¡Viva las fiestas!

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New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment

el día uno. Point me in the direction of Albuquerque.

On Sept 6, 2011, Ed and I departed from Boston for a long day of travel to the Land of Enchantment. This was my first trip to the American Southwest, and I was excited. The first leg of the trip was easy, but we hadn’t accounted for the lack of food service on the flight. With a 2-hour layover in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, we settled in for the big plates of enchiladas, rice and beans and tall glasses of beer at Pappasito’s Cantina. Our second flight to Albuquerque was much shorter. We arrived in a light rain. I nudged Ed, who had assured me that we would not need raincoats on this vacation.

We picked up our rental car and found our hotel (Days Inn) without too much trouble. We dropped our bags in our room and jumped into the pool to work out the kinks of travel. Ready for drinks, we found a plethora of bars on Central Avenue. Which one should we try? The hipster Blackbird Buvetter was loud with a trivia game. Grabbing two bar stools, Ed selected a very roasty brew. I chose a gin & tonic. The trivia game ended and the bar emptied out. Quickly. We soon followed suit, heading back to the hotel for a solid 7 hours of sleep.

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San Francisco Church, Golden, NM

el día dos. Hitting the Turquoise Trail.

Up before the birds. We are early risers, and the time difference made it even easier to be wide awake at 5:30. By 7:30, we were headed into Albuquerque’s cobblestone Old Town. Just in time to see the stiletto-heeled mothers bringing their school-uniformed children to the San Felipe de Neri School. A few blocks into Old Town, we found the Church of San Felipe de Neri (circa 1793). Inside, a handful of women were reciting the rosary. We knelt in the back of the church, listening to their prayers to the Virgin Mother. On their way out of the church, the women greeted us and wished us a good day.

We walked over to the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History to wander through the outdoor sculpture garden. Our appetites sharpened by prayer and art, we decided to get breakfast at the Church Street Cafe.  This 1700s hacienda-turned-cafe is lovely, dark and long.  Our waiter, Antonio, was eager to make our visit a good one.  He filled our cups with coffee that hinted of cinnamon. Huevos rancheros, drippy and flavorful with red & green chile sauce (Christmas!) and served with blue corn tortillas.

After a leisurely breakfast, we headed back to the museum and toured the exhibits on the history of New Mexico.  We took the staircase down through the collection of Spanish colonial helmets, swords and horse armor; through the 16th century vaquero (cowboy) gear. Upstairs for historical and contemporary art exhibits. We were particularly taken with the photography exhibit: Faces from Our Past, Facing the Future: Albuquerque and the Turn of the 20th Century.

And then, we hit the Turquoise Trail.

The landscape in New Mexico is very different than that of New England.  Fittingly so, given the differences in their namesakes.  The Turquoise Trail is 46 miles of roadway through the ghost towns of Golden, Madrid and Cerrillos. Our first stop was the San Francisco Church–literally on the side of the road (are-you-sure-this-is-it?) up a steep, rocky driveway.  Inside, ceiling fans rotated over green-painted wooden pews. The walls were adorned with handcrafted Stations of the Cross. Outside, the trees were laced with Christmas lights, and the graves decorated by loved ones. Breathtakingly sincere beauty.

Onward to Cerrillos, once seriously considered the capital of New Mexico.  The town looks like an Old West movie set. In fact, Young Guns was shot here:

Ed and I visited the Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum.  This museum is crammed full with an amazing amount of junk.  Ancient glass bottles, woodstoves, and stills. As in moonshine. Tables are full of bits of turquoise and other rocks, with an occasional bit of written history. After the museum and the rather pathetic petting zoo, we walked through the church courtyard at Nuestra Senora De Las Remedios. The courtyard was peaceful.  Gravel walkways edged with sage, meandering along an adobe wall. Here, the Stations of the Cross were painted on tile, and inserted into the adobe. To conclude our time in Cerillos, we headed over to Mary’s Bar.

The bar was very rundown. I was feeling apprehensive, but Ed pushed open the squeaky screen door.  An old woman sat at a round table with a notebook opened before her.  She looked up and told us that someone would be right there to serve us.  Given the stink of urine, I was ready to head out the door.  Ed, on the other hand, already spotted that there were some good beers available and was settling in on a bar stool.  A very large man shuffled out of the darkened back room.  We ordered two Sante Fe brews. The barkeep opened the bottles and passed them to us.  Ed did his best to make conversation. Not easy, as the barkeep stated (with a laugh) that he’d be happy if no one ever came into the bar.

