The Secret Sanctuary

Los Luceros is unforgettable to those who encounter it. Dip into this (relatively) brief history of its diverse dwellers.

Goats and sheep graze in Casa Grande's lush meadow. Goats and sheep graze in Casa Grande's lush meadow. Photograph by Gene Peach.

The New Mexico historic property known today as Los Luceros has supported consistent human occupation for about 800 years, according to the archaeological record. Today, that occupation metric is miniscule: the ranger’s lodgings and occasional travelers who bunk in the guest house overlooking a rambunctious stretch of the Rio Grande.

Visitors, who are welcomed by appointment or during special events, can stroll the apple orchard, enjoy a picnic on the riverbank, or encounter a hushed moment in the quiet, diminutive chapel. 

Most drivers who zip past its exit lane on arid NM 68 about ten miles north of Española have no idea that this lush, storied estate is just a mile off the highway, and that the green column of old-growth trees in the distance signals its fertility. Los Luceros’ historic marker is so shot up and covered with spray paint that its purpose, like the property itself, is hard to make out. 

My first childhood memory of Los Luceros is of a northern New Mexico apple picking adventure; Velarde and the surrounding areas are well-known for apples.

Every fall my father would load up his kids and head north from Santa Fe in search of the perfect Red Delicious, just after the first frost when the sugar content was at its height. My dad, a biologist for the state of New Mexico, knew many of the farmers and ranchers, including the foreman at Los Luceros, who would encourage him to come and avail of the bounty. 

Later, as an archivist at the New Mexico State Records and Archives, I was assigned to assist the staff at the Office of Historic Preservation (DCA) in their research on Los Luceros for federal and state historic preservation site designation. This assignment gave me the opportunity to learn the history of this special place from the inside. 

 Potsherds at the site date from around 1150 to 1350. Since that time, the course of the river has drifted consistently to the west, exposing a large tract of fertile bottomland that succeeding cultures have farmed for centuries.

Named after the prominent Spanish Colonial family that once lived there, its existing structures were built on the ruins of a Tewa-speaking Indian settlement known as P’o yege. A seasonal fishing and farming village, it served the greater community of Native pueblos on both sides of the river. The lengthy occupation of the site supports the local lore that Los Luceros also functioned as a small, fortified Spanish outpost dating from the early 1600s.

The remains of pottery from this later period—from about 1625 to the 1900s—indicate continuous settlement at Los Luceros since the earliest days of the Spanish colonization of New Mexico. These artifacts include large quantities of the pueblo-produced pottery that is commonly found at historic settlement sites of the era. This pottery was more modern in design and used micaceous clay that held liquids for cooking, and withstood higher ranges of heat. Clay slip, polishing techniques, higher-temperature glazes, and new designs for cooking appealed to the Spanish colonists. It was more economical and convenient for early colonists to use an available source of earthenware materials than to make their own. Most cooking, storage, and serving pieces used during the colonial period were pueblo-crafted. 

During the Mexican Period of New Mexico history (1821–46), Los Luceros evolved into a sustainable, working farm and ranch. New families took ownership of the land and water and new irrigation and agriculture techniques resulted in increased yields in crops and livestock production. The slow-moving, global exchange between the Old World and the New World, known as the Columbian Exchange, began to take root in northern New Mexico.

The arrival of Colonel Stephen Watts Kearney in June 1846 brought more change to the Los Luceros community. Known as the Territorial Period of New Mexico history (1846–1912), this era brought new laws, new people, a new language, and many economic and social changes to the region. After New Mexico achieved statehood, the Los Luceros area absorbed an influx of “New Women” from the East, including Mary Cabot Wheelwright, who bought Los Luceros and made it into an estate that employed local Native and Hispano people. 

The Tewa Time

I first learned about the early oral history of Los Luceros in the 1980s while assisting Tewa elder Esther Martinez (P’oe Tsawi) with research for her book, San Juan Pueblo Tewa Dictionary, at the New Mexico State Library (DCA) in Santa Fe. Mrs. Martinez was well-known as a consultant to linguists, as well as a revered teacher, storyteller, and pueblo historian who willingly shared her knowledge and memories well into her nineties with members of her own community, the state, and the nation. This is some of what she shared with me.

