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On the Geronimo Trail

New Mexico day three


View New Mexico road trip 2011 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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The Geronimo Trail

With a somewhat longer drive ahead of us today we made a prompt start from our cabin near Lake Roberts. To start with we took Highway 35 through part of the Mimbres Valley before turning off on Highway 152. We were following the Geronimo Trail, another of the state’s Scenic Byways.

And of all the scenic byways we travelled during this road trip, this was arguably the most scenic, although in fact we only travelled half of it as it is split into two sections, north and south, and we skipped the northern part – there’s never enough time for everything!

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On the road in the Mimbres Valley

Leaving the green farmland of the valley the trail climbs through a dramatic rocky gorge, crossing the Black Range Mountains. It emerges at the high point (literally and figuratively) of the drive, Emory Pass. Here there is a large parking area, and although it was still quite early in the morning we were nevertheless amazed to have it to ourselves – none of the few other drivers on the road seemed minded to stop for the chance to take in this awesome vista. Here you are 8,228 feet above sea level, and the view extends east for miles. The towns of Kingston and Hillsboro can be seen below, and Caballo Lake and Mountains, over 50 miles to the east, are easily visible. On a clear day you can apparently make out Elephant Butte Dam (approximately 65 miles away) as a distant white spot, but we had quite a bit of haze and could see no further than Caballo. Even so, it was an stunning view and one we lingered over for a while.

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Panoramic view from Emory Pass

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The views from Emory Pass

Kingston

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Kingston seen from Emory Pass

After Emory Pass, the road descended through a long series of hairpin bends, but although slow it was in good condition and not too difficult a drive. Near the bottom, we were on the look-out for a sign to the former boom town of Kingston, now home to just a handful of residents.

This is officially a ghost town, although a few people live here. It was founded in 1882 after a rich lode of silver ore was discovered in the area, and became a thriving metropolis almost overnight. At the height of the silver mining boom its population outstripped that of Albuquerque by at least 1,000. Its many hotels played host to Mark Twain and to assorted outlaws: Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Black Jack Ketchum, and Billy the Kid. Its stage lines served all major routes, and there were 23 saloons, 14 stores, a brewery, 3 newspapers, and an Opera House.

Today only a few buildings remain, and the Percha Bank is the only fully intact original building in the town. Built in 1884, it was once the largest bank in New Mexico Territory and at its richest held $7 million in silver in its vault. The bank has been restored and is Kingston’s only sight, but we found it closed for further restoration. A sign said it was to re-open in Fall 201, so it seems we may have missed it by just a week or so! But although it was closed, it was quite easy to peer through the windows and see its ornate lobby, the tellers’ windows and a small display of old photos etc.

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The Percha Bank

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Hillsboro

Beyond Kingston the road passes through Hillsboro, another former mining town but with more life to it than Kingston, including some nice cafes and a great little gallery. But the warning sign that we spotted as we arrived, which said we were apparently approaching a ‘congested area’, was more than a little misleading. We live in London so we know what a congested area looks like, and let me assure you that it does not look like Hillsboro! It would be hard to find a more peaceful, tranquil little town.

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Hillsboro

Admittedly in times past it would have been rather different. Hillsboro is one of New Mexico’s many towns founded in the boom times of the mid- to late- 19th century, when silver was mined in the surrounding hills. At one time its population numbered 10,000, but the town went bust when in 1893 the price of silver plummeted, and by the mid 1890s fewer than 2,000 residents remained. Unlike some towns though (including nearby Kingston), Hillsboro managed to survive, kept alive by a few gold mines in the area, and cattle ranches dotted around this wild and rocky landscape. It was for a while the county seat, but lost that status to Hot Springs (later renamed Truth or Consequences) in 1936, and with it most of the remaining population.

Today the population is just 200, and from what we observed on this lovely Saturday morning, everyone pretty much knows everyone else. But whether they know you or not, Hillsboro folk seem quick to offer a friendly greeting. We had only planned to stop for a few minutes, but we lingered. In just a short while Hillsboro and its friendly residents had charmed us. And for the rest of the trip we were to measure the busyness of a place by how ‘congested’ it was in comparison to lovely, sleepy Hillsboro.

When we drove away from the cabin at about 8.30 that morning, the thermometer in the car had read 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, some two hours later, it was reading 82 degrees, a climb of 40 degrees in just two hours, driven by not only the sun climbing higher in the sky but also by our own descent to slightly lower elevations. So our first stop here was at the General Store Café, to have a cold drink.

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Mural on the side of the General Store Café

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General Store Café sign

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Chillies drying on the porch

This lovely old building is part of a larger structure destroyed in the 1914 flood. In the past it has housed a bank, a post office, a general store and a drug store. Today it is a friendly establishment clearly popular with locals as well as passers-by like us. The interior retains much of its former character with old shop fixtures and fittings, but as it was pretty full with customers enjoying a late Saturday breakfast and we only wanted a drink, we took our orange juices out to the shady porch where we enjoyed watching laid-back Hillsboro go about its morning business.

Refreshed, we decided to explore some more. We popped into Percha Creek Traders to see if they had any nice postcards, but we found ourselves lingering for a while, there was so much to see! We found an excellent selection of local photographs, paintings in all sorts of styles, fabric crafts, jewellery, pottery and more. The sales person explained that this is a local co-operative, run by and for local artists and craftspeople. When they started there were just a handful in the area, but their members now number over 20 and they are growing all the time. Clearly Hillsboro is a place that attracts artists.

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Percha Creek Traders

Although we had only intended to look for postcards, I was also on the look-out on this trip for a picture to go in our recently decorated hallway. But what caught my eye was not a picture but a piece of what I guess you would call ‘wall art’ – a ceramic horse created with a technique known as Raku. This is a traditional Japanese technique in which the glazed piece is fired and removed from the hot kiln and is put directly into water or is allowed to cool in the open air. The result is an unpredictable metallic finish, making each piece unique. The technique has been adopted by local artist Kathy Lovell for her range of ‘Kathy’s Kritters’ (I loved the work, but cringed at the name!) We were taken by the turquoise colours of some of her horses and knew that it would be a great match for our hall, so duly bought one. We later saw some of Kathy’s work in other galleries, e.g. in Mesilla, but we were pleased to have bought our horse here in her home town. And it still hangs in our hall today!

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Our purchase

Soon after leaving Hillsboro Highway 152 reaches the interstate where we turned north for Truth or Consequences and Socorro, where we were to spend that night. Some of the views were still good, but I25 is no scenic byway!

Truth or Consequences

We broke our journey north in this oddly named small town, where we popped into the Geronimo Springs Museum – the sort of quirky place you can’t help but like, with an eclectic mix of objects covering a range of topics such as local history, geology and crafts. Checking its website I feel it must have grown since we were there, as I don’t recall it absorbing more than 30 minutes or so of our time.

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Busts of famous figures from the region’s history

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Recreation of the bar that once occupied this building

We did however learn the story of the town’s unusual name here. It was previously known as Hot Springs, named for the several natural springs in the area around the town. Its present-day name comes from the popular radio show of the 1940s and 50s, Truth or Consequences. In March 1950, Ralph Edwards, the host of the show, announced that he would air the programme on its 10th anniversary from the first town to rename itself after the show. Hot Springs won the prize by officially changing its name on March 31st. The programme was broadcast from there the very next evening, April 1st. Ralph Edwards and his wife Barbara adopted the town as a sort of second home, visiting during the first weekend of May for the next 50 years. The town would hold a fiesta to mark their visit with beauty pageants, parades, fishing contests, rodeos, jeep rides, and boat races down the Rio Grande. Fiesta is still celebrated here each May.

Leaving the museum we found a café for a light lunch. We had thought about visiting the nearby Elephant Butte Lake but having spent so long in Hillsboro decided to push on north instead. There was one further place which we were keen to visit before reaching our final destination for the day.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

A little to the south of Socorro lies one of the most interesting bird-watching venues in New Mexico, considered worth a visit even if you're not a ‘serious’ birder – which neither of us is. For a short while in late October/early November it becomes a focus for birding enthusiasts as tens of thousands of birds, including sandhill cranes, geese and ducks, descend on the refuge and settle into their winter home. Their arrival is met with a festival, the annual Festival of the Cranes, on the weekend before Thanksgiving. We were in the area a couple of months earlier than this but thought that the refuge would still be worth a visit as there would be bound to be some birds whatever the time of year. We were, with a few exceptions, wrong!

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Cormorants

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Turtle

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More turtles

We were a little surprised on arrival in the parking lot by the visitor centre to see only one other car, but we figured that other visitors would be out exploring the loop drive. So we went inside, had a helpful chat with the ranger on duty who showed us on a map which roads through the refuge were open and explained that at this time of year (late September) we would be too early to see the large migrations but should see herons, cormorants and other birds out on the lagoon at the end of the loop drive. That sounded promising, so we headed out that way and were quite excited to see a large heron (I think a Great Blue) from the car as we approached, although it flew off before I could get a photo. So we parked up and followed a path that led out across the lagoon on a rather noisy metal footbridge. We got a good close-up look at the turtles that live here year round, and a more distant view of some cormorants drying their wings in characteristic pose, but otherwise it was pretty deserted, and sadly the heron never returned. Maybe a more patient birding enthusiast would have lingered longer but we decided that we would rather cut our losses, so left to explore downtown Socorro instead.

Socorro

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Capitol Bar, Socorro



We chose Socorro as an overnight stop primarily for its convenience, being a reasonable driving distance between several places we wanted to visit and at the junction of I25, which had brought us north from the Gila Forest area, and Highway 60 which we would take tomorrow.

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Our room in Socorro

We arrived here late afternoon and checked into our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express. As with the town, so with the hotel, which we also chose for its convenient location. We have found over the years that so many US towns have plenty of good-value motels, both chain and independent, on their outskirts, but few or none in the centre. And as we like to be able to walk to a reasonable restaurant in the evening (rather than drive) that can be a challenge as the better restaurants (and bars – also important!) can be in the centre, sometimes several miles away. But in the case of Socorro I had read good reviews of the Socorro Springs Brewery and spotted that the Holiday Inn Express seemed from its address to be very near – problem sorted.

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Dog in the Plaza

Once we had checked in, we went straight out again to explore the town. Although not a major tourist destination it does have a few sights of interest. If you pass by on I25, or even if you leave the Interstate and drive through on the main thoroughfare, California Street, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing to Socorro apart from chain motels, fast food restaurants, supermarkets, shopping plazas and gas stations. Certainly you are unlikely to realise from this superficial glance that there is any real history to the town, let alone that some of this history is on show just one block behind the modern face that it turns to the highway.

