Rio Arriba County, New Mexico

Rio Arriba was one of the original nine counties into which the Territory was divided by the act of January 9, 1852, and its boundaries are therein described as below: On the south from the Puertacito of Pojuaque, drawing a direct line toward the west in the direction of the mesilla of San Ildefonso; from the mesilla, crossing the Rio del Norte toward the west, and continuing until it reaches the boundaries of the Territory; drawing a direct line from the said Puertacito de Pojuaque toward the east until it reaches the last house of the town of Cundiyo toward the south, continuing the same line until it reaches the highest point of the mountain of Nambe; thence., following the summit of the mountain, toward the north, until it reaches the southern boundary of the county of Taos, this shall constitute the eastern boundary, and on the north the boundary of the county of Taos, and on the east the boundary line of the Territory.

As thus described, the old county comprised virtually the northwestern portion of the Territory, and it was not until the formation of San Juan County to the west, in 1884, that it assumed its present bounds. As now constituted it has an area of 7,150 square miles, and a population of about 14,000, nearly the same as Valencia. It is located in the first northern tier of counties and the second from the west.

Physical Features and Resources

The main channel of the Rio Grande cuts through the southeastern corner of the county, the Rio Chama, which is its main branch in Rio Arriba, rising in Colorado and flowing south and southeast, drains much of the central, eastern and southeastern sections. It receives many affluents from the north and south, all of which are bordered by fertile valleys. The northeast corner of the county is watered by the Rio San Antonio and Rio de los Pinos, running through a fine country eastward to the Rio Grande.

The principal agriculture of Rio Arriba County is found in these valleys. Wheat is raised in these sections in considerable quantities both for home consumption and export. The Gallinas valley is also a producer of that cereal. Some of the largest and finest orchards in the Territory are in the Rio Grande valley; in fact, the first fine peaches that were introduced from the east were planted at Rinconada. All kinds of fruit do well in this section of the county, plums and prunes being perhaps the surest and most prolific crops.

The soil of the valleys is composed of a rich silt, of inexhaustible fertility, and, with proper irrigation, the possibilities are great. Besides the river valleys there is a valley called Laguna de los Caballos, about eighteen miles southwest of Tierra Amarilla, the county seat. The lake itself has an area of about 20.000 acres and it will store enough water to irrigate 10,000 acres of land. North and northwest, to the northern boundary of the county, are some twenty lakes, varying in area from 100 to 600 acres, with water sufficient to irrigate probably 25,000 acres. The quality of the surrounding land is generally excellent. This country is already a paradise for sportsmen, as almost all kinds of fish and game are plentiful.

Altogether Rio Arriba County has a very diversified surface. In the middle and east it is marked by great ranges of mountains, the Atlantic and Pacific Divide coining down through its central districts. On the west the water flows through the San Juan system toward the Gulf of California, and on the east through the Rio Grande system toward the Gulf of Mexico. The great lumber-producing region of the county, and one of the most important in New Mexico is east of the Divide and the lake country. Piñon and cedar are annually cut in great quantities from the Tierra Amarilla grant, in the vicinity of Chama, and from the Petaca grant, further east. Tres Piedras, on the eastern border of the county, a station on the Denver & Rio Grande, is an important shipping point.

The mineral resources of Rio Arriba are principally gold and copper, together with mica and some other industrial minerals. Along the Chama River for a distance of twenty miles, commencing about five miles above Abiquiu, are extensive placer gravel beds. There are other deposits, both in leads and placers, about twenty miles west of Tres Piedras, and at a place called Bromide, nearer that town, are rich silver deposits. Copper is found in the main range of mountains in the east, in the vicinity of Abiquiu on the Arroyo Cobre. The largest beds of mica are near the town of Petaca. The largest coal fields are near Amargo and Monero, the latter a station on the branch of the Denver & Rio Grande which penetrates the northern part of the county.


Tierra Amarilla, the county seat of Rio Arriba, is the center of a finely cultivated country, well irrigated and attractive. It is one of the oldest towns in this section of New Mexico, having been settled under a grant from the Mexican government in the thirties. Its trade, especially in livestock, wool and grain, is quite large. Los Ojos, Park View, La Puenta and a number of small towns surround and depend upon it.

Chamita, near the southeastern boundary, on the line of the Denver & Rio Grande, is in the midst of a splendid fruit country, and Abiquiu, twenty miles to the northwest, on the Chama River, is surrounded by wheat fields, ranches and deposits of gold and copper. The old Indian pueblo of Abiquiu has been deserted for some time, but the modem town covers much of the same ground. Chama, near the northern boundary of the county, is surrounded by fine pine forests into which the saw mills are rapidly eating, by sandstone quarries and big sheep and cattle ranches, it being quite a brisk shipping center for building material and livestock.

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Source: History of New Mexico, Its Resources and People, Volume II, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907.

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Created 1996 by Charles Barnum & 2016 by Judy White

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