Tierra Amarilla is a small unincorporated community near the Carson National Forest in the northern part of the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the county seat of Rio Arriba County.
Tierra Amarilla is Spanish for "Yellow Earth". The name refers to clay deposits found in the Chama River Valley and used by Native American peoples. Tewa and Navajo toponyms for the area also refer to the yellow clay.
There is evidence of 5000 years of habitation in the Chama River Valley including pueblo sites south of Abiquiu. The area served as a trade route for peoples in the present-day Four Corners region and the Rio Grande Valley. Navajos later used the valley as a staging area for raids on Spanish settlements along the Rio Grande. Written accounts of the Tierra Amarilla locality by pathfinding Spanish friars in 1776 described it as suitable for pastoral and agricultural use. The route taken by the friars from Santa Fe to California became the Spanish Trail. During the Californian Gold Rush the area became a staging point for westward fortune seekers.
The Tierra Amarilla Grant was created in 1832 by the Mexican government for Manuel Martinez and settlers from Abiquiu. The land grant encompassed a more general area than the contemporary community known as Tierra Amarilla.