old las vegas highway near old pecos trail

Last weekend, we drove to Santa Fe by way of Highway 54N. We entered Santa Fe from the south along the old Route 66, the Old Las Vegas Highway. It was a beautiful and rainy cool weekend, which was fun to have experienced.

We approached Santa Fe after 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Ever on the lookout for descansos (roadside memorials spontaneously built by the bereaved), MJ spotted beautifully painted crosses and a star of David on the right-hand side of Old Las Vegas Highway. About this point, we were quickly approaching  the Bobcat Cafe on Old Pecos Trail.

Originally, the first image posted was meant to capture the geo-locator code near the descanso site; however, I have been unable to find retrieve the code. I did however, capture several images of the arrangement, which like so many in New Mexico and across the country are situated along narrow, two-lane roads. Many appear on either the I25 median between its north and south-bound traffic between Albuquerque and Soccoro, or along the southern end of Highway 54 between Northeast El Paso, Texas and Alamogordo, New Mexico. The latter has many poignantly elaborate and permanent memorials.

Whenever I get out of the car to photograph these installations, I'm never scared of the traffic. Then again, I don't stand in the middle of the road to take my images even though I would like to do so.

Descanso on the Old Las Vegas Highway commemorate the location where
lives of four friends were cut short one night in June 2009.
Returning to El Paso on Sunday, I traced the names of those killed and connected this memorial with another descanso arrangement I photographed in February 2010. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican articles, the horrific accident killed four teens and critically injured a fifth. Santa Fe New Mexican articles published on June 28 and July 1, 2009 described the site's accident. In addition to this descanso, another was constructed when memorial sersvices were held near Santa Fe Prep and Cathedral Park. At the present time (7/7/2012), the June 28 article still presents the Cathedral Park memorial service slide show.

The newspaper details how the oncoming driver (who was under the influence with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit, and drug paraphernalia in his vehicle), was tried for the critical injury and the four deaths. However, after many delays and various theories as to what happened that night, the jury found him nonguilty on all counts. Because he was originally charged with the deaths and grievous injury only, he was not even found guilty of the DUI and possession of the drug paraphernalia and alcohol found in his vehicle.

Santa Fe Descanso :: February 2010
Quite frankly, it was a shocking resolution to such a senseless tragedy. Evidently, theories were allowed entry that convinced the jury the driver, though clearly breaking DUI laws, was not responsible for the deaths, and let him off scott free.

However, in some kind of cosmic karmic realignment, the man was arrested for another DUI this past March. Perhaps he will get the help he needs, and have his license forever revoked.

While I must admit that descansos have fascinated me since grade school, it is in researching the tragedies that help me connect with those who loved the missing and pause to think on how quickly our lives can change because of the actions of another. My interest in such beautiful and material essences of love for friends and family was seared into my psyche when two sisters were killed in a bridge underpass near Crockett Grade School in the mid-1960s.

Back in the day, such information was communicated only by radio and one friend calling another. The day of that accident, there was a lot of confusion as to where my cousins were and my aunt was frantically awaiting their arrival--she had already heard of the accident happening near their home. Although terribly worried and saddened about the accident, she deep down knew that my cousins would not have been under that bridge at that time--it was in the opposite direction of their home. Yet as with many other occurrences and frights, you just never know what is happening until all is revealed later. My cousins eventually returned home safe. But because I knew about the accident, had listened to my mother describe the phone call she had with my aunt during her tearful vigil, I immediately understood the reason for the crosses, the flowers, the teddy bears, the valentines left beneath the railroad bridge--a daylight drunk driver had killed two little girls who walked home from school one afternoon--results that were the same then as now.

Please, don't drink and drive, don't text and drive, don't drive under the influence.

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