According to the Tewa origin story, four pairs of sibling deities were sent out to explore the world before the Tewa people entered into it from the underworld. This place of origin is located in what is now southern Colorado, where they emerged from a lake and migrated south to Ojo Caliente. There, they established Ouinge and Sapawe, forming a community along the Rio Chama and its tributaries. 

The Tewas established two other pueblos near the confluence of the Rio Grande and the Rio Chama: Ohkay Owingeh on the east side of the Rio Grande and Yungue Owingeh on the west. Within this Tewa homeland, communities were established on both sides of the Rio Grande, the Tewa pueblo known as P’o yege [now Los Luceros] among them.

Traditional pueblo agricultural practices have been a part of the culture since ancient times, and their use is documented at the Los Luceros site. Archaeological evidence reveals that community fishing practices were also an important part of the sustainable economy at the site.

Community fishing was accomplished by stretching long nets made from yucca thread across the water, after weighing them down with rocks and attaching guajes (gourds) and animal skins to keep them afloat. 

One group of fishermen with ropes dragged the nets upriver on one side of the bank, while another group stood on the opposite bank awaiting its assigned task. A fisherman with a long wooden rod walked behind the net in the middle of the river to help keep it from breaking. 

Following repeated dredging, the second group of fisherman crossed the river, where both groups teamed to pull the fish-laden net ashore. After a day of fishing a stretch of the river, the catch was divided among the different clans of the greater community. Mrs. Martinez explained that communal work, and the sharing of the bounty it creates, strengthens the concept of regional homeland within the ancient traditions of the Tewa lifeway.

1598: Enter The Spanish 

In 1598, Juan de Oñate and a group of settlers traveled up el Camino Real de Tierra Adentro to the confluence of el Rio del Norte and el Rio de Chama. The expedition brought supplies for long-term settlement, including food, iron tools, medicine, paper, blacksmithing equipment, clothing, armor, weapons, church furnishings, crop seeds, and thousands of cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. They intended to establish a permanent colony in northern New Spain, and they chose two locations. The first they called San Juan de los Caballeros, which was the occupied pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan) on the east side of the Rio del Norte. Several months later the Spanish capital was moved to Yunge Owingeh, which the Spanish named San Gabriel. This location was across the river from present day Los Luceros. 

Around 1609, the capital of New Mexico was moved to Santa Fe. Some of the first Hispano families who came with Oñate remained in the San Gabriel area and attempted to establish outlying farms and ranches. Los Luceros was the site of one such rancho during the 1600s, but exact documentary evidence remains elusive. 

Sebastián Martín Serrano Land Grant 

The earliest record of Spanish settlement of Los Luceros is the Sebastián Martín Serrano grant in 1703. In 1705, following the order of Governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdes, Lieutenant General Juan Paez Hurtado went to the grant site and assigned the following natural objects as the boundaries of the grant: “On the north, a cross which was erected on the cañon which ran to El Embudo; on the east, the river which ran between Chimayo and the Pueblo of Picuris; on the south, the north line of the Pueblo of San Juan grant; and on the west, the table lands on the west side of the Rio Grande.” The grant covered about 50,000 acres. It extended five miles upriver from Ohkay Owingeh on the south end to Picuris Pueblo on the north. It stretched for eighteen miles from Black Mesa on the west side of El Rio del Norte to the Sangre de Cristo mountains in Las Trampas. Sebastián Martín, in fact, donated a portion of the grant to the village of Las Trampas when settlers there began to build their community in 1751. 

Sebastián Martín was a leader in the reconquest of New Mexico led by Diego de Vargas in 1692, following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. He became one of the leading citizens of the province. He and his wife, María Luján, were living in the capital of Santa Fe in around 1698, when he was twenty-seven years old. The couple decided to move to the ancestral regions of his grandparents in the Rio Arriba area. At first they lived in the newly established villa of Santa Cruz de la Cañada. When his three brothers and their families joined him, they moved to the area along the Rio Grande where they established their land grant. Martín named his frontier settlement Puesto de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad del Rio del Norte Arriba, after a capilla (chapel) he built on that location. The community was also known as Soledad, after the chapel.

