Numerous discrete ritual sites called descansos, or “resting places” are located along edges of highways and streets across the Southwest United States (U.S.). These roadside memorials identify the place where a person or people experienced the final moments of life, and often, subsequent tragic death. During October-November 2013, I visited 57 descansos in southern Arizona and New Mexico to explore the hypothesis that descansos serve multiple integrated personal and social purposes. These roadside shrines connect personal and social aspects of grief and mourning on political landscapes and work as material coping mechanisms for experiencing the sudden traumatic death of a loved one. In the Southwest U.S., a region fraught with historical experiences of trauma, these small easily recognized ritual places are one way of expressing continued ties to the landscape. Descansos allow people to release intense personal emotion socially through the acts of building, visiting, altering, and dismantling (or abandoning) these memorials. As social meaning of roadside memorials is elucidated they are increasingly becoming the focus of discourse surrounding their control and regulation.
How to Cite: Byrd R.M., (2016) “Rest in place: Understanding traumatic death along the roadsides of the Southwestern United States”, Arizona Anthropologist 26.