But so it is. One block west of California Street is Socorro’s Plaza, and in its immediate surroundings you can get a sense of the small pueblo it once was. The town was founded in June 1598, when a group of Spanish settlers travelled through the nearby Jornada del Muerto, an inhospitable patch of desert that ends just south of the present-day city of Socorro. As they emerged from the desert near the pueblo of Teypana, the native Piro Indians gave them food and water. So the Spaniards renamed the pueblo Socorro, in honour of the aid given to them.

They later established a mission here, Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo Socorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Succour). But during the Pueblo uprising of 1680, the Piro Indians and Spanish settlers left for safer territory to the south, and without the protection of Spanish troops, the town was destroyed and the remaining Piro killed by the Apache and other tribes. It wasn’t until around 1800, that a small group of Spaniards resettled Socorro.

The plaza on the late Saturday afternoon when we visited appeared to be a popular hang-out for local young people, assorted dog-walkers and other locals maybe meeting up with friends prior to evening Mass at the nearby church or a few Saturday night beers perhaps. The atmosphere was quite lively but not one in which we as the (I think) sole tourists felt out of place.

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The Wheel of History

The centre of the plaza is a small park, Kittrel Park, named for a local dentist who first planted the grass and trees here, and around it are a few sights such as the ‘Wheel of History’. This bronze sculpture, just to the north of the plaza itself, was created in the late 90s to illustrate the history of the town.

Around the edge of the plaza and in nearby streets are a number of interesting signs such as the ones in my photos, each depicting a feature of the town or surrounding area.

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Signs around the Plaza

After our stroll around the plaza we were ready for some refreshment, and found it in the Manzanero Coffee Bar on its eastern side (now renamed as M Mountain Coffee it seems). They brewed proper espresso, made some delicious iced coffee drinks, and it was the sort of place where we felt comfortable sitting for quite a while over our drinks while writing a few post-cards.

An evening in Socorro

I have already mentioned that we chose our hotel for its proximity to a promising sounding watering hole, the Socorro Springs Brewery, which appears to be still going strong. And unsurprisingly so, judging by the pleasant evening we spent here. The restaurant specialises in wood-fired pizzas, and they were very good. To go with them we naturally chose from their selection of microbrews, which was equally good – especially, I noted, the Bridgeport’s Café Negro, with its strong espresso after-taste (created, according to the menu, by infusing ‘a specialised blend of coffee with the base beer during cold conditioning’). All in all, an excellent evening!

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Socorro Springs Brewery

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Posted by ToonSarah 02:21 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes art birds beer road_trip restaurant history views museum reptiles new_mexico Comments (9)

A place prepared

New Mexico day five


View New Mexico road trip 2011 on ToonSarah's travel map.

We took advantage of the breakfast included in our room rate at the Grants Best Western, where the buffet was more extensive than in some other places we stayed on this trip, with reasonable eggs and bacon alongside the usual juice, muffins, yoghurts and weak coffee. Then we checked out and drove east on I40, heading for our first major stop of the day.

Acoma

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Landscape with mesas, Acoma

This was definitely one of the highlights of our whole trip! Acoma Pueblo is built on top of a sheer-walled, 367-foot sandstone mesa in a valley dotted with sacred, towering monoliths, and is the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. While most Acoma people no longer live there, preferring a home with a few more ‘mod cons’ elsewhere on the reservation land (houses in the pueblo have no electricity, no running water and no toilet), it is still home to about 30 people year-round, and to many more during festivals when everyone returns to their ancestral home on the mesa.

To visit Acoma is to be transported to a time and place that has existed for centuries. We turned off busy Interstate 40, drove a few miles across an empty, dusty land, and suddenly we were in a different world. In a landscape dotted with sandstone columns and mesas it was hard at first to pick out the one that has a pueblo on its summit. The only giveaway sign was the twin adobe towers of the church of San Esteban on one side of the village, but even they blended into the warm hues of the sandstone and only became distinct when we were just a couple of miles away.

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At the Cultural Centre

To visit the pueblo you have to take a tour, which starts from the very attractive and informative Cultural Centre, so we parked there and went in to look round and purchase our tickets. The fee included permission to use one camera, which was tagged to show we had paid (we would have had to pay extra to have additional equipment tagged, if needed).

But the Cultural Centre is not just the starting place for tours, it’s also worth a visit in its own right as we discovered while waiting for our tour to leave. I loved the building itself, with its heavy doors (carved to resemble 19th century textiles) and restful interior. The Haak'u Museum displays not only traditional Acoma wares, especially pottery, but also hosts changing exhibitions of more modern art and crafts. When we were there in September 2011 there were two excellent photography exhibitions, one of photographs taken across New Mexico by Craig Varjabedian and the other, which we found the more interesting, of photographs by local Acoma residents. The latter, although amateur, were very accomplished and in some cases powerful works. There was also a very interesting display of modern interpretations of traditional native art.

When it was time for our tour, we joined the small group (we were seven in number) in a minibus for the short ride to the top of the mesa with our guide. We were then escorted around the pueblo – the tour lasts about an hour and a half and is accompanied throughout, so there was no wandering off on our own, much as I might have liked to do so.

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Our guide

There are strict etiquette rules for visitors to Acoma, and it is important to read and abide by these. Think of it as a visit to another country, whose laws must be upheld and whose traditions respected. They include:

~ You must register for a guided tour in order to visit the Pueblo, stay with your tour guide at all times and not wander off the designated tour route
~ Restrain your children at all times. Absolutely no pets are allowed on tour.
~ No Smoking
~ Permits for cameras must be purchased at the Sky City Cultural Center prior to photographing on the Acoma lands. No photography is allowed inside the Church, within the cemetery courtyard, and during feast days. Permission must be obtained prior to photographing tribal members or their artwork.
~ Use of tripods, go pros, video cameras, digital video cameras, binoculars and audio recording devices is prohibited.
~ Commercial use of a photograph depicting Acoma imagery for personal gain (profit) is prohibited.

There is also a dress code:

‘We encourage you to dress comfortably however out of respect for our religious leaders who reside on the mesa year round we ask that no revealing clothing be worn (short shorts, short skirts, halter tops, tube tops, spaghetti strap tanks, and tank tops etc). We do have limited clothing pieces available that may be borrowed at the time of your visit. If we feel that your clothing is inappropriate we will ask you to cover up. Thank you for your understanding and respect for our home.'

All guides come from the pueblo and really know their stuff – ours was excellent, and we learned a lot from her, and although some details I later forgot, I was able to piece them back together again with some subsequent research.

The story of Acoma

The name of this place, Acoma, is derived from the native word ‘Haak’u’ which means ‘a place prepared’. The people believe they are descended from the one-time inhabitants of Chaco Canyon, forced to leave their home by a prolonged drought. Their ancestors had been told by the spirits ‘at the time of emergence’, that is from the very beginnings of their existence, that a place had been prepared in which they would live. So the tribe left their lands in Chaco and wandered through the American Southwest, pausing from time to time to call out ‘Haak’u’. When they arrived in this particular valley, their call reverberated off the mountain peaks and returned to them in an echo, telling them that they had at last found their ‘place prepared’.

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View from the mesa top

But their first home in the valley was not on this mesa but on nearby Enchanted Mesa, seen to the right of centre in the background of this photo and more centrally in the photo higher up this page. According to their legends one day, when all but a few elderly women were down on the valley floor below tending the crops, a terrific storm blew up and destroyed their only path up to the top of this mesa. Those left above were trapped and sadly died (some say that they jumped to their deaths rather than face a slow starvation), and the larger part of the tribe abandoned this mesa and moved to one nearby, where they remain to this day.

Life here has been touched only superficially by the twenty first century, and indeed by all the other centuries that have passed since the village was founded in around 1150. Houses may have been modernised (although only a little) and access improved (one road now ascends to the mesa’s top), but the traditions, the sacred beliefs and much of the life-style of the Acoma people is as it has always been.

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In Acoma Pueblo

Of course there have not always been tourists here but others have come, some much more invasive than the current bus-loads of visitors. The first white visitor to the Acoma Pueblo was Francisco Vasques de Coronado on his 1536 expedition to the Indian pueblos. He and his soldiers were in awe of the seemingly impenetrable fortress at the top of the mesa, and left the Acoma people alone. But that could not last.

In 1598, the Spanish conquistador Don Juan De Oñate, under orders from the King of Spain, invaded this region and raided the native American pueblos, with his troops looting anything of value. They tried to steal grain from a granary and the Acoma fought back, killing several Spaniards in the defence of their crops. De Oñate ordered his soldiers to conquer the pueblo, and in the ensuing battle the indigenous population, which had been approximately 2,000 people before the Spanish attacked, was reduced to just 250 survivors. These were herded to Santo Domingo Pueblo, which the Spanish had previously defeated and were now using as a base. There children under the age of 12 were taken from their parents and assigned them to Spanish missionaries to be raised. Most of the adult Acoma were sold into slavery. Of the few dozen Acoma men of fighting age still alive after the battle, Oñate ordered the right foot chopped off each one.

As we toured the pueblo and listened to our guide we learned that although such injustices may, we hope, have been confined to the pages of history, they are not forgotten. The past has shaped this people and in this almost mystical place past, present and future seem largely indistinguishable from each other.

Acoma houses

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A street in the pueblo

The tour wound through the village streets where we saw the traditional houses, ovens, water cisterns and more. There are about 275 houses in the pueblo, although only around 30 people live here year-round. These are mostly older people and pre-school children, who are often sent to live with grandparents so that they can learn the culture and traditions of the tribe from them. But all the houses are owned and cared for by an Acoma family, and the family will visit and stay there during festival times. Many of the houses we saw therefore had been extensively restored – this is very much a living village, not a museum.

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Another typical street

The houses are made of adobe, like so many buildings across New Mexico (and indeed across the south-west). The Spanish invaders, on first encountering these structures, saw the straw glinting in the sunshine and believed the houses to be made of gold! The thick adobe walls keep the homes cool in summer and warm in the winter, and sharing walls with neighbouring houses adds to the insulation effect. The roads too were carefully planned, each exactly the right width to ensure that even the long shadows of winter would not fall on the houses opposite, so that all could benefit from the warmth of the sun’s rays.

