Nahalat Shalom Members Visit La Puerta Natural Burial Grounds

On Friday, June 9 under a scorching afternoon New Mexico sun, a band of intrepid Nahalat Shalom members* ventured into the desert grasslands southeast of Belen to visit the La Puerta Natural Burial Grounds to consider how this ecologically sound end-of-life option might serve as a resource to strengthen our Nahalat Shalom community. 

*    Representing Nahalat Shalom were Va’ad members Emet Ma’ayan, Va’ad president and Chuck Buxbaum, Va’ad vice-president along with Penina Ballen, member of Nahalat Shalom’s Chevra Kadisha (funeral committee), and JoAnn Rice, retired cantor, and member of RACAA (Rabbinical and Cantorial Assoc. of Albuquerque).

La Puerta National Burial Grounds is 82 acres of land that has been converted into a scenic, environmentally friendly, and remarkably affordable place to be buried. It’s about an hour and twenty minute drive from Nahalat Shalom.  This is the vision of Donal and Linda Key, retired hospice therapist and caregiver.


We met with Donal and Linda Key for about an hour and were impressed with their dedication to this endeavor and commitment to making this attractive option available to our members.  The guiding principles of Natural Burial include:
•    no use of embalming chemicals; 
•    burial in natural materials such as cotton or wool shrouds or soft-wood coffins;
•    modest natural stone grave markers with natural vegetation planted or allowed to passively recover on the grave site.  

This method has the environmental advantage of favoring a rapid decomposition rate  (compared with traditional burial methods) and a low carbon footprint (compared with cremation).  The cost of a plot is just $450 and the burial (transportation of the body, excavation, use of the lowering mechanism, and restoration of soil and vegetation) is just $250, making the total cost comparable to that of cremation, and about 10% to 16% the cost of a traditional burial.  A simple pine casket built by the non-profit, Fathers Building Futures, costs an additional $600 and $800, but burial can be completed with a simple cotton or wool covering.  
The site is a tract of land about 15 miles east of I-25 and a mile north of Rt 60, between Mountainair and Bernardo, NM, close to Abo at Salinas Pueblo National Monument, gently sloping off the southwestern end of the Manzano Mountains.  The vegetation is dominated by grama and dropseed grasses, with small herbaceous plants and sparse low shrubs.  The area is surrounded by magnificent views of distant mountains. We didn’t stay to watch the sunset, but having spent several summers conducting ecological research just south of there, Chuck attests that they are magnificent.  It is a quiet spot, devoid of car or truck sounds.  The slow rumble of the passing trains added a wonderful background to the prairie ambience.
The “burial committee” and Va’ad will meet in the next few weeks and months to determine what arrangements Nahalat Shalom will make with La Puerta.  If anyone is interested in participating in this process, or if you have specific questions or suggestions, please email Chuck Buxbaum at 
 Find out more about La Puerta Natural Burial Grounds by visiting their website: