Immersion New Mexico: Pueblo Indians & Spanish Influences
We set out early with a private guide, for a day-long tour of the surrounding area. It was cold and dry as we climbed on what’s known as the “high road” to an elevation more than 9,000’, higher than Santa Fe at just under 7,200’. At first glance, the landscape just looks brown, but we learned to see the subtle shades, desert colors and really appreciate the scenery under the guidance of our very interesting and colorful guide Nat. We visited the well-done small Poeh Museum, in the Pojoaque Pueblo. They are currently getting ready for a huge Smithsonian Exhibit – an attempt to repatriate some of the large, striking pottery indigenous to the area that was removed by white explorers in past decades.
Visitors are thrown back in time passing isolated Spanish villages that have been in existence for more than 200 years. Everyone in our group was touched by our visit to the church known as the “Lourdes of the Southwest” – Santuario de Chimayo. The 200-year-old church is famous for the healing powers of its legendary sacred dirt. It was an emotional visit. On a lighter note, we also entered the neighboring Santo Nino Chapel and found the most enchanting, colorful church I have ever seen – all themed (as its name indicates) around children. It was a happy place.
It was very special for me to visit Taos Pueblo, in existence much as it always has been, for the last 1000 years and now designated a National Historic Landmark. These amazing multi-level structures of clay straw and water, built to blend in with the rise and fall of their surrounding landscape, have defied the sensibilities of many modern-day builders. North and south portions are divided by the Red Willow Creek. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs that day, due to a ceremonial dance that had taken place earlier. Members of the tribe’s decision-makers were in their underground Kivas, and we could only wonder what issues were being discussed or problems solved. The complex was large and I counted at least four Kivas, with dogs waiting patiently (tails wagging) for their owners just outside the ladder entrance. Only about six families live at this UNESCO World Heritage site permanently, with others coming in for special occasions, all tribe activities, and/or to run their small shops. There is no electricity or water. Power is provided by propane or burning wood, water from the nearby river.
The city of Taos itself was like a miniature Santa Fe and we had a wonderful lunch at Doc Martin’s at the Historic Taos Inn. After lunch we needed to walk off a bit, so we got out of our van and walked across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Frankly, I found it a bit terrifying, but then I have a thing about bridges. The gorge was created by a fissure in the earth (not the river) and has provided a natural path for the river to run. You don’t even see the gorge until you are right on the edge, I can only imagine what it would be like to come upon it by horseback at the turn of the 20th century.
We took a very scenic, curvy, sometimes scary, 2.5 miles dirt road to begin dropping down in elevation, eventually following the Rio Grande and heading back towards Santa Fe. Along our route back we were able to see the famous off-the-grid Earthship Biotecture Project, a development that uses all-natural and/or recycled materials to build homes, and has created self-sustaining electrical power and water sources. These are no shacks, there are about 200 homes in the area and they sell for hundreds of thousands. It was fun to also pass by the Classical Gas Museum, like a graveyard for old gas pumps and other memorabilia, right out of American Pickers.
Taos Pueblo: Closes for about 5 weeks at some point in the spring (often without much notice) and for various ceremonies or funerals. http://taospueblo.com/
Our terrific local guide: Nat Shipman firstname.lastname@example.org