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Typical houses

Traditionally all the houses were of three stories, but the use of each floor varied with the season. In the winter the ground floor would be used for cooking. Heat from the fire would rise to the floor above, which was used as living and sleeping space year-round, and food would be stored on the top floor away from that heat. In the summer the ground and top floor usage was reversed; cooking would be done on the top floor so the heat could escape through the roof without overheating the inhabitants, and food was stored on the ground floor.

Some of the houses have window frames painted in the traditional turquoise colour, symbolising the sky. In the past windows were made of mica, letting in some light but no view, but today almost all are of glass. But modernisation has only gone so far. To those of us used to ‘all mod cons’ it may seem strange to us that the Acoma choose not to fully modernise their houses here in the pueblo. They could easily do so. Those elsewhere in the reservation, on the plain below, have all the facilities we might expect. There is a school, a fire station, offices for the tribal government, a hotel and casino for visitors. But here there are only the bare necessities. There is no running water and no electricity. Coolers not fridges keep food fresh, although a few houses do have a generator.

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Building work

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Restoration in progress

Water, or rather the shortage of it, has always been a challenge for those living on the rocky mesa. It has almost no soil, so almost nothing of any size grows here, apart from a single tree. It is thought that this survives because of its proximity to a deep pool of water or cistern. In the past the inhabitants of Acoma relied on these cisterns for all their water supplies. They would collect rainwater during the wet summer months and this was carefully conserved and used in dry periods. To keep the water pure it was forbidden to wash or play in the cisterns.

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Cistern and lone tree

These days however water is brought up to the pueblo in tankers. But the houses don’t have any running water. The Acoma people prefer to keep things as they always have been here in the pueblo (we were to find the same preference for traditional ways later in our trip when we visited Taos Pueblo). Admittedly many choose not to live here year round, but some do – and all believe that a resistance to modern development is essential to preserve their traditions and to remind them to value what is important in life: family, tribe and the continual thread of their culture and beliefs that anchors each generation to the ones that came before and those to follow.

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Portaloos

There are no toilets in the houses either – instead you will see communal Portaloos around the edges of the village which are used by everyone and which are regularly emptied by a commercial firm. Our guide explained that in the past they had drop toilets, and also told us that there are plans to introduce new ones with a compostable system – but not to install them in the houses.

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Horno at the mesa's edge

Dotted around the pueblo you will see ovens shaped like beehives and known as horno. These were introduced by the Spanish, who in turn had adopted them from the Moors, so if they look like something you have seen in North Africa it is not surprising. They are used for cooking the traditional bread. A fire is built in the oven and left until the walls are red hot. The fire is then raked out, rounds of dough stuck to the oven walls, and the small hole at the front is sealed with mud until the bread is cooked. The result is a light fluffy bread, not dissimilar to pizza dough.

Kivas

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Street with kiva

In the photo above you can see the distinctive ladders resting against the houses. The double ladder near the centre of the photo indicates that the building is a kiva or sacred building. Kiva ladders also have pointed tips, believed to pierce the clouds and bring rain. The ladder below illustrates this belief, with a stylised cloud-shaped bar across its three poles.

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Kiva ladder

These kivas would once have been round but our guide told us that after they had been destroyed by the Spanish invaders they were rebuilt with square walls to look more like normal houses and fool the enemy. [I have also read a more practical explanation – that square buildings make better use of the very limited space here on the mesa top]. But you can spot a kiva as it has no door; entry is only by the ladder, whereas in the case of the houses the ladders are used just for access to the upper floors. Look at the photo above carefully and you will see on the far right the tips of the second ladder that leads down into the kiva itself.

No visitors are allowed in the kivas and guides are not permitted (even if they would want to) to share anything of what goes on in them. Their use is sacred and even to tell outsiders about them would be seen as a threat to the integrity of the tribe’s culture and beliefs. It is essential to respect this and not to push the guides for information they are unable to provide.

One of the interesting things I learned on the tour was that the Acoma have a matriarchal society; that is, the women are the more powerful sex. It is they who own the land, make the major family decisions and maintain the traditions of the tribe.

The land and the family home are passed down to the youngest daughter, as it is thought that she will have stayed closest to her parents and have the most respect for the traditions. The matriarch will pass on her role to this daughter at what she feels is the right time, not necessarily waiting until she dies. At that point the matriarch loses her role in the family, moves out of the home in the pueblo (if indeed she has been inhabiting it full-time) and relinquishes all claims on the family property and possessions. She will never live on the mesa again, but may return for visits and celebrations. If she dies before succession, the title of matriarch passes automatically to her youngest daughter or, if there is no daughter, to the youngest grand-daughter.

And so it is the women who have kept alive the traditions of the Acoma, they who have made this pueblo the magical place it is, and they who hold the responsibility to continue to do so for generation beyond generation to come.

The Church of San Esteban

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San Esteban

Our tour finished at the pueblo’s church, its most prominent building, dedicated to Saint Stephen. It was built between 1629 and 1641 by the Acoma people under the direction of their Spanish conquerors. Some accounts say that the Spanish forced them to build the church, others that the people were grateful to the Catholic friar, Juan Ramirez, after he saved the life of a local child, and thus built the church willingly. A legend tells that just as Friar Juan arrived at the mesa this child fell from its edge and was assumed to be dead. But as the people grieved for their loss, the stranger arrived at the top of the stone steps carrying the lost child in his arms, safe and well. The people took this as a miracle and a sign that they should welcome this man and the new religion he preached.

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San Esteban

The adobe structure remains largely unchanged over the centuries. The left-hand of its twin towers contains an ancient bell (the one on the right is newer). According to the Spanish account, the Acoma people traded four children for this older bell, but according to the people of Acoma, the Spaniards gave the bell as reparation after stealing four children from their families.

Photography of the beautiful interior of San Esteban is not allowed by tribal rules. Its stand-out features include a traditional viga ceiling, with the characteristic parallel rows of heavy timbers, and a wooden altar carved by the Acoma in the 1630s, its twirled columns painted red and white – red, the colour of sandstone and adobe, to symbolise the Acoma and their traditional beliefs, and white to symbolise Catholicism, the two intertwined here as they are in the spiritual lives of the people. Most Acoma believe in and practice both religions, but a few only one or the other.

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At the edge of the mesa

In this photo of Chris and me at the edge of the mesa you can see behind us Mount Taylor, known as Kaweshtima to the Acoma people. It was from this distant and sacred mountain that the Acoma were forced by the Spanish to bring wood to construct the church, including the large logs of the traditional viga ceiling. The wood was not permitted to touch the ground between Kaweshtima and Acoma – if a log fell or was dropped it had to be left where it was rather than be used for the building.

Mass is celebrated in the church on special feast days. One of these is the feast of St Stephen, after which the statue of the saint is paraded around the village. Another is on Christmas Eve, when Midnight Mass is said. On these and on other feast days all the people return to the pueblo from their homes elsewhere as it is important for the tribe to celebrate together. As the church was built on the pueblo’s former plaza (lending credence I think to the version of the story that claims the people were forced to build it here), its dirt floor is kept largely bare and is used on native feast days for dancing.

I have no pictures of the adjoining cemetery, as all photography of it is strictly forbidden, but it is too interesting a place not to mention it here. It lies in front of the church and is even older than it. It was not part of the Acoma tradition to bury their dead, but with the adoption of some of the Spanish conquerors’ Catholic beliefs came also the introduction of burials. There is of course no soil on the mesa top, so earth for the cemetery has had to be carried up from the plains below in woven baskets. There are now five layers of graves here, and when this one is full no more will be added. Places in the cemetery are reserved for tribal elders and for those who have made the pueblo their year-round home – most Acoma are now buried elsewhere in the reservation, in the churchyard they share with the neighbouring Laguna tribe.

At one end of the cemetery, in front of the church, is a raised area with a large cross, a memorial to all the unknown ancestors buried here in unmarked graves. The walls around the cemetery have humps, which in the inside can just be made out to contain faces. These are the guardians of the dead. One wall has a hole in it, to allow the spirits of the deceased an exit route out into the afterlife.

A souvenir of Acoma

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Pottery seller

During our tour we had numerous opportunities to purchase the traditional Acoma pottery. There were tables set up at strategic points on the tour with a local potter displaying their creations, and our guide encouraged us all to examine these and waited patiently for a few minutes at least while we did so. We were tempted at several points, but I’d read that if you’re serious about buying it’s best to wait till the end of the tour and then ask to be escorted back to the one whose work most appealed to you.

The traditional Acoma style is very striking, usually in shades of black and red only, though some other colours are included in non-traditional designs in order to appeal to tourists. They didn’t appeal to us however, as we much preferred the simplicity of the traditional colour scheme which contrast well with the intricacy of some of the designs. These designs reflect the landscape around the pueblo and the legends of the people, so you will see triangular shapes for mountains, lines showing rain, and spiritual animals such as the lizard. We were also (rather incongruously it seems) shown designs featuring parrots. Of course there are no parrots in New Mexico! But there is an Acoma legend that tells how traders from the tribe visited rainforest areas in South America and brought back a parrot in the hope that the presence of a bird from that region would bring much-needed rain to the parched lands of their home.

Prices aren’t cheap, as everything is hand-made (if you think you’ve found a bargain, it won’t have been made by hand), but they are better value than in tourist shops elsewhere in the state, so if you like the work this is a great place to buy. We purchased a very small plate (about two inches across) decorated with lizards which cost us $20 – we wanted a souvenir of our visit but were concerned about carrying anything larger and heavier (and breakable) having already bought our ceramic horse in Hillsboro a few days earlier.

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Pottery for sale

Our visit to Acoma occupied most of our morning and has filled a lot of blog space, so I’ll stop here for now and continue with the rest of today in the following entry …

Posted by ToonSarah 09:15 Archived in USA Tagged art people architecture road_trip culture history church village houses new_mexico crafts customs Comments (5)

‘Fanta Se’

New Mexico day seven


View New Mexico road trip 2011 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Adobe house, Santa Fe

We slept well in our cosy casita in Santa Fe and woke eager to explore a town we had read so much about. For Chris today was also an opportunity to take a break from driving, as we left the car parked in our allocated spot and walked everywhere for the day – our choice of a central location was really paying off.

We could (at an extra cost, naturally) have arranged to have breakfast at the B&B owned by the same people as our casita, but chose not to, and we also didn’t want to self-cater, despite having a very serviceable kitchen. Instead we preferred to sample a variety of breakfast places in the vicinity of our little home. On this first morning we tried one that came highly recommended in our Moon Handbook, Café Pasqual’s.

