By Lee Foster
The northern New Mexico high-desert town of Taos ranks as an alluring place for the traveler who delights in contemporary art, historic culture, and desert alpine beauty.
Overshadowing the Taos town story is the nearby, multistory architectural treasure known as the Taos Pueblo, dating from roughly the 1400s. Besides being a vital village today, the Taos pueblo is, arguably, the most impressive historic Native American architectural element in the United States. Into this world of pueblo people entered pioneering Spanish families. These enterprising and religious families established a trade pattern of Taos buffalo hides and wool weavings sold in Mexico City.
The inevitable westward push of American settlement reached Taos in the form of legendary characters, such as Kit Carson, the noted scout, whose house can be visited. However, Taos and New Mexico in general were too spare and hardscrabble a place for a massive invasion of westward-venturing settlers. Having avoided this impact, New Mexico proceeded in semi-isolation, preserving a certain foreignness, which makes it appealing today.
The landmark event that sent modern art-saturated Taos on its path occurred in 1898 when two, young, Paris-trained artists, Ernest Blumenschein and Burt Phillips, set out from Denver on an ill-planned wagon trip to some imaginary place in Mexico, where they hoped to establish an artistic space for themselves. Their wagon broke a wheel not in Mexico, but in New Mexico, near Taos. After looking around, mesmerized by the light, basking in the solitude, and sensing the fullness of the native pueblo culture, they decided to settle here and paint. As the word got out and paintings of the area were seen and published, many other major artists were attracted to the area. Today, on summer Friday nights, a traveler can enjoy a “Meet The Artist” Arts Walk from gallery to gallery.
The natural beauty of the area can be enjoyed in summer with a hike through the spruce forests from the Taos Ski Valley. The Rio Grande Gorge near Taos also impresses as the river slowly erodes its way through a chasm of volcanic rock.
Though Taos has only 6,000 people, there are multi-star lodgings and inventive chefs doing creative cuisine.
Most travelers will fly into Albuquerque and rent a car for the three-house drive to Taos. Once you are in Taos, you absolutely need your own car. There are no taxis. If you choose to fly into the small regional Taos-Angel Fire airport, there is one rental car provider, but be sure you have made an advance reservation.
The Tiwa-speaking Taos tribe flourished for perhaps a thousand years at the well-watered site, now known as the Taos Pueblo, a few miles from the modern town of Taos.
Blessed with a permanent river running through a relatively fertile agricultural plain, the Taos tribe grew in population. Their crowning achievement was the building of multistory dwellings out of adobe, a mixture of soil, water, and straw. The adobe was formed into bricks to build walls. A thin adobe coating on the building exterior, which required annual maintenance, kept the spring and summer rains from disintegrating the structure. Long and straight ponderosa pine logs spanned the distances between the walls, creating a flat roof, which was topped with pine boards. Today about 50 of the 2,800-member Taos tribe still live in the historic structures, surviving without benefit of modern conveniences, such as electricity and indoor plumbing. Most of the tribe lives in nearby, modern homes.
Start off your Taos trip with a visit to the Taos reservation and pueblo to see this landmark architecture. There is a charge for entrance, which gives you the benefit of an hour-long tour with a college-age Taos native guide providing commentary. There is also a charge for each camera used to photograph the site.
Among the various pueblos of northern New Mexico, Taos has always played a major role. In the 1680 revolt against the Spanish, Taos led the fight, which forced out all the Spanish presence. Taos later suffered the trauma of revenge when the Spanish successfully returned. Because of its generous river, the Taos tribe is known as “the people of the red willow,” the typical vegetation along the banks. The San Geronimo Church adjacent to the historic pueblo architecture emphasizes the tribe’s veneration of the Virgin Mary. As in generally true of the Christianized native people of the Southwest, there is a Christian veneer atop the indigenous ceremonials, such as the corn or rain dances.
TAOS HISTORY/ART MUSEUMS
After visiting the Taos Pueblo, there are seven stops a traveler should make to understand the thick cultural texture of Taos, a place where spirituality and artistic creativity are held in high regard.
Start with the historic church San Francisco de Asis in Rancho de Taos, adjacent to the town of Taos. This church was the regional focus of Catholicism in the Taos area. If you happen to visit in June, you may see parishioner volunteers doing the annual re-mudding of the exterior of this adobe building. Enter the church to see the religious ornamentation and the classic architecture of the region, adobe walls spanned with ponderosa pine beams and planks.
Then proceed to the Taos Plaza, dating from 1615, the focal point of a typical Spanish new world village. Around the Plaza today, the main commerce is art shops. Ogelvie’s restaurant at one end of the Plaza is a pleasant lunch stop on an elevated outdoor deck overlooking the drama of life below. A block off the Plaza is the historic home of Kit Carson, the noted scout. However, the artifacts on display, as this is written, are quite limited.
Next, to keep your experience in a proper historic sequence, drive a couple of miles out to the preserved and restored Martinez Hacienda. Dating from 1804, this home of Don Antonio de Severino Martinez and his wife Maria shows the culture of the prosperous Spanish families of Taos. Martinez was the alcalde or mayor of Taos. He managed major multi-year trade ventures shipping buffalo hides and wool weaving from Taos down the El Camino Real, or King’s Road, to Mexico City. Practical items like wool socks were in high demand. The Martinez family lived in this 21-room fortress continuously from 1804-1930. Artifacts on display at the Martinez Hacienda are illuminating, such as a room of looms, showing how this cottage industry flourished, or a room storing buffalo hides awaiting transport.
Then return to near the plaza and a visit to the Ernest Blumenschein Home and Museum. There you’ll see paintings by Blumenschein, his wife Mary, Bert Phillips, and other earlier artists who banded together in 1915 to found the Taos Society of Artists. The Society served as an organization with which to market Taos art and mount exhibitions in cities back east. One class of customers for all this art were the railroad entrepreneurs who wanted to encourage rail tourism.
By the 1920s Taos was a factor in the American art scene. The Blumenschein house has original furnishings and reminds a visitor of the era when Taos was a walled village, with adobe rooms bought and sold one room at a time. The Moorish influence in Taos can be seen in the ubiquitous blue paint around windows and doors, a Moorish preference for warding off evil spirits. Mary Blumenschein’s paintings from her Paris and Taos periods, sitting side by side, show a visitor how her artistic palette changed. The diffuse light of Paris yielded to the vibrant, sharp colors of the Southwest.
Across the street from the Blumenschein house is the Harwood Museum, the next recommended stop. The Harwood Museum has a dual mission, bring Taos art to the world and bring world art to Taos. This is the setting in Taos for major, outside shows. However, to inform a traveler on the local scene, there is a particularly fine Hispanic Traditions Gallery of religious carvings and paintings from the Spanish era, a tradition of art subject and materials that still flourishes today in New Mexico. There is also a room devoted to the Taos Society of Artists. Possibly the most famous work at the Harwood is Victor Higgins’s Winter Funeral, a brooding snowy Taos landscape with the reminder of mortality under a swirling, angry sky.
Make your next in-town stop the Fechin House, also known as the Taos Art Museum. This craftsmanly house was constructed by the noted Russian artist, Nicolai Fechin, who came to Taos in 1927 with his wife, Alexandra, and daughter, Eya. Life in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution had become difficult for Fechin, though he was already famous in Russia and Europe for his paintings. The Taos house is a small masterpiece of sturdy Southwest design, with an added Russian genius for wood décor, plus some eccentricities, such as a Slavic asymmetrical balance in the details, such as the fireplace. The house is full of paintings by Fechin and other early-Taos painters.
The final cultural stop not to miss is outside of town at the Millicent Rogers Museum. Millicent Rogers was the granddaughter of Henry Huttleston Rogers, a partner with John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil. She was a femme fatale of 1930’s-40’s period, and had money, brains, beauty, and artistic talent aplenty to energize her life. She became a collector of art and material culture artifacts from the Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo peoples of the Southwest, focusing especially on New Mexico and Taos.
The museum has impressive holdings in many categories-weaving, religious art, pottery, jewelry, furniture, and paintings. For example, the museum has a major collection of the black pottery of Maria Martinez, the New Mexico ceramicist who is considered one of the finest potters of the 20th century. Fifteen intimate galleries show the Rogers’ collection, which includes Millicent Rogers’ own jewelry designs, shown from the drawing stage through their exquisite execution in gold and silver.
ART TODAY IN TAOS
An immersion in the historic art story of Taos will whet the appetite of the visitor, who is bound to ask: what’s happening in Taos art today? The art scene here is robust and diverse. Here are some galleries to see, as you browse on your own. Be sure to get the weekly newspaper, which comes out on Thursday afternoon, to see what galleries might be open for the summer Friday night Art Walks.
R. C. Gorman’s Navajo Gallery is filled with his paintings of Navajo women, whose figures seem to capture the mystery of life itself. He is possibly the most successful and widely known Native American artist in the country.
J. D. Challenger has been recording the identity of the Southwest American native people. Following in the great tradition of George Catlin, Challenger paints these first Americans in a dignified and ennobled demeanor. At the gallery you are likely to see J. D. himself, who likes to paint in a social setting. He is a tall, bearded, and gregarious man, dressing in cowboy hat and boots.
The Brazos Gallery represents 32 painters in Taos. One of these is Mary Dolph Wood, who specializes in flowers. She likes their freshness and momentary beauty. Working in her home studio, she sets up still life displays and paints them.
The J.H.S. Gallery, owned by Jody and Mike Simone, specializes in religious art, a continuing and vital part of the Taos art mix. They display works that range from strict traditionalist crafts following the iconic traditions of New Mexico Catholicism, such as straw and wood crosses, to modern, even abstract, paintings emphasizing Christian themes.
NATURE TRIPS: RIO GRANDE GORGE/ALPINE HIKING
Two satisfying nature experiences are readily accessible to all travelers in Taos. The first amounts to peering into the Rio Grande Gorge. The second involves a hike in the lovely alpine environment of the Tao Ski Valley.
The Rio Grande River, snaking its way through New Mexico, is a major definer of life here. Near Taos the Rio Grande cuts a deep canyon through the volcanic rock. This Rio Grande Gorge is spanned by a long suspension bridge, putting you 650 feet above the river. A traveler can walk across the bridge and peer into the gorge.
Hiking in the alpine forest beauty near Taos is another treat. The area immediately around Taos is mostly a sagebrush desert. But if you drive to slightly higher elevation at 9,200 feet in the Taos Ski Valley, you encounter a spruce and aspen forest. You can start your hike into this Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area right from the base of the ski lift, where there is a restaurant that remains open in summer. The ski lift also runs during the summer, allowing you to start your walk at the top of the ridge line if you wish. Mountain wildflowers are plentiful.
LODGING/DINING IN TAOS
Taos offers a range of possible lodgings. The Taos Inn is a venerable favorite, partly for its lively restaurant/bar. The modest Inn on Rio is an ex-motorcourt nicely personalized with lovely floral paintings on the doors and windows. Casa Benavides provides not only breakfast, but also afternoon tea.
Perhaps the most unusual lodging is the new and upscale El Monte Sagrado, whose 36 private suites are epitomized by its Kama Sutra casita. El Monte Sagrado is definitely in the luxury class, but is built specifically to illustrate that luxury does not mean high environmental cost. The creation of a quality lodging/dining/life experience, but hopefully at minimal environmental cost, is an often-expressed Taos passion. All the water used on the property is recycled into the landscaping, for example. The Kama Sutra suite is full of paintings and carvings illustrative of the epic of Hindu eroticism.
A private, rustic stone-decor pool outside the door is not just a pool, it is a cenote, as in the sacred cenotes of the Maya. The elaborate casita has its own hot tub in a sheltered, private open-air patio. El Monte Sagrado’s fine dining restaurant, El Tierra, serves inventive modern food. The property’s wrought iron art work, waterfalls, and rolling landscape present a kind of Southwest International style signature. The Egypt Suite, for example, begins as your basic Southwest adobe casita, but is decorated with a middle-eastern flair.
For innovative fine dining, the place to savor is Lambert’s, run by Zeke and Tina Lambert. Try the pepper crusted lamb or the elk, preceded by a salad. One favored side dish is the blue cheese mashed potatoes.
For the best sunset view while dining, proceed to the Players’ Bar and Grill at the Taos Country Club, a few miles out of town in a wide open sagebrush environment. The salmon with black sesame seed or the ribeye steak are good choices.
Traditional Mexican food, perhaps accompanied by a margarita, is the expectation at Antonio’s.
