The first mapping and recording of prehistoric sites in Cañada Alamosa was done by Herbert Yeo, an engineer employed by the Bureau of Reclamation. Among the sites he recorded in 1933 was what was later designated the Kelly Canyon Site. Yeo gave this and his other site maps and artifact collections to the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, where they were assigned LA numbers and entered into the laboratory’s data base. Other prehistoric sites along
   Alamosa Creek, including the Pinnacle Ruin, were identified and mapped by W.B. Morrow in 1940. In 1976, John P. Wilson recorded the ruins of the Warm Springs Indian Agency at Ojo Caliente.
   Field teams lead by Karl Laumbach of Human Systems Research and Stephen Lekson of the University of Colorado performed a brief reconnaissance survey of the area in 1988. In 1991-1992, Laumbach led a more extensive survey which included the first recordings of the Victorio and Montoya Sites.
The effort was funded by the Department of the Interior as it considered nominating the area for national monument status. That never came to pass, but the resulting research, including an ethnohistoric study by Lekson, became the starting point for the Cañada Alamosa Project.
   Monticello Box Ranch, a small ranch containing a cluster of significant sites in the canyon, was offered for sale in the late 1990s. Laumbach persuaded the sellers to offer it as a preservation property.
  The effort bore fruit when Trudy and Denny O’Toole acquired the property in 1998. The O’Tooles established the non-profit Cañada Alamosa Institute, Inc. and joined forces with Laumbach’s non-profit employer Human Systems Research, Inc. to create the Cañada Alamosa Project.


Project Study Area

   The drainage system of the Rio Alamosa in southwestern New Mexico was identified by the project founders as the focus of research. The project study area includes the entire drainage of Alamosa Creek from its mouth on the Rio Grande at the northern end of Elephant Butte Lake northwestwardly to the southern fringe of the Plains of San Agustin. 
 The creek’s headwaters rise at the cluster of springs just west of the Monticello Box known as
Ojo Caliente. At the springs, faulting forces hot 
water to the surface from a depth of 1500 feet, discharging an estimated 2000 gallons per minute year round. Joining other ground waters that surface near the Box, Alamosa Creek begins its southeasterly journey down Monticello Canyon to the Rio Grande.

   The Alamosa drainage encompasses approximately 725 square miles and ranges in elevation from 4,400 to 10,334 feet above sea level. The drainage includes privately held lands as well as lands administered by the United States Forest Service (Cibola and Gila National Forests),  the Bureau of Land Management (Las Cruces District), and the New Mexico State Land Office. It takes in portions of Socorro, Sierra, Grant, and Catron counties.

   The Rio Alamosa study area includes three major biotic zones. At the lowest elevations is the Chihuahuan Desert
. From its mouth on the Rio Grande approximately to the community of Monticello, this zone is dominated by mesquite in the sandy areas and creosote on the mesa tops. Desert grasses, forbs, and other shrubs complete the scene. At the highest elevations, in the San Mateo Mountains, the Sierra Cuchillo, and the Black Range, is the Upland zone. These rugged mountains are forested with Ponderosa pine, aspen, fir, and spruce. Upstream from Monticello lies the Transitional zone, a semi-arid ecotone between 4,500 and 6,500
feet elevation typified by piñon-juniper grassland, its canyon bottoms home to cottonwoods, oaks, walnuts, willows, and hackberries.
   The waters of Alamosa Creek and the plant and animal
communities they nourish have attracted and supported human habitation for some 2000 years.
Though never a major cultural or population center, Cañada Alamosa offered a natural pathway from the Plains of San Agustin and the Anasazi pueblo communities that lie to the north to the valley of the Rio Grande and south to Mexico. Another natural corridor runs west from Ojo Caliente into the Gila River headwaters and down into the heart of the Mogollon pueblo cultural area and beyond into Arizona. Puebloans, Apaches, and Europeans knew and traveled these routes that connected Cañada Alamosa to centers of kinship, culture, and commerce distant from its canyon walls.

 Alamosa Creek


The Box




Research Goals and Strategies  

   The principal research goals of the Cañada Alamosa Project are to answer questions about human habitation and migration in a cultural borderland, the drainage of the Rio Alamosa, and to place those findings in the broader context of researchers’ and the public’s understanding of the ways human communities evolve through interaction with a dynamic environment and each other over time.

   Research seeks to determine whether the Alamosa drainage study area was a boundary or frontier between the northern pueblo (or Anasazi) and southern pueblo (or Mogollon) culture areas, or lay within the confines of a single cultural area. If Alamosa Creek was a frontier between two major puebloan cultural traditions and not an integral part of one or the other, then movement in and out of the canyon by groups affiliated
with the southern or northern pueblo areas should, it is hypothesized, be more clearly visible in the archaeological record. 
   Another major goal specific to the prehistoric period is to determine if this well-watered drainage was home to the same biological group of ceramics-producing farmers for several hundred years or if, in fact, the valley was repeatedly occupied, abandoned, and reoccupied by a variety of culturally variant groups over a 2000-year time span. Underlying this research goal is the question of whether or not a consistently watered valley is sufficient to support and sustain a population of humans in the face of substantial climate shifts, depletion of resources, and cycles of catastrophic flooding.

      In addition to serving as a cultural frontier, the Alamosa drainage is also a research frontier. Little site inventorying and virtually no formal excavation of archaeological sites had occurred in the area prior to the project’s inception. Research thus began with querying the Archaeological Records Management System (ARMS) for sites already identified within the 18 United States Geological Survey (USGS) quadrangle maps that overlay the drainage system. The initial ARMS search produced data on 409 sites, prehistoric and historic, within or near the boundaries of the Alamosa system. 
Archaeological surveys, another research strategy, have been undertaken atop the terraces along the riparian corridor on both the Monticello Box Ranch and on other private property downstream from it. These sorties have added more than 40 sites to the ARMS database, and surveying continues.
   Four prehistoric settlements on the ranch—the Montoya, Kelly Canyon, and Victorio Sites and the Pinnacle Ruin—have been mapped and excavated by the project. Key features at the four sites have been dug, drawn, and noted; their findings cleaned, catalogued, identified and sent to Human Systems Research in Las Cruces for analysis; samples of charred wood, plant materials, obsidian, local clays and pottery sherds, hearth collars, and animal bone fragments have been sent to a variety of labs for analysis and entry into the project’s environmental and cultural data bases.

   As excavations exposed walls, floor features, and the remnants of roofs, a project volunteer, an architect, has built a portfolio of photographs, drawings, and analyses of architectural features that add an important dimension to our understanding of the prehistoric inhabitants of Cañada Alamosa.
   Geologists have helped build understanding of the millennia long shaping of the canyon itself through volcanic activity and the erosive force of water by means of geologic mapping. Geologists have also focused on uncovering, mapping, and analyzing the layering of the Alamosa’s terraces and soils, which comprise the natural foundation of agriculture, tool making, and the construction of dwellings in the canyon, and on sourcing local clays and other mineral resources.       
   Strategies for researching the Warm Springs Apaches and the settlers of European origin who encountered and then displaced them in the canyon include the conduct, transcription, and archiving of oral history interviews;
investigation of the homesteading of land and ensuing transfers of property along the Alamosa and creation of a compilation of these findings; and composing and making available concise bibliographies of books, articles, and web resources critical to understanding and appreciating these 19th and 20th century dwellers in Cañada Alamosa.