In 1717, Martín was appointed alcalde mayor of Santa Cruz de la Cañada. This was a powerful position on the northern frontier because he served as mayor, judge, council, and sheriff of the political jurisdiction. One of his official decisions led to the creation of the first great irrigation ditch constructed on the east side of the Rio Grande. The present day “los Luceros ditch” (acequia de los Luceros) runs for eight miles and is fourteen feet wide. Martín planted an orchard of several hundred apple trees adjacent to this acequia, and he also cultivated a large cornfield and gardens of chile and onions. He grazed cattle, sheep, and horses in the pastures below the gardens. 

Oral sources in the region maintain that Los Luceros is located at the site of Sebastián Martín’s rancho. Martín’s original ranch house consisted of four rooms and two torreones. In the tradition of Spanish military architecture, the round torreones were attached to the house, and they projected from the ends of the building in order to provide a raking fire across the facades of the house. Preservationists and architects who have studied the original documents of the property theorize that the original fortified building foundations are preserved in the lower floor of the present-day Los Luceros ranch house. 

In the will of Martín’s widow, dated 1765, the house is described as having twenty-four rooms and a stable, all attached as one structure. The exterior walls had few openings, to better defend against attacks by Apaches and other tribes that carried out raids in the area. The rooms opened into an interior courtyard, and the flat mud roof was supported by large vigas. (When the house and land were divided among Martín’s heirs in 1772, each of the seven heirs received 16 (square) varas of the house (123 square feet), 17 (square) varas of land (13 square feet) and fourteen trees in the apple orchard.

At a 1995 land and water conference at the Oñate Cultural Center in Alcalde, New Mexico, I interviewed center Director Juan Estevan Arellano about the interrelationships of pueblo and nuevomexicano (Indo-Hispano) cultures and the evolution of acequia culture in the region, and the importance of Los Luceros in this relationship. This is some of the knowledge that he shared.

“The use of irrigation systems to support sustainable agriculture in the Tewa bioregion began with ancestral puebloans. They farmed on contour terraces, grid-bordered gardens (known today as waffle gardens), canyon floors, and eventually developed sophisticated, water-efficient systems of irrigation,” Arellano explained.

“Once the Spanish communities around Ohkay Owingeh were established, the Spanish settlers realized that they needed water for agriculture to survive. They were impressed with the agricultural and irrigation systems that the pueblo farmers had developed, and they reminded the Spaniards of the acequia systems in Spain. The acequia systems had their roots in the Middle East, and were brought to Spain by the Moors. The word acequia comes from the Arabic word assaqiya, which means irrigation canal. 

“Land grants,” he said, “are divided into common lands and private parcels. In Iberia, the Arabs called irrigated lands mamluka. In the New World these lands came to be known as suertes (luck) because they were issued to the settlers of the land grant based on a lottery system. Under Spanish law, suertes were parcels that were located below the acequia madre [the main, or mother ditch] and could be irrigated. Los Luceros is one big, beautiful suerte. It is some of the best planting land in northern New Mexico.” 

Sebastián Martín’s hacienda accommodated a large family with numerous servants. It also contained many farm animals and storage space for farm products and equipment. Sebastián and María had ten children, documented in the 1750 census: Marcial, Margarita, Rosa, Manuel, Angela, Joseph, Antonio, Josepha, Juan, and Francisco. The census rolls also include twenty-one Navajo, Ute, Apache, and Comanche servants captured during area raids and warfare. 

Life was difficult for those living on the Rio Arriba frontier, due to conflicts between Native people and colonists, droughts, severe storms, and epidemics of disease and hunger.

El Camino Real ran right alongside Los Luceros, and when traders brought goods from Mexico to the area by caravan, it was a major event for the community. Some of the items included painted chests, looms, flat-iron pans, and a small bronze gun. But because these deliveries were infrequent, residents had no choice but to be self-sufficient. They grew and raised all of their own food and made their clothing from homespun wool and buckskin. 