It was very busy and we were fortunate to be able to get a good table straightaway – we observed that others who weren’t so lucky were quite happy to wait some time, such is the reputation of the place. It seemed to be popular not only with tourists but also locals – girl-friends meeting for breakfast, and a couple of local businessmen. I loved the colourful décor, with bright murals and Mexican tiles, and our table on a raised area at one end of the small room gave us a great view of this and of all the activity.

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Blintzes and granola at Café Pasqual’s

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Proper espresso!

We found the breakfast menu to be quite extensive, as befits somewhere famous for its breakfasts. I decided to try something different, the ‘Three House-made Blintzes, Golden from the Skillet, Topped with Strawberry Jam and Sour Cream’. These were good but very filling, with a bit too much cream for that time of day (regular cream, which I left to one side, as well as the sour cream promised by the menu). Chris chose what he expected to be a healthy option, the nutty granola, with yoghurt and berries, but the portion was so huge that it probably wasn’t that healthy after all! He also had a cappuccino and I had a double espresso, really appreciating the availability of strong coffee to kick-start my day.

All this didn’t come cheap however. The cappuccino alone was $5 which was more than we were used to paying in pricey London, and our total bill (with two grapefruit juices as well) was $50 – more than we had paid for the previous night’s dinner! So although we liked the breakfast, and loved the atmosphere, we went elsewhere on the subsequent mornings.

Santa Fe

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Adobe architecture in Santa Fe

Santa Fe has sometimes been nicknamed ‘Fanta Se’, and it’s not hard to see why. The city lives for its art. And I am not referring only to the thousands of people here who are engaged in the arts in some way or another – running a gallery, creating paintings or photos or sculptures, writing or performing etc. No – the city itself seems to have a sense of itself as a work of art. Local regulations control very strictly control the appearance of all buildings in the downtown area, around the Plaza – if it isn’t adobe, it had better at least pretend to be!

But if that sounds critical, it isn’t really intended to be. We had a lovely few days here, enjoying the history, architecture, galleries and surrounding countryside.

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Adobe in Santa Fe

Today our focus was on the historic centre. When we arrived at our accommodation in Santa Fe the owner of the Chapelle Street Casitas had said ‘And yes, there is a law that everything has to be brown!’ The downtown area here preserves a number of old adobe buildings from Spanish colonial times, but at first glance you might be fooled into thinking that all the buildings were old, and all of them adobe. And that’s just what the city planners want you to think. For decades now, all new building in this part of the city has had to conform to the same overall style, although many of the apparently ‘adobe’ buildings that you will see are in fact plaster and stucco, built in the early 20th Century to satisfy this collective vision of what the city ought to look like to appeal to tourists. A city ordinance exists to enforce the on-going homogenisation of the downtown district, requiring that all new buildings, additions and restorations conform to one of two traditional styles:
~ ‘Pueblo Revival’ – a mix of styles based on Native American mud buildings and Spanish mud-brick churches
~ ‘Territorial’ – a style based on early Anglo modifications of adobe buildings, with additions like wood trim around windows and door openings and decorative friezes on the parapets

Opinion is divided as to the success of this approach to town planning, and I couldn’t make up my own mind either. When we first arrived I was rather struck by the appearance of the streets around the Plaza, with their uniform colour and (mostly) low heights giving them a very characteristic look. But after a while the uniformity can start to look more dull than distinctive. The secret to appreciating these buildings, I realised as we explored, is to stop seeing them as a homogenous whole and look for the details that make certain among them stand out.

San Francisco Cathedral

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San Francisco Cathedral

We started our explorations in the area to the east of the Plaza, at Santa Fe’s cathedral. In the homogenous adobe world of Santa Fe’s downtown area, the Cathedral of San Francisco seemed somewhat incongruous. How did such a European-looking place of worship come to be here? Well, it was, unsurprisingly, due to one particular European, a French priest – Jean Baptiste Lamy. Apparently when he first arrived here in 1851 he was shocked at some of the religious practices, including the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and also horrified by the church buildings, finding it impossible to believe that anyone could reach heaven while praying on a dirt floor inside a building made of mud! So he commissioned this new cathedral for Santa Fe, and all of the old church was demolished, apart from one small side chapel. But it seems that he ran out of money, and the two spires that should have topped the towers either side of the front porch were never added – hence their rather odd stumpy appearance.

Inside it is light and rather lovely, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the ancient adobe would have held more atmosphere and sense of the spiritual? I got some hint of that in the one remaining adobe chapel, on the left of the altar. This houses a small statue, La Conquistadora, brought to Santa Fe from Mexico in 1625. She was carried away by the retreating Spanish during the Pueblo Revolt, but reinstated in 1693, and has been honoured ever since for inspiring the Spanish to stick with their colonising project, and for what was regarded (possibly mistakenly?) her peaceful acceptance by the natives . Whether such colonial ‘smirking’ is appropriate in a church I was not so sure, but the little statue is a marvel indeed.

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La Conquistadora, and dreamcatcher bell

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Crucifix with saints in native clothing

Elsewhere in the cathedral though, the native influence was more apparent, for instance in the clothing of some of the saints portrayed and in the dreamcatcher-like bell that hangs above the lectern. This and many other elements of the decoration and ornamentation are quite modern, such as the windows of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to the right of the altar, the altar screen and the great bronze doors. All of these were added in 1986 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral. I very much liked these modern touches, which added to the sensation of lightness and airiness.

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The altar screen

In front of the cathedral are a couple of interesting statues. One is naturally of the patron saint, St Francis. The other is more unusual and depicts Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. She was a 17th century Mohawk-Algonquian woman, who converted to Christianity at an early age.

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Statue of St Francis with Contemporary Art Museum behind

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Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha

There is also a statue of Bishop Lamy, but I was perhaps feeling a little irritated by this rather sanctimonious French cleric at this point, as I omitted to photograph him!

Cathedral Park

Next we investigated the small park next to the cathedral. This was established in 1998 to mark the 400th anniversary of the first European, i.e. Spanish, colonisation of New Mexico. There are some lovely trees there and it seemed a quiet, restful spot away from the bustle of the streets. In the centre we came across a monument commemorating the anniversary. The inscription on it reads:

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Monument to the settlers, Cathedral Park

‘The year 1998 marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival in New Mexico of about 560 valiant men, women and children to establish one of the earliest permanent European settlements in the United States. Their leader and first governor, Don Juan de Oñate, led this intrepid band north over hundreds of desolate, dangerous miles to the green valleys of northern New Mexico. It was there the colonists established themselves by introducing European crops and the first horses, sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and poultry – thereby establishing European culture and technology in the United States, where they had not previously existed.

With the settlers came the Franciscan priests and brothers who ministered to the colonists and to the native inhabitants of the region. It was this unswerving devotion to their faith and to their families that consoled and inspired those settlers and their descendants to endure and prevail over 400 years of isolation, abandonment, hardship and cultural challenges. It is to those heroic precursors that our community joins in raising this monument to our forefathers’ continuing contributions to the history, culture and values of today’s America. May they serve as an inspiration to all who pass this way.’

The monument includes sculptures of different types of settler – Franciscan monk, a colonial settler family (man, woman and two children), and a Spanish soldier. They surround a column which is topped by a statue of Mary La Conquistadora. At its base are many of the fruits, vegetables, tools, music instruments etc. brought to New Mexico by these colonialists, and it is supported by a cow, a pig, a sheep and a donkey.

The Loretto Chapel

Our next visit was to the much smaller Loretto Chapel. Not content with rebuilding the Cathedral in an architectural style which, he believed, was more fitting for worship, Bishop Lamy also commissioned the small Loretto Chapel a little to the south of it – the first Gothic structure to be built west of the Mississippi. Outside the chapel we saw a tree hung with rosaries, which is interesting in the light of the fact that the chapel was desanctified in 1971 and sold to a private family.

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Rosaries hanging outside the Loretto Chapel

This family have preserved it well, hiring it out for weddings and opening it to the public each day. There is an admission charge of $3 (September 2011 prices) and I though it was well worth paying this small fee for a glimpse inside. The chapel is richly decorated with stained glass windows from France and Stations of the Cross from Italy, but what makes it special is the so-called miraculous spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. Fashioned beautifully from an apparently extinct species of wood, it twists elegantly upwards with no central pole to support it, resting solely on its base and against the loft, and making over two complete 360-degree turns as it climbs. It is 20 feet high and was constructed without glue or nails, using only square wooden pegs to hold the parts together.

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The miraculous staircase

One story starts with the suggestion that the Sisters of Loretto had been given the funds by Lamy to build their chapel, but that the money ran out before they could build a stair to reach their choir loft. Another version says that the small size of the chapel meant that no carpenter could identify a way to fit a staircase into the space. Both versions go on to tell how the Sisters made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a mysterious carpenter appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. He worked at the staircase for six months, never saying a word, and then left, without taking any payment. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the sisters' prayers. Certainly the carpenter was never heard from again, although some historians claim to have tracked him down to Las Cruces, where he met his end in a bar fight. Whatever its origins, the staircase is beautiful, and even the later addition of balustrades and handrails (for safety reasons) cannot detract from the simple grace of its upwards sweep.

San Miguel Mission

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San Miguel Mission

Next we walked a little south of the centre to this adobe mission chapel, which claims to be the oldest church in the United States, having been built between around 1610 to 1626. Whether that claim is true or not, this old building certainly has plenty of character and again I thought it well worth the $1 we were charged for admission. Slightly oddly, you enter through the gift shop, so that it feels rather like a shop with a church tacked on to the back. But once inside you find a little gem. The beautiful wooden altar screen or reredos dates from 1798 and is the oldest of its type in the state. The statue in its centre is of the chapel’s patron saint, St Michael the Archangel and was brought here from Mexico in 1709.

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The altar screen

In front of the altar, glass panes in the floor allowed us to peer down at the original foundations of the church and of the Native American structure formerly on this site. At the other end of the little chapel, near the door, is a large bell. This once hung in the bell tower and has an inscription dedicated to San Jose and dating it to 1356.

There are several picturesque old houses in the area immediately around the chapel, one of which the oldest house in the city and also claims to be the oldest in the US, supposedly built around 1646 (a claim I was unsure whether or not to believe). Near this is another house with stunning turquoise wooden window frames and shutters.

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The oldest house in the US?

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A vision in turquoise!

By now it was lunch time so we wandered back towards the centre in search of refreshment.

The Shed

A friend who lived in the Santa Fe area for a while had recommended this restaurant, so although we usually choose somewhere more casual for lunch we decided to give it a try for our first lunch in the city – what a great decision! We loved it here – food, setting and ambience.