Ed: We visited the Turquoise Museum.

Barkeep: Say no more.

Ed: What kind of tree is that (gesturing towards the screen door).

Barkeep: Cottonwood.  The Hanging Tree.

Ed: And, the birds?

Barkeep: Swallows. They’ll be heading to California soon.

Ed: Snakes?

Barkeep: Oh, yes. Sometimes they come in the bar.

Me: Don’t tell Ed that! He hates snakes.

With that, we bid goodbye and pulled out of town in a daze. We arrived in Santa Fe desperate for a rest room. We hadn’t dared to use the rest room in Mary’s Bar. We opted to grab a late lunch at Rooftop Pizzeria, right on Santa Fe Plaza. Once more in our milieu, we asked the waitress where to find a food co-op so that we could stock up for the next 4 days. And then, we sought out Paloma Casita- our home base for the Santa Fe stay.  More charming than the pictures on the website!

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Paloma Casita, Santa Fe, NM

Our casita was located in a quiet neighborhood within walking distance of Santa Fe Plaza. Adobe walls, brick floors, original artwork, small kitchen, gas-burning fireplace, gigantic bed and an outdoor hot tub. What’s not to love?

After unpacking, we headed to the New Mexico History Museum to hear a lecture from Joseph Sanchez (University of New Mexico) on New Mexico during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Who knew such events occurred here in 1668? Not us. Local attendees of the lecture were more familiar.  Still, Sanchez pointed out that neither Mexico nor the United States wants to memorialize the Spanish colonial period. Very informative evening.

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Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe Plaza, NM

el día tres. Santa Fe banishes Old Man Gloom.

Another solid 7 hours of sleep brought me to a 4:30 wake-up time. I was A-W-A-K-E. I am notoriously bad at sleeping in. I got up and put the kettle on. Tea and my journal in the early hours. At 6:30, I convinced Ed to join me in the outdoor hot tub. We soaked under the pastel New Mexico sky, gazing at Georgia O’Keeffe clouds. What a way to start the day.

A simple breakfast, and a walk to the Plaza. We visited the silver and turquoise jewelry craftspeople at the Palace of the Governors, grabbed coffee at the French Pastry Shop and then headed over to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. This is my favorite type of museum. Small. I get weary in large museums. I love the intimacy of focusing on one artist and her influences.

Like many people, I’ve been aware of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work. I’ve purchased note cards bedecked with O’Keeffe poppies and irises. I knew of her affinity for the American Southwest. In 2009, Ed and I attended the Dove/O’Keeffe: Circles of Influence exhibit at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. At The Clark, I learned about her earlier work and the influences of Arthur Dove and Alfred Stieglitz. That exhibit placed her in the context of early twentieth century art. Now in Santa Fe, we immersed ourselves in the full breadth of her legacy.

After wandering through earth-toned rooms hung with O’Keeffe’s work, we walked back to the casita for lunch and siesta. And then, a visit to the Garcia Street Bookstore. I was looking for a copy of Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, a Laguna Pueblo writer. Ed browsed and ultimately selected 1493 by Amherst author Charles Mann. This is a follow-up to Mann’s 1491, an account of the Americas before Columbus. We got chatting with other customers and the bookstore employee about Zozobra. None of them were planning on attending the event. The woman making her purchase was adamant about her dislike for the burning of the effigy to gloom. (We later learned that she was Ali MacGraw. For real.) I was warned not to bring a purse. We took our books back to the casita. Undeterred by the local sentiment about Zozobra, we made our dinner and prepared to meet Old Man Gloom himself.

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Zozobra, Old Man Gloom

Our casita was close enough to walk to Fort Marcy Park, eliminating any concerns about maneuvering a car through congested streets and finding parking.  In the plaza, we found that the shops and restaurants were closed. We followed the crowd up the hill toward Fort Marcy Park. Police were everywhere, and many roads were blocked off. Yet, rather than intimidating, the atmosphere was celebratory–lots of families, teens, college students, old hippies, and townies. A real mix of people. Much like going to the fireworks on the 4th of July.

