The Southwest's Boundaries

When one looks at their location on a map of the United States' southwestern quadrant, all of the "Southwestern traits" determined and identified in this essay appear, geographically, to be amazingly uniform, similar and distinct. The conspicuous impact of the physical traits upon the cultural ones strongly supports an "environmental determinism" interpretation, particularly in view of the relationship between the Southwest and its people up until World War II. This condition persisted after that war, too, although the effect of human habits on the environment-either negative or positive, as one may choose-has increased so rapidly as to overwhelm the obverse relationship. Most people crave definitions and borders and an absence- of "fuzziness," as Ned Spicer and Ray Thompson have reminded us. Geographers keep lamenting and preaching about how abysmally ignorant-geographically, in general, and cartographicafly, in particular-most otherwise "well educated" Americans, and most of the world's population, for that matter, happen to be. People just want to know where "borders" are, and they insist on something that is easily recognizable, so to communicate-however imprecise-we are forced to use parallels and meridians as practical devices for "handy references." Actually, in a rather remarkable and coincidental way certain parallels and meridians do seem to lie close to marking the limits of the several "Southwest regional" traits discussed in this essay. And D. W Meinig's persuasive National Geograpbic map of the Southwest conforms closely with the demarcations formed by these parallels and meridians.
It is clear, for example, that almost all of the region's physiographical traits lie within the geometric Southwest quadrant (26°-38° N.L., 98° 30'- 124° W.L. of the United States. The Southwest's geological formations and weather, too, seem clearly confined to this region. Biotic features have qualities unique to this place. However, the region's cultural traits appear to have been as tightly uniform and delimited as the physiographic ones, at least through the first two-fifths of the twentieth century. (After World War II, the indigenous cultures rapidly became less conspicuous.) Southwestern archaeological and anthropological features, as abundant as they are fascinating in this land, are unique to the Americas. To a certain but often exaggerated degree, pre-1900 Hispanic history has qualities that definitely reflect a unique cultural tradition within this region. But the Southwest's Anglo-American cultural qualities, apart from popular fiction and motion picture representations, are quite another story. While the method and apparent nature of Anglo occupation of the Southwest is more colorful and quite different than the settlement of Oregon or Nebraska, the outcome and substance of that cultural reality is pure mainstream U.S.A.
Before I make any more refined and final conclusions about the location of the Southwest, there are some admittedly more arbitrary and "nonobjective" traits that need to be considered here. The first concern of this nature has to do with the 26th Parallel North, the latitude identified earlier in this essay as the southern boundary of the Southwest quadrant of the United States. Except for those who think like Charlie DiPeso and Miguel León-Portilla, an extreme southerly designation of the 26th Parallel as the Southwest border appears too extravagant. Such a designation negates the validity of meaningful physiographic and cultural commonalities in the endeavor to designate something "American," that is, in the sense that most people concerned with this problem want to see it as being "of the United States." Using physiographic criteria exclusively here also defeats the purpose of this project, since the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Chihuahuan Desert extend from the U. S. -Mexico borderland southward deep into Mexico. Incorporating these physiographic traits in their entirety into a definition of the "American Southwest" would be as counterproductive as would be the use of the 26th Parallel.
