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Scenic Byway Neighborhood Association
A Brief, Unresearched History of the
Sandia Park Scenic Byway Neighborhood
By Bruce Hawkinson
Sandia Park Resident Since 1972, and
Member of the Sandia Park Scenic Byway
Board of Directors
In the late 19th Century, a small Hispanic community left its home church—the San Antonio Church in what is now south Cedar Crest—and formed the village of San Antonito (the church dates back to 1886). The farmers in the new settlement soon realized that they needed a source of irrigation water if they were to be successful in raising their crops; see also Footnote 1. (Their relatives, back down in San Antonio, had tapped into the springs high in the south Sandias for their irrigation water.)
The villagers realized that Cienega Spring ran year round and that Cienega Creek carried enough water after the spring snowmelt and, some years, after summer thunderstorms to serve their irrigation needs. The challenge was to tap into that source. Working together with shovels and horse-drawn earthmovers, they diverted Cienega Creek at a point several feet higher than the place where the creek now runs next to Cienega Canyon Road. The water flowed through an “acequia madre,” a manmade ditch, slightly uphill from the present Cienega Canyon Road to the vacant property at the intersection of Cienega Canyon and Tejano roads. Here they constructed a dam that would store enough water in a good year to allow irrigation throughout the growing season.
But subsistence farming was on its way out—too often the stream
didn’t run long enough to fill the pond. And World War II
introduced the community’s young men to the “outside
world,” where opportunities for employment didn’t depend
directly on the spring runoff. So the little irrigation system
drifted into oblivion.
Sandia Park Comes Alive
In the 1920s and 1930s, Sandia Park (which is to say the east slope of Sandia Peak, as opposed to San Antonito) became a popular site for Albuquerque residents who appreciated the peace and quiet, the views, the privacy, the easy access to sledding and early forms of skiing, and, most of all, the cooler summer temperatures—typically 10 degrees cooler than “the City.”
People who could afford it bought property in Sandia Park. A few built homes designed for year-around occupancy, but most built only a small weekend or summer cabin. The Sandia Park Post Office dates to 1926.
Keep in mind that the journey from the city was a far cry from the current trip along a high-speed interstate highway and a five-lane state highway—an easy 15-minute trip. Before WWII, Highway 66 wasn’t paved. In fact, until 1937, Highway 66 cut northwest from a point miles east of Tijeras Canyon and reached almost to Santa Fe before going south on US Highway 84-85 through Albuquerque’s Fourth Street. Route 66 went south from there to a point near Los Lunas, then went northwest to what’s now Interstate 40 east of Grants.
The salient point here is that Tijeras Canyon was a formidable obstacle to road builders for decades. It’s true that one or more stagecoach routes followed Tijeras Creek through the Canyon, crossing and re-crossing the stream (some wagon ruts are still visible, if you know where to look). But until about WWII, the road wasn’t paved at all, and it often washed out where it crossed the stream.
Once Sandia-Park-bound travelers left the Canyon and headed north along what’s now Highway 14 (it was Highway 10 until the 1970s, when Interstate 10 was built across southern New Mexico), they faced a steep climb out of the Canyon. Model T’s and Model A’s had all they can do to get up to San Antonio in what’s now Cedar Crest del Sur (my term for the southern portion of that community). The two-lane road north of San Antonio was known for its many curves, blind spots, and potholes. Some of the old-timers I’ve talked with claimed it would take two to three hours to make the one-way trip.
So the decision to purchase property and build a home or summer cabin in Sandia Park couldn’t be made lightly. Most of the properties were purchased by Albuquerque’s relatively wealthy people, the ones who could afford two homes and two or more vehicles. In fact, the portion of Sandia Park where many of us live is a development called Sandia Park Country Club Estates, named, I’m told, for the many people from the Albuquerque Country Club area who bought land out here.
As noted earlier, some of the early Sandia Parkers lived out here full-time; they almost certainly had enough money that they didn’t have to get up and commute to the City each day.
