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Published: November 12th 2013
Reflections on our recent visit to Taos, New Mexico
From Santa Fe we travelled, on the advice from Roy in Albuequerque, on the ‘High Road’ to Taos (ie 84/285 to 503 to 76 to 518. This is a magnificently scenic route through more mountain vistas and endless meadows of the Nambe and through the area known as the Badlands. The landscape of the Badlands looks as though it was shaped by fierce winds and rains, coloured pink and orange and mauve, and was a source of constant inspiration to Georgia O’Keefe. There are small farms and apple orchards as well as dramatic pink limestone outcroppings. The entire road is a gradual and continual ascent and Rudy V took it at his usual slow and steady pace.
Taos is a small city of some 6000 persons. It has been home to native Americans for over 1000 years. In 1898, two artists stopped here to repair their wagon while enroute to the west and never left. In 1915 the established the Taos Society of Artists, which continues today to promote the work of local artists.
We parked at an RV park about 3 miles from the town and cycled
in. We were going first, as recommended by the RV park attendant, to the Taos Pueblo, which is a village of adobe houses inhabited by native American and purporting to be one of the oldest established communities in the country, but a sign at its entrance forbid bicycles or walking, so we turned back to explore the city centre instead. The town was a Spanish colonial outpost that has more recently become a refuge for bohemians, Hollywood exiles (ie Dennis Hopper lived here), and New Age dropouts (there are a lot of hippie-leftovers walking about!).
Taos Plaza is ringed with art galleries, gift shops, small museums and restaurants and is the heart of the small town. We met a corn-row haired photographer of beautiful images of horses and (healing) hands who was also a jazz fan and had a collage of his photographs of jazz performers from the Taos Jazz Festival in the gallery bathroom! We spent some time browsing in the two wonderful bookshops, both converted houses with many rooms (and one with a few cats). The evening passed in a terrific rainstorm that poured heavily and steadily throughout the night.
The next morning we drove up
to the Taos Pueblo to partake of the offered tour visit. The place was all mud and muck from the previous nights’ rain. We had a brief tour from a local resident and high school graduate who was waiting to join the US Navy and working a bit at the Pueblo as a volunteer guide. He explained a bit about the history of the pueblo and its church and grave yard and the two religions (Catholicism and their native American rituals) practiced by the pueblo’s inhabitants. The St. Geronimo church was built in 1850. The church has fine carved wooden beams and thick adobe walls that support a high ceiling that makes it cool in summer and warm in winter. The central alter figure is the Virgin Mary, which along with the other saints were brought by the early Spanish missionaries. The Virgin Mary, within the native religion, represents Mother Nature. The outfits of the saints in the church as changed according to the seasons. The natives incorporated their values into the alter to be reminded of cultural values. Also in the church, on the right, is a symbolic casket which were placed in missions throughout the new world to
convert natives to Catholic funeral practices.
After the church lecture, our guide shepherded us around the muddy area and spoke about the buildings and outdoor ovens (called ‘horno’). The two main adobe structures of the Pueblo are believed to be well over 1000 years old and are actually many individual homes built side-by-side and in layers with common walls and no connecting doorways. The original houses had neither doors nor windows, for security purposes, but were entered through a hole in the roof which one gained access to by a ladder placed against the outside wall. When threatened, the people of the pueblo pulled up the ladders and barricaded themselves into their houses. All the houses are made of adobe and the exteriors are re-plastered with adobe on an annual basis due to exposure to the elements. And the pueblo maintains a restriction on no electricity and no running water within the village.
We weren’t allowed to go into any of the buildings (except those that doubled as gift shops) and parts of the pueblo were marked ‘no trespassing’. It is always a bit of a dilemma how to handle these kind of situations. You want to respect
the local culture and tradition while at the same time witness the living and working conditions of the people and their circumstances (and for which privilege we paid 16 Euro each). I remember a time as a child in Maine going on a school bus trip to a reservation in Maine and the native American children throwing sticks and stones at the bus as we drove around the reservation and through their neighbourhoods: the sense of shame at our invasion of the privacy of their lives has always haunted me and continues to affect how I feel about this type of ‘tourism.’ I felt the same way while visiting the townships in South Africa and I am sure I will feel the same way next week visiting the devastated areas of New Orleans next week.
After our couple hours in the Taos Pueblo, we headed further up into the mountains toward New Mexico. We drove out route 64, aka the Kit Carson road (Kit Carson was a native of Taos) through Angel Fire and onto 58 at Eagle Nest State Park, through Ute and Cimarrom to Springer, then 56 across the Great Plains of north east New Mexico to
the small town of Clayton near the border with Texas. We turned onto 87 there and drove through the Kiowa National Grassland that seemed to stretch endless miles in all directions.
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