Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate


We see them all along the highways and public roads of New Mexico: crosses decorated with flowers, teddy bears, photographs, Christmas decorations. These tributes mark the last place a person was alive. In New Mexico, we call them descansos, which is Spanish for place of rest.

In 2007 while I was working as media liason for the Majority Office of the New Mexico House of Representatives, a bill was passed which was later signed into law making it illegal to knowingly or willfully deface or destroy “a memorial placed alongside a public road or right of way to memorialize the death of one or more persons.” Descansos may be removed by the state under certain circumstances, but it would be a rare occurrence. In New Mexico even when roads are under repair, the descansos are treated with great respect by construction crews.

Descansos are a symbol of remembrance for the family and friends, a place to honor their loved one. To me, the hundreds of descansos lining our roads are even more poignant knowing the people who passed away had no idea they would die that day. They sat in their cars to drive to the store, to have a bite to eat at a restaurant or just drive home. Unfortunately, all too often in New Mexico, the death was related to a drunk driver on the road. These people did not have to die that day in that spot but for someone making a hideously poor choice.

So while the descansos mark a celebration of life, they provide a constant caution to the living: Do not drink and drive. Drive safely. Best not to have a descanso erected in your honor.

©Catherine Trapani

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