Arriving at the grounds, we scoped out the scene. Zozobra, a 50-ft marionette with a particularly gloomy expression, presided over a crowd of 25,000 people. We headed to a table where we could write our glooms onto a piece of paper that would be placed inside Zozobra before he was torched. Local bands took the stage to entertain us until nightfall. At the long awaited hour, a wind delay was announced. Understandable, as New Mexico was struggling with wild fires.  We waited another torturous hour of listening to a local band playing Led Zeppelin covers over a bad sound system. We were rewarded for the wait.

Fireworks! Fire dancers (yes, with real fire)! Zozobra swaying, moaning, groaning. His mouth dropping open, his arms waving. At last, he was ignited and the crowd chanted “Burn him! Burn him!” In 2 minutes, he was a burning skeleton and dropped to the ground. Here’s a video of the fiery proceedings.

A bit brutal.

For me, Zozobra is the gloominess that we all indulge in when life isn’t going well. The fire dancer–as Holy Spirit, the Light, or whatever you want to call it– threatens to banish the gloom. But, we moan. We hang on. We don’t want to let go. Finally, the fire takes hold and gloom drops away.

Ed and I were mesmerized by all this.  As 25,000 people departed Fort Marcy Park, they shouted “¡Viva las fiestas!”

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La Conquistadora enters Santa Fe, NM

el día cuatro. ¡Viva las fiestas!

Friday morning, we headed out on foot to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. I was awed by the work of Santa Clara Pueblo artist Roxanne Swentzell.  Check out this little video from the Peabody Essex Museum:

After spending time at the museum, we walked into Santa Fe for the opening ceremonies of Las Fiestas. The Plaza was active with Mariachi bands, fiesta burgers, frito pie, roasted corn-on-the-cob, and freshly squeezed lemonade. Crowds lined the street to cheer on the Entrada de Don Diego, and to watch a short reenactment play about the “peaceful” conquest of New Mexico by the Spanish. According to legend, a Spanish statue of Mary (known as La Conquistadora) had made its way from Mexico to New Mexico in 1626. During the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, Santa Fe was set afire by the Indians. La Conquistadora was carried to El Paso for safety. Don Diego de Vargas prayed to La Conquistadora to peacefully regain Santa Fe. Las Fiestas commemorates her return.

The crowd chuckled during the reenactment play when the Indian said that his people wished the Spanish would not return, but decided to acquiesce to the baptism of their children in hopes of peaceful coexistence.

After lunching at the vendors, Ed and I walked up to the Pink Adobe for a beer in the Dragon Room. “The Pink”, a Santa Fe fixture since 1944, is a richly decorated adobe restaurant. We settled in near the kiva, and decided to return for dinner. Ed made reservations for 8:00. After quaffing our beers, we crossed the street to the Church of San Miguel–the oldest church in the United States. Oral history states that this adobe church was constructed in 1610 under the direction of Franciscan friars. This video depicts the restoration that was underway during our visit. A leisurely stroll back to our casita to gather our laundry. We spent the late afternoon at the laundromat. Always a great place to observe local culture.

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The Pink’s pint-sized Zozobra

Our evening at The Pink. We showered and dressed for our big splurge night. We started with a drink at the bar. The bartender had a Scorpio tattoo on the back of her neck, so I asked if she was a Scorpio. She said, Virgo with Scorpio Rising. Just then, a kid came running in to announce the burning of Zozobra. Apparently, The Pink torches its own. The bartender told us that Zozobra was traditionally burned on Fridays, but things got out of hand. “An excuse,” she said, “for bad behavior.” Last year, someone was shot in the Plaza. The event was moved to Thursday night, with a huge police presence.

We heard excitement on the sidewalk, so we stepped out to see Zozobra burn again. The small crowd shouted “Burn him!” while others moaned and groaned around this 4 foot model. We headed back into the restaurant.  Ed selected the grilled salmon, spiced with green chile and beurre blanc.  I went for the charbroiled steak Dunigan, topped with sauteed mushrooms and green chile.  We shared a chocolate mousse, and blissfully walked back home.

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El Santuario de Chimayo, NM

 el día cinco. Journey to El Santuario de Chimayó

After breakfast, Ed and I walked down to the Plaza for the annual Desfile de Los Niños. Families and their pets paraded down the Palace of the Governors to the musical accompaniment of the Marching D-E-M-O-N-S (local high school marching band). After the parade, we got into our car for my long-awaited visit to Chimayó.  I had read about this religious sanctuary in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop and was further drawn into the magic of the setting by Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. This excursion to Chimayó was the #1 reason I wanted to go to New Mexico.

