Message #34
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Sprawling Albuquerque Hopes to Cut Through Monument

[AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :

From:	David Phillips NMAC-L

Sprawling Albuquerque Hopes to Cut Through Monument

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Cars rocket along the divided highway Paseo del Norte,
speeding commuters to freshly minted suburbs. Then, on the west side of 
the Rio Grande, the highway abruptly stops. 

There, just beyond a shiny new McDonald's and a Blockbuster Video, rises 
the Petroglyph National Monument, an escarpment of black volcanic rock 
decorated with mysterious carvings, some incised 2,000 years ago: birds, 
stars, spirals, masks, shield bearers, flute players and horned 

But with modern Albuquerque suffering from a severe case of Sunbelt 
sprawl, developers and their political allies are fighting hard to 
extend the six-lane highway a quarter mile through the monument. On the 
far side, in a northern finger of the Chihuahuan Desert, subdivisions 
for 60,000 people are to rise early in the 21st century. 

Highway advocates say that road construction will require only the 
relocation of a dozen of the thousands of petroglyphs and the sacrifice 
of a teeny sliver of parkland -- 8.5 acres, or a tenth of one percent of 
the monument's 7,244 acres. Eventually, they argue, the highway could 
carry 80,000 people in one day—the same number of people who now visit 
the National Monument in a year. 

Highway opponents, however, say that piercing a National Monument with a 
freeway would set a bad precedent, desecrate a protected area that 
Pueblo Indians regard as a church and lock Albuquerque into the kind of 
flabby suburban sprawl that marks its larger Sunbelt cousins, Phoenix 
and Los Angeles. 

After months of bitter debate, the highway extension is backed by 
Albuquerque's City Council, most of New Mexico's congressional 
delegation and 51 percent of respondents to a poll of 422 registered 
voters by The Albuquerque Journal in October. But the debate is far from 

"It's going to be a really big fight," said Jim Baca, Albuquerque's new 
mayor. Elected with 29 percent of votes cast last fall, Baca was the 
only candidate of seven in the race to oppose extending the highway into 
the monument. "Public lands can be protected," he said, "if we don't 
keep the quick buck in mind." 

The debate over pushing a highway across a barren stretch of cheat 
grass, snakeweed and volcanic rock concerns more than a small minority 
of this city's commuters. On one level, the debate is over what modern 
America holds more sacred: Commuter drive times or Indian religious 
practices? Ancient rock carvings or golf courses? 

One proposed alternative route was quickly dropped when the public 
realized it would lop a few holes off a golf course in Paradise Hills,
a neighborhood north of the monument. 

William F. Weahkee, a Cochiti Indian on the monument's advisory 
commission, said in an interview: "In Albuquerque, major roads stop at 
golf courses. Are those sacred sites to you guys? What is the point of 
digging through the monument? People just want a shortcut." 

To defend the monument, Pueblo Indians have reluctantly broken some 
silence about their religious practices. Weahkee said that shrines in 
these parched black hills draw Indians from across the Southwest, 
including Zunis from western New Mexico, Hopis from Arizona, and tribe 
members from California. 

It is no accident that the 15,000 to 17,000 carvings are in boulder 
fields at the foot of five extinct volcanoes. The volcanoes are seen as 
links to the spirit world in the afterlife. 

Because of strong creation beliefs about their ancestors emerging from 
the earth, Pueblo Indians rejected a proposal made by Martin Chavez, 
Baca's predecessor, to drill a highway tunnel below the park. 

The conflict here is part of a larger conflict in the West between 
Indian religious attitudes toward land use and attitudes imported from 

In Arizona, construction of a $60 million telescope atop Mount Graham 
started last year after a 12-year delay caused in part by traditionalist 
Apaches who argued that the mountain was a sacred place for gathering 
rare herbs used in medicinal ceremonies. In Wyoming, rock climbing has 
been suspended on Devils Tower in June in deference to religious needs 
of Plains Indians. 