For a casual lunch, try the Greek salad dishes, with humus and dolmas,at the airy Western Sky Café.
FINAL THOUGHT FOR A TAOS TRIP
The Taos phone book, available at the Taos County Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, sets the tone for your trip. On the cover is a work of local art, with R. C. Gorman getting the position in 2005. The center of the phone book is a lavish spread of other painters’ works. Where else will you find a small-town phone book devoted to art?
TAOS, NEW MEXIO: IF YOU GO
For further information on Taos, consult the Taos County Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Drawer 1, Taos, NM 87571; 877-587-8915; www.exploretaos.com.
by Lee Foster
Santa Fe’s role as a major art center further expanded when a museum opened devoted exclusively to the works of Georgia O’Keeffe.
The legendary 20th-century New Mexico painter was long associated with Santa Fe and created her canvases in nearby Abiquiu and the Rio Chama Valley, an hour north of Santa Fe.
The museum, known as The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, was the first museum in the United States devoted exclusively to the works of a single woman artist.
The Burnett Foundation, a main force behind the museum, built the museum property, on Johnson Street near the Plaza in central Santa Fe. The museum is a collaborative effort between the Burnett Foundation and the O’Keeffe Foundation, with patronage by the Marion family. A resume catalog of her oeuvre, in full color, was published by the National Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C. O’Keeffe created about 2000 art objects.
DRAWN BY THE LIGHT
Variously praised as a visionary and a model for women in the arts, O’Keeffe first fell in love with New Mexico in 1917, drawn to the clarity of the light and the colors of the landscapes. Born in Wisconsin, she was a critical person in the art and photo scene involving such icons as Alfred Steiglitz and Paul Strand.
She could decorate a two-dimensional space in an inviting way. She also had an inner vision, which shows in her paintings. Her works exude a personal mystification. She was also so eminently American, operating fairly independently of European trends. And everyone appreciated her great craftsmanship in the art of painting.
O’Keeffe could be daring. She could explore pure form in creative new ways. She could be whimsical also. Her sense of design, her honesty and purity of expression, are legendary. For New Mexico she was a major celebrator of the state’s landscape and flowers, though she did not paint people. She responded above all to the western landscape. She could express her personal emotions so effectively in her paintings.
The museum is one further reason for an art lover either to visit Santa Fe or return there if the territory is already familiar.
ART FOR SALE
Santa Fe claims to be the third largest art market in the world, after Paris and New York, with annual art sales of about $250 million. A visitor can tour over 150 galleries here. Many cluster around the Plaza or are strung out on Canyon Road. An estimated 5,000-6,000 artists flourish within a total city population of only 62,000.
Components of the Santa Fe art scene include a complex weave of Indians, Spanish New Mexicans, Anglos from O’Keeffe to the present, and Contemporary artists from all over the world.
The Indians sell their arts in the portal of the Palace of Governors on the Plaza in Santa Fe. They are a kind of living history exhibit, creating and selling art in an effort to perpetuate their culture. Indians are also heavily represented in many galleries. New Indian artists are nurtured by the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, which displays much contemporary work. There is a major August show known as the Indian Market, featuring about 1,250 of the Indian artists who are on the master level. During this show, major collectors spend some $40 million dollars here for Indian art. The show pumps an estimated $140 million into the local economy when all the hoteliers and restauranteurs add up their receipts.
The Southwest Association for Indian Arts, which puts on the show, also has an active Internet site (http://www.swaia.org/swaia). The website can greatly increase the reach of the 1,400 Indian artists in the organization, who make direct contact with many new buyers of their works.
The Spanish New Mexicans have, for 400 years, practiced and preserved their arts of weaving, furniture wood carving, tin work, straw applique, carving of religious figures, and painting of religious subjects on wood, to mention just some of the arts involved. These arts can be seen in galleries or experienced in depth at the Spanish Market organized each July and December by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, founded in 1925 to preserve and perpetuate these arts. A definitive book by the Arts Society describes all these arts in depth. The stunning and detailed photos in the book are cherished by the aficionado. The Society was also the driving force behind the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art that opened in 2002 on Museum Hill.
The Anglo element has been a part of the scene here since people such as O’Keeffe entered the New Mexico picture. Anglo art can be seen in many of the galleries. Cline Fine Art Gallery on Canyon Road shows the abstract works of William Lumpkins, one of the founding Anglo artists of the Canyon Road milieu.
The Contemporary artist, who may be from anywhere and have any subject in their works, represents a growing segment of the total art picture here. Cline LewAllen Gallery, for example, at times features huge ceramic pieces by the Japanese artist, Jun Kaleto. Riva Yares Gallery is another proponent of cutting-edge contemporary art.
Some artists sell directly from their homes to their private client list rather than work with a local gallery. Ford Ruthling is one such artist, known for his inventive mono-prints.
SITE Santa Fe is a further aspect of the evolving art world here. Formerly a large beer warehouse, the space has been transformed to host eight contemporary art shows a year and a biennial curated show of international interest. SITE Santa Fe champions international contemporary art on the cutting edge.
The gallery breadth here is nearly inexhaustible in its range. Morning Star Gallery focuses mainly on American Indian clothing and jewelry from the 19th century. Running Ridge Gallery shows the painted cats of artist Beatrice Wood. Karan Ruhlen Gallery mounts an annual show devoted to drinking cups, called 101 Cups. Leslie Muth Gallery hosts only “outsider” artists, those who are self-taught or on the social fringe, including some who have gone over the edge. This short list only begins to express the diversity of art on display here.
Still another art presence here is the massive foundry known as Shidoni, located a few miles outside the city. On any day a visitor can browse through acres of outdoor sculptures with many styles and subjects. On Saturdays a visitor can watch the bronze-pouring process at which this co-operative foundry excels.
If the scene seems too complex, hire a local guide who can organize a personal tour.
If you’ve never been to Santa Fe to savor its art scene, the O’Keeffe museum might be the added attraction to motivate you.
SANTA FE ARTS: IF YOU GO
For Santa Fe tourism information, the contact is Santa Fe Convention and Visitor Bureau, P.O. Box 909, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0909; 800/777-CITY, 505/984-6760; www.santafe.org.
by Lee Foster
A major monumental sculpture to the horse, occupying a significant place on the American artistic landscape, can be seen at a remote location–Ruidoso, New Mexico.
