Chapter One

The Sacred Land of Caja del Rio Plateau

The Caja del Rio Plateau is more than 106,000 acres of stunning landscape managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service.

Ponderosa, piñon and sabina trees serve as the canopy while the bosques (woodlands) along the rivers are dominated by cottonwoods. The trees, plants, bushes, shrubs and wildflowers throughout the Cajas are the life-giving foods for the area’s fauna, which roam along the escarpments of the canyons.

Rich with petroglyphs, the Caja Plateau is one of the most ecologically flush and culturally significant landscapes in the state.

Just a few miles outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, breathtaking views of volcanic escarpments and fissures, fossils, caves, rivers, cold springs, petroglyphs, exotic flora and fauna await visitors along each and every trail. All of this is interconnected by flowing rivers and a rich history that connects people with place.

Rio Grande

Chapter Two

Land as Living Culture

La Cieneguillla

The history of this land is intricate and interconnected.

Centuries of human existence show their cultural imprint. From time immemorial Indigenous peoples have lived within this large area leaving behind petroglyphs, former pueblos, understated shrines, and oral memories.

The Caja del Rio is home to pre-colonial petroglyphs dating back to the 13th century by the Pueblo people of the Middle Rio Grande Valley. The birds and wildlife depicted in the petroglyphs are still seen in the area to this day, highlighting the importance of the Caja del Rio as a sacred site and critical wildlife corridor.

The Caja Del Rio holds a deep historical value and it continues to remain of vital importance to the Pueblos of the middle Rio Grande.

Pueblo people built villages, farmed, hunted and gathered food from the earth. The Pueblos of Tse’nah’teh, Tse’gu’ma, Guicú, Pindi, Pueblo Quemado de las Cieneguitas and Tres Arroyos remain as a legacy along the Río Santa Fe. Cochiti and Tesuque Pueblo people continue their tradition of conducting ceremonies within and share their perspectives about these areas today.

Phoebe Suina

The Caja del Rio is a place of life and abundance for many communities that have lived on the landscape for generations.

Along with its cultural importance to the Pueblo people surrounding the Caja, people from traditional Hispano communities remain connected to the land and rely on its many resources to sustain traditional ways of life.

Alonso Gallegos and Cattle

Hilario Romero

They have revered and respected the landscape with a sense of responsibility for its stewardship.

The Caja del Rio’s many sacred sites would eventually comprise the ​nuclei of today's traditional Hispano communities along the Santa Fe River.

William Mee

“Our connection to history really started to develop when [...] we started doing oral history interviews [...] We discovered a lot of little gems about the mesa, because every family came up here to do some type of resource gathering. It might have been herbs, or it might have been piñon picking, or it might have been firewood gathering, or it might have been deer hunting.”

— William Mee
6th Generation Resident and President of the Agua Fria Village Association

Listen to the audio clip

Reyes and Bryant DeVore

The Caja del Rio is a place of movement and belonging.

The Pueblo people believe that the footprints of their ancestors stretch across the landscapes of the Caja del Rio. It is a place that represents journey, growth, and life. No matter where you go, the Caja Plateau embodies home and belonging for many.

Retaining the original sense of this place, its integrity, its people, heritage, and culture, along with communities and their ties to the landscape, is of critical importance.


“It’s our place of happiness. We’re encompassed by tons of people that use this land and they all have that common love to take care of it….they all want to see this protected”

- Julian Gonzales
Northern New Mexico Grassroots Organizer, New Mexico Wild

The Caja del Rio is a living cultural landscape that holds immeasurable value to the Pueblo people of the middle Rio Grande.

Indigenous communities are the original stewards of this land, and their traditional knowledge can guide future generations in the responsible protection of this landscape.

The Caja del Rio is a vital link between Pueblo people living around this landscape to their past ancestors.

Hike with Pueblo Action Alliance

Chapter Three

A Land of Many Sources of Life

The plateau and canyons are vital habitats for a diverse range of plants and animals.

The myriad of habitats in the Caja del Rio, from the open desert to its alpine environment, make it a unique home for many different life zones and species. The region is dominated by piñon and juniper savanna and woodland with areas of sage and mixed grasses.

Flora in Santa Fe River Valley

Animals living in the area include black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, elk, porcupines, jackrabbits, and the Gunnison’s prairie dog, which conservation groups are pushing to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The area is also home to golden and bald eagles as well as several species of lizards and snakes, such as the desert kingsnake.