Over the last year in Albuquerque, Indians determined to block the 
highway plan have held prayer runs, fasts, petition drives and angry 
protests at City Hall. The road, they say, would mar the setting for 
1,000 carvings in a secluded canyon the Spanish called Piedras Marcadas. 

Developers say that Indian objections to the highway are only the 
visible tip of a hidden agenda to block wider public use of the park. 
Indeed, last August lawyers for the Sandia tribe filed a civil rights 
complaint against the federal government to block construction of 
visitor centers and horse and bicycle trails in the 17-mile-long park. 

To advocates of growth, building a highway in the Southwest is fast 
becoming comparable to trying to build a subway in Athens or Rome. 

"No one talked about sacred ground back then," said Joe Carraro, a 
Republican state senator from Albuquerque, referring to talks a decade 
ago about extending a highway through the proposed park. "And no one 
talked about sacred ground when they opened casinos on Native American 
land, either." 

Greg Foltz, a developer here, said of the road path, "This is an 
alignment that everybody signed off on prior to creation of the 

But no one has come forward with a road-building pledge signed by 
environmental or Indian negotiators. And the congressional legislation 
that created the park in 1990 did not mention the road. To allow road 
construction, New Mexico congressmen introduced bills in the House and 
the Senate last year to withdraw the 8.5-acre corridor from the park. 

The bills have set off national alarm bells. Environmental groups fear 
that the adjective urban, when applied to a park or monument, will 
become a license for tinkering. 

"If they push a six-lane highway through this park, then no National 
Park is safe," said Dave Simon, regional director for the National Parks 
and Conservation Association, in Washington, which is fighting commuter 
highways that threaten other urban preserves: the Ocmulgee National 
Monument in Macon, Ga., and the St. Croix National Scenic River, outside 
of Minneapolis. 

Denis P. Galvin, deputy director of the National Park Service, testified 
at Congressional hearings last fall in Washington that "no legitimate 
park purpose exists for the 50-mile-per-hour freeway-type extension 
route of Paseo del Norte across Petroglyph National Monument." 

Here, where swing sets and basketball hoops lap at the edge of the park, 
some residents have forgotten the goals of the monument: to protect the 
rock carvings from vandals wielding shot guns or cans of spray paint. In 
suburban Phoenix, hundreds of rock carvings disappeared in recent years, 
either ground into gravel for construction or carted off to decorate 
suburban backyards. 

But in Albuquerque, feelings over future traffic flow have become so 
pitched that Bill Fuller, the president of the Paradise Hills Civic 
Association, wrote last summer to a congressman about the highway 
standoff: "The National Park Service has been such a terrible neighbor 
that many people would like to see the Petroglyph National Monument 
declassified and removed from the National Park system." 

The highway debate highlights another local controversy: whether New 
Mexico's largest city should blindly follow models of suburban sprawl 
elsewhere in the Southwest. 

Since 1990, Albuquerque's population has grown by about 15 percent, to 
700,000. In 25 years, the city's population is expected to increase by 
50 percent more, topping 1 million. 

Viewed from the top of the monument, this low-rise city spills down the 
Rio Grande Valley, with only a handful of buildings in the urban core 
rising over three stories. Since 1960, the area of the city has doubled; 
it is now 163 square miles. 

"How can we be punching multimillion-dollar roads through monuments, 
when the center of the city is not growing?" asked Baca, who was elected 
mayor on a platform of managed growth. 

With the city hemmed in on three sides by a forest, an Indian 
reservation and an Air Force base, three-quarters of its building 
permits in the last five years have been on the west side of the Rio 
Grande, where the monument stands.

"You can buy a home on the west side that will cost $40,000 less than a 
home on the east side," said Foltz, a west side developer. 

For years, highway opponents have lampooned the Paseo del Norte 
extension as a road to nowhere. But last year, construction began on 
Ventana Ranch, 900 acres on the west side of the monument. Within a 
decade, 15,000 people are expected to be living there, all presumably 
looking for a fast road to Albuquerque.

Sunday, January 25, 1998
The New York Times