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At lunch in the Shed

The restaurant is located in an old hacienda (dating back to 1692) and spread over nine rooms, as well as a small courtyard at the front. The décor is bright and cheerful, with lots of interesting paintings and other traditional crafts.

They don’t appear to take reservations for lunch and when we arrived we were told there would be a 15 minute wait. We were given a pager and took a seat in the courtyard to wait but in fact were called to a table inside after about 10 minutes (we would have waited longer if we’d wanted an outside one I think). As we were looking for something light, we were pleased to find plenty of choices. I had the gazpacho which was refreshing and tasty, and Chris chose a ‘small’ salad (that is, smaller than the ‘big’ version of the same!) of chicken, blue cheese, walnuts and salad leaves.

While we were eating our lunch a lady stopped by our table to look more closely at the painting behind it and we got talking. She explained that she was from Guatemala (where we had been just last year) and recognised the style of the painting as Guatemalan, so was trying to make out the artist’s signature – sadly neither she nor we could do so.

On leaving we asked about reservations for dinner the next day but could only get a table at 8.30 pm (or 5.30pm, but that was rather too early for us). Although we normally eat a bit earlier that that we accepted, as we were very keen to return and sample more from their extensive menu. And we were very pleased that we had – but that’s a story for a future entry!

The Plaza

We had already passed through the Plaza earlier in the day, on our way to the cathedral, but after lunch we returned for a better look around. The Plaza originally marked the end of El Camino Real (the Spanish Royal Road from Mexico City) and the Santa Fe Trail, an important trade route. In those days it would have been surrounded by a large defensive wall that enclosed residences, barracks, a chapel, a prison and the Governor's Palace. Of these just the Governor’s Palace, on the north side, remains, and where there were once barracks and defences today you find restaurants and shops.

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In the Plaza

In the centre of the Plaza is the Indian War Memorial, which was dedicated in 1867 to those who died in ‘battles with…Indians in the territory of New Mexico’. As this inscription suggests, the monument was erected during times of conflict between colonists and natives, and the space between ‘with’ and ‘Indians’ originally carried the word ‘savage’. This has been removed in these more enlightened times, although the monument itself still seems something of an anachronism.

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The Indian War Memorial, with local and his dog

The Plaza is nicely laid out with lawns, trees and plenty of benches where you can relax and watch the world go by – an activity which locals seem to enjoy here as much as do visitors.

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Native jewellery seller

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Artist selling his paintings

Palace of the Governors

The Palace of the Governors, lies on the north side of the Plaza – a single-storey adobe building running the full length of the block. It was built in 1610 as Santa Fe’s original capitol building, and claims to be the oldest U.S. public building still in continuous use. It was designated a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1960 and an American Treasure in 1999.

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The Palace of the Governors

Inside is a museum which tells the story of Santa Fe and the surrounding area. Collections cover the Spanish colonial (1540-1821), Mexican (1821-1846), U.S. Territorial (1846-1912) and statehood (1912-present) periods of history. We only had limited time to look round (doing our usual trick of trying to pack too much into one day, while also wanting to chill and enjoy our surroundings!) But even with limited time it was worth making the effort to go in – for me, not so much for the collections, good though they are, but for the chance to see inside this old building. I also liked seeing the period rooms which offer a glimpse of how life would have been in the past for residents of Santa Fe.

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The lady who made and
sold me my necklace

Along the portico of the Palace of the Governors, and on the north side of the Plaza opposite, Native Americans take up their places each day to sell jewellery and other traditional crafts. This is an eighty year old tradition, nowadays operated through the ‘Native American Artisans Program of the Palace of the Governors’. There are around 1,000 vendors who are licensed to sell here after going through a strict application process to assess the quality of their work. The goods displayed and sold by participants in the scheme must be made by the seller or by their household members. Every morning the 63 spots available, each 12 bricks wide, are allocated by lottery, so you can never be sure who you will find here or what they will be selling. But it’s a great opportunity to buy directly from the creator and as they all seem happy to talk about their work you will also find out a bit about the piece you are buying.

I looked at a number of items. One man was selling silver necklaces with representations of the different sacred animals, such as Bear and Wolf, and explained the meaning of each to me. But in the end I opted for turquoise, choosing a pretty silver necklace threaded with small stones which the seller told me came from Arizona, where she and her sister lived and made the jewellery. Sadly that necklace was one of the items taken when we were burgled a couple of years ago, so I'm glad I at least have this photo of the seller by which to remember my purchase.

Andrew Smith Gallery

We visited quite a few galleries during our stay in Santa Fe (most of them on our final day here), although only a fraction of the total number – I read that ‘Art galleries’ take up five pages in the local Yellow Pages directory, and ‘Artists’ have their own separate heading, with subheadings for painters, sculptors, etc. Perhaps our favourite gallery of all was the one we visited first, the Andrew Smith Gallery, which specialises in ‘Masterpieces of Photography’. It was a real thrill to see some of their wonderful images by such famous photographers as Ansel Adams, Annie Liebowitz, Edward Weston, Alfred Steiglitz, Cartier-Bresson and more, as well as to discover some that we didn’t know.

Although this is a commercial gallery and all the photos are for sale, we didn’t feel pressurised into buying and I got the impression that they are as happy to welcome enthusiastic sightseers as serious collectors.

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

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Outside the O'Keeffe Museum

We had passed what is probably the best known of Santa Fe’s many galleries, large and small, earlier in the day, as it was just round the corner from our little casita in Chapelle Street. We didn’t know a lot about O’Keeffe before coming to Santa Fe, but we were keen to find out more. We had been warned by our Moon Handbook that the museum had perhaps fewer of her works than might have been expected in one dedicated entirely to this single artist – unfortunately by the time it opened in the late 1990s many of her pieces were already in collections elsewhere. But as the guidebook explained, this had been partly rectified in 2005 when the museum received the collection of the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation, so lovers of her work, or the curious such as ourselves, should at least find it worth a visit.

The gallery is modern and light, with six of its rooms now given over to the O’Keeffe collection. Of these I liked best the large flower pictures, such as white jimson weed, for which she is perhaps best known, and the landscapes painted in the immediate vicinity of Santa Fe, evocative of her love for this red sandstone country. I also liked the way the exhibition was curated, with some fascinating quotes from O’Keeffe painted on the walls alongside the paintings.

No photography was allowed inside, but I note from the website that this policy has now been changed and photos are actively encouraged – a sign, no doubt, of the increasing importance of social media in spreading the word about places to visit:
‘The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum allows non-flash photography in most areas. Feel free to photograph friends and family and your favorite works of art. Please note that photography is allowed only for personal, noncommercial use, with the following restrictions: no tripods, no flash photography, no selfie sticks, no drones. Some artworks have a no photography sign, we ask that you please honor this.’

The remaining rooms are devoted to temporary exhibitions featuring O’Keeffe’s contemporaries or artists influenced by her. At the time of our visit this meant a travelling exhibition called ‘From New York to Corrymore: Robert Henri & Ireland’. I didn’t previously know the work of Robert Henri, and sadly after seeing this exhibition I was not inspired to do so! Apparently he is regarded as ‘the leader of the urban realists group known as the Ashcan School,’ but the portraits of (mainly) Irish children were not really my thing I’m afraid. Nevertheless I was really pleased to have seen the works by O’Keeffe and that was, after all, the purpose of our visit.

On our way out we visited the inevitable gift shop, which was in fact one of the better examples of a museum shop that I have seen – relatively compact with high quality (and consequently expensive) items. I was tempted by some rather pricey silk scarves screen-printed with O’Keeffe’s flowers but managed to resist. We did however buy ourselves a small print – not one of her works but a good reproduction of an Ansel Adams photo of aspens which reminded us of our drives around the state. It now hangs in our lounge, a permanent reminder of this fantastic road trip.

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Chris on our front porch

We spent the last part of the afternoon relaxing on the small terrace of our casita, enjoying our little ‘home’ in the city.

Coyote Rooftop Cantina

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Sunset over Santa Fe

The Coyote Café is one of the more upmarket places to eat in Santa Fe, and looked rather more formal than we usually opt for when on holiday – the sort of place you’d celebrate a birthday or anniversary maybe, but not for casual ‘any night of the week’ dining. But adjacent to it, and under the same management, is a rooftop bar and more informal eatery, the Rooftop Cantina, which looked more like what we had in mind for this evening.

We didn’t have a reservation but it wasn’t too busy so we decided to start by having just a drink while seated at the area put aside for drinking only, the table around the edge of the terrace. Perched here you have a great view of the street below, and, if you time it right (we did), of the sun setting at the end of the road. But my attention was regularly diverted away from the sun’s orange glow by the possibly lovelier glow emanating from my excellent margarita, which proved to be possibly the best of the entire trip – the ‘Norteño Margarita’, which they make with a tequila infused with green chilli. Fantastic!

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Margarita at sunset

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Fire-grilled salmon

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Wall decoration

We then moved to one of the lower tables more suited for dining. I decided to have a change from the tortilla-based dishes I’d been eating, so chose the salmon served with polenta and hot chilli sauce: ‘Fire Grilled Atlantic Salmon with Crunchy Fried Polenta, Bird Chile Sambal Sauce, Organic Lettuces & Pepinos’. Chris had the Kobe burger: ‘American Snake River Kobe Beef Burger with Manchego Cheese, Crispy Fried Vidalia Onion, Greens, House made Beer Pickles, Tomato & Cilantro Mayonnaise, Sweet Habanero Tomato Ketchup & Boardwalk Fries’. Both dishes went down very well indeed, although mine was a little on the small side – I compensated by pinching a few of the French fries that came with Chris’s burger! We shared a dessert, a ‘trio of sorbets’, and although the bill was higher than we paid elsewhere on this trip, it did include our pre-dinner drinks, including that wonderful margarita! We felt the quality justified the slightly higher prices, and with more time in Santa Fe we would definitely have come back here again.

After dinner we went back to the El Paseo Bar where we had drunk last night. This time there was no live music, and we enjoyed it rather more. The bartender poured a generous Jack Daniels, the non-live music was much more to our taste than the live had been, and there was a friendly, buzzy atmosphere without it being too busy.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:18 Archived in USA Tagged churches art buildings architecture road_trip monument history statue square restaurants houses museum cathedral new_mexico street_photography Comments (7)

Arty Santa Fe

New Mexico day nine


View New Mexico road trip 2011 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Autumn colour, Cathedral Park

Where the locals go

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Waiting for breakfast

When we were exploring the small park next to the cathedral on our first morning in Santa Fe morning some local women, who were working on a small archaeological excavation there, recommended breakfast at Tia Sophia’s, saying that it was where the locals would choose to go, so we decided to give it a try one morning. We found a cheerful, bustling, traditional Mexican-style homely sort of a place, with a steady stream of diners eager to try its legendary breakfasts. We were lucky only to have a wait a couple of minutes, and to get a nice booth near the counter. The service was friendly, with the staff coping well with a full café and managing everything with good humour.