This vast acreage of unprotected volcanic plateau plays a critical role in connecting a vital wildlife corridor that runs along the Upper Rio Grande Watershed from Colorado through New Mexico.

The Caja del Rio also remains highly ecologically intact and has a high degree of climate resilience.

Due to its high ecological stability and climate resilience, parts of Caja del Rio are among the top 20% of unprotected BLM and Forest Service lands with the highest conservation value in the lower 48 U.S. states.

Snapshot of The Climate Atlas

Snapshot of The Climate Atlas showing a rough outline of the Caja del Rio area (dotted black), plus the “Composite Model” layer which indicates the importance of an area across a range of six conservation objectives, including ecological/biodiversity and climate indicators.

Chapter Four

Threats and Long Lasting Impacts

The Caja del Rio Plateau is a place we are in danger of losing.

It has no protection from development and falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Lack of management has led to illegal dumping, reckless and unregulated shooting, cattle rustling, poaching of endangered species, illegal wood cutting and rock removal, off-highway vehicle misuse, and vandalism of cultural sites.

Illegal Dumping in Caja del Rio

Illegal dumping in Caja del Rio.


Without better protection, petroglyphs like these are at risk.

Significant neglect is already impacting the land and its inhabitants, and endangering petroglyphs.

The La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs were recently vandalized by 10 spray painted images and scratching. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, “Some of the images depicted in the graffiti were graphic in nature and included a pentagram, a swastika and several racially derogatory slurs.”

Los Alamos National Labs is proposing a transmission line and a system of highways that would decimate a landscape that is critical to sacred sites and all wildlife present in the Caja del Rio.

The Caja del Rio would be completely destroyed.

Chapter Five

Coming Together

The Caja del Rio is a beautiful landscape and remains vital for local communities.

It must be protected for future generations.

Julia Bernal

Darrin Muenzberg

“There is an opportunity to save this last bit of heritage that we have here. It’s tied into our water. It’s tied into our accessibility, but also it’s tied into our broader sense of stewardship for the land.”

- Darrin Muenzberg
Northern New Mexico Traditional Communities Communicator and La Bajada resident

“Protecting the Caja del Rio is about not only protecting an area with incredible history and culture, but also incredible spirituality and a place that's very sacred that I think captures a lot of the story and the imagination of the Southwest.”

- Rev. Andrew Black
EarthKeepers 360 Founder & National Wildlife Federation Field Director of Public Lands

Andrew Black

Carmichael Dominguez

“The Caja del Rio is important to many neighboring communities, including the southside of Santa Fe, an area that represents the poorest and youngest population in the City of Santa Fe. With limited resources to serve this unique community, we have a responsibility to protect the Caja del Rio for future generations and create opportunities for today’s Southside population to be responsible stewards of and enjoy this amazing landscape.”

- Carmichael Dominguez
Earthkeepers 360 Community Organizer

The Caja del Rio Plateau needs permanent protection.

Support infrastructure and resources that are needed to reign in the abuse of the land that is already occurring daily and protect the fragile cultural resources and the wildlife habitat of the irreplaceable Caja del Rio Plateau.

Add your voice of support and get updates on the progress to protect Caja del Rio.

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Meet the People Behind the Movement

Click the thumbnail images to learn more about the people behind the movement.

Mark Mitchell

Mark Mitchell

Jerome Lucero

Jerome Lucero

Phoebe Suina

Phoebe Suina

Darrin Muenzberg

Darrin Muenzberg

Alonzo Gallegos

Alonzo Gallegos

Julia Fay Bernal

Julia Fay Bernal

Reyes DeVore & Bryant Ramon

Reyes DeVore & Bryant Ramon

Hilario Romero

Hilario Romero

Jeremy Romero

Jeremy Romero

Andrew Black

Andrew Black

Julian Gonzales

Julian Gonzales

William Mee

William Mee

More Resources

The Climate Atlas

The Climate Atlas

Check out this case study from The Climate Atlas, which explains how Caja del Rio is among the top 20% of unprotected BLM and Forest Service lands with the highest conservation value in the lower 48 U.S. states.

New Mexico Wild

New Mexico Wild

Check out the 'Protect the Caja del Rio' campaign from our partners at New Mexico Wild.