“Some years ago Father Joseph [Valliant] was asked to go to the calabozo [jail cell] at Sante Fe to see a murderer from Chimayo. The prisoner proved to be a boy of twenty, very gentle in face and manner. His name was Ramón Armajillo. He had been passionately fond of cock-fighting, and it was his undoing… When Father Valliant went to see the boy in his cell a few days before his execution, he found him making a pair of tiny buckskin boots, as if for a doll, and Ramón told him they were for the little Santiago [Saint James] in the church at home. His family would come up to Santa Fe for the hanging, and they would take the boots back to Chimayo [to place on the figure of Saint James], and perhaps the little saint would say a good word for him.”~ Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop, 249-250

The priest at El Puerto did not want the people to place much faith in the powers of la curandera [medicine woman]. He wanted the mercy and faith of the church to be the villagers’ only guiding light. Would the magic of Ultima be stronger than all the powers of the saints and the Holy Mother Church? I wondered. Ultima prepared her first remedy. She mixed kerosene and water and carefully warmed the bowl on the stove. She took many herbs and roots from her black bag and mixed them into the warm oily water. She muttered as she stirred her mixture and I did not catch all of what she said, but I did hear her say “the curse of the Trementinas shall bend and fly in their faces.” ~Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima, 101

Ed and I drove beyond the casinos and Camel Rock to a place of miracles.

This sanctuary is stunning. Some say it is the Lourdes of the United States. Located on land sacred to the Pueblo Indians, the earth itself reputedly has curative powers. When we arrived, Mass was being said in Spanish to a group of devout Catholics. We sat silently, respectful of their prayers–the cadence familiar to our Catholic upbringing. Prayers of praise. Calls for intercession. The kneeling, the standing. At the end of Mass, we slowly filed into a room where we were allowed to dig into the holy dirt. As I knelt to gather some dirt, I did feel like a pilgrim.

A pilgrim is not a tourist who only touches, for a fleeting moment, the land and people that they visit. Rather, a pilgrim seeks to understand the essence of time, place and people that they meet on their path.~from the website

The Holy Dirt is not to be eaten or drunk. First, you bring silence to your heart and mind. Humbly acknowledge your weaknesses, mistakes, sins and illnesses. Ask for God’s love and healing, and for the courage to face the future. Rub the Holy Dirt over the part of your body in need of healing, and pray the Glory Be.

I would keep the Holy Dirt for times of my greatest need. 

After leaving Chimayó, we became tourists again, driving up to the Santa Cruz Lake hiking area for a spectacular view of the dry, dry mountains and the blue lake below. A stop at the Santa Fe Brewing Company just off Route 25 to pick up a mixed 6-pack, and another stop at the local Whole Foods for dinner ingredients and back to our casita. We turned on the TV (a novelty to us TV-less folks) to watch the Michigan-Notre Dame game. Michigan was losing badly throughout the entire game until a miraculous last 30 seconds. No Holy Dirt involved.

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La Reina de la Fiesta de Santa Fe, NM

el día seis. Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.

We were leaving Santa Fe this day, so Ed made big omelets with what we had in the casita’s fridge: shrimp, cheese and red onion. We walked down to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi for the Solemn Procession of Don Diego, La Reina and La Conquistadora. During the procession, the Mariachi band played while the church bells CLANG-CLANGED to call us in. We attended the Mass, and celebrants brought particular attention to the day–September 11. We were observing a decade since those horrific attacks on our homeland. The children’s choir sang bilingual hymns. Pueblo dancers performed their prayers. Men dropped to their knees on the hard floor, deep in prayer.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life. ~Prayer of St. Francis

Absorbing these prayers for peaceful coexistence, Ed and I walked back to our casita to pack up and continue our New Mexico adventure. We were heading to Taos.

The High Road to Taos winds through tiny mountainside villages adorned with funky artists’ residences and post offices in trailers. Up and down, bending alongside orchards of desert-hardy peach trees. As we approached Taos, the mountains were greener–even snow-topped! We stopped at a scenic overlook for a picnic lunch before descending into the valley. Coaxed into the first public parking lot by the attendant, we were socked with a $7.00 fee. We quickly realized that this was a ripoff. Ample free and cheaper parking. Ah, well. What are tourists for?