By 1750, Soledad had become a sizable pueblo on the frontier, with forty-four families and a population of 364 individuals, according to the census. It also appeared on the maps created by Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco in 1758 and 1776, and later, on his 1779 map, when the community was called Rio Arriba. 

Plaza De Los Luceros

Richard Lucero, a former mayor of Española and a founding board member and advocate for the Northern Rio Grande Heritage Area (supported by the National Park Service) is proud to be a cultural and historical preservationist for his community in northern New Mexico. He spearheaded the founding of the Misión y Convento Museum on the town’s plaza while he was the mayor. He is also a direct descendant of the Lucero de Godoy family that came to New Mexico with Oñate in 1598.

In a 2005 interview, he shared his thoughts on cultural preservation in the region. “Los Luceros and the Española Valley are all about the continuity of tradition and our regional roots. We have some of the oldest missions in the United States, we are surrounded by ancient pueblos, and many people still practice traditional agriculture in the area. We are still living in the memory of our ancestors, not just our grandfathers, but of our great-great-grandfathers. We have to make sure that what happened in the last 400-plus years doesn’t get lost and is preserved for future generations.“ 

Santiago Lucero, another descendant of the Lucero de Godoy family, married a granddaughter of Sebastián Martín around 1757. Santiago and Barbara, daughter of Margarita Martín and Juan de Padilla, made Puesto de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad their home, and the community came to be known as Plaza de los Luceros. The Martín rancho also came to be known as Los Luceros Ranch after the holdings were purchased by various members of the Lucero family. In the 1790s and for several decades after, the ranch was purchased parcel by parcel from the Martín and Lucero heirs by Julian Lucero, nephew of Santiago and Barbara Lucero. By 1827, Julian had purchased most of Los Luceros, including its orchards, and most of the land in the region.

In 1821, Nuevo Mexico, along with the community of Los Luceros, became part of Mexico. The head of the Mexican government was referred to as jefe politico because he was head of all civil government in the province. The disputacion was the legislative body of Nuevo Mexico. The most dramatic event affecting Los Luceros during this period was the Chimayo Rebellion. New Mexicans in the Rio Arriba region opposed the unpopular Departmental Plan that Mexico tasked Governor Albino Perez with enforcing, including new trade regulations. Norteños initiated a rebellion in Taos, Santa Cruz de la Cañada, and Chimayo. Santo Domingo Governor Perez was killed during the uprising. Unrest and instability characterized this period.

In 1850, Los Luceros, along with almost all of Nuevo Mexico, became part of a United States territory. Just prior to that in 1847, during US occupation, Colonel Sterling Price made camp at Los Luceros on his march to Taos to battle the insurgents involved in the Taos Revolt.

United States Territorial Period

Following the occupation of New Mexico by the United States Army and the subsequent appropriation of the Mexican province as a territory of the United States, many Americans migrated to New Mexico. This was reflected in Los Luceros’ story when Elias T. Clark, an Irish immigrant, married Julian Lucero’s daughter, Maria Marta, in 1850, during the occupation. The Clark family acquired the Luceros house, farm plots, orchards, fields, and grazing lands from Julian Lucero in 1851. Throughout the next decade, they continued to expand their land holdings in the area. Clark expanded his mercantile business and also became a successful farmer and rancher. In 1851, he was appointed Clerk of the US District Court for the Second Judicial District of the Territory. He also served as Secretary of the Council in the Legislative Assembly in Santa Fe. 

New Mexico history books often mention that Los Luceros was the site of the first county courthouse for Rio Arriba. Former State Historian for New Mexico, Robert J. Torrez, said in 2010 that this was not exactly the case: “In August 1846, General Stephen Watts Kearny and the American Army of the West occupied New Mexico. That October, Kearny introduced a new political organization for New Mexico and a system of law known as the Kearny Code. These new laws organized local governments and the district courts around the seven partidas established by the Mexican Department Assembly in 1843.” 

