There is an important atarque not far from Albuquerque. The word’s roots come from Spanish: atracar is to cram or glut; atarquinar is to cover in mud or slime. Malcolm Ebright, in Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico, defines atarque as a diversion dam for an irrigation ditch, but it is just as often used locally in New Mexico to refer to the small reservoir behind the dam or to the entirety of the local irrigation works. Or, by some, casually to refer to any natural or man-made watering hole. All of which brings us to Cibola County in east-central New Mexico. Atarque Lake, twenty miles south of Zuni Pueblo, is surrounded today by an old lake bed; as it receded over the millennia the lake did indeed slime the landscape. Atarque Lake feeds the Atarque aquifer, which includes, twenty miles farther south, Zuni Salt Lake, one of the Zuni people’s holiest female deities. Phoenix, Arizona, tried to take water from the Atarque aquifer for a major coal-related project, but the Zuni wrestled the city to a draw and saved what’s left of the aquifer’s water. An interesting trivia note: the far southeastern end of the old lake is the home of the Very Large Array Deep-Space radio antenna project.

Luis Alberto Urrea