More typically, Mom and the kids would move out here fulltime once school
was out and hot weather attacked the City. Dad would make the trip
out to see them each weekend, commuting out on Friday afternoon and
journeying back to the City on Sunday afternoon. Keep in mind that
most of the homes were little more than crude summer cabins built in
“Modern Sandia Park”
After World War II, roads became better, vehicles became more powerful, and people became more willing to commute long distances to work. Fixing up that little cabin out in the mountains began to sound attractive to many. The drought of the 1950s pushed many residents to join the Old Sandia Park Service Cooperative, which gets its water from the Cienega Canyon springbox. Others drilled wells. And many of the summer cabins were converted into year-round homes, with electricity, running water, and septic systems—and “real” kitchens and bathrooms, a bedroom or two, and a screened-in porch to serve as an outdoor living room.
Over the years, the original Sandia Park community—the homes along Tejano and Cienega canyons and “Tiltons,” the Sandia Park General Store and Post Office where the two roads meet—expanded to include homes along Sandia Park Lane, Ranch Road, Crest Road, 4-Wheel Drive, and Skyline Drive. Sometime since WWII, the highway to Sandia Crest was paved, and the Sandia Peak Ski Area replaced its ancient rope tows with chairlifts. All of these improvements made the area just east of the National Forest more attractive to home buyers and builders.
To meet the demand for home sites, new roads were built, roads such as
Calle de Caballo, Meadow View Road, and Casa Colina. The part of
Sandia Park represented by the Scenic Byway Neighborhood Association,
which is all the homes that use Highway 536 to get to and from the
outside world, now has about 150 homes. (That is a small percentage
of the 2,100 or so homes that have a Sandia Park mailing address;
those homes can be on or near Frost Road or in Pa-ako, San Pedro
Creek, or The Overlook, the area’s newest developments.)
The Sandia Crest Highway
One of the items the association has for sale is a small booklet (ideal for a glove compartment) that takes a traveler from the original Triangle intersection to the top of the 10,678-foot Crest. Along the way the traveler is invited to stop at each of 20 “Auto Tour” signs. Each one provides information about that site or scene—trees, geology, animals and birds common there, etc. The booklet is just $1; go to merchandise to order one.
FOOTNOTE 1: From a presentation on east mountain communities at a meeting of the East Mountain Historical Society a few years ago, I learned that they typically had similar histories. First, some enterprising member of a larger community would convince some families to accompany him and his family to a potentially good place to build homes, raise crops and livestock, and found a church. If the political leader of the larger town (Albuquerque, in this case) agreed, he would permit the group of new settlers to leave.
Tijeras was one of the first of the new Spanish settlements in the east mountains, but the old towns along “South 14,” now NM 337, were also first settled long ago.
Unfortunately, all of these villages, including the Tijeras offshoot of San Antonio, and its offshoot, San Antonito, faced two major threats. One was the weather. Although any of the communities might thrive for several years, droughts could wipe out a community in just one or two growing seasons, and the residents would escape back to Albuquerque.
The other threat, in the early years, took a human form. Bands of marauding Navajos and Apaches, though they no longer posed any deadly threat, were certainly quite willing to appropriate livestock and/or crops in the dark of the night. Again, since most of these communities lived very much a hand-to-mouth existence, a raid would usually mean the community journeyed back to the shelter of the city and the beneficence of its churches.
A few years would pass, and someone, often the descendents of those who had been driven from the villages, would appeal to try again to resettle the original home and farm sites. The request was typically granted, and another generation would try its luck.
Over the years, the Native American threat diminished, of course, but the danger of drought was always present, as all residents of Sandia Park, especially those near the US Forest boundary, are aware.
NOTE: The first part of this account is based on “A Brief, Unresearched History of the Old Sandia Park System Cooperative and Its Water Source.” If you are aware of errors or omissions in the above account, please contact its author, Bruce Hawkinson at P O Box 205, Sandia Park, or e-mail email@example.com.