One of these partidas, or counties, was Rio Arriba. Kearny’s review of the Mexican documents, however, was incomplete. He missed an important amendment passed on June 17, 1844, that states, “Santa Cruz de la Cañada was to be the county seat for Rio Arriba instead of Los Luceros.” This newly created US Territorial county of Rio Arriba extended from Texas to California and was several times larger than the states of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware. The Territorial Legislature established the first county seat at Los Luceros, and although Los Luceros was the official county seat for Rio Arriba, the county courthouse was not built there. Los Luceros and the buildings were rented out for official county business, which was the custom in most of New Mexico’s early county histories, because no official county courthouses had been built in the territory. By January 1852, however, the Territorial Legislature had changed the county seat from Los Luceros to San Pedro de Chamita a few miles downriver. 

Clark died of consumption in 1860, at the age of forty-five. After his brother Louis, who ran the mercantile store in Alcalde, was shot and killed in 1876, Los Luceros was passed on to Eliza Clark, the only offspring of Elias and Maria Marta Clark. Eliza married Luis Maria Ortiz. The 1870 census mentions Eliza, nineteen years old and Luis, age twenty-two, living at Los Luceros with a baby daughter and a Navajo family. In 1880, the next census documents their four children, Teresita, Gaspar, Clotilde, and Beatrio. 

Luis Ortiz served in the Territorial legislature and was elected sheriff of Rio Arriba County. It was during his term as sheriff that the small, flat-roofed building just west of the main house served as a jail. Eliza and Luis are credited for much of the Territorial-style remodeling of the main ranch house in the 1860s and 1870s, possibly including the second-floor porch. 

Abel E. Lucero, who became a well-known weaver in the region, inherited the property from his parents, Lucas and Maria Manuela Lucero, in 1902. Abel built a six-room cottage for his wife, Ursula, and their family. The walls are adobe, but the floor plan and the millwork are Victorian in style. It is located in the middle of the property, part of a section of the land that is believed the Luceros had not sold to the Clark family.

By the early part of the twentieth century, the Ortiz family could no longer afford to maintain the property and were forced to abandon it, which resulted in serious water damage to the adobe walls. In 1923, Boston Brahmin Mary Cabot Wheelwright purchased Los Luceros. This prominent arts patron and founder of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian [established in 1938 as the House of Navajo Religion and then the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art] and a founding member of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, restored many of the buildings, including the chapel. 

During the restoration process, Wheelwright led an active social life and surrounded herself with many of New Mexico’s “New Women:” relatively recent arrivals who purchased ranches and property surrounding Los Luceros in the Española Valley. These women included artist Dorothy Kent, poet and painter Marie Garland, and pianist and educator Carol Stanley. They were Mary’s closet neighbors, and as the restoration proceeded they spent time together at the Los Luceros ranch. This network of friends and acquaintances grew to include individuals throughout northern New Mexico. 

Stanley, who opened Bishop’s Lodge and founded Ghost Ranch (and lived there for over thirty years), directed the restoration of the buildings for Wheelwright, changing some of the features of the main ranch house, jail building, and the guest house to the Spanish-Pueblo Revival Style. This was popular at the time in New Mexico, especially in Santa Fe. 

It was during this time that Española native Gilbert Jose Vigil first met Mary Wheelwright. In a recent interview at the historic Bond House at the Plaza de Española, Mr. Vigil told me about numerous adventures he and his father Jose had with Mary Wheelwright, which, at age eighty-four, Vigil recalls with remarkable clarity. 

“Ms. Wheelwright liked to ride horseback. My dad would take her on rides along the Rio Grande bosque, on the lower road to San Juan Pueblo [Ohkay Owingeh], and north to Velarde. She enjoyed those rides very much. My dad taught her to be a skilled horsewoman. She enjoyed it so much that he took her and some of her friends on a long horseback trek to the Grand Canyon. Years later, my brother was on vacation at the Grand Canyon with his family and he asked the park superintendent if he they had any old park register books. He brought out a big pile of ledger books, and after a few hours searching through them, sure enough my brother found their signatures: Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Jose Vigil. I don’t remember the exact date of the trip, but it was sometime in the 1930s.

“Later on she decided to buy a buggy, and she hired my dad to drive her to feast days and local fiestas in northern New Mexico pueblos and villages. In those days when I was a teenager, there were about five or six locals who worked for Ms. Wheelwright. They were all hardworking, honest people. It was the Great Depression era, and they were grateful to have a job that paid regular wages. I remember a man by the name of Ismael Trujillo, from San Juan Pueblo. He did not drive, so my dad would pick him up in the morning and we would drive to work at Los Luceros. He would always tell us great stories about the Tewa culture and some of the adventures he had as a young man. He did the same thing on the ride home at night. They were wonderful stories, and I still remember them today.

“I remember one year, that she hired my father to plant an orchard. We planted about thirty-five trees, and my job, as a kid, was to irrigate them. At Christmastime she would ask one of her friends to take her to our house. She would bring all the kids presents, and my mother always gave her something good to eat.

“Ms. Wheelwright bought a Lincoln sedan, and my dad would drive her to many places in the Southwest, like Pueblo Bonito and some of the archaeological ruins in southern Colorado and the Four Corners. When I turned seventeen, I got my official driver’s license, and took over that job. I would drive her to pueblo feast days in Acoma, Jemez, Santo Domingo, Zuni, and Isleta, pretty much to every pueblo in New Mexico. I would drive her to Taos, to see her nephew and we went to Abiquiú many times to Georgia O’Keeffe’s house. They would invite me in for tea and conversation, and we would visit Ms. O’Keeffe for hours. They would talk about her art and Alfred Stieglitz. I remember looking at her new paintings of Pedernal peak, one of her favorite subjects, and talking about the amount she should sell it for at the galleries.

“I also drove her to the homes of artists in Santa Fe and Taos. Some of the artists I remember visiting were the Cinco Pintores [Will Schuster, Fremont Ellis, Walter Mruk, Josef Bakos, and Willard Nash]. [Taos Society of Artists] Nikolai Fechin, Joseph Sharp, and Bert Phillips were also acquaintances of Ms. Wheelwright. They would often have lunch at La Fonda. After lunch, we would go to museums, and when she began working on the design and exhibits at the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art [now the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian] she would often tell me about the work she did with Hostiin Klah, the Navajo Medicine Man who helped her with the design and history. I never met Hostiin Klah, personally, but she would show me photographs of him when they went on trips back East. I also listened to many of the wax recordings of Klah and various tribal members she was working with.”

Mary Cabot Wheelwright died in 1958. She bequeathed the ranch house at Los Luceros to the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe. The remaining property she left to her friend Maria Chabot. The museum, however, declined the bequest and the ranch house reverted to Chabot. Chabot realized that she could not maintain the property on her own, so she asked Georgia O’Keeffe if she knew anyone who might be interested in buying Los Luceros. 

O’Keeffe called Charles Collier, son of Native rights advocate and Mabel Dodge Luhan friend John Collier. Charles had helped O’Keeffe locate and purchase her house in Abiquiú. In the early 1960s, he and his wife, Nina, purchased Los Luceros. 

 The Collier family established the Instituto Internacional de Arte Colonial Iberico and filled the buildings with their extensive collection of Spanish Colonial art, which included a world-class collection of Iberian furniture, paintings, and religious and secular statuary. When Charles Collier sold the property in the 1970s, he donated the art collection to the College of Santa Fe. The new owners let the buildings and property once again fall into disrepair and neglect. 

When T.G. Futch and Ann Chaney Futch bought the property in the early 1980s, the first floor of the main house was underwater. Because the acequia system had not been maintained for many years, water flowed freely throughout other parts of the property as well. In 1987, they established the American Studies Foundation, in an effort to preserve and restore the property and buildings. The foundation struggled for many years to maintain the property and to provide artistic and historical programs for the public, until financial strains forced its closure. 

 In 1983, Los Luceros was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The property is also on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties. 

Frank Cabot (Mary’s third cousin) and his wife, Anne, were the last private owners to buy Los Luceros. After it came into their possession in 1999, they restored it and built a visitor center. 