We wandered around the Plaza, stopping into the general stores and peeking into the historic Hotel La Fonda. After sitting in the sun for a bit, we headed over to Eske’s Brew Pub for a flight of 6 brews. For dinner, I ordered the green-chile turkey stew, and could only handle a few bites before asking Ed if I could switch. He had selected the more tamely spiced meatloaf and potatoes. Our next task was to find a hotel. We were winging it for this portion of our trip.

 

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Retro cafe in the Kachina Lodge, Taos, NM

The Kachina Lodge. Driving north out of town, we decided on Kachina Lodge. Owned by Best Western, this is not your run-of-the-mill hotel. I was drawn to the kitchy, 1960s appearance of the building, and the promise of evening performances by dancers from Taos Pueblo. Yes, the Katchina has seen better days. Our room was functional.  That’s about all I can say about it. We kicked off our shoes and lay down for a bit, flipping through TV channels, perusing our guidebook and consulting the events page of a local newspaper.

This night was a full moon, and we wanted to make the most of it.

We discovered that the Adobe Bar hosted live music, and tonight’s act was Bob Livingston.  Start time was 7:00pm. Perfect for us old folks. The Adobe Bar is locally known as “the living room of Taos”. The bar doubles as the lobby for the Historic Taos Inn, and is very festive with a kiva fireplace, wishing well and performance stage. When we arrived, the tables were full. We were directed to the balcony, which proved to be the ideal vantage point to take in the scene. Texas-born Bob Livingston took the stage with guitarist Butch Morgan. Bob is a founding member of the Lost Gonzo Band, along with Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Martin Murphey, and Ray Wylie Hubbard.  If that doesn’t help you place him, the Lost Gonzo Band recorded “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother”. We were treated to this story and the song itself. We had so much fun, and laughed all the way back to the Kachina.

Please note that this video was filmed at a different location, but the time period is the same.  

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Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM

el día siete. Tourists in Taos.

Once again, I was awake early. I took my journal and headed to the retro cafe. There I found twenty bikers–all in their 50s and 60s. Apparently, the Kachina Lodge is a favorite with bikers.  Bikers looking for accommodations during Dennis Hopper Easy Rider Day will find the Kachina Lodge listed among recommended hotels on the event’s website. And, bikers seem to be early risers like myself. After a few minutes, we all realized that the waitress and kitchen staff had not arrived yet. A hotel staff person stepped into the cafe, and one of the bikers said, “See that lady (meaning me) with the beautiful smile? I think she needs some coffee.” The staff person started the coffee, and several bikers jumped up to help get breakfast started. After several minutes, one biker headed to my table with freshly brewed coffee, and another warned, “Just don’t wink at him. He takes it seriously.” When the waitress finally showed, the bikers teased her and called her by name. Jenny.

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View from Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, West Rim Trail, NM

I waited for Ed to join me before ordering a full breakfast. Afterward, we took a morning stroll to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. We roamed the peaceful grounds, and toured the house. We learned that Mabel Gansen Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan, patron of the arts, was a New York socialite who became hostess to some of the most influential artists and writers of her time:  Willa Cather, Georgia O’Keeffe, DH and Frieda Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham and others.

Our tour was done, and the day still stretched long before us. We decided to get our car and drive out to the West Rim Trail and walk the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is one of America’s highest bridges.  The river runs 650 feet below.  I must say, aiming my camera over the railing to take pictures is one of the bravest things I’ve done. From our parking spot at the bridge, we walked over to the beginning of the West Rim Trail. This trail is flat, flat, flat for us New Englanders, with low bushes of sage growing in the sandy soil.

After our excursion, we headed back to Taos to enjoy lunch on the outdoor patio at Orlando’s Cafe. We tried the specialty, Los Colores. This dish featured three enchiladas (chicken, beef, cheese) in chile sauce and served with beans and posole. Posole was new to me. Ed recognized it as hominy. Looks like large, swollen, pale corn kernels.

