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Education and Interpretation

Among the requirements of Northern Río Grande NHA’s congressional legislation is that it “provide recommendations for educational and interpretive programs to inform the public about the resources of the heritage area. [P.L. 109-338, Section 205 (a)(3)(D)]


Interpretation, as defined by the National Park Service, is a way to offer a visitor the opportunity to connect with a place in a way that is personally meaningful. It is designed to reveal underlying meaning to the visitor through first-hand involvement. Connections might be emotional, intellectual, or spiritual as people connect with ideas, beliefs, and values embodied in our world.

While interpretation is based on facts, the goal is to reveal what an object, place, feature or event means and why it matters. For the Northern Río Grande National Heritage Area, connection to place can occur through first-hand experiences with something as large as the landscape or as small as an item of food. Connections can be made through language, a historic site or event – and through the stories that are told about northern New Mexico.


The Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, as it organized, hosted numerous meetings and workshops at which residents and stakeholders discussed what was important to them and what they would like to share about their home region. Out of these gatherings came the Heritage Area’s recommendations for educational and interpretive programs.

As residents reflected on the broader aspects of their region, they expressed a multitude of perspectives and a diversity of viewpoints that reflect the region’s complex history and interlaced cultures. The overarching sentiment was their passion and love of place, muted only by an expressed call for respect.

The experiences of the region’s diverse population, shared and separate, define the essence of life ways and living in this land and point the way in mapping the future of the Heritage Area. The Heritage Area’s key interpretive themes are framed from this perspective.

Interpretive themes are the overarching stories of national importance that the Heritage Area would like to tell. Themes are an organizing framework that provides context for the interpretation of individual resources.

The Heritage Area has identified three interpretive themes:
  • Cradle of Settlement
  • Adaptation and Survival
  • Identity Through a Cultural Blend
The themes build upon the recognition that northern New Mexico is a place where waves of cultures interacted with the land and with other peoples they encountered, and demonstrate both a blending of cultures and the continuation of distinct and individual cultural characteristics.

Theme 1: Cradle of Settlement

The history of the Heritage Area is one of migration and settlement, with each wave of settlers bringing its own elements of culture. To all, including the indigenous immigrants, the land was foreign and unknown. The stories are about the people, how they settled and remained in this, their adopted home.

Theme 2: Adaptation and Survival

The demands of the land, climate, and geography, and isolation from other centers of habitation force adaptation and unity with the environment to permit long term survival.

Theme 3: Identity Through a Cultural Blend

The region’s identity evokes the mingling of cultures. The specific interplay of land, water, and people over an extended time defines the heritage of this special place.

These key themes -- and the identified natural and cultural resources of the Heritage Area -- offer a guide for communicating important stories. Stories will be told through the support and development of projects, programs, and activities to educate residents and visitors about the significance of the Heritage Area and to support attainment of NRGNHA goals.