Places 2022

The Southwest
United States of America

The 2022 Field Stations program took place in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado in the Southwest region of the United States. The Southwest is a complex interface of extreme geographical conditions, from high peaks and arid canyons to the basins and mesas that comprise the Colorado Plateau. The heart of this region gives rise to two major river systems: The Colorado flows west out of the Rocky Mountains and ultimately joins with the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of California. The Rio Grande flows south from its headwaters in the San Juan range of the Rockies on its way to the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of Mexico. Together, they support vast ecosystems, irrigate extensive agricultural lands and supply water to millions of people.

Since time immemorial the region has served as the traditional territories and ancestral homelands of Indigenous Peoples, including the Diné (Navajo Nation), Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute Nation), Apache, Southern Pueblo, Laguna and Zuni Peoples. Today it is home to the largest concentration of Indigenous Nations within the US. To view the homelands of Indigenous Peoples in this region, visit the Native Lands Map here.

Spanish settlers first traveled to the region in the 1500s, followed by the French and later U.S.-American settlers who arrived in large numbers to the Southern Rocky Mountains in the 1860s, attracted by mining and agricultural prospects. In the past fifty years the urban population of the Southwest has exploded, as diverse groups of people have moved into the region.

Between 1901 and 2016, the average temperature in the Southwest region has increased by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The San Juan Mountain region in Colorado has warmed by 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, the fastest rate of climate change in the United States outside of Alaska. Effects of climate change in this region are now observed in the form of larger and more severe wildfires, prolonged drought, decreased snowpack, food and economic insecurity and increased risks to human health.1

1 Garfin, Gregg M., Patrick Gonzalez, David Breshears, Keely Brooks, Heidi E. Brown, Emile Elias, Amrith Gunasekara, et al. 2018. “Chapter 25: Southwest. Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.

From the Rio Grande to
the San Juan Basin

Our studies began in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, which sits along the Rio Grande. From Albuquerque we traveled north over the Continental Divide and into the San Juan Basin, a watershed that feeds the Colorado River. The FS focused on the Animas River, a major tributary of the San Juan River that originates in the peaks around Silverton, Colorado. From Silverton the Animas flows south out of the mountains, through Durango, Colorado and on to agricultural lands around Farmington, New Mexico, where it joins the San Juan. The Farmington area is called Tótah by local Diné, meaning “between the waters” in recognition of its role as a life sustaining place.2

Within the San Juan watershed evidence of mineral and resource extraction industries is always close by. Commercial mining beginning in the 19th century transformed the Southwest into an important hub for extraction and energy projects. These activities both facilitated the forced removal and dispossession of Indigenous peoples and caused ongoing environmental degradation.3 Uranium mining, coal-fired power plants and oil and natural gas have produced boom economies, while inflicting disproportionate community health impacts and economic instability. The region now faces a shift as some coal-fired power plants are slated for closure and oil and gas industries have moved to other fields.4

Land Acknowledgment

Please find the Wright-Ingraham Institute’s Living Land Acknowledgment here.