Several attempts by the Office of Cultural Affairs to purchase Los Luceros for the State of New Mexico failed in the state legislature, first in 1988, during Governor Gary Carruther’s administration, and again in 1992, during Bruce King’s final term. 

The Cabots sold the property to the state in April 2008, with specific conditions: DCA must preserve Los Luceros, use the buildings, and ask the legislature to provide the necessary funds each year. DCA was amenable to these demands and bought the 150-acre Los Luceros site for the State of New Mexico for $2.5 million. Governor Bill Richardson then partnered with actor, director, and founder of Sundance Institute, Robert Redford, to create a film institute called Milagro at Los Luceros, with the intention of creating a “Sundance South.” 

Looking To The Future 

Building on Milagro’s initial intention of community engagement, new ideas are now manifesting powerfully in hands-on ways both great and small. “It was a great idea, and now we’re growing those seeds beyond the connection to film,” says Patrick Moore, director of New Mexico Historic Sites. “There are all kinds of new opportunities; we’re exploring lots of fronts. We’re looking to open it to the public more routinely.” 

In 2014, The Arrowhead Center, an economic development institute at New Mexico State University, completed a business strategy proposal for the property. Three recommendations were made in the final report: manage it as a state historic site or museum, sell the property as is, with deed restrictions in place, or enter into public/private partnerships for different aspects of the property. 

To see what that last recommendation would look like, you only need to visit Los Luceros (at this point, open to the public by appointment or on a community day). The New Mexico Acequia Association is overseeing all of the ditch maintenance on the property. Recently, Boy Scout Troop 122 camped out at Los Luceros and then made quick work of clearing out one of the acequia sub-ditches. The friends group, Amigos de Los Luceros, cleaned up the visitor center and installed an exhibit. They also offer tours of historic buildings, interpretation, and are instrumental in helping plan and execute special events. An Amigos agricultural subgroup helps to tend flowerbeds and gardens. 

Last summer’s apple-picking festival introduced a new crop of New Mexicans to Los Luceros, which spawned numerous bookings for weddings and graduation parties on purely a word-of-mouth basis. The late frosts took a huge bite out of this year’s apple harvest, but the second annual fall harvest festival, September 17, will offer a concert by local favorite Lone Piñon, and agricultural, cooking, and, most likely, sheep-shearing demonstrations. This last activity is produced in partnership with the Española Valley Fiber Arts Center; in exchange for their assistance, they get to keep the wool, which they use to spin into yarn. Their mission, to conserve the fiber arts traditions of New Mexico, dovetails neatly with that of Los Luceros. 

Agriculture, of course, is at the heart of Los Luceros. “The Los Luceros Farm and Ranch Advisory Committee is encouraging and educating people to think about agricultural use of the site,” Moore says. A demonstration garden shows visitors how to grow organic, local crops. Committee members are planting a variety of northern New Mexico crops. Don Martinez, of Rio Arriba County’s New Mexico State University cooperative extension service, shows people how to work the land: crop rotation, soil evaluation and improvement, and wise water use. 

“In future years, we’d like to lease acreages to people who can learn how to farm, with support, and then develop the skills to do it on their own property. Leasing would generate revenue to support the site. Further, this concept calls for a portion of the produce going to a community food bank to address food insecurity issues in Rio Arriba County,” Moore says.

“The vision is not just showing people how to farm, but teaching the traditions and language of agriculture in northern New Mexico. How it works from a traditional standpoint, as part of a historical continuum, right up to the use of high-end equipment, agridomes, and hoop houses for year-round farming. The Farm and Ranch Advisory Committee is developing this right now.”

And Moore has one more thing to add, about a development both pragmatic and symbolic. “We’re in the final review process with the state of getting a new Los Luceros historic marker installed . . . so that more people can find it.”

Michael Miller was raised in northern New Mexico. He was the founding director of the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico and director of history and literary arts at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. A writer and poet, he is the author of the award-winning book, Monuments of Adobe, and a contributor to Taos: A Topical History, the recipient of the Lansing Bloom Award. He lives with his wife, Antoinette, on their family farm in La Puebla, New Mexico. 

Also, read the recollections of Los Luceros resident and storyteller Marie Markesteyn.