Un paraje is a stopping place. A camp. It was a term that penetrated the American Southwest with Spanish conquistadors and friars, as they wended their ways north and west, seeking Cíbola and pathways to Santa Fe and California. A paraje nowadays denotes a small settlement, a watered spot for a layover, or a fortuitous place where travelers have traditionally settled for the night. Travel writers Phil Archuletta and Sharyl Holden tell a good story in Traveling in New Mexico about the term that would be welcome at any paraje. They are writing of the land between Las Cruces and Socorro: “The trail was first blazed by Oñate in 1598. His notes say the group suffered terribly for lack of water until someone’s dog appeared with wet paws. The travelers followed the dog to temporary water where the animals and people relieved their thirst. Known from then on as Los Charcos del Perrillo, ‘the puddles of the little dog,’ it became a paraje, or camping place, where caravans prepared for the harsh trip ahead.”

Luis Alberto Urrea