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Omelette

The menu has all the regular breakfast items, some with a New Mexican twist, and all the local favourites. We were both in the mood for omelette, and chose the one with cheese and guacamole. It proved to be a generous size, well-stuffed with its spicy filling. We both opted for a side of potatoes (we could have had the local stew, posole, beans or tomatoes instead) and drank juice (orange for Chris, cranberry for me) and coffee. The latter was the only disappointing part of the meal – after a couple of days when I’d been able to get good espresso, here I was back to the ‘brown water with a hint of coffee flavour’ filter stuff that passes for coffee in too many US establishments. Despite that though Tia Sophia’s certainly delivered an excellent local-style breakfast in one of the more casual and friendly places in downtown Santa Fe.

New Mexico Museum of Art

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New Mexico Museum of Art

This morning we decided to see more of Santa Fe’s devotion to art, starting with one of its major museums, the New Mexico Museum of Art, which back in 2011 was known as the Museum of Fine Arts. This proved to be possibly the best of the museums we visited in Santa Fe – not that we managed to get to anything like all of them!

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New Mexico Museum of Art

To start with, I thought it was worth a visit for the building itself, which is a beautiful example of what is commonly known as ‘pueblo revival architecture’ (a style based on a mix of Native American mud buildings and Spanish mud-brick churches). It was built in 1917 and originally designed to be the New Mexico pavilion for a world expo in San Diego two years earlier. The wonderfully curvaceous building ‘borrows’ motifs from pueblo mission churches, such as the bell towers seen in several of my photos. It has a lovely tranquil inner courtyard, festooned with ristras (the distinctive strings of chillies).

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Chilli ristras in the courtyard

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New Mexico Museum of Art

The museum hosts both permanent and temporary exhibitions. We were originally lured in by posters promoting a major photography exhibition, ‘Earth Now’, with a focus on photographers who highlight environmental issues in their work. But with a few exceptions we both found these more didactic than inspirational. However there was plenty that appealed to us more, in particular another temporary exhibition of New Native Photography 2011. There were some really excellent images here, by 19 photographers from across North America.

The other exhibition that I really liked was ‘How the West is One’, which was described as a more or less permanent one. Although it no longer seems to be running in that form, I imagine many of the art works have since found their way into the permanent collection.

The website explained that the exhibition,
‘organizes key objects from the museum’s collections so that they outline an intercultural history of New Mexico art, from the arrival of railroads in 1879 to the present. This long term exhibition presents 70 works by Native American, Hispanic, and European-American artists which illustrate the changing aesthetic ideals that have evolved within southwestern art over the last 125 years. The exhibition allows viewers to discover the one-ness of New Mexico Art. Unique, unpredictable, often contradictory unity developed from the interactions of the Native American Hispanic, and mainstream American aesthetic traditions.’

Gallery hopping

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Outside a Santa Fe Gallery

We devoted the second part of the morning to some gallery hopping in the smaller establishments in the streets immediately around the Plaza. Our favourites included the stylish Blue Rain Gallery on Lincoln Avenue, with a fascinating mix of paintings, sculpture, pottery and more, and the Galerie Züger on W San Francisco Street which had devoted most of its space to an awesome display of bronze sculptures by Gib Singleton (who also did the Stations of the Cross which we were to see a few days later at the Sancturio de Chimayo). Gib Singleton was the foremost Western and Biblical bronze sculptor in the late 20th and early 21st century in America and his pieces can be seen in many of the major world museums. Have a look at the gallery’s website to see some examples of his work and read more about him.

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Blueberry crepe

After visiting several galleries we decided it was time for an early lunch before moving on to the next part of our plan for the day, and for a change visited the French Pastry Shop, part of the historic La Fonda Hotel complex. While Santa Fe’s buildings are a homogenous group of light brown adobe structures, the interiors occasionally surprise, and none more so than this cosy little place. Step through the doors and you might almost be in an English, or at least European, tea shop, with dark wood furniture and a glass case displaying tempting pastries. Chris had a grilled cheese sandwich, but unusually for me at lunchtime I decided that the dessert menu was the more tempting, especially the sweet crepes, so I chose the blueberry one to go with my very good cup of coffee.

Now, having spent most of our time in the centre of Santa Fe, it was time on this last afternoon in the city to go slightly further afield and see another aspect to the city. So we returned to the casita to pick up our car and drove south, stopping on the way to check out one more of the city’s churches.

Santuario de Guadalupe

This church, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe to give it its full name, lies just south of the downtown area. It is the oldest shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States and was built in the 1780s; the exact date uncertain, though some guidebooks appear to think that they know! Certainly our Moon Handbook let us down on this point, and on its description of the church, which it says in the late 19th century ‘got an odd makeover, with a New England–look wood steeple’ and ‘tall neo-Gothic arched windows’. This is not strictly true, as we discovered that there were in fact two church buildings on the site – one the original (and now restored) 18th century adobe one and one more modern (although not really New England style) church which was built as a new parish church and opened in 1961.The 18th century church was restored in 1976 as part of the US Bicentennial celebrations. Although decommissioned for a while, the church was reintegrated into the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in February 2006 and is now used again for a monthly Mass and for choir performances etc.

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In the Santuario de Guadalupe

Inside the church is relatively plain in some respects, with its three foot thick adobe walls painted white and hung with simple paintings of the Stations of the Cross. The dominating features are the beautiful viga ceiling and the large painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe above the altar. is considered one of the finest oil paints of the Spanish Southwest. It is dated 1783 and signed by Jose de Alzibar, who was one of Mexico's most distinguished artists. It is the largest painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the United States and presents a central, full-body image of the Virgin surrounded by four illustrations of the main events of the 1531 apparition story. The painting made the journey north by cart and in sections, up the Camino Real from Mexico City to Santa Fe.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe, and another of the church's paintings

Elsewhere there are some of the typical New Mexican santos, carved images of the saints. To the left of the altar a small doorway led us to a little museum, which was well worth visiting. A series of old photos shows the various appearances of the church over the years. This is where I learnt the facts about the neighbouring white-steepled building (maybe the author of the Moon book should make a visit here?!) I also learnt that the church was built originally as a mission church, to mark the northern end of the Camino Real from Mexico City, and only later became the parish church for this part of the city.

The Railyard

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The Railyard

And now it was time to see a different side of Santa Fe. The railroad came to Santa Fe in 1880, with an 18 mile spur from Lamy to the south (named for the eponymous bishop who left such a mark on the city’s cathedral). On February 9th of that year, the very first train of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company pulled into the Santa Fe depot, accompanied by grand speeches and much celebration. No longer would people have to travel the Santa Fe Trail by stagecoach or wagon; at last the city was properly connected with the rest of the world. And connection meant tourism – the city has the railroad to thank for the boom in visitors at the end of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. Artists came to see and to paint its distinctive adobe buildings; holiday-makers came to wander its picturesque streets and buy souvenirs of Native American crafts, much as they do today. The railroad also brought growth to the city, as it expanded southwards to surround the depot with new buildings to service the needs of those arriving by train. For decades this was one of the liveliest parts of the city, but just as the railroad had meant the end of the old Santa Fe Trail, so the explosion in car use in the 1950s meant the end of the railroad. The trains stopped coming, the depot fell into disuse and the area around it declined.

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In the parking lot

In the 1980s the city council developed a plan, in partnership with residents, for its revival. The concept was to reflect the original rugged, industrial look of the old rail complex while at the same time provide local business opportunities. Visiting the area we could see that they have achieved this. The tracks still dominate, and indeed are still used – for tourist trips on the Santa Fe Southern Railway, along the old spur to Lamy and back, and for commuters (and visitors) to and from Albuquerque on the Rail Runner. But around them are a number of carefully restored and modernised buildings which contain shops, galleries, cultural spaces and cafés. There is also a park laid out alongside the tracks at the southern end.

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Graffitti on old train

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Santa Fe Railroad train

We spent an enjoyable hour wandering round here – taking photos of the old trains, checking out one of the galleries and enjoying an iced coffee in a café. With more time in the city we could easily have spent longer – we didn’t get to ride the Southern Railway or to check out the modern art in the Site Art Space (these days there are many more galleries in the area, including the Blue Rain Gallery which we had visited this morning and which has since relocated to the Railyard area).

But even in that hour or so we found it a refreshing change from the undeniably attractive but at times a little artificial adobe (and pseudo-adobe) world of downtown Santa Fe.

Canyon Road

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Gallery on Canyon Road

After spending a bit of time exploring the Railyard area we returned to the car and drove over to Canyon Road to the south east of the centre, the acknowledged heart of Santa Fe’s art scene. If you think there are a lot of galleries in the downtown area (in some streets, every other building it seems), wait until you see Canyon Road, where just about every building in a half-mile strip is one! And even though we enjoy visiting galleries, we did find it all a bit too much – there are only so many you can go in on one trip, or at least in a single day! But we did spend a pleasant couple of hours popping in and out of some of the galleries near the northern end, without ever making it down the full length as we had originally thought we might.

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Canyon Road art

We had deliberately chosen to come here quite late on the Friday afternoon, as I’d read that many galleries have openings then or in the early evening. Often you get a chance to meet the artists and there are also sometimes refreshments on offer to lure you in. We were a little early for the latter but did enjoy chatting to one gallery owner who had just finished hanging and was happy to tell us about the various artists who were exhibiting.

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Canyon Road kinetic art

My favourite gallery was probably Karan Ruhlen, at 225 Canyon Road (now known as Owen Contemporary). This was showing some striking abstract landscapes by Kurt Meer. There’s no way I could afford the price tags (between $2,440 and $5,250) but I did bring away a free postcard from the gallery to remind me of the works. Checking the gallery’s website (https://owencontemporary.com/kurt-meer) I see that they still have some of his paintings, and the prices have gone up considerably, so maybe I should have invested!

