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“Abo Canyon Is The Best Way”

by F. Meredith Jones

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was actively seeking a new route through New Mexico that was less steep than the one in Raton Pass. The Santa Fe Railway responded to requests from Albuquerque residents to look for an east-west line that would go through the city and sent an engineer to find the best way through the sparsely populated eastern territory. Below, field engineer F. Meredith Jones writes to Chief Engineer James Dun and confirms Major James Henry Carleton’s 1853 observation that Abo Pass offered advantages for a railroad above all other mountain passes. By 1903, the Santa Fe Railway had begun construction on the cutoff through Abo Canyon.

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Belen, 1921 Map of New Mexico Railroads“1921 Map of New Mexico Railroads,” Francis J. Reynolds (Editor) New Mexico, May 31, 1902

Mr. James Dun,
Chief Engineer System,
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Sir:

Complying with your request of May 5th to look over the country and report if a line could be had from the northwest point of Wallace’s survey in the Sandoval Grant to Isleta, I now report as follows:

Absolutely and entirely impracticable.

As this report is rather brief, I submit the following information which I have gathered from a trip around the Manzano Mountains. The Manzano, Montoso and Sandia Mountains form a continuous chain, extending north and south about 20 miles east of the Rio Grande. There is no break or opening between Tijeras Canon and the Abo Canon. However, north of the Mosca Peak the Manzano Mountains are much lower; in fact, they are not mountains, there being no igneous rock. It is simply an elevation of the horizontal stratified formation. The formation is limestone, merging into porphyry.

Through this I had hoped to find an opening, even by going as far north as T.8 N., R. 8 E., thence west through Hell’s Canon. There is certainly nothing south of Hell’s Canon, and the following is my best, on that delightful stream.

F. Meredith Jones and Unknown Person Working“F. Meredith Jones and Unknown Person Working,” Unknown (Photographer)

It is twelve miles long by odometer. It heads up against a north and south divide 7000 feet high, and drops off 600 feet in the first mile, then falls about 80 feet to the mile to the mouth of the canon. It is not a box canon, neither is it a cañada; it is more like a crevice in the rock. There is scarcely a level place in the whole canon wide enough to turn a wagon on. The rocky hillsides go right up from the creek, at about an angle of 30 degrees. The porphyritic points, almost without number, on either side interlock, like cogs on a set of gear wheels. It is barren of a single redeeming quality from a railroad point of view.

I feel safe in asserting that no railroad will ever utilize this route. On the other hand I predict that within a very few years, some railroad, if not the Santa Fe, will make use of the Abo Pass.

Very Truly,

F. Meredith Jones