Though roadside memorials are illegal in Colorado, they’re a common site in New Mexico where it is illegal to descrate them. The shrines usually mark the scene of accident where a loved one died. The tradition dates back to funerary processions brought to the southwest by the Spaniards in the 17th Century when crosses world mark a “descanso” or resting spot during the transport of the body. Though there is some debate about the legal validity of such shrines and whether they are a distraction to passing motorists, the ad hoc commemorations are undeniably touching additions and sober reminders to the drab shoulders of long and dangerous highways. We stopped and took a closer look at some of the memorials in northern New Mexico between Taos and the Colorado border on a recent trip.

(Thanks to Sue Spengler who helped me with some of the photos in this piece. Music is “Gracias a la Vida” by Violeta Parra, sung by Mercedes Sosa.)


12 Responses to Roadside Memorials of Northern New Mexico

  1. Great job , I’m quite touched !

  2. Ronald Burke says:

    “Though roadside memorials are illegal in Colorado” I sure see a bunch of them on the highways around Pueblo Colorado.

  3. Brandy says:

    This is a great piece of observation–stilling, sobering. Who makes the beautiful music you used?

  4. Joyce Cheney says:

    On Crete, there are MANY roadside shrines, “altar houses” ranging from milk-crate to big-doghouse in size. They’re decorated on the outside and hold objects inside. We thought, “Was there a fatal accident at each of these spots?” but learned that people place these shrines at spots where they’ve had near-accidents, to give thanks for having escaped injury or death.

  5. Jean says:

    I think it’s Mercedes Sosa singing….. Lovely work, Noel. Thank you.

  6. Craig Richardson says:

    The song is Gracias a la Vida by Mercedes Sosa.

  7. Jane says:

    Beautifully done.

  8. Noel Black says:

    Yes, it’s Mercedes Sosa singing Violeta Parra’s “Gracias a la Vida.” What a beauty of a song and what a voice!

    Joyce, I’m not sure if the roadside memorials in Colombia were for the deceased or not, but they would embed them in the steeps on the side of the road and put old headlights around them to make them quite visible at night, which probably served as excellent warnings in dangerous spots, not that caution would ever be a virtue of the drivers!

  9. Jeremy says:

    nice work y’all!

  10. Mike Procell says:

    Bittersweet – just the way I like it.

  11. Tom Foster says:

    Thank you for the project. I think it would make a great expanded project for someone who had the time and fortitude. By the way, I had never heard Mercedes Sosa do Gracias a la Vida. Try the Joan Baez version for an little faster tempo. I like both of them! Good Work.


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