The subject of this realistic bronze masterpiece, 255 feet long and 36 feet high, is the spirit of the horse, the noble animal that contributed so much to the exploration, farming, and transportation story of America. Indeed, an appreciation for the horse is one of the more universal animal relationships that unites humans everywhere and throughout time.
You have to see the sculpture, as I did, to feel its amazing power. Dave McGary, one of the America’s most respected bronze sculptors of realistic figures, has called his work “Free Spirits at Noisy Water.” The “Free Spirits” are the horses. “Noisy Water” is the translation of the Ruidoso River, which runs past the sculpture.
EIGHT HORSES GALLOPING
Imagine eight bronze horses, each one-and-a-half times life size, galloping across a rocky, alpine New Mexico meadow. This is the world’s largest equine sculpture.
Individually, the horses depict seven classic breeds, including one with a foal. A Thoroughbred leads the way, followed by a Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, Paint, Arabian, Morgan, and Standardbred.
Aficionados of individual breeds will appreciate how carefully McGary worked with breed associations to make the sculptures conform to the particulars of the breed.
The spirit of the individual horses surges through each sculpture, but it is the collective force of all these magnificent animals in motion that is truly moving. McGary captures the beauty and endurance of one of nature’s gifted species, suspended in motion, strong and swift.
Any traveler who has spent even a few hours on a trail ride with a lively horse can relate to the magic of this purified, distilled essence of the horse.
Patrons for the sculpture were R. D. and Joan Dale Hubbard, who live and breathe horses and are involved heavily in American horse racing at various sites.
SCULPTOR DAVE MCGARY
The horse sculpture is one of many achievements in the illustrious career of Dave McGary.
Raised on a Wyoming ranch, McGary knew from his earliest days that he was destined to sculpt.
At age 12, McGary was working extensively in clay. At 15 he studied in Italy with the legendary bronze master, Harry Jackson, who recognized in McGary both talent and dedication to the art form. McGary later worked at a bronze foundry in Santa Fe before opening up his own studio in Alto, near Ruidoso.
McGary’s realistic bronzes of American Indians have won him many admirers. In the 1980s collectors and museums vied for his works. A one-man show at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington celebrated his skills. He was selected to execute a major public work in Santa Fe, “The Founding of Santa Fe,” depicting Don Pedro de Peralta on a horse signaling where Santa Fe should be located. That sculpture stands in Grant Park.
Affable and exacting, the huge McGary, who stands six-foot-five, has passionate thoughts about the responsibility of a sculptor.
“Sculptures are a very special art form,” he says. “They occupy a unique place in our consciousness. They involve us in a demanding way. They invite us to interact by saying that we must look from more than one angle, more than one place. So there is a sculptor’s obligation to occupy that space with something significant.”
McGary has spent several years thinking about horses.
“The subject was already part of my American Indian studies,” he says, “but with this commission I really got to know the spirit of individual horses, the breeds, and the passion of their owners.”
McGary sees his future in doing realistic sculptures, especially of monumental themes.
“From the time of the Greeks, people have liked realistic sculpture,” he says. “More abstract styles will appeal to some people and some cultures, but the appeal of realistic figures is universal.”
Creating the bronzes is a complicated process. McGary starts with a small clay model, a maquette, and then enlarges it eight times to get the required size. The final bronze gets finished with a patina and paint process that fixes the desired color into the metal.
The motto on the wall at McGary’s studio is, “There are no limits.”
MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST
The monumental horse sculpture stands outside a Museum of the American West in Ruidoso.
One of the extraordinary specialty museums in the country, this museum the remarkable Anne Stradling Collection of equine art and paraphernalia. Paintings, sculptures, carriages, saddles–everything you can imagine about horses–were passionately collected by Stradling, who grew up in the East and settled in Arizona.
A prime example of the collection is a red, restored Butterfield Stage, which carried passengers on the 27-day ride from St. Louis to San Francisco.
In her advanced years, Stradling made an arrangement with the Hubbards to locate the collection in Ruidoso.
As might be expected, the interest of Ruidoso people and their comrades from nearby Texas is not only in equine art, but also in the eternal question: who has the fastest horse?
Ruidoso is a major American horse racing scene. The site, Ruidoso Downs, witnessed the first million dollar race, in 1972, called the All American Futurity. In 1982 the track set another record with a million dollar winner’s prize.
Today you can see horseracing, primarily of quarter horses, during the summer season at Ruidoso.
Ruidoso lies in southern New Mexico, south from the usual travel pattern of Albuquerque-Santa Fe-Taos. Distance is not a casual matter in this fifth-largest of states.
Access to Ruidoso tends to be from El Paso, Texas, or from Albuquerque, which is slightly farther away but may have better air connections for some visitors. Travelers tend to fly into El Paso and rent a car for exploring the region. Sierra Blanca is the dominant peak in this high, forested mountain country.
The area has some fresh discoveries for a traveler interested in exploring, beyond all the horse-related matters. Here are some highlights:
*Ruidoso’s downtown offers a pleasing small-town encounter, especially noted for its art shops. See the Zuni jewelry at Zuni, the ceramics at White Mountain Pottery, and the gan spirit dancer dolls of the local Mescalero Apaches at White Dove. Siano’s has ample supplies of New Mexico chili in many manifestations, plus bottles of the state’s Blue Teal wine.
*Galleries of two major artists can be viewed. The McGary studio in Alto, adjacent to Ruidoso, shows many of his bronzes of American Indians. East of town, in the Hondo Valley, talented Michael Hurd of the Hurd-Wyeth family shows the family works at the Hurd-La Rinconada Gallery.
*Culinary creativity in New Mexico can be sampled at the French-style La Lorraine in Ruidoso. The counterpoint food/entertainment event not to miss is the chuckwagon dinner and western entertainment each evening at the Flying J Ranch in Ruidoso.
*White Sands National Monument has 275 square miles of dunes formed from shifting, soft, gypsum sand crystals. The deeper you get into the monument, the more the dunes resemble a snowscape. Animals adapt by changing their protective coloring to white. Only a few of the most resilient plants can survive in the heart of the dunes. The late afternoon sun or even a moonlit night make the dunes a lovely place for a walk.
*The Space Center at Alamogordo honors the founders of and contributors to man’s journey into space. Much of this development took place in New Mexico, especially after Werner von Braun and other captured German scientists were held at El Paso after WW II. Much of the critical research here in the 1950s focused on how much punishment in G’s the human body could take.
