by Mike Smith
There is a road in the mountains. It’s a dirt road. Dirt and gravel. The houses that appear suddenly and sporadically along its curves and rises all have Cedar Crest mailing addresses, but the road itself seems to run through that part of the Sandias that’s actually north of Cedar Crest and Cañoncito, south of San Antonito, and east of Sandia Park. It divides a mountainous no-man’s-land between places with names.
Rossiter Road, it’s called. From North Highway 14, it rises away west, framed by power lines and wooden fences, scruffy at its edges with weeds and grass. And there are piñons. And junipers. Rocks, and wire fences. The road heads up the rise of the mountains and plummets down into driveway valleys.
In middle school and high school, I remember the school bus would always stop at Rossiter Road to pick up and let off my friend Megan. I remember wondering what the name meant, because that’s how I’ve always been, but it wasn’t until many years later that I found out the road hid a secret.
Monroe “Monte” Rossiter was, in the middle decades of the 20th century, one of those people that everyone living in the Sandias seemed to know, or know of. He bought the land along what is now Rossiter Road before World War II. He owned a bulldozer, and he used it often. If you live anywhere in the area, you may have driven on roads that he helped clear. Or past lots or the sites of houses that he helped level. Or, if you’ve ever driven up to Sandia Crest, past the artificial pond he once bulldozed into existence. Rossiter was known locally as an eccentric. He had a Tolstoyan beard, long hair, and if he was awake, he was smoking. Grant Montgomery, a longtime area local, has called him “the world’s first hippie.”
Rossiter had at least a few wives, one after another. He claimed to have invented the Ouija board, though Ouija boards have been around since before 1890. He also claimed to have invented an engine that ran on water, way back in 1953. He had a deep-freezer buried on his property, with all his money in it, rigged with a shotgun to blast anyone who opened it.
The most interesting thing Rossiter was known for, however, may have been something he called the Seven Heavens. Sometime in the late-1960s or early-1970s—according to Bob Cooper, a longtime mountain resident who I am sad to say died just this last year—Rossiter used his bulldozer to dig an enormous pit on his property, in which he built an underground cathedral, entirely out of concrete. His plan was to build seven such concrete bunkers, at seven special places on his property, and then call them the Seven Heavens. In the end he only built one, and the name ended up being applied to it.
At the time, hippies and countercultural figures from all around the country were coming to Placitas, at the northern end of the mountains, starting communes, trying to raise crops, and live off the land. In New Mexico, Placitas was second only to Taos as a place where such experiments in communal living were taking place. Huge makeshift art houses made of stained glass and repurposed debris bloomed up from the desert. Geodesic-dome and adobe villages appeared where before there had only been pastures. They came, even though they lived on the other side of the Sandias. In good weather, they made the scenic trek up and along NM 156, which links Placitas to the Crest Road. Or, they went the long way, south on 1-25, east on I-40, and then up the Turquoise Trail.
These services at Seven Heaven were unusual. The best label for them, perhaps, would be “New Age.” Congregants would descend through a narrow entrance down into the ground, into a spacious, all-concrete chamber lit only by a single light bulb known as the Eternal Light. And there, standing at a sort of altar, self-appointed minister—Rossiter himself—would lead a service. I honestly don’t know what these services entailed—almost all of my information comes from interviews with Bob Cooper; one interview with locals, Grant and Teddy Montgomery; and a brief conversation I once had with Rossiter’s niece, Ellie Robinson—but I like to imagine they involved robes, and candles, and chanting.
These services apparently went on for years. Eventually, Rossiter grew old and died. And then in the 1980s, the roads received official names to help the fire department find houses more easily, and Rossiter’s road became Rossiter Road. The area along the road saw a bit of development, and as new houses were built, the entrance to the underground cathedral, to the subterranean Seven Heavens, was bulldozed over, buried, lost, forgotten.
People live on that road now. And there is the world along it, the sunlit world. The desert and the wind through its grasses. And beneath it all, there is something else. Something more. Something different. There is an empty chamber, perhaps smelling of water, perhaps smelling of dust. There is a strange, dark, silent space. There is a place of mystery.
Do you have additional information about Monroe “Monte” Rossiter, Rossiter Road, or the Seven Heavens? If so, contact Mike Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org, and your information may help lead to another article. Or find Mike Smith on Twitter at @New_Mexico_News.
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