For the curious, here’s a recipe for Red Chile Pork Posole, from The Essential Southwest Cookbook:

2 c dried hominy (or 2 large cans*)
1 diced onion
2-3 diced garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb cubed pork shoulder meat
2 dried New Mexico chile pods (stemmed, seeded, chopped)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
1/2 c chopped cilantro and scallion (for garnish)

Soak dried hominy overnight. The next day, use a large stockpot to saute onions and garlic in olive oil. Add pork cubes in batches, browning on all sides. Remove meat from the pot and set aside. Stir in chiles, cloves, salt, hominy and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and then simmer low for at least three hours. *If you are using canned hominy, drain and cook for 2 hours. Add cooked pork and more water if necessary. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Serve hot with cilantro and scallion garnish. 

After lunch, we headed to the Taos Pueblo. Check out this video tour. From our perspective as outsiders, the poverty was striking. I hope the residents are able to live in accordance with their culture, and derive pleasure from their relationship to the Earth and their traditions. In the evening, we attended the Kachina Lodge performance of Taos Pueblo dancers, but the scene was strangely hostile. I was unsettled by the performer’s resentment of sharing their dances for entertainment. Why does he do it? To support himself and his family, no doubt. But, he was not happy about it. The message I took away from Taos Pueblo is that tourism may be seen as a necessary evil, but is not embraced.

Before calling it a night, we grabbed dinner at Taos Pizza Out Back. I was enchanted by this restaurant. To say that the restaurant is family-friendly would be a major understatement. The kitchen is in view of the dining area, allowing diners to watch preparations of the pizza dough and inventive toppings. One family arrived, and the little girl headed right over to the kneading table. She was handed a small portion of dough and kneaded alongside the kitchen staff. Touched my heart.

I was back among my kin–hippie white folks. I noted how my sense of ease restored. Tourism is a strange enterprise.

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Margot, after soaking at Ojo Caliente, NM

 

 

el día ocho. Mud baths and mineral waters.

On our second morning at the Kachina Lodge, the staff set up a breakfast buffet for lodgers in a conference room. After eating, we packed up and loaded our bags into our car–the aroma of leftover pizza greeting us as we opened the car doors. Our next adventure was to head to Ojo Caliente for mud baths and mineral waters. 

Ojo is one of the oldest spas in the United States. According to the website, ancient peoples built their pueblos around the mineral springs and the Spaniards, upon discovery in the 1500s, declared the springs to be the area’s greatest treasure. The first bath house was built in 1868. The current spa is an assortment of man-made pools rather than waters bubbling up through rock. Ed and I made the rounds between the lithium pool, arsenic pool, soda pool, and iron pool. We did slather ourselves in the mud pool, but we were unable to fully bake dry. The autumn air was a bit chilly for that.

After testing out all these pools, I lounged while Ed explored the sauna and steam rooms. Thus spa-sated, we showered and toweled off. We tailgated our leftover pizza lunch before seeking out Abiquiu. This tiny town is the site of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home. We didn’t expect to tour the house, as the hours are very restricted, but we were delighted to find the local public library was open. After a short discussion about local history with the librarian, we got back in our car and drove to Albuquerque. At this point in our travels, we were losing steam. We checked into the Days Inn (near the airport) for our last two nights in New Mexico.

We had two tasks for the late afternoon/early evening: to shop at Skip Maisel’s and to grab supper somewhere. Skip Maisel’s on Central Avenue was recommended to us for purchasing a handwoven Indian rug. After looking carefully at the rugs within our price range, we selected a Storm Pattern woven by Virginia Cody of Pinon, AZ. Symbols in this design represent four sacred mountains in the corners, the hogan (traditional dwelling) in the center, and lightning and rain surrounding all. With regards to colors, the gray is natural wool; the red is derived from the cochineal insect; and the black is from piñon (pine) pitch. Running my hand across the surface, I remember my dear friend Nan Archer teaching school children about sheep shearing, carding and spinning fleece, and using natural dyes on wool.

Here’s a short video on Navajo rug weaving:

The salesperson gave me easy instructions for hanging the rug on our wall at home.

For food, we opted to go back to Old Town. We wandered a bit before sitting down at La Hacienda del Rio for nachos and beer. The restaurant boasted that Bill Clinton ate here in 1998. We went for cheap–a $27.00 meal. Ready for an early night, we headed back to the hotel for mindless TV viewing.

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Pueblo ladder, Acoma, NM

el día nueve. Acoma Pueblo and the staircase down.