*Remote lodges, especially The Lodge at Cloudcroft and Inn of the Mountain Gods, run by the Mescalero Apaches, attract many visitors. The Lodge at Cloudcroft is an elegant 1890s structure, originally built by the railroad. The Mescaleros own extensive trout-and-elk-filled mountain ranges around their modern, lakeside lodge, Inn of the Mountain Gods. Their Ski Apache downhill facility is popular in winter. Highway 244 between the two lodges is one of the lovelier drives in the region, passing through a necklace of mountain meadows.
*Valley of the Fires Recreation Area celebrates a huge lava flow that occurred about 1500 years ago. Plants now colonize this vast moonscape, where the oozing and bubbling lava hardened in irregular patterns as its internal bubbles of gas escaped.
*Three Rivers Petroglyph Site shows 20,000 figures of lizards, mountain sheep, the sun, lightning, and other subjects that Native Americans chipped into the black patina on the stone. The exact motives behind this creation of art are not known. The artists may have been passing their moments of leisure on this promontory between hunting excursions.
*The town of Lincoln was the site in 1878 of the noted Lincoln County War, pitting the Irish Murphy faction against the English Tunstall clan, both vying for lucrative beef contracts to supply the New Mexico military posts. One of the legendary outlaw figures in this struggle, Billy the Kid, made his famous and impossible escape from the county jail at Lincoln in 1881, only to be gunned down later by a persistent sheriff, Pat Garrett.
As they gallop into the American artistic imagination, the bronze odes at Ruidoso enlarge our appreciation for one of man’s most spirited comrades on this planet–the horse.
RUIDOSO, NEW MEXICO: IF YOU GO
The local tourism information source is Ruidoso Valley Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 698, Ruidoso, NM 88345, 800/253-2255.
The overall state tourism office for New Mexico is New Mexico Department of Tourism, Lamy Building, Room 106, 491 Old Santa Fe Tr., Santa Fe, NM 87503, 800/545-2040.
Most travelers will fly into El Paso and then rent a car for the drive to the Ruidoso area. Albuquerque is the alternative fly-in point, to the north, but slightly farther in distance.
The new sculpture “Free Spirits at Noisy Water” is at the Museum of the American West, Highway 70 East, PO Box 40, Ruidoso Downs, NM 88346, 505/378-4142.
Lodging in Ruidoso is possible at several small motels, such as Best Western Swiss Chalet Hotel. The lodging with a view above the city is Crown Point. Several cabin-type lodgings are possible on the Upper Canyon Road. East of town in the Hondo Valley artist Michael Hurd offers several guest houses on the Hurd Ranch.
by Lee Foster
New Mexico’s Indians hold a special fascination for travelers, even to this day. And well they might, for the Indians themselves strive to be sovereign people. When the king of Spain presented a silver cane to each of the governors of the pueblo tribes in the 17th century, he vowed that they would be treated as sovereign entities. Abraham Lincoln reaffirmed these rights in 1862 by re-presenting a cane to each of the Indian governors on behalf of the United States.
New Mexico Indians are so sensitive on this issue of sovereignty today that they will give up much to preserve it. If the state provided money to restore the Taos pueblo, a main tourism attraction, would accepting that money relinquish some control? On a more personal level, the Indian pueblos run tremendous risks as small foreign entities surrounded by a dominant white culture. A pueblo like San Ildefonso has less than 600 people. Only these people know their secret rituals and ceremonies, which is their legacy to the future. Pueblo language, religion, and culture is imperative to the survival of pueblo people.
Concerns common to all people also confront the Indians of New Mexico, especially education, health care, and housing. Revenues from tourism may help them achieve some practical goals in these areas, especially such partnerships as the Hyatt Tamaya Resort on pueblo land near Albuquerque. With such a partnership the 700 Indians of the pueblo improve their economic choices going forward.
ALBUQUERQUE’S INDIAN PUEBLO CULTURAL CENTER
Indian dances, Indian art objects, and the historic ruins of Southwest Indian culture lure many travelers to New Mexico. The best place for an orientation is at the Albuquerque Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
The Indian Cultural Center, run by Indians, prepares a visitor for forays into New Mexico Indian Country.
The Indians of New Mexico’s pueblos are represented, all 19 of them.
At the Indian Cultural Center you can walk through a museum depicting pueblo life. A guide can explain the nuances as each pueblo displays its material and spiritual culture. Thirteen murals at the Center capture some of the spiritual concerns of the Indian world. At the restaurant you can sample Indian culinary specialties, from fry bread, a deep-fried bread, to posole, a mix of broth, hominy, and chiles. Each day you can see Indian dances performed here, a special treat because ritual dances at the pueblos are often secretive affairs, where travelers are permitted, but not welcome to photograph or inquire about the dance’s meaning. A shop at the cultural center sells a wide spectrum of high-quality Indian silver and turquoise jewelry.
All considered, the texture of Indian cultural life in New Mexico is extremely rich.
A PLAN TO EXPLORE INDIAN COUNTRY
After a visit to the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center, the best way to explore Indian Country in the field is to travel around the northern part of the state. Most of the Indian settlement is in the northern third of the state, following the Rio Grande River and its stream tributaries, as the river system proceeds from Taos in the northeast through Albuquerque in the north central part of the state.
A good exploratory plan would take you, first, to three sites near Albuquerque (Petroglyph National Monument, Coronado State Monument, and Isleta Pueblo). Then proceed west of Albuquerque to the Acoma “Sky City” pueblo and, if you are fortunate enough to travel here on a mid-summer weekend, continue west to the annual Indian ceremonial dances in Gallup.
Then retrace your steps to east of Albuquerque. Stop at Santa Fe to see two outstanding Indian museums, the Wheelwright and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. In Santa Fe, peruse the flourishing Indian arts around the Plaza. Then proceed north of Santa Fe to the San Ildefonso pueblo and nearby Bandelier National Monument. Your last stop, Taos pueblo, is, in many ways, the fitting climax to a look at New Mexico Indian Country.
