In 1987, my former wife Becky and I and moved with our our two daughters to house we built here in La Cienega. Someone recently described it as “the first house on the right, past the cows, on Paseo C’de Baca.” We had purchased the 1 ½ acre piece of land with an orchard and water rights the year before. With the purchase of the property and its water rights we became members of the El Guicu Ditch Association. The El Guicu and the Acequia de la Cienega are the two-remaining active acequia associations in La Cienega, both of which have been the source of spring-fed irrigation water for over three hundred years.
Parts of the large C’de Baca family (one father, three wives over a period 40 years, and 20 children) moved north from the communities of Pena Blanca and Bernalillo, settling in La Cienega in the 1800s. In the process, the family acquired almost all the farmland fed by the El Guicu Ditch, along the road now named Paseo C’de Baca. The El Guicu is the smaller of the two ditch associations with about 20 parcientes (members) but it maintains a strong agricultural presence and tradition. The El Guicu provides water to a series of small family gardens as well as the large Gonzales pastures with horses and the previously mentioned cows, and farther down the ditch sits Green Tractor Farm, a highly productive organic farm ever dependent on the flow of water in the acequia.
I recall attending my first annual acequia association meeting when yearly dues are collected, ditch repairs are considered, and the ritual ditch cleaning is scheduled. The ditch cleaning is as much a social ritual as it is an agricultural necessity. With 25 workers, the labor of cleaning the ditch usually takes most of the morning and with the El Guicu the reward for the members is a meal of homemade enchiladas and beans served in the community center after their work is done.
It was at one of these acequia meetings that I met Conrado C’de Baca, whose family owned the land, house, apartment, and orchard directly across from our new home on Paseo C’de Baca. We had an instant connection that grew into a fond friendship. One late summer day I had been watering our garden, and when I finished I walked up Paseo C’de Baca to shut off the head gate. As I opened the farm gate into the pasture, just below the holding pond I saw a figure under an apple tree. He was on one knee next to the running ditch, lost in thought and the sound of the flowing acequia. That was the last time I saw Conrado before he went into the hospital when a persistent aching back turned out to be an advanced case of cancer.
Conrado passed shortly after that, I attended the services at the small San Jose Church in the village and participated in the burying of his ashes in the hardpacked earth beside the church. I will always cherish my relationship with Conrado, from his stories of stealing melons as a kid in the valley, or of crossing the Rio Grande River to catch wild burros in the Bandelier area that he and his friends would bring back to the village to sell—but most of all I will remember that moment of watching him under the apple tree.
The previous owner of Sunrise was an accomplished roller-skater. In the ’80s there was a rush of construction at Sunrise which included the renovation of a barn that became The Willows and the installation of a track, among other projects. The track was an exact quarter-mile of asphalt that followed the path that now circles the Medicine Wheel and pool area. Its ostensible reason for being was to provide guests an opportunity to exercise, but it reality it was the boss’s place to get away and play. Over time the interest in the asphalt track waned and eventually was removed, as was the tennis court that used to sit where the previous bone yard was located. If you ever wondered about the smooth surface of our fitness studio in the Willows, that was where the previous owner skated when it was too cold to be outside.
It was better than better.
The hardest part of completing the comment card was determining which was my “best” experience was. They were all great experiences.
Carl Dickens, Human Resources Coordinator
Carl Dickens grew up in New Mexico, his parents having met and fallen in love here. After a brief stint in Alaska, the family returned to the warmth and light of the high desert. Carl was raised in the farming community of Los Ranchos, in the North Valley of Albuquerque, among alfalfa fields and arroyos. He began working at Sunrise Springs in 1984, the same year he and his young family moved to the valley. Carl remained at Sunrise Springs for five years, returning again in September of 2012. Carl is active in the local community and is passionate about the history of the area, preserving its agricultural traditions and water conservation.