|Entrance to the Taos Pueblo|
|The Three Sisters|
|Museum of International Folk Art - Bottle cap Rattlesnake|
Last month my husband and I participated in a Road Scholar program in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was our third trip to the state and our second to Santa Fe. I was especially eager to return to Santa Fe after having read Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop.
This was our first summer trip to New Mexico and I will have to admit that the extremely dry air and high temperatures were more of a challenge than they had been twenty years ago. Santa Fe’s elevation is more than 7,000 feet so it took a few days to adjust. Our program was active from the first, keeping me breathless for a while. It was worth it because the beautiful New Mexican sky and landscape proved breathtaking.
There were so many things to fit into a week. We hiked along the well-marked trails to see the ruins at the Bandelier National Monument, an area we had never visited before. Our trip continued on to nearby Los Alamos. Security was tight at Los Alamos on this trip. On our first visit we parked our car right in front of the Administration Center of the National Lab, and enjoyed a stroll through a wooded area with a generous female scientist who accompanied us to the entrance of the (old) Bradbury Museum. This year some gates were closed to our bus and we found that the Museum had been “glitzed-up” and relocated to the city of Los Alamos.
The journey north to Taos was a first for us. Taos is a great place to visit and to live. Many artists, writers, and other cognoscenti lived near there for part of their lives, not the least of which was Georgia O’Keefe. There are a couple of must dos if you go. Plan to have lunch at Eske’s Brew Pub and Eatery just a couple of blocks off the Plaza—great food eaten al fresco! I can still taste the thirst quenching raspberry iced tea; my husband enjoyed a couple of their craft beers.
I am a bit of a book store snob and sure enough I found a really nice one in Taos in the John Dunn House Shops. Moby Dickens, “A Real Bookstore,” fit the bill nicely. Moby Dickens has a nice mix of new and used books, each title chosen with loving care by people who love reading and know what’s good. The store features frequent guest author talks and a well-attended kids’ story program. The staff is helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly. Needless to say, I liberated a few books for my personal collection.
While in Taos we were able to visit the Taos Pueblo which remains untouched by modernity per the choice of its members. The Pueblo is a UNESCO Heritage site. A personable young man from the Pueblo conducted us on a tour of some village sites. When asked what the inhabitants do for cool showers, TV, or laundry facilities he smiled and suggested that they might just have family members outside the Pueblo proper with some of the necessities…
South of Santa Fe is the largest city in New Mexico, Albuquerque which, they tell us, has lost an “r” somewhere along the way. We have visited this city twice before and can recommend the drive to the top of the Sandia Forest for a fantastic view of the city and surrounding area. I understand that there is a sky lift now, but I’ve had no experience with it. We did have some experience with a great restaurant in the city though. El Pinto Authentic New Mexican Restaurant serves a variety of excellently prepared Native, New Mexican and Mexican foods. The open courtyard was a lovely place to dine. As for culture the city’s museums are good. I especially liked the Natural History Museum and I have visited the Pueblo Cultural Center twice.
On the way back to Santa Fe we stopped in Bernalillo to visit the Coronado State Monument and ruins of the Kuaua Pueblo. I enjoyed this place for two reasons, first there was a nascent garden demonstrating the Three Sisters method of planting that the ingenious Pueblos used for farming in this water-starved and nutrient poor area. I love stuff like this! The Pueblos were savvy farmers. Their staple crop was corn but it leaches nutrients, especially nitrogen, out of the soil quickly depleting the ground. They got around this problem by adding two other plants in groupings of all three plants. They planted beans which used the corn stalk as a beanpole. Beans brought nitrogen back into the soil. They also planted squash which grew close to the ground shading the other plants and helping to retain moisture. The squash benefited from the nitrogen given back by the beans. I have included a picture taken at Coronado showing the three sisters planted together as they would have been hundreds of years ago.
The second interesting feature of the State Monument was the Kuaua Mural Wall consisting of 15 panels of original murals excavated from one of the rectangular kivas at the ruins. The docent explained the significance of the paintings to the ritual lives of the Pueblo inhabitants. It was suggested that the paintings were used for a particular ceremony or season, erased, and another drawn in its place because of evidence of paintings underneath the ones found.
Lest you think I’m ignoring Santa Fe, I can recommend three of its museum that were new to me: The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, The Museum of International Folk Art, and the Pablita Velarde Museum of Indian Women in the Arts. As I mentioned my husband and I had visited Santa Fe before so we did the walking tour and visited the artists under the portico at the Governor’s Palace. The shops are more like museums with extremely beautiful and costly merchandise—not my thing. I am a sucker for folk museums (see the bottle cap rattlesnake photo) and I especially enjoyed the Shirone kite exhibit. It seems that once a year, in a particular Japanese town, the citizens create magnificent kites which they launch to do battle with other kites. It’s a ruthless, high-flying game. The kites vary in size but there were a couple of huge ones on display. Apparently the winners are determined by how much kite string the team can capture. The video was great fun!
If you wish to learn Pueblo history directly from the source, the Indian Arts and Culture museum does an admirable job covering the history and culture of Native Peoples in a beautiful building. The Pablita Velarde contains a variety of crafts—pottery, weaving, painting—made my Native women. One of my favorite artists was Helen Hardin, the daughter of Pablita Velarde. Some of her sketches were displayed. I was struck by her originality as well as what influenced her work. Some of the sketches cried out Pablo Picasso as the seed of inspiration. This museum had a fantastic video on the creation of pottery within the family of a famous Pueblo potter. The entire process, from selecting the clay, molding it all by hand, incising the design, polishing the piece to perfection, and finally the firing, takes a very long time. No wonder some of the native pottery costs many thousands of dollars!
|Flamenco at The Lodge|
Lest you think it was all bus trip and museums, we had great fun and an excellent candlelight dinner at The Lodge of Santa Fe. A flamenco troupe fresh from Spain entertained our group with some intense performances. I’ve included a photo of the promotional sign. The male and female principals were outstanding. The Lodge commands the hillside over Santa Fe, revealing not only the city but also the large Veterans’ Cemetery. Santa Fe is the state capitol so it has the honor to have the cemetery. So many, many white markers…
It was a great trip, well planned and executed by the Road Scholar people in Santa Fe. I would certainly recommend a trip to any and all of the places I’ve mentioned. And, yes, the sky really IS bluer in New Mexico. If you don’t believe it, book a trip soon.