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At what is traditionally the dividing point in New Mexico between Rio Arriba (Upper River district) and Rio Abajo (Lower River district) travelers on the Camino Real could choose one of three ways to reach Santa Fe. (1) La Bajada Hill was the most difficult; (2) the Santa Fe River Canon (la Boca) was the most used in the colonial period; and (3) traveling Galisteo creek to over the escarpment in the Juana Lopez Grant was used in territorial times. Galisteo Creek was also traveled to a point south of San Marcos Pueblo where the road turned north past the pueblo and headed to San Juan Pueblo or to Santa Fe.
La Bajada hill is located 11 miles southwest of Santa Fe. From 1598, when Spanish colonists trudged beside lumbering oxcarts, to the early 20th century, when American tourists drove Model A automobiles, the steep and abrupt escarpment of La Bajada Hill was a notorious landmark on the road between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The old route up La Bajada Hill was barely 1.5 miles long, but it traversed tough volcanic rock; in the 20th century it included 23 hairpin turns and was the scene of countless frustrations and mishaps, from overturned wagons to boiling radiators. Residents of the village of La Bajada (see entry) at the hill's base named a spot on the hill Florida because a truck carrying oranges overturned there. In 1932, a new route up the escarpment was laid out, followed today by I-25, and the original route, 5 mi N and W, fell into disuse, though a few drivers still attempt it to test their vehicles' toughness. The name La Bajada now is gradually being transferred to the new route.
During colonial times, La Bajada Hill was the dividing line between the two great economic and governmental regions of Hispanic NM, the Rio Abajo, "lower river," and the Rio Arriba, "upper river." The large, sprawling mesa on whose edge La Bajada Hill is located is called La Majada, "sheepfold," or "place where shepherds keep their flocks," but because the road from Santa Fe to the Rio Abajo descended from the mesa here, the escarpment took the name La Bajada, "the descent." "Hill" was added to the name much more recently, an addition that often causes confusion to Spanish speakers, as the name now seems to consist of two generics.
The Place Names of New Mexico
2nd. ed., University of New Mexico Press, 1998