Last evening in Santa Fe

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Appetisers

While enjoying our pre-dinner drinks yesterday at the Marble Brewery we had spotted the Rooftop Pizzeria, part of the same complex. Chris loves pizza, and we thought it would make a change from the (excellent) New Mexican food we had been enjoying most evenings. The same menu is served in the bar at one end on the first floor of the shopping complex where the two properties are located, and in the restaurant at the other, but we decided to eat in the latter as its interior looked very attractive with stylish furniture and art work on the walls. Both bar and restaurant also have an outdoor terraces but after dark in late September it was a little chilly for us to want to eat outside, although plenty of others were doing so.

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Pizzas

Our meal started well as we shared the excellent antipasto of ‘Mediterranean vegetables’ and a selection of very good breads. Unfortunately though, the pizzas didn’t live up to the hype bestowed on them by the menu: ‘It has been said that the label “Pizzeria” is not adequate to describe the culinary experience awaiting you at the Rooftop ... From the first bite of our thin crust gourmet pizza you will be one step closer in your quest for pizza perfection.’ But no, this was not pizza perfection, although mine was not at all bad – a very good crust made with blue corn (a speciality here) and a reasonable topping of sundried tomatoes, goats cheese, artichoke hearts and olives. But Chris found that his mushroom pizza had far too many garlic cloves, even for someone who does really like garlic, as they totally overpowered all the other flavours. Maybe if we hadn’t been looking forward to our pizzas so much, and if they hadn’t been so over-hyped, we would have enjoyed them more, but as it was, we came away rather disappointed and wishing we had instead returned to one of our favourite restaurants from earlier in our stay for this last evening in Santa Fe.

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San Francisco Cathedral at night

For an after dinner treat we decided to have a drink in the lounge bar of the rather upmarket La Fonda hotel, situated on the south side of the Plaza, to experience its sense of history. We were carrying a box of left-over pizza as, although they had been disappointing, it seemed a shame to waste the remaining slices which we thought would do for lunch the next day. It didn’t seem appropriate to take these into the rather smart bar, so for some reason we decided to ‘hide’ them beneath a seat in the lobby. We enjoyed our Jack Daniels (our customary night-cap when touring in the US, although we never drink it anywhere else!) and returned to retrieve our pizza box, only to discover that it had gone – presumably tidied away by one of the very smart-looking security staff on duty there. We scuttled away, hoping that no one who saw us go would associate us with our disreputable baggage!

Posted by ToonSarah 06:04 Archived in USA Tagged art food road_trip restaurant church museum new_mexico Comments (8)

Taking the High Road to Taos

New Mexico day ten


View New Mexico road trip 2011 on ToonSarah's travel map.

For breakfast on our last morning in Santa Fe we returned to the Burro Alley Café for more of their delicious pastries, sitting inside this time rather than in the pretty courtyard as the weather had turned cooler. Then we checked out of our cosy casita and left on the next stage of our road trip.

The High Road to Taos

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On the High Road to Taos

As with the journey from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, we had options for our drive today to Taos. There are two possible routes from Santa Fe – the quicker (but still apparently pretty) Low Road, and the more dramatically scenic and historically interesting High Road. With all day in which to make the journey we chose the latter and it proved to be one of my favourite drives of all in this state packed with scenic routes. The views at times were fantastic, and we found some fascinating villages to stop at along the way.

Santuario de Chimayó

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Santuario de Chimayó

Our first stop was Chimayó, where the Santuario de Chimayó has been a place of pilgrimage for almost two centuries. We were disappointed at times on this trip to find a beautiful adobe church sadly closed and to be forced to admire it only from the outside, but that was certainly not the case here. This is a very active and open church, whatever the time of day. Pilgrims make their way here year-round, although there is a special importance attached to making the pilgrimage in Holy Week.

As we made our way from the car park we saw the many crosses made from twigs and attached to the fence by pilgrims and other visitors arriving in this sacred place, each cross representing a prayer. Outside the pretty church were wooden pews to accommodate the crowds that flock here for special masses on festivals. But what that draws people here is inside.

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Santuario de Chimayó

The church was built in 1816 on the site of an earlier chapel, and on the site of a miraculous discovery, or so it is said. In 1811 a villager saw a light shining from a spot in the earth. He dug down at that spot and found a large crucifix, which he named for Our Lord of Esquipulas, also known as the ‘Black Christ’. A local priest, Father Sebastian Alvarez, was called and he organized a ceremony to carry the crucifix back to a church in Santa Cruz about eight miles away, where it was placed on the altar. But the next morning the crucifix was back in the spot where it had been found. The villagers tried twice more to move it to Santa Cruz, before they realised that Our Lord of Esquipulas wanted to stay in their village and built a church to house him.

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The church

However there are variations to this legend, as well as some that pre-date it. According to the neighbouring Tewa, this spot had been sacred to various Indian tribes for many generations. At one time there had been a spring here, rich in iron and other minerals, which gave healing. When the spring dried up, the people still came for the dirt to benefit from its healing powers. Arms and quarrels between different tribes were customarily laid aside whenever they visited this sacred site. Many Tewa also held sacred the mountain behind the church, T'si Mayoh and it is this that gave the village its name.

Some believe therefore that the local Pueblo people were simply forced by a wealthy landowner to build the sandstone church over a site which was already sacred to them. There are certainly other instances where early Christian settlers chose to build their churches right on top of the indigenous people's sacred sites, and to force those people to do much of the building, for example at Acoma Pueblo.

Yet another version of the legend says that the crucifix originally belonged to a priest who had accompanied the first Spanish settlers to Chimayó and who had a devotion to Our Lord of Esquipulas. He was killed by Indians and buried here. A flood of the Santa Cruz River in the spring of 1810 uncovered the body and the crucifix, and the villagers, who remembered the priest fondly, built a church to honour him and the Black Christ.

Whatever the truth behind the building of the chapel, it is unarguably a place of sincere pilgrimage for believers. Today the sacred spot where the crucifix is said to have been found is protected in a tiny side chapel to the left of the main altar, in the centre of which is el posito, the little well. Visitors and pilgrims can make a small donation in return for digging up some of the ‘holy dirt’ to apply to injured limbs, parts of the body affected by illness – or even to eat (although I noted on the official literature at the church that this is discouraged). A room next to the chapel houses crutches and gifts brought by those giving thanks for healing received. And on the wall of the chapel are these lines:
‘If you are a stranger, if you are weary from the struggles in life, whether you have a handicap, whether you have a broken heart, follow the long mountain road, find a home in Chimayó.’

But although the Holy Dirt chapel is the main draw here, the rest of the church is also very interesting and beautiful. Its walls are lined with reredos, the traditional brightly painted wooden screens, which were restored with the help of Santa Fe's Museum of Folk Art in 2003 and glow with rich colours. There are also several bultos, or statues of saints, including one of Santiago (St. James) on the altar. No photography was allowed inside, unfortunately – I haven’t been able to establish whether that is still the case, but since there are relatively few interior shots posted online, I suspect that it well be.

Outside of course there was no reason not to take photos, and the little church is very photogenic, although the number of visitors at first made it a little hard for me to capture it to best advantage. On this Saturday morning a Mass was just starting, so we hurried our visit of the interior and then had time to take our pictures when everyone had gone in. A local attending the Mass encouraged us to still enter and visit the Holy Dirt chapel, but it did mean that we couldn’t linger and explore the whole church as thoroughly as we would have liked.

Capella de Santo Niño de Atocha

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The Capella de Santo Niño de Atocha

A short walk from the Santurio is another beautiful chapel – in fact, I found the interior of the Capella de Santo Niño de Atocha even more lovely than its (slightly) more famous neighbour. It holds a statue of the Christ Child (El Santo Niño de Atocha), brought here from the shrine dedicated to him in Mexico in the mid nineteenth century. As with the crucifix in the Santurio, there is a story attached to this statue, one that draws believers from all over the country, and beyond.

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Capella de Santo Niño de Atocha

The story starts in Spain in the time of the Moors. They had captured and imprisoned many men in Atocha, near Madrid. The jail did not feed the prisoners, and the caliph ordered that only children could visit and bring them food. The wives and mothers of the men prayed to Our Lady for help, and soon word spread that a small boy had been visiting and feeding the prisoners. His basket was never empty of bread, and his water gourd was always full. He was seen as the answer to the women’s prayers – the Virgin had sent her own son to help them, the Holy Child or Santo Niño.

In 1492 Catholics drove the Moors out of Spain, and the country’s strength and power started to grow. As the Spanish started to colonise the New World, they brought their religion with them, and to the village of Plateros, Mexico, they brought worship of Our Lady of Atocha and her Holy Child. There was a statue here of the Virgin with the Holy Child in her arms, and the child was often removed and brought to help with difficult births. Over time, stories spread about the miracles he performed. It was said that he wandered the countryside at night bringing help to the imprisoned, the poor, and the sick.

It was from this Mexican shrine that the Chimayó statue of El Santo Niño was brought, and this chapel built to house it. The statue now stands on an altar in a side chapel, wearing a pilgrim’s clothing and carrying a bread basket and a pilgrim's staff to which is tied a water gourd. Worshippers believe that as in Mexico, he leaves his shrine each night and roams the local countryside, performing miracles and wearing out his little shoes. Pilgrims therefore bring him baby shoes, and these now line the walls of his chapel, along with photos of children and prayers for his intervention on their behalf. It is all very moving, regardless of your beliefs.

But as with the Santurio, there we also found much to admire in the main body of the church. This had been recently restored when we visited. It is decorated with colourful modern wood carvings and banners, but again no photography was allowed so you will have to take my word for that!

‘Holy chile’

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'Eat more chili'

As well as visiting the two chapels in Chimayó, we also spent a little time exploring the various shops and galleries. Several nationally known weavers live and work here, members of the Ortega and Trujillo families, and both have workshops which can be visited. But there are also several other galleries and craft shops, selling a diverse mix of goods. We liked the two on either side of the road through the village, Santuario Drive, just at the point where it rejoins County Road 98. On the right of the road is ‘Lowlow’s Lowrider Art Place’, selling ‘Chimayó Holy chile’, reasonably priced jewellery and work by local artists.

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Painted car

This intricately decorated car, parked outside, caught our eye, and while photographing it we got chatting to one of the owners who told us that they have been promoting this idea of holy chilli for years via a succession of colourful signs like the one in my photo above.

My photos below were taken outside the gallery on the opposite side of the road. We didn’t go inside this one, but the eclectic assortment of art works and found objects in the front yard kept our cameras busy for a while.

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'Lady Liberty', and the Good Shepherd

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Gallery entrance

Truchas

Our next stop was in Truchas. This village lies just off the main highway, and was built in a square with an entrance just wide enough for one cart to pass through, for defensive purposes. Today it’s a pretty sleepy place, or so it seemed to us, especially after the relative bustle of nearby Chimayó. Like the other villages along and just off the High Road, it is notable mainly for its church, dedicated to Nuestra Senora dei Rosario.

