Evolution of Descansos in Santa Fe

Ghost bike on Route 599 in Santa Fe.

We’ve all grown accustomed to seeing roadside memorials around Santa Fe. The modern tradition began with car fatalities and now includes people killed on bikes. The term Ghost Bikes is a dedicated remembrance to the fallen cyclist. The traditional descanso is usually a few feet from the ground. Ghost Bike feature a full-frame white replica of a bicycle making it highly visible on the highway. The memorial includes information about the person with personal objects adorning the bike frame. The Albuquerque City Council has incorporated legislation making it illegal to desecrate, deface, destroy or remove Ghost Bikes.

A 16th Century Tradition

Descansos began with the 16th century confraternity, La Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno. Los Hermanos Penitentes would place crosses or stones to mark the place of death for their fellow Spaniards, who died along the Camino Real. These remembrances were for those who died of exposure and others who were killed by Indians. The 1,500 treacherous trade route began in Mexico City and ended at San Gabriel, thirty miles north of Santa Fe. Las Cruces, the state’s largest city to the south, got its name from the crosses that were erected along that journey.

Etched crosses on the stone marker in the above photo marks the number of people that died at one location in northern New Mexico. A cluster of crucifixes on the side of the road indicates that several people, perhaps an entire family, lost their lives at this locale. Roadside memorials are all different, just like the people they commemorate. As time passes the descanso begins to evolve. Family and friends continue to decorate them for the different holidays with Christmas wreaths, birthday balloons and Valentine hearts. These memorials are a collage of love and devotion by the side of the road.

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