In New Mexico, history is never an abstraction. Whether you are seeking shelter in a thick-walled adobe home, listening to the lilt of a native New Mexican’s words, tracing the path of acequias or tasting posole, you can sense history there. And there are few writers better able to tell that history than Marc Simmons.

The latest of his 37 books, Hispanic Albuquerque: 1706-1846, takes readers through the Rio Abajo, or lower Rio Grande, during the time of Spanish rule. Though the book is short and to the point, Simmons reaches three hundred years into history and pulls out characters whose names — and sometimes character traits — are familiar to today’s residents of the Duke City (The city is named after the Spanish Duke of Alburquerque). Simmons tells the tale of Elena Gallegos (after whom a park on the east side of town is named), and clues us into other individuals whose descendants still live in these parts: Griegos, Chavez, Baca and Armijo.

He also reminds us of a time, not all that long ago, when the Sandia Mountains hid Apache, Navajo and Comanche raiders; when Spaniards retreated to El Paso for safety, and when settlers, soldiers and missionaries vied for the land, power and souls of the Rio Grande tribes. Even though the book is about Albuquerque, it’s also about the Rio Grande. That river — now the scene of battles among irrigators and cities and endangered species — fulfilled a promise that gold never delivered. The river provided water to drink, cropland to plow, a corridor to travel and a defense against the desert.

Hispanic Albuquerque: 1706-1846
by Marc Simmons
164 pages, paperback $19.95.
University of New Mexico Press, 2003.