If Chimayó was on my New Mexico must-see list, Acoma Pueblo was on Ed’s. Nearly a decade ago, he had taken his kids to Acoma. He was drawn to return. He had regretted not purchasing pottery directly from the Acoma craftspeople, and wanted to rectify that decision. After an unexceptional Days Inn breakfast, we drove one hour west to our final tourist destination.

Much had changed since Ed’s last visit. In 2006, the Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum opened as a welcome center for visitors. We signed up for a 10:30am tour, and soon we were on a bus driving up the mesa to the pueblo. We were greeted by Limbert, our tour guide. He took us into the San Estevan del Rey Mission, a fortress of a church. Here, as in all other churches we visited during our New Mexico trip, I lit a candle and said a prayer for my friend and the grandmother of my children, Nan. She was dying that autumn, and I prayed for her way to be gentle.

Acoma Pueblo, according to the Legends of America website:

Strategically built atop a 357-foot sandstone mesa for defensive purposes, the Acoma Pueblo is more familiarly known as Sky City. Believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States, the pueblo was built sometime between 1100 and 1250 A.D.

The name “Acoma” means “People of the White Rock” in the Puebloan Kersan dialect. The pueblo, covering some 70 acres, is actually comprised of several villages including Acomita, McCartys, Anzac and Sky Line.

The site was chosen, in part, because it provided a defensive position for the tribe against raiders. Access to the pueblo was difficult as the faces of the mesa are sheer and before modern times, it could only be accessed by a hand-cut staircase carved into the sandstone.

For centuries the Acoma people have farmed the valley below the Acoma Pueblo using irrigation canals in the villages closer to the Rio San Jose River. They were also actively involved in trading, not only with neighboring pueblos, but, also over long distances with the Aztec and Mayan peoples.

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The gathering place, Acoma Pueblo, NM

Limbert showed us the central area where women gather to wash their laundry in rainwater. He pointed out the edge of the mesa–the spot where unpopular priests were tossed. For our return back to the welcome center, Limbert gave us the option of walking down the natural sandstone staircase. Why not? We discovered that the descent was quite steep. My thighs were sore for four days, not only from the hike down but also from gripping terror (slight exaggeration) that I might slip and fall. At this point, Ed and I had worked up an appetite. We headed to the Y’aak’a Cafe and ordered Elk Burgers, served on corn tortillas with pepper jack cheese and roasted green chile.

On our way back to Albuquerque, we stopped at an overlook and snapped a few photos of the mesa. The wide expanse of sky. The gathering storm clouds. The dry land below, with patches of green. For our last evening in New Mexico, we headed to Seasons Grill in Albuquerque. We drank margaritas and watched the sunset from the open air cantina. Wood-grilled steaks and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. The final intoxicating touch to our Southwestern adventure.

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Acoma Pueblo in the distance, NM

el día diez. Adios Nuevo Mexico.

On day ten, we reversed our travels. Homeward bound, we left Albuquerque, stopped over in Dallas/Fort Worth, and arrived safely in Boston–thoroughly enchanted by our trip to New Mexico.

*I want to give a shout out to Lesley S.King’s excellent Frommer’s Santa Fe, Taos, & Albuquerque. This guidebook was like a friend throughout our adventures. Surprisingly, no mention of Mary’s Bar in Cerillos, but excellent recommendations for attractions and restaurants.  Muchas gracias.

The Kachina Lodge. Driving north out of town, we decided on Kachina Lodge. Owned by Best Western, this is not your run-of-the-mill hotel. I was drawn to the kitchy, 1960s appearance of the building, and the promise of evening performances by dancers from Taos Pueblo. Yes, the Katchina has seen better days. Our room was functional.  That’s about all I can say about it. We kicked off our shoes and lay down for a bit, flipping through TV channels, perusing our guidebook and consulting the events page of a local newspaper.

This night was a full moon, and we wanted to make the most of it.

We discovered that the Adobe Bar hosted live music, and tonight’s act was Bob Livingston.  Start time was 7:00pm. Perfect for us old folks. The Adobe Bar is locally known as “the living room of Taos”. The bar doubles as the lobby for the Historic Taos Inn, and is very festive with a kiva fireplace, wishing well and performance stage. When we arrived, the tables were full. We were directed to the balcony, which proved to be the ideal vantage point to take in the scene. Texas-born Bob Livingston took the stage with guitarist Butch Morgan. Bob is a founding member of the Lost Gonzo Band, along with Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Martin Murphey, and Ray Wylie Hubbard.  If that doesn’t help you place him, the Lost Gonzo Band recorded “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother”. We were treated to this story and the song itself. We had so much fun, and laughed all the way back to the Kachina.

