In Spanish, ciénega (also ciénaga) refers to a swamp or marsh. The term was generally applied to desert wetlands in the American Southwest. Lush meadow grasses and marshy plants dominated these surfaces until the mid- to late 1800s, when overgrazing, logging in the mountains, and other human effects carried their toll. Many ciénegas were drained out; those that remained formed valuable wildlife habitat. Fifteen miles southwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in La Ciénega, lies Rancho de las Golondrinas (Ranch of the Swallows), a living museum that bears testament to what life was like in a small farming community. In All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy writes: “They ate lunch under the trees at the edge of a small ciénega. The horses stood in the marshy grass and sucked quietly at the water.”

Arthur Sze