But, many people argue, Old Mexico does have numerous traits in common with New Mexico-and Arizona ... and Texas ... and California, the four American states which Mexico borders. To set the Southwest's regional boundary at the line between Arizona-New Mexico and Mexico (31° 20' N.L.) is patently too political and too far north. The northern Mexico states of Sonora and Chihuahua are linked to the United States historically, economically, ethnically, climatically, and physiographically. Every day American produce warehouses and brokerages in Nogales, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas, process into the United States tens of thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables grown by American agribusiness located in Chihuahua and Sonora. American manufacturing corporations employ thousands of cheap-labor Mexican mestizos in their "maquiladora" plants located in Juarez, Nogales, and Tijuana, Mexico. Still, the 26th, even the 27th, parallels north include too much of Mexico. And, it is true, the intensity of "Southwesternness" does begin to diminish rapidly as we travel southward from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Therefore, everything in the paragraphs above considered, and in a quest for balance together with a spirit of compromise that should satisfy such diverse authorities as D. W Meinig and Charlie DiPeso, Bertha Dutton and Lawrence Clark Powell, together with Charles Lummis and Mary Austin, as well as many others, let us designate the 29th Parallel North Latitude-halfway between the 27th and 31st parallels-as the Southwest's southern boundary. This line encloses nearly all of the Southwestern features that the United States and Mexico share, including both the physical geographic features and the cultural ones, excluding, of course, the intensity degree of the Hispanic quality. This designated border also includes more than half of Sonora and more than a third of Chihuahua. Moreover, this 29th Parallel designation coincides with the 1982 National Geograpic map of the Southwest.
With the same license in mind that established the southern border of the region, it seems also appropriate to consider a more "subjectively acceptable" northern boundary for the American Southwest. Few people interested in identifying the "the Southwest" would include such places as Denver and Grand Junction, Colorado; or Price and Nephi, Utah; or Reno and Ely, Nevada, as part of this region. So, in response to this consideration, probably without much complaint, we could lower the northern border of the Southwest from 39° 55' North Latitude down to the 39th Parallel.
There should be much less of an argument regarding the Southwest's eastern and western boundaries. Texans may not like it, but there is no convincing or substantial physical and qualified cultural evidence that the Southwest extends eastward beyond the 104th Meridian West. The Llano Estacado clearly belongs to the Great Plains, and the headwaters of the Canadian and Cimarron rivers roll toward the same direction as does the culture of northeast New Mexico face: eastward. Combined with the Southwest's southern boundary coordinate of 29° N., this border would enclose the western two-thirds of the "horn" of Texas, a region which includes El Paso, one of the most "Southwestern" of all Southwestern towns.
To the west, the boundary appears equally distinct. Few areas to the west of 117° West exhibit with any clarity or strength those traits used here to evaluate places properly belonging to the Southwest. No passionate argument extant, romantic or scientific, places Nevada's Great Basin or California's Sierra Nevada within the Southwest. Physically, the bottom comer of Nevada could belong, but its dominant feature, sleazure city Las Vegas, actually a Southern California hedonistic exclave, exists only as a bizarre Southwestern anomaly.

Parameters and Centers of the Southwest

The evidence is very strong that those physical and cultural traits most often associated with the American Southwest are, indeed, confined to a very sharply delineated geographical region. The coordinates 104°- 117° West Longitude and 29°-39° North Latitude constitute the boundaries of this region, thus making 110° 30' W and 34° 00' N. the region's geometric center-a spot three miles south-southeast of the small Indian village of Cibicue on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. Cibicue lies in rough Mogollon Rim country, 105 miles northeast of Phoenix. This site lies only eighty-five miles north-northeast of the geometric Southwest's (98° 30'-124° 00' W.x 26° 00'-40° 00' N) center (111° 15' W x 33° 30' L.) which, in turn, is situated eight miles east-southeast of Florence, Arizona (see map 15).
