US Capitol Christmas Tree

Who Gets to Decorate the “People’s Tree”?

Friday, September 20, 2019

 

Providing 10,000 handcrafted Christmas ornaments to adorn the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and 70 companion trees is no small feat, but with the help of the community, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is well on its way to achieving that goal! Every year, the Forest Service selects a different national forest to provide the iconic tree and all the trimmings. This year, it will hail from the Questa Ranger District of northern New Mexico’s Carson National Forest, and communities from all over the state are coming together to help deliver a piece of the enchantment of New Mexico, to the rest of the country. The Village of Questa, New Mexico, and their local farmers market are great examples of the overwhelming community involvement that makes the tradition of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree possible.

Nestled among the majestic conifers of the Enchanted Circle sits the small mining community of Questa, New Mexico. Officially founded in 1842, the Village of Questa is in many ways the quintessential northern New Mexican town, while also representing a broader, small-town American, post-industrial march into modernity. The Questa Farmers Market is an expression of that social and economic transition — and a tasty one at that!

With the creation of the market, this tight-knit community along the Red River decided to go back to their farming and ranching roots. From Costilla to Taos, community members come together every Sunday during the summer, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., to sell their fresh confections, produce, meat, flowers, and arts and crafts. Local musician Chris Arellano, a native of Costilla, frequently plays at the market, providing a uniquely New Mexican ambiance with a splash of Nashville thrown in for good measure.

Amid the smell of freshly baked horno-bread, the jubilation of local residents dancing the marcha — a line dance traditionally danced at weddings and celebrations — and the unique rhythms of New Mexican Spanish music, market-goers stop by the Forest Service table to put their personal flair on Christmas ornaments headed to Washington, D.C. Ornament makers punch designs into tin plates and color tree cookies, creating folk-art ornaments that are distinctly New Mexican.

The roots of agriculture in the area run deep, going back before the incorporation of the town. Originally known as San Antonio del Rio Colorado (St. Anthony of Red River), the settlement was later dubbed Questa — an anglicization of the Spanish word cuesta, meaning slope or hill — referring to the hill on which the town is situated. By the time the village was officially founded in 1842, Mexican settlers had been farming the Red River valley for many years; and Native American tribes like the Jicarilla Apache, Kiowa, Ute and Navajo had hunted on the land for generations. It seems fitting that this year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree should come from such a place, where agriculture has been an integral part of the local culture for so long.

Commercial mining shaped contemporary life in Questa as well. Molybdenum, a mineral used in the steel production, was mined in the area beginning in 1922. This supported the local economy and provided well-paying jobs for many in Questa and the surrounding communities. When the Chevron Corp. closed the mine in 2014, the resulting economic vacuum put the community’s resolve and resourcefulness to the test.

As the nation’s energy priorities shift and the demands on our natural resources change, small towns across the country are looking for ways to sustain themselves economically. For Questa, this means shifting their focus from mining to tourism and renewable energy. In this vein, Chevron already converted a substantial portion of the tailings facility from the now-defunct molybdenum mine into solar panels, and public meetings are being held for a possible solar farm in Cerro, New Mexico.

On the tourism front, Questa District Ranger Jack Lewis says he is committed to working with the community to help bolster tourism to the forest and surrounding areas. This includes plans to develop multiple trails for hiking, horseback riding and off-highway vehicle use, connecting the Village of Questa with the Town of Red River and its associated tourism.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and the Questa Farmers Market are just a couple of examples of the exciting new things that are happening around the Enchanted Circle. Learn more about the Questa Farmers Market, trails and things to do in Questa, New Mexico, and U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree updates and events

   

 

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