Small town New Mexico. Well, that is what the majority of New Mexico is. In a state with 121,355 sq miles of space, and less that 2 million people to populate it, (over half of them living in greater Albuquerque), you can well imagine that most of NM is very rural.
Villanueva is a Spanish Colonial village east of Albuquerque and south of Las Vegas, (NM), in San Miguel County. It has the distinction of also being home to a beautiful yet little know New Mexico State Park set along the famous Pecos River. It is an unassuming, yet excellent example of small town New Mexico, with no semblance of tourism anywhere. When approaching this village from I-40 to the south, it is difficult to visualize a town out here on the plains. But just as you become reasonably sure you are headed to nowhere, the landscape instantly transforms from grassland to rocks and hills, and before you know it you are cutting through the rock hill and bursting into a picturesque hidden valley surrounded by yellow and red rock bluffs with a river running through it. You never saw it coming. I love it when that happens!
Villanueva residents number right around 2,250, or so. The per capita income is about $16,700, which may seem low, but is very typical in rural New Mexico. It’s not like they are all living at the poverty level, but rather that people in these small towns have different priorities and simpler needs than those of us living the rat race in metropolis. Additionally, not all income is reported in these small villages, and the art of barter is alive and well.
There are only 3.5 persons per sq. mile in Villanueva. It makes for very rural living. The village is 85% Hispanic, not surprising for a Spanish Colonial village. Although Villanueva means “new town” this new name came about in 1890, when it was named after the Villanueva family, (just as many NM towns and villages are named for the family that first settled or were most prominent). The former name for this village was La Cuesta, meaning slope or hill, in Spanish. There is no industry, so to speak, but there are many ranches in this area and the fertile valley floor along the river is farmed, as it has been for hundreds of years. The sandstone rock in the hills surrounding Villanueva is collected and sold for landscaping use in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. And there IS that great New Mexico State Park, and the river and ruins to explore within it’s seclusion.
Also pictured is the Co-op well, two views from the grotto on the hill above the village, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and one of the many hand sewn panels from a mural in the church, this one representing the Leyba familia from the nearby village of – yes – Leyba. Muy bueno!
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Sarah Dolk, Adobe Nido Bed & Breakfast
Expert on Destination Albuquerque and Central New Mexico!