The Road, Cultural Resource Inventory IX

In the 330 square miles of San Simon valley south of I-10 there are only 3 paved roads, Highway 80 (running north/south) Portal Road (running from Highway 80 west to Portal and the Chiricahua mountains, and Highway 9 (running from Highway 80 east to Animas), all other roads are dirt and have changed over time.  Old dirt road tracks are easily identified, being 2 tracks, which differentiates them the earliest "roads" which were single tracks suitable for foot and horse traffic.

Roads and their locations in many cases evolved from game trails to human foot paths connecting cultural centers and water sources which, as the traffic increased with the movement trade goods and people eventually became larger and more established allowing horses, carriages, and eventually automobiles.  In most cases these early culturally derived roads were supplanted by designed roads which followed straighter paths and the early roads were lost.  In the San Simon valley several lines of evidence suggest there was an early road running the length of the valley from Mexico north which has been lost.

1. Distribution of large archaeological sites representing large villages and trading centers.
2.  Early maps and Spanish descriptions of forays into the San Simon valley, as part of New Spain.
3.  Early maps of US explorers pushing westward to the west coast.
4.  Original land surveys of the area.

Archaeological sites of large villages are known along the San Simon valley.  Perhaps the best known site is at the San Bernardino wildlife refuge.  With springs and perennial water a number of sites were identified within the refuge boundaries.  Further north along the valley the Ruben ruin (a late Animas phase site) lies on the west side of the San Simon riverbed, east of the drainage from Horseshoe canyon.  Scattered every 8-10 miles these ruins represent larger occupation sites that would have had contact with one another along a "road" or trail.  This also explains the density of archaeological sites found along the riverbed, they predominate the east bank while the west bank has fewer sites in the vicinity of the estate (personal observation).

Early Spanish explorers in the area noted a number of "roads" connecting occupation sites and frequently the Spanish themselves used these sites for Presidios.  For example San Bernadino had a short lived presido and "roads" leading from the Presidio was used in the Spanish attempts to control the Apache.  This link shows an map of Spanish exploration including the San Simon valley during the period of 1779-1785.  Two expeditions,  The Vildosola of 1780 and the Peru expedition of 1784 traveled along the valley and would have utilized the "old road" connecting native settlements.   Early maps produced during the Spanish colonial period portray the area with varying degrees of accuracy until after the Mexican American war and the subsequent Gadsden Purchase as shown in the video below.

Perhaps the most notable map from the 19th century of the area showing "roads" was produced by the Mormon Battalion when they passed through on their way to the west coast in 1846 - 1847.  A Coyote road or bandit trail was marked running north/south through the valley just east of San Bernardino.  This "road" parallels the modern designed road, Highway 80, but its location was unknown until recently.

Enlarged section of the Mormon Battalion map showing the coyote road running up the San Simon valley.  Map courtesy of Project Gutenberg

Recent searches of the BLM General Land Office records uncovered an 1883 survey map of the township (T.28S., R.21W.) which includes most land encompassing much of the Painted Pony Resort and the future town of Rodeo NM.  This survey was commissioned by Epitacio Sandoval in 1882 at the cost of $650.00.  The resulting map shows several interesting features, the most important being the location of an early "road" along the east side of the San Simon Riverbed.  By the time the first topographic map of the area was produced in 1917 traces of the old "road" were missing but the town of Rodeo was well established.

1883 rodeo nm township map
1883 township map which includes the Painted Pony Resort and the town of Rodeo NM, north is up on the map.

The outline (red) of the Painted Pony Resort on the 1883 township survey map superimposed on satellite imagery showing the location of the early "road" along the San Simon Riverbed, north is up on the map.
The 1917 topographic map showing no evidence of the early "road" along the San Simon riverbed and only 2 tracks of modern dirt roads, north is left on the map.
The discovery of the 1883 township map neatly ties together early maps and descriptions of a road running along the San Simon valley with current land use and maps of the area.  While no traces of this early "road" have yet been discovered, the location of the presumptive Post Classic Mimbres hamlet ruin on the east side of the San Simon is explained the early "road" running along the riverbed as well as other sites such as the Trinchera at the mouth of Antelope Pass.  In addition, if the early "roads were controlled by the drainage patterns then other "roads" may exist along these drainages.

Addendum:  After scaling the township map and carefully placing the overlay on Google Earth evidence of the "old road" became apparent south of Rodeo.  A winding faint track was observed leading south from the "old road" on the township map along the San Simon riverbed.  The presence of a visible track lends support to the idea that this early "road" was the main thoroughfare along the valley.  Subsequent township mapping of these areas did not take place until after the turn of the century and no evidence of the "old road" was found.

A faint winding track which may represent a continuation of the "old road" along the San Simon riverbed.



  1. our rough dirt road is in there somewhere. it was surveyed and approximated when an old ranch was split up into ~ 40 acre lots.

  2. The visible track found is about 2 miles NE of your place. The "old road" should pass somewhere in the riverbed below your property. My suspicion would be that it heads toward the Animas phase ruin on the west side, south of your place, but I have found no evidence of the track itself. All the newer roads can be found on modern maps.

  3. I mean NW, sorry about the confusion.

  4. hmmm, thought I'd added 'grin' in parentheses, but it did not show up or my memory is faultier than I thought.

  5. I rarely know what day it is so no worries.