were established in the middle Rio Puerco valley, northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Within a decade, overgrazing in the larger Rio Puerco watershed initiated a process of erosion and entrenchment of the Rio Puerco that eventually led to the abandonment of three of the villages. The surviving village of San Luis has kept its sense of community alive despite environmental losses that brought an end to agriculture and severely limited the possibilities for raising livestock. San Luis’s institutions of agriculture once provided its unique connection to place. The community now survives on faith, as it once survived on agriculture, and draws spiritual, if not actual sustenance from the land it hopes someday to reclaim.

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