But the Southwest has other "centers," too. For centuries, El Morro ("the fortress," A.K.A. "Inscription Rock") has been called the "Cross- roads of the Southwest." Located just a few miles north of the 35th Parallel at 108° 25' West Latitude, El Morro has been a multiethnic travelers' watering hole for many centuries. Don Juan de Oñate, a mine owner of Zacatecas, Mexico, and the first conunissioned governor of Northern New Spain, appears to have been the earliest (1605) self-recorded visitor at Inscription Rock. Not all of the numerous explorers and travelers of the Southwest-a few before Ofiate and many afterward-left a message. But they all had the same experience that Don Juan took the time to engrave in the base of El Morro's sandstone tower: "pasó por aquí ("[I] passed by here"), a term that has become a byword of the region's polyglot culture. Among these visitors were Arellano (a group from Coronado's expedition, 1540), Chamuscado-Rodriguez (1581), Espéjo (1582), De Vargas (1692), Dominguez-Escalante (1776), De Zuñiga (1795), Young (1829), Sitgreaves (1851), Whipple (1853), Doniphan (1846), Simpson (1849), sheep drives to and from California (1830-1880), military wagon roads (1840-1880), Beale (1859), Chávez (1863), the Prescott to Santa Fe stagecoach line (1863- 1882), and others. El Morro, the major Southwest crossroads and oasis, intersection of ancient as well as modern trails, both east-west and north-south, also occupies a conspicuous centrality to a number of contemporary Indian tribes, Pueblo and non-Pueblo. It serves, too, as the hub of many periods of classic pueblo and other pre-Columbian cultures. What other spot in the Southwest can possibly begin to rank with El Morro as such an old, pivotal, and well-used central waystation? In recognition of its almost mystical blend of physical and cultural spirituality, Lawrence Clark Powell has designated El Morro the "magnetic center" of the Southwest. And, for what it's worth, the North American Continental Divide, that is, the natural geologic and hydrologic north-south boundary that separates the Atlantic Ocean watershed from the Pacific Ocean watershed, is only fifteen miles east of El Morro.
A companion to Inscription Rock's historical and cultural centrality is Zuni Pueblo, which lies only about thirty miles west of El Morro. While Zuni's southwestern most village of Hawikuh, or, as the Spanish called it, Cíbola, lies in ruins, historically and metaphorically speaking it could be said that Cíbola-and, therefore, Zuni-is the heart of the Southwest. It was "heart of the Southwest" Zuni that first tempted and drew the Spaniards so deep into Northern New Spain. As one of the legendary "Seven Cities of Gold," Cibola, a village built of rock and mud, was the first "Southwest" Indian pueblo within what is today the United States to be conquered by the Spanish. Fray Marcos de Niza, indisputably the first white man to penetrate so far into tierra incógnita beyond New Spain's farthest northern border, in 1539 struggled through the vast, unexplored, and menacing despoblado of Mexico's most northward frontier (today east-central Arizona's rugged Mogollon Rim country) to reach his goal. Warned of Estevinico's fate, Fray Marcos dared only to steal close enough to Cíbola to sneak a cautious peek. He wrote:

I continued my journey till I came within sight of Cíbola. It is situated on a level stretch on the brow of a roundish hill. It appears to be a very beautiful city, the best that I have seen in these parts; the houses are of the type that the Indians described to me, all of stone with their storeys and terraces, as it appeared to me from a hill whence I could see it. The town is bigger than the city of Mexico.... It appears to me that this land is the best and largest of all those that have been discovered.

De Niza's report on Cíbola prompted Viceroy Mendoza to send Francisco Vásquez de Coronado on his important exploration northward in 1540. The Cíbola people resisted this new Spanish visit also, so on June 7 of that year Coronado and his men stormed the pueblo. Up until that time this aggressive act was Spain's most northward frontier conquest involving bloodshed, and the Cibola conquest established a model for Southwest Spanish colonial behavior, if not policy, during the next 160 years.

Southwest "Ports" and "Extra-Southwest" Enclaves

It is curious and ironic that some of the best known novels of the Southwest are not set anywhere near the region's heartland. Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona, for example, takes place in coastal Southern California-an area peripheral to the Southwest at best. Perhaps this is because the evidence of California's aristocratic Hispanic culture seemed much richer and more manifest than did the New Mexico version.
Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima has a marginal Southwest setting, too-Santa Rosa, New Mexico, on the Pecos River (the east side of the Pecos, however). Moreover, despite the town's name (which was not given to it until 1890), Anglo railroaders in the 1860s, not seventeenth- or eighteenth-century Hispanics, founded the place. Anaya employs the marginal nature of Santa Rosa to develop a major motif in his novel. The story's protagonist has a mother who belongs to the west side of the Pecos, where self-sufficient gardens and cash crop produce farming characterize the social and psychological nature of its people. The protagonist's father belongs to the Llano Estacado. Llano people see themselves as being freer and more dignified. The two areas represent two quite different worlds.
Several of Paul Horgan's stories take place in or near Roswell, New Mexico, only marginally a Southwestern town, also on the Pecos River. However, Horgan's books often have no sense or flavor of "the Southwest" that has been identified in the essay that you are now reading. Many of these Horgan books are home- and family-centered, very domestic, even effete. These radio soap-opera-level novels reflect a Midwest and Great Plains locale and point of view in terms of both landscape and human behavior. Horgan uses "plains" and "prairies" much more frequently than the word "desert." While both authors, unconsciously or otherwise, illustrate the difference, if not the conflict, between the Llano and the region west of the Pecos, figuratively Anaya makes the west side of the river more domestic, while Horgan's prairie, east of the river, is the tamer environment.
Other places on the region's periphery also claim ties to the Southwest. Chicanos of Pueblo, Colorado (with a 100 percent Spanish place name), insist that the Arkansas River, which runs through Pueblo, serves as the northern boundary of the Hispanic Southwest, thereby excluding its neighbor Colorado Springs, Colorado (with a 66.66 percent Spanish place name) forty miles to the north. Yet the people of Colorado College in Colorado Springs offer and enjoy the popular support of the most appealing and successful "Southwest Studies" curriculum in the nation. During his classic "tramp across the continent," Charles Lummis, too, gave credence to Pueblo as a cultural portal to the Southwest. He said of his experience on Saturday, November 15, 1884, just a few miles south of Pueblo, referring to his first encounter with Hispanic culture: "I stepped across the line from an alleged American civilization into the boundaries of one strangely diverse."
Historically speaking, Bent's Old Fort, about seventy miles east of Pueblo on the Santa Fe Trail, served during the critical years 1833 to 1849 as a major Anglo entry point to the Hispanic and Indian Southwest. Throughout the nineteenth century, northern New Mexico's Taos did the same thing, but more so. The Spanish Borderlands historian Herbert E. Bolton argued eloquently that Pecos, New Mexico, also deserves such a "portal' reputation. And the name "Portales," which designates an eastern New Mexico town on the Llano Estacado near the Texas border, means, appropriately enough, "doors" or "entrances."
Historically, too, no place on the southern border of the region has served more as a gateway to the Southwest than has El Paso, Texas. From its earliest occupation, it has always been recognized as such; indeed, "El Paso" in English means "portal' or "passageway." Moreover, since 1581, when Chamuscado and Rodriguez, the first Spaniards to enter the region by way of the ancient corridor, "The Great River of the North" (El Rio Grande del Norte), to the present day, El Paso, culturally as well as physically, has belonged more with Southwestern cities Albuquerque and Tucson than with Dallas or Houston. However, the Spanish did explore and settle much of southern Texas, and that fact plus close historical ties with Mexico, remains the most legitimate-and only-claim the rest of Texas can present as a credential for membership in "the Southwest." And in many other ways Texas simply doesn't qualify, despite such vestigial Hispanic enclaves as San Antonio and Nacogdoches.
Deterministic geological conditions like those found at Lees Ferry and Raton Pass served as funnels through which people had to travel in order to reach the region's interior, while deadly byways like southwest Arizona's aptly named "El Camino del Diablo" ("The Devil's Highway") became the only routes through which the Southwest could be reached from certain other departure points. Another sinister-sounding route, New Mexico's notorious "Jornada del Muerto" ("Journey of Death"), a short-cut for the Rio Grandes El Camino Real, is also properly named.