PETROGLYPH NATIONAL MONUMENT
At this park, on the west side of Albuquerque, you’ll find thousands of petroglyphs of various designs. Speculation among archaeologists is that hunters passing their time here left these scratchings in the weathered patina on the rocks. Designs of sheep, butterflies, warriors, and deer are numerous
The Coronado Monument, across the river from Albuquerque, lets you glimpse what Indian life was like before the Spanish explorer, Francesco Vasquez de Coronado, arrived in 1540. The size of these pueblo ruins, where Coronado overwintered that year, is impressive. The village rests on a rise alongside the Rio Grande River, with a view of the Sandia Mountains across the river. The site is still rather rural and unencumbered by urban trappings, so you can begin to imagine what life was like here.
A kiva, or ceremonial room, uncovered in the 1930s, contained more than 80 layers of drawings on thin plaster. The drawings were cleverly saved by archaeologists. Several are now on display in the museum adjacent to the pueblo site. Together, these murals represent one of the most important collections of Indian pictoral work in the United States prior to the Spanish arrival. The concerns in the drawings are for rain to grow crops. Most of the gods are involved in the water cycle of rain and fertility.
Just south of Albuquerque, you can visit an agricultural pueblo, famous for its white church of San Agustin. Isleta has been a pueblo of reserved Indians engaged in various agricultural efforts, so don’t anticipate an elaborate welcome. However, many modern members of the tribe function quite well in the urban world of Albuquerque. Walking in the pueblo to visit the church gives you a sense of the long time frame in which these peoples have farmed squash, beans, chili, and corn on this fertile valley floor of the Rio Grande.
Isleta lies 13 miles south of Albuquerque on Interstate 25 and consists of several Indian settlements strung out along the Rio Grande.
WEST OF ALBUQUERQUE: ACOMA, THE SKY CITY
A more spectacular Indian setting lies west of Albuquerque at the Acoma pueblo.
Drive 40 miles west on Interstate 40 and turn south to the 400-foot sandstone mesa that has been inhabited since the 11th century. Acoma is an improbable sky city, situated high on a rock outcrop that is virtually impregnable against hostile forces.
At Acoma, which means “People of the White Rock,” visit the museum, noted for its collection of historic pottery. Then participate in the Indian-led tour of the sky city. You’ll see the historic church and the dwellings where some Indian families still live, selling fry bread or pottery to travelers. Most of the Acoma population now lives on the flatlands. The Church of San Estevan del Rey contains well-preserved art objects from the 17th century.
The participation in a tour of Acoma raises the important question of etiquette when visiting pueblo sites in New Mexico. Remember that these are communities of living cultures and travelers are guests. Fees to enter may be charged. Fees to photograph may be required. Photographs may or may not be taken of dances, ceremonial rooms called kivas, and individuals. Each pueblo establishes its own procedures. Be sure to inquire, rather than assume, when in doubt about expected traveler behavior, especially when photographing.
GALLUP’S ANNUAL INDIAN CEREMONIALS
If you can possibly arrange a trip to New Mexico during the annual mid-summer Indian Ceremonials in Gallup, you will be rewarded with an extraordinary glimpse into New Mexico Indian culture. Gallup is a small border town west of Albuquerque near the Arizona border. At any time of the year the jewelry shops of Gallup display lavish selections of Navajo and Zuni work. The Ceremonials take place at Red Rock Park, near town.
During the ceremonials there are three main occurrences. Hour upon hour of dancing by many different tribes can inform a visitor. At these dances the public is welcome and photos are permitted. Indian dances are ritual efforts to relate to the great elements of nature, such as the Buffalo or Rain. The dances are not for the amusement of visitors or for erotic purposes. Besides the dances, a juried art show at the Ceremonials displays some of the finest Indian art creations in the state. Silver and turquoise jewelry, weavings, and ceramics are the main categories. A specialty of the Ceremonials is an all-Indian rodeo with the usual rodeo features, such as bronco riding and calf-roping.
Aside from the famous Gallup Ceremonials, there are over 50 lesser Indian dancing and celebrating events occurring at various pueblos throughout the year. New Mexico’s Tourism Office can send you a calendar of the festivals for the upcoming year.
SANTA FE’S INDIAN CULTURE
Retrace your steps and proceed northeast from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, where you can immerse yourself further in the Indian world of New Mexico.
Santa Fe exhibits an extraordinary Indian artistic show in the central plaza under the porticos of the Palace of Governors. Recognized artisans gather there daily to display wares. Each August an Indian Market around the plaza brings out the best juried work of 1,200 top artisans. The major collectors and dealers pay about $40 million that weekend for Indian art in Santa Fe. The Indian art component helps make Santa Fe the third largest art market in the U.S., after New York and Los Angeles.
An example of artistic success here is Denise Wallace, who has won the annual design award at Indian Market. She happens to be an Athabascan Indian from Alaska who came to study at the noted Institute of American Indian Arts. Through this school, New Mexico nurtures Indian artisans from its own and other states.
Santa Fe also boasts two museums to Southwest Indian culture, the Wheelwright and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, both located near each other on a mesa two miles from the downtown.
THE WHEELWRIGHT MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN
The Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian began as a wealthy New England woman’s collaboration with a Navajo medicine man to save the remaining artifacts of Navajo culture. Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Hosteen Klah were the principals.
The time was the 1920s. At that time Navajo culture was in disarray and the medicine men, repositories of lore and wisdom, were declining one by one. An effort was made to record legends, gather artifacts such as medicine man bundles, and do what could be done to turn around the situation. Eventually Navajos regained pride in their culture, so most of the artifacts were returned to sites on the tribal lands.
Today the Wheelwright serves a different purpose and includes strong representation of Indians on its board of directors. The upstairs of the building hosts a show of some kind, often of Indian art. The bottom of the building functions as an elaborate trading post with books, jewelry, ceramics, and many other objects for sale. At display cases in this store it is possible to see Indian designs from earlier decades.
MUSEUM OF INDIAN ARTS AND CULTURE
The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture should be a top priority for all travelers. This museum serves as the display wing of the Laboratory of Anthropology, a Rockefeller-funded entity that has cataloged Indian materials for decades.
The Museum highlight is its Treasure Room, which displays 300 of the most important artifacts in the 42,000-object collection. The objects are dazzling. A turkey-feather blanket from the sixth century, a human hair net from the twelfth century for catching rabbits, spear points from the B.C. period, and pottery hundreds of years old are some of the wonders to behold.
