Bobbe Besold, Valerie Martinez and Dominique Mazeaud



Who is better equipped than artists—thinking outside the box—employing their creativity and resourcefulness and a love of beauty—to envision a more sustainable world?” (curator Patricia Watts)


In 2007, American Rivers designated the Santa Fe River as the most endangered in the United States. 


For five consecutive days in May 2012, we walked the length of the Santa Fe River, from the upper watershed to the confluence at the Río Grande. This 54-mile pilgrimage (embarked upon with the permission of the city of Santa Fe, private landowners and two Pueblos) was a celebration of the river, involving a wide range of community members (students, artists, activists, ranchers, farmers, families and many others) who met us before, during and after our journey.


We walked. As we walked we discovered a river that still provides a means of sustenance and a sense of place, even though the waters are halted behind two dams in the upper watershed, pumped into pipes and into our homes. We wash our dishes, clean our paint brushes, flush our toilets and much more with this good drinking water—which then flows from our homes, underground into sewage pipes, through the city of Santa Fe, where it surfaces again at the Waste Water Treatment Plant.*


The discharge from the Treatment Plant is known as effluent. When we arrived just below the discharge site on the afternoon of Day 3, after walking for a day and a half in a mostly sandy, dry river bed, we saw a lush green willowy place filled with water, dragonflies, butterflies, herons, swallows, cottonwoods and the sticky scent of the effluent. This odor followed us for miles. We were well into the next day, Day 4, following the water, crossing the river, ducking through fences, when we noticed that the smell had at last dissipated.


On Day 5 the water ran out again a few miles past the Village of La Bajada (on Cochiti Pueblo land). The trees remained. We followed trees and a dry riverbed. Here were different varieties of cottonwoods—a tree that brings respite from heat—in ways, we found, that the invasive Russian Olives and Siberian Elms do not.


We climbed the abutment of the massive Army Core of Engineers project of the mid-’60s: Cochiti Dam, which destroyed the agriculture of Cochiti Pueblo, a vibrant farming community. It took years before that wrong was eventually, somewhat, righted.


At the top of the abutment, we were greeted with more engineering, which we walked down and up and around until we were faced with the “check dam” or “overflow dam” for the Río Grande (which, given its placement, appears to dam the dry Santa Fe River).



We walked. In walking we came to water again, which reappeared in deep cottonwoods and plains, to the confluence of the Santa Fe River at the Río Grande. Here we poured the water we’d collected in the mountains of the upper watershed. Here those waters joined the Rio Grande: a river that, in good years, travels to the sea, to the delta at the Gulf of Mexico.


The journey was a profound experience of the river, of health and debilitation of land, community and water, a journey that drew more attention to the river and to those who live along it. Rivers Run Through Us has helped create a foundation for continued community engagement through our river.


In May of 2013, one year after the walk, we will present “5 Days, 5 Sites—Rivers Run Through Us,” a collaborative art, performance and community engagement event that will take place along the river. We are also creating a short documentary film of our walk and will design and launch an interactive website (“riversite”) that will allow visitors to experience the Santa Fe River as a complex and holistic ecosystem. The water samples we gathered will be tested for a wide range of chemicals and toxins. Most importantly, we will continue our work in community: listening, recording stories, gathering images and ideas, working with schools, neighborhoods and others.


Rivers Run Through Us is currently sponsored by WildEarth Guardians, the Santa Fe Watershed Association, Littleglobe, the Santa Fe Art Institute, and the Western Hardrock Watershed Team. For images, audio, text and more information about the walk (and to support the ongoing work), visit



*We highly recommend you take a tour of the Treatment Plant, where you can learn exactly what happens to the “solids” you flush each day—along with everything else you send down the drain. To schedule a tour of the plant, call 505.955.4650.



Bobbe Besold and Dominique Mazeaud are community environmental artists. Valerie Martínez is a poet, collaborative artist and former Poet Laureate for the city of Santa Fe.




Imagine a stream, a river, your river, the Santa Fe River, the Río Grande. Then imagine a country of rivers, nations of rivers, the global network of rivers. Soon, you’ll see a diamond web stretching over the Earth—a blood stream­—her life, and ours. You and I can stand beside and walk in one of these streams, one of these rivers, where we become one with the life of the Earth—the land, the water, ourselves. What a privilege.”

  • Dominique Mazeaud




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