Today roadside memorials are scattered across America, but only in the rural state of New Mexico are they present in such large numbers and tied to the long Hispanic custom of erecting a cross to mark a death on the road. In an age when the larger Christian culture tends to minimize death rituals, descansos, Spanish for “resting places,” are part of an enduring tradition of communal grief marked in a most public place. While the original memorials were made of simple wooden crosses, for the last forty years a profound change in the design and appearance of descansos has taken place with the availability of new commercial construction materials and store-bought objects and decorations. The sites of remembrance have become singular creations in design, materials, and objects, with the result that no two are alike.

The white metal square at the center of the descanso is decorated with tinsel for Christmas and holds a photograph of the remembered mother of two children. Photographs are rarely incorporated into descansos. This one, however, was taken from the cover of Joanne Marie Ocaña‘s funeral program.