Display rooms at the Museum describe how the Rio Grande River cultures developed and flourished. The Rio Grande bosque is the longest cottonwood-tree forest on earth. In these fertile bottomlands the Indians farmed corn, squash, peppers, and cotton, establishing sedentary cultures that allowed security and some time for artistic and religious thought. The arrival of the Spanish and the intrusion of marauding Indian tribes, such as the Apache, destroyed this well being.
PUEBLO SAN ILDEFONSO
North of Santa Fe, one of the hospitable pueblos to visit is San Ildefonso. There a guide can be contacted, for a modest fee, to lead you around the pueblo. At the Tribal Council room, you will also need to pay a fee for photographing. San Ildefonso is 25 miles north and west of Santa Fe.
The tour includes an introductory look at San Ildefonso life in the pueblo’s small museum. You learn how these people gradually drifted southeast from the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings in western Colorado. The cause of their movement was prolonged drought in the 13th century. They eventually came to Bandelier and built a substantial culture, whose ruins can now be visited. Finally, a small band of these Tewa-speaking people came to San Ildefonso. At the Black Mesa, a rock monolith near the pueblo, the San Ildefonso people withstood, in 1692, a Spanish effort to destroy them. The collective tribes of New Mexico expelled the Spanish in 1680 in a massive revolt, but the Spanish returned via El Paso, Texas, and proceeded as far as San Ildefonso in their efforts to cajole or conquer their way back through New Mexico. San Ildefonso withstood the assault and held out on Black Mesa. The 1680 revolt and 1692 defense were examples of the times when European forces were defeated by Indians in the U.S.
The Indians of San Ildefonso, in their kivas, engage in religious rituals that have never been seen by outsiders. The tribe lives in some fear that these rituals will eventually die out unless young members of the tribe master the language.
The tour continues with a visit to the Church and then to a working potter. The pottery visit is crucial because it was here, in San Ildefonso, that a potter named Maria Martinez perfected a method of making black-on-black pottery of exquisite workmanship. Maria’s pots remain today the benchmark of pot making.
It’s worth noting that Indian pottery in New Mexico, to be eligible for some awards, must be made in the traditional manner. There are two main aspects. The pot must be built of coiled clay, rather than thrown on a wheel. And the pot must be fired by burning dried manure, rather than in a modern kiln. An oxygen-reduction process in the firing achieves the black-on-black design.
Pot-making in the traditional way and maintaining their Tewa language are crucial, in the eyes of the San Ildefonso people, for perpetuating the culture.
San Ildefonso ranks among the more vigorous pueblos in the Indian effort at economic self-direction. At the San Ildefonso pueblo there is a large art and craft fair each July that gives Indians complete control of the market. The Eight Northern Pueblos Indian Council Arts and Craft Fair, as it is called, indicates the alliance of pueblos in this common effort.
BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT
Bandelier is one of the extraordinary Indian ruins of the Southwest. Most of the Bandelier people lived in a large round pueblo city. They inhabited a fertile, small valley with a dependable water source. While walking the trails here, you can see some of their remaining art murals.
The Bandelier people came, it is said, from Mesa Verde, migrating in a time of drought around 1200-1300 A.D. The ruins are not as spectacular as those in the cliff at Mesa Verde, but they help to interpret the evolving pueblo culture.
PUEBLO OF TAOS
Taos pueblo is a fitting finale for an initial glimpse of New Mexico Indian culture. The pueblo, north of Santa Fe, amounts to a tour de force of pueblo architecture. Taos boasts two five-story, multi-room edifices facing each other on the opposite banks of Taos Creek. The elaborate adobe and wood structures have remained unchanged since the day Coronado viewed them in 1540. Background for this setting is the purplish mountains that the Spanish named Blood of Christ, Sangre de Christo Mountains. The white-washed church and beige color of the pueblo remain imbued on a visitor’s mind.
Parking and photography fees are charged as you enter Taos pueblo. Photographs of people are prohibited. Be especially considerate of people entering and leaving the church. Religious and social conservatism is a hallmark of the Taos world as the people strive desperately to maintain their traditions.
In the city of Taos you can visit the gallery of one of the most celebrated New Mexico Indian artist, R. C. Gorman. Gorman’s inspiring drawings about the mystery of the Navajo woman can be seen in graphics and ceramics in galleries from here to Australia.
New Mexico’s Indian culture fascinates on several levels. The culture survived relatively intact while most other American Indian cultures were destroyed. This is partly a fortunate accident of geography. New Mexico was too remote and spare a territory to interest the hordes of settlers that wiped out California’s Indian cultures, for example. The New Mexico Indian culture continues to exert leadership in design of jewelry, ceramics, and fabrics. The Indian culture also lived within its means, especially as concerns water, for over a thousand years. The New Mexico Indians are Americans, of course, but they are also residents of sovereign enclaves, as they are the first to point out.
NEW MEXICO’S INDIAN COUNTRY: IF YOU GO
The overall state tourism office is New Mexico Department of Tourism, 491 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501; 505/827-7400; www.newmexico.org.
Albuquerque information is available from the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, 20 First Plaza NW, Suite 601, Albuquerque, NM 87102; 800/284-2282, www.itsatrip.com.
The major Indian country introduction comes at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104; 866/855-7902; www.indianpueblo.org.
Information on the Acoma Pueblo, the famous “Sky City,” comes from Pueblo of Acoma, P.O. Box 310, Acoma, NM 87034; 800/747-0181 or 505/552-7861; www.acomaskycity.org/.
Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum celebrates the Navajo culture. Contact the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 704 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87505; 800/607-4636 or 505/982-4636; www.wheelwright.org/.
Santa Fe’s Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is at 710 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, NM 87505; 505/476-1250; www.miaclab.org/.
North of Santa Fe, visit the San Ildefonso Pueblo. Details: San Ildefonso Pueblo, Route 5, Box 315-A, San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM 87506; 505/455-2273.
For information on Taos pueblo, the major architectural monument of New Mexico pueblo Indian culture, contact Taos Pueblo Tourism, Pueblo of Taos, P.O. Box 1846, Taos, NM 87571; 575/758-1028; www.taospueblo.com/.
by Lee Foster
A traveler who has begun to explore the U.S. Southwest, with excursions into the California deserts and Arizona , will eventually wonder: what lies beyond, in New Mexico?
New Mexico delivers an unusual and pleasing travel experience, for several reasons.