Please note that this video was filmed at a different location, but the time period is the same.  

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Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM

el día siete. Tourists in Taos.

Once again, I was awake early. I took my journal and headed to the retro cafe. There I found twenty bikers–all in their 50s and 60s. Apparently, the Kachina Lodge is a favorite with bikers.  Bikers looking for accommodations during Dennis Hopper Easy Rider Day will find the Kachina Lodge listed among recommended hotels on the event’s website. And, bikers seem to be early risers like myself. After a few minutes, we all realized that the waitress and kitchen staff had not arrived yet. A hotel staff person stepped into the cafe, and one of the bikers said, “See that lady (meaning me) with the beautiful smile? I think she needs some coffee.” The staff person started the coffee, and several bikers jumped up to help get breakfast started. After several minutes, one biker headed to my table with freshly brewed coffee, and another warned, “Just don’t wink at him. He takes it seriously.” When the waitress finally showed, the bikers teased her and called her by name. Jenny.

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View from Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, West Rim Trail, NM

I waited for Ed to join me before ordering a full breakfast. Afterward, we took a morning stroll to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. We roamed the peaceful grounds, and toured the house. We learned that Mabel Gansen Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan, patron of the arts, was a New York socialite who became hostess to some of the most influential artists and writers of her time:  Willa Cather, Georgia O’Keeffe, DH and Frieda Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham and others.

Our tour done, and the day still stretched long before us. We decided to get our car and drive out to the West Rim Trail and walk the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is one of America’s highest bridges.  The river runs 650 feet below.  I must say, aiming my camera over the railing to take pictures is one of the bravest things I’ve done. From our parking spot at the bridge, we walked over to the beginning of the West Rim Trail. This trail is flat, flat, flat for us New Englanders, with low bushes of sage growing in the sandy soil.

After our excursion, we headed back to Taos to enjoy lunch on the outdoor patio at Orlando’s Cafe. We tried the specialty, Los Colores. This dish featured three enchiladas (chicken, beef, cheese) in chile sauce and served with beans and posole. Posole was new to me. Ed recognized it as hominy. Looks like large, swollen, pale corn kernels.

For the curious, here’s a recipe for Red Chile Pork Posole, from The Essential Southwest Cookbook:

2 c dried hominy (or 2 large cans*)
1 diced onion
2-3 diced garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb cubed pork shoulder meat
2 dried New Mexico chile pods (stemmed, seeded, chopped)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
1/2 c chopped cilantro and scallion (for garnish)

Soak dried hominy overnight. The next day, use a large stockpot to saute onions and garlic in olive oil. Add pork cubes in batches, browning on all sides. Remove meat from the pot and set aside. Stir in chiles, cloves, salt, hominy and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and then simmer low for at least three hours. *If you are using canned hominy, drain and cook for 2 hours. Add cooked pork and more water if necessary. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Serve hot with cilantro and scallion garnish. 

After lunch, we headed to the Taos Pueblo. Check out this video tour. From our perspective as outsiders, the poverty was striking. I hope the residents are able to live in accordance with their culture, and derive pleasure from their relationship to the Earth and their traditions. In the evening, we attended the Kachina Lodge performance of Taos Pueblo dancers, but the scene was strangely hostile. I was unsettled by the performer’s resentment of sharing their dances for entertainment. Why does he do it? To support himself and his family, no doubt. But, he was not happy about it. The message I took away from Taos Pueblo is that tourism may be seen as a necessary evil, but is not embraced.

Before calling it a night, we grabbed dinner at Taos Pizza Out Back. I was enchanted by this restaurant. To say that the restaurant is family-friendly would be a major understatement. The kitchen is in view of the dining area, allowing diners to watch preparations of the pizza dough and inventive toppings. One family arrived, and the little girl headed right over to the kneading table. She was handed a small portion of dough and kneaded alongside the kitchen staff. Touched my heart.

I was back among my kin–hippie white folks. I noted how my sense of ease restored. Tourism is a strange enterprise.

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