Southern California's physical proximity and Hispanic cultural affectations-for that matter, the whole coastal California Hispanic-mission phenomenon-certifies that area as a port, a place of entry, even a vestibule, to the shoreless inland Southwest. Although geographically peripheral to the heartland, Southern California with Los Angeles, the Southwest Museum, Charles Lummis, and the neo-mission movement, has served-in fact and in symbol-as gatekeeper, customs (in two senses of that word) inspector, and tickettaker for the region. Although set in Southern California, in many ways the novel Ramona has more a mythic and metaphoric locale than a geographic one. Helen Hunt Jackson meant Ramona to symbolize the Mugwump Southwest romance: noble and betrayed savages, earnest and simple Anglo pioneers, honorable and aristocratic Hispanics, and sensitive, honest, and decent Mugwumps-all four crushed and conquered, one way or another, by ruthlessly greedy and boorish Yankee land grabbers and other capitalists.
Upon examining the cultural geography of the Southwest, one finds it difficult not to notice that a strong cultural bond connects Santa Fe and Los Angeles. Both display a solid Hispanic influence, both exist on the perimeter of the region, and both were Americanized soon after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Not only were these two communities busy portals to the hinterlands, but the two towns reciprocated as trade terminals and regional storage depots. Linked by the Santa Fe Railroad after 1885, the two have a strong historical connection, both economically and culturally. Santa Fe was 171 years old when Los Angeles was founded in 1781. But despite Santa Fe's priority, as Leroy Hafen has said, "the two pueblos looked much alike in the 1830s and'40s:

Both were then typical rural pueblos of the Spanish Southwest-mud-brown adobe, flat-roofed houses clustering about a central plaza. Irrigation ditches, leading from a nearby mountain stream, brought glistening water to the house doors and to the adjacent gardens of corn, beans, onions, and chili peppers. Productive orchards and small farms, interspersed with the houses or adjoining the village, exchanged succulent produce for the mountain water [sic].
Each town was in the midst of a vast Indian country peopled with migrant [?] natives. Catholic missions had effectively domesticated [?!!?] some of these Indians to serve as servants of the house, tillers of the field, or vaqueros and herdsmen on ranch and range.
Remoteness from larger centers of civilization caused each pueblo to develop a self-sufficiency for elemental needs. To obtain foreign goods both [needed to] support long and difficult lines of transport. Santa Fe's earliest supply line had been by pack train from distant Mexico City. Los Angeles had received occasional goods from small sailing vessels that braved the scurvy seas....
Though both New Mexico and California were founded and nurtured by Mother Spain, climate and geography dictated divergent products for the two areas.
New Mexico, a high, and land where irrigation was necessary for production of crops and where grazing resources were meager, was good sheep country. Wool, hand-manufactured into blankets, became the principal exportable product.
On the other hand, California, with a low altitude, mild climate and ampler rainfall, had extensive areas of excellent grazing land. The result was the large and easy production of cattle and horses on a thousand hills. Hides and tallow, carried away by ship, were the chief exports in the days of the missions. Horses and mules were the items for overland trade.
Thus there existed a natural basis for trade between the two provinces. A commercial traffic-principally an exchange of woolen blankets for horses and mules-instituted and maintained the annual caravan from New Mexico to California and return.

Spanish settlers and traders developed the Old Spanish Trail to enable this relationship. Later, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad connected the two towns. (The through trains have always stopped at Lamy, about twenty miles to the south of downtown Santa Fe.) A Santa Fe-Los Angeles axis still exists, still penetrates the heartland by way of the AT and SF and U.S. Interstate freeways 15, 40, and 25.
