© David Nanc, Descansos. All rights reserved

Men carried the coffin, women followed weeping. There was no hearse, and no mules to climb the steep hill to the burial place. The men set down the coffin to rest between the church and the burial ground. The simple coffin was pine, but the edges were not polished and cut into the shoulders of the men who carried it. Once they could move on, the men left the resting place, or Descanso.

Over time, marking the place of death became known as  Descansos, particularly if the death was caused by a highway accident. At first, it was a wagon overturned, a shot fired in the night, but over time Descansos marked a break, an interruption in life’s journey.

Now, Descansos mark the place of fatal accidents on the highways as well as the poems, tributes, and memories created for the dead.

Dave Nance photographs Descansos in the American West. The picture above is from his website.
Heather Blakey, whose husband recently died, writes Descansos as an act of healing.
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and writer. See her work at

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