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Nuestra Senora dei Rosario de Truchas

The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary is a classic adobe structure built in the early 19th century at the heart of this tiny village. Apparently it contains two large altar-screens (reredos) by a renowned santero, Pedro Antonio Fresquis, and other fine examples of early santero art. These were preserved during the Bishop Lamy led modernisations of churches in this area, by Truchas residents who hid them in their houses during the late 19th century. I say ‘apparently’ because unfortunately today it was closed. Not that I was surprised – our Moon Handbook had warned that it was usually only open from June to August. Nevertheless it was well worth the detour to see it, as it’s a very photogenic church.

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In Truchas

Of all the villages we stopped in on the High Road to Taos, Truchas seemed the most closed in on itself, even slightly hostile to visitors. This is not to say that anybody was rude to us – indeed the only person I spoke to, the owner of Hand Artes studio (a small gallery), was friendly and welcoming. But there was a slightly brooding atmosphere, or so it seemed to me. Maybe it is the fact that it lies a little off the main road, and until thirty years or so ago had no paved access? Maybe it is the way it is constructed, with most of the older buildings having their ‘backs’ turned to the road, facing into the central plaza? Maybe I was affected by the somewhat aggressive barking of an invisible dog in a nearby yard?

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Bones of Truchas

Or maybe my impression was created by the seeming obsession with the bones of dead animals. Not only were these skulls slightly artfully arranged on a ladder propped in a corner of the plaza, but there was also a somewhat bizarre heap of bones, bleached white by the sun, stacked against one of the adobe walls that surround the little church. We weren’t quite sure what to make of this ‘arrangement’ but it certainly gave the village a distinctive touch!

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Peering into Truchas general store

On the road near the entrance to the plaza where the church lies is Truchas General Store. This too was closed when we visited – a shame, as peering through the window we could see a place seemingly untouched by the passing of the years. I would love to have gone in and ferreted about!

San José de Gracia, Trampas

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San José de Gracia, Trampas

About seventeen miles further down the road from Truchas we came to Trampas (sometimes referred to as Las Trampas), with another gem of a colonial church. Like other traditional villages in New Mexico, Trampas (or Santo Tomás del Río de las Trampas to give it its full name) was built around a plaza, dominated by the church, which during times of war could be blocked to serve as a fortress. The sleepy plaza was almost deserted when we visited, apart from a dog and young child kicking a ball around, and one other tourist taking photos of the church. We didn’t stay long, but the beauty of this church made an indelible impression on me nevertheless, even though we weren’t able to go inside (unfortunately the church is apparently only rarely open).

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San José de Gracia

When the village of Trampas was established around 1751 it was initially considered too small to have its own resident priest, so Franciscans from the nearby Picuris Pueblo ministered to the faithful here. But around twenty years later a new church, dedicated to Saint Joseph, was built, being completed around 1776. It is considered possibly the finest example of early mission churches in New Mexico and has even been called ‘the most perfectly preserved church in the United States’. Unsurprisingly it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

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The bell towers

The church is well maintained, with its thick adobe walls coated with a fresh coat of mud every year, and its chunky bell towers recently restored. Its most striking external feature is the balcony that runs across the front, above the main door. Experts disagree as to its purpose. Some say it was for the choir to perform during outdoor ceremonies, but others are less sure. The reason for the ladders propped on it is also uncertain.

Picuris Pueblo

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San Lorenzo de Picuris Mission Church

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By Tu-Tah Lake

A few miles north of Las Trampas Highway 76 meets Highway 75 and turns to the right. We decided to make a short detour at this point and so turned left to see Picuris Pueblo, one of the more open pueblos in the area. Visitors are welcomed to a small museum telling the story of the pueblo, although this was closed on the day we were there – possibly because it was already quite late in the season.

But even with the museum closed the village was still worth the detour. It has a pretty lake, Tu-Tah Lake, and we found a few picnic tables set out on its shore. Here we ate our picnic lunch while watching a couple of local men, and a small boy, fish on the far side.

There is also an attractive church, dedicated to San Lorenzo. This collapsed in 1989 due to water damage (to which adobe is prone if not properly maintained) but has been painstakingly rebuilt over an eight year period by hand by pueblo members, who followed exactly the form of the original 1776 design.

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San Lorenzo de Picuris Mission Church

According to our Moon Handbook the pueblo maintains a herd of bison but sadly none were in evidence when we visited, or at least not within the area immediately around the village.

Ranchos de Taos

Just south of our destination, Taos, we made our final stop in Ranchos de Taos, one of the places that was high on my ‘must see’ list when were planning this trip. Why? Because its church, dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, inspired one of my favourite photographers, Ansel Adams, and I was keen to see the place for myself.

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San Francisco de Asis, Ranchos de Taos

The San Francisco de Asis Church may be made of adobe like many others in the region, but its appearance is very different. Its thick walls with their jutting buttresses look more like a fortification than a place of worship, and its massive bulk seems completely out of proportion to the small community it was built to serve. But this becomes less surprising when you understand its origins, as it was built to resist unwanted attacks from aggressive tribes such as the local Apaches. The tamped-earth buttresses were further added to in order to strengthen the walls when threatened by floods and erosion. San Francisco de Asis has stood for over 250 years (having been built around 1772) and is still an active church. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and is also a World Heritage church.

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San Francisco de Asis

This church provokes a range of responses in observers. Some find its so-solid bulk and heaviness off-putting. But for many, especially artists, it has been a source of inspiration. Georgia O’Keeffe painted it several times, and Ansel Adams photographed it – brilliantly. For those who like me admire the latter’s work, following in his footsteps and attempting to capture San Francisco de Asis on camera is quite a challenge, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. The light was great when we were there, with just a few white clouds and the sun low enough (at around 3.30 pm) to create some interesting shadows.

Unfortunately we were less successful in our attempts to see inside the church. A sign said that it was closed for cleaning and would re-open later in the afternoon. So we spent some time taking photos of some pretty houses in the area immediately around the church, visited an interesting shop which had a display of photos taken when ‘Easy Rider’ was being filmed in the area, had a cold drink in one of the nearby cafés, and came back – only to find it still closed.

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In Ranchos de Taos

A couple of New Zealanders were also trying to get in and one of them had the idea of going into the Parish Centre opposite the north side of the church, but although that was open we couldn’t find anyone there to ask. With time getting on, and still not checked into our Taos accommodation, we decided reluctantly that we would have to give up, so we left without ever getting to see the interior. A shame, but to be honest it was the exterior I most wanted to see, having seen it already through Adams’ eyes, so at least I was happy to have done that much.

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San Francisco de Asis

Arriving in Taos

Taos is sometimes seen as a mini Santa Fe, but that is to do both towns an injustice. Sure they are both arty, adobe-rich epitomes of the Southwest, but scratch the surface and they are very different. In comparison to its larger neighbour to the south, we found Taos to be more relaxed, less self-conscious, and a little rougher around the edges. There was a bit of a hippy vibe in the air, with crafts on display in its galleries and at the stalls in the Plaza showing something of a New Age sensitivity – scented candles, imaginative modern interpretations of traditional santos, wind-chimes and colourfully flowing clothes. With a rootsy coffee shop at its heart, this was for us a place in which to sit back, chill, and watch the world go by, rather than rush around ticking off the sights.

I had pre-booked accommodation (essential in this small but busy town). My challenge in choosing where to stay here in Taos was similar to that in Santa Fe – find something central, within walking distance of the Plaza, but that doesn’t cost the earth! Now no one could call my choice, La Doña Luz Inn, cheap, but by Taos standards it was certainly reasonable, and we loved our cosy room here as soon as we saw it. All the rooms are different and are decorated to a theme, and I had selected Los Angelitos, mainly because it was the cheapest one still available at the time I booked. You can guess the theme by the name – the room is full of angels – a little over the top but cute just the same. But what we really liked about the room was the semi-separate seating area, with a comfy couch and large flat screen TV, which made for cosy evenings (once we could drag ourselves away from the excellent bars that we discovered in town!)

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La Doña Luz Inn - bedroom area in Los Angelitos

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La Doña Luz Inn - exterior and our seating area

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Angels even in the bathroom!

Indeed the entire building was full of character – a fascinating hotch-potch of the artistic and kitsch covering every possible surface of the old adobe walls. But perhaps the best thing of all about this place for us was its location, just yards from the main drag in the very centre of town. There is parking reserved for guests at the end of the unpaved lane that leads here, so we could leave our car here all day while exploring (except when we visited out of town sights such as Taos Pueblo). This was a real bonus at night especially, as we were just a short stagger home from a margarita-fuelled evening in the Adobe Bar, or even closer to the beers of Eske’s Brewpub!

Talking of which …

The Taos Inn

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Taos Inn sign

The Taos Inn is one of two historic hotels in the centre of Taos, and has bags of character. We did briefly consider staying here but the budget wouldn’t stretch! However that didn’t stop us enjoying an excellent evening in the hotel’s Adobe Bar. This serves the same menu as the more formal restaurant (as well as a simpler bistro menu), but in a more casual setting. This suited us fine, as did the fact that we could get a table immediately whereas there would have been a 30 minute wait for one in the restaurant.

We found a table in a side room off the main bar, which was an attractive space and relatively quiet. Our server was very friendly and made a great recommendation on the margarita – the signature ‘Cowboy Buddha’ was excellent!

I chose the blue corn chicken enchiladas with red chilli (as in most places I could also have had green), Spanish rice and pinto beans. Chris had a green chilli cheeseburger which came with French fries. Portions were good, but we managed to squeeze in a shared helping of dessert – fruit cobbler with cinnamon ice cream. The margarita and a couple of beers for Chris pushed the bill up a bit, but we’d thoroughly enjoyed the meal and felt it was reasonable value for the setting, service and quality of food – and drink!

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Blue corn chicken enchiladas

To make an evening of it, we then moved to the main part of the bar where there was live music. This was pretty full, but we secured seats up on the balcony, where we had an excellent view of all the activity below. I just had to have another Cowboy Buddha, and Chris another beer. The band were very good, playing Western and folk-influenced music which might not be my usual listening at home but fitted perfectly with the atmosphere in this historic spot. What a great evening!

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The Adobe Bar from the balcony

Posted by ToonSarah 11:30 Archived in USA Tagged churches art trees shrines food road_trip restaurants music new_mexico taos Comments (6)

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