Descansos is a project I have been involved with for over 20 years. I was first drawn to Descansos or roadside markers when I lived in Utah. They were not as prolific at the time as they are here in Texas and in New Mexico.
The custom of marking the site of a death on the highway has deep roots in the Hispanic culture of the Southwest, where these memorials are often referred to as Descanso (“resting places”).
Traditionally, Descansos were memorials erected at the places where the funeral procession paused to rest on the journey between the church and the cemetery. The association thus created between the road, the interrupted journey, and death as a destination, eventually found expression in the practice of similarly marking the location of fatal accidents on the highway. And while many markers may be at the location of the death, many are placed in a general location to mark the passing of a loved one.
At this time, I have visited and photographed over 120 sites in California, Arkansas, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Due to the number of Descansos, I decided to use the Military Grid Reference System to notate location of each Descanso and the MGRS serves as the title for the images. I usually record more than one image at each location and while creating prints of the site, I am only selecting one image from the location for display currently.
The Descansos can be quite ornate to very simple and are heart rending when reading some of the inscriptions left by the family and friends. Most disappear after a year as the family moves on and forgets to care for the marker or they are destroyed by weather or highway upkeep.