But the "Southwesternness" of the two places has changed substantially. In the past fifty years, Los Angeles has lost its interest in the back-country and has become drawn to the more compelling attractions of its own neon, beaches, automobiles, a bizarre and "laid-back" lifestyle, and the self-centered and sybaritic Culture of Right Now. Generalities can be dangerous, but it appears safe to say that people in Southern California specialize in doing insignificant things well-antique car restoration, surfing, garage-organizing, macramé, tofu salads, breakdancing. They care little about the future, let alone the past, particularly a past that they cannot perceive each new day in any conspicuous, stimulating, or "relevant" way. Who, for example, today in California (and in the rest of the nation, including Arizona and New Mexico-and the rest of the world, for that matter) would find it "boorish" or "distasteful" to exploit the Southwest in order to gain capitalistic wealth and power? Isn't that what the "American Dream" is all about? Besides Disneyland is closer and more attractively garish, and it requires less deliberation or effort. Its scaled-down dimensions make it much more quaint and cute than full-scale Arizona mountains and canyons. Only a very few people in Southern California know of Charles Lummis or of the Southwest Museum-or, as some call it, the "Southwest Mausoleum"-where the simple visions of a bygone day lie embalmed and gathering dust. And, indeed, just recently, in spite of the fact that the Southwest Museum lies almost in the center of a metropolitan area of more than eleven million people, the museum had to curtail some of its services due to lack of revenue.
Despite their peripheral geographical location as portals to the Southwest, Santa Fe and its north-central New Mexico little sister, Taos, enjoy, in many popular and commercial perceptions, reputations as the "most Southwestern" and "most New Mexico-ish" places in the region. In ways similar to those of Los Angeles, Taos and Santa Fe are also ports or doors to the "cultural" Southwest. But, for forty years or more, unlike in Los Angeles, business has been booming for these regional borderland purveyors of Southwest culture. Always campgrounds for dilettantes and dabblers, regardless of whatever bona fide "Southwestern" past the two towns can claim, these tourist meccas play a modern cultural role neither profound nor branded by substance and integrity.
Taos and Santa Fe, at one time popularly perceived as bohemian hideaways, have now for many years served as the antithesis of what even the Mugwumps sought eighty to a hundred years ago. While it does seem true that Taos and Santa Fe have always been known for their quaintsy- poo affectations and other forms of silly and superficial aestheticism, over the years a few "serious" writers, artists, ethnologists, and naturalists-as well as the dilettantes-found in Taos and in Santa Fe an atmosphere conducive to personal contemplation and introspection. The two colonies were lodestones that attracted people who sought respect for nature, ethnic sensitivity, aesthetic freedom, and a refuge from materialism.
Now, in the late 1980s, more meretricious and tacky than ever, these two cultural harlots serve the Southwest as carnival barkers and spielers, sensationalist hucksters, and peddlers of regional snake-oil. New Yorky pseudo-Mugwumps lounge in their $300,000 condominiums, read Lummis's Land of Poco Tiempo or Louis L'Amour novels, snort coke, and complain about urban-industrial society's decadence and bewail the inmigration of more of their own kind, even as they sell their condos at a 50 percent profit after two years. Apart from a few exceptions, the earlier imagemakers ignored mining, industrialism, urbanism, and other Southwestern "realities." But today's "tastemakers" are involved in mindless faddishness several cuts below the already earlier gutter-level imagemakers. As D. H. Lawrence observed as early as 1924, "The Southwest is the great playground of the White American. . . . And the Indian with his long hair and his bits of pottery and blankets and clumsy home-made trinkets, he's a wonderful toy to play with. More fun than keeping rabbits, and just as harmless.... Oh, the wild west is lots of fun. The Land of Enchantment. Like being right inside the circus ring!" He was, of course, quite accurate-painfully so, but accurate.
The commercial imagery that gets fobbed off today in Taos and Santa Fe and Sedona and Scottsdale supposedly represents all of the Southwest. Fortunately, however, for the rest of the region, this foolishly snooty egotism and self-applause draw more people only to Taos and Santa Fe, themselves, leaving many of the best parts of the Southwest unadvertised and unnoticed.

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