The state’s populace consists of three special groups. The 2000 Census concluded that 42.1 percent were Hispanics, often tracing their blood to early Spanish settlers. About 9.5 percent are American Indian, mainly from the pueblo Indian cultures. About 44.7 percent are non-Hispanic whites.
New Mexicans are a reserved people whose activities and background may surprise you. They are adept at splitting both pine logs and atoms. Some of the Indians are the linguistic descendants of Athabascan Indians who wandered south from Alaska. New Mexicans always have a slight tension over their identity. The main political tension in the state is over who controls the land and the precious water.
The history of European influence in the state, going back to the Spanish arrival in 1540 and settlements in 1598, is far older than that of California or Arizona . Yet American Indian thought, crafts, and architecture survived here relatively intact and became an integral part of the state, with ceremonials and craft shows a major traveler experience.
The climate can be hot in summer, but there is some mitigation of desert heat in some places, due to the altitude, from 2,776 feet to over 13,000 feet. Taos and other areas are snowy enough in winter to please skiers. Albuquerque gets only nine inches of rain a year and has a 10 percent humidity level. Drink plenty of water and use sunscreen and skin moisturizers. New Mexico ‘s varied natural beauty becomes an incantation to the senses. A traveler should pause sufficiently to enjoy the clean air and clear light. Due to the ruggedness of the terrain and the meager amounts of fresh water, New Mexico remained relatively unsettled and out of the way. Populations flourished along rivers and on high plateaus that caught the summer rains.
The motif most evocative of New Mexico is not the endless summer of California , but the moment when one feels a change of season, such as a chill in the autumn air, indicating the imminent approach of winter.
For all these reasons, both the human drama and the natural setting, New Mexico can be considered our most foreign state, a worthy subject of study for the Southwest traveler.
How should you approach New Mexico ? The best plan for most first-time visitors would be a flight to Albuquerque , where you could rent a car to explore the area, venturing on to Santa Fe and Taos . Alternatively, drive your own vehicle there. Allow a week in the state for exploration.
Keep in mind the seasonal festivities here, such as the October International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque . There is a summer Indian Market and Spanish Market in Santa Fe , times when major crafts shows occur. The Spanish Market is repeated in December. Skiers also gear up by December for the first heavy snow falls at Taos Ski Valley and nine other downhill areas.
The state gateway city and only potential metropolis (containing 700,000 of the state’s 1.6 million people) is Albuquerque , which is alive with balloons and a half million celebrants for the nine-day annual Balloon Fiesta each October.
Air sports are congenial here because this rural state offers wide open spaces, without danger of descent into urban areas. There is also an ideal “box” effect with the winds, allowing a balloon to rise going forward, go backwards at higher elevations, and then descend on the spot of departure. As recently as 1940, there were only 35,000 people in Albuquerque . Ballooning, soaring, and hang gliding enthusiasts gather here.
The physical setting of Albuquerque is attractive, situated at over 5,000 feet, with the 10,000 foot Sandia Mountains rising to the east. Volcanic mountains rise to the west. The legendary Rio Grande runs through the town.
Begin exploring Albuquerque with a stop at Old Town , the heart of the city at its 1706 founding as a Royal Villa on the banks of the Rio Grande .
You’ll find an elaborate collection of craft shops and restaurants around the grassy Old Town plaza, which is complete with a bandstand and a few buried Confederate soldiers. Indians sell turquoise-and-silver jewelry directly at the plaza. The historic church, San Felipe de Neri, still serves the faithful. Two shops to enjoy are Agape, which displays Indian ceramics, and Ancient Traditions Gallery, which is strong on feather art and kachina dolls.
The city also boasts outstanding cultural centers and mu seums. The Natural History and Albuquerque Museums are adjacent to Old Town .
The New Mexico Museum of Natural History acquaints you with the early geologic history of the state. Children enjoy the walk-through volcano and the hands-on laboratory, where docents explain the nuances between a skink and a lizard.
The Albuquerque Museum , adjacent to the Natural History Museum , presents four centuries of the city’s life, including a replica of a conquistador in full equestrian battle regalia. The upstairs wings concentrate on modern art in New Mexico and provide space for traveling shows.
Also near Old Town is the National Atomic Museum , which has been moved in from its former location at Kirtland air base. The National Atomic Museum tells the story of the secretive Manhattan project, the controversial development and use of the atom bomb in World War II. A visitor makes a strangelovian walk through four decades of atomic devices, starting with Little Boy and Fat Man, the bombs that devastated Japan . Particularly chilling is the letter that Einstein wrote to FDR, alerting him to the new technology and the need to develop it first. Adjacent to Einstein’s letter, you read the anguished comment of a German scientist, lamenting that der Fuhrer would not authorize the priority resources necessary to proceed on a German bomb.
The outdoor institution of interest to the appreciator of nature is the Rio Grande Nature Center , along the Rio Grande . At this site you can walk nature trails and immerse yourself in the flora and fauna of the river area. There is also a Biological Park with an aquarium, butterfly enclosure, and elaborate gardens with themes from the Desert to the Mediterranean .
Special to Albuquerque is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center , a fitting prelude to visits at any of the 19 pueblos in the state. The Center’s architecture approximates a round sun symbol. At the Center, you’ll see elaborate interpretations of the pueblo Indian culture and how it evolved, followed by detailed examples of crafts from each of the pueblos. The upstairs offers an elaborate display of arts and crafts for sale. Selection here is large, including all the pueblos. A restaurant at the site features all-Indian food, such as fry bread.
The pueblos are clustered densely in the northern third of the state, dependent for their location on water supplies, such as the Rio Grande . This liquid treasure irrigated beans, corn, squash, and cotton, now the state’s #1 crop. Over 25,000 individual historic village sites are known in the state. Many of the pueblo ceremonial dances and celebrations are open to the public.
New Mexico Indian songs sometimes have a haunting sense of fullness, as in the repeated phrase in one song, “With beauty before me I walk.”
Consult the tourism authority about possible Indian ceremonials during the time of your visit. Observing protocol is an important part of pueblo visits. Be sure to inquire of the pueblo “governor” about what response is appropriate. For example, photos are not permitted at many of the pueblos and at most of the ceremonial dances, which are considered doors to another world. Dances are seen as sacred and private. Sometimes a fee is charged for photos. Sometimes buildings, but not people, may be photographed. A traveler who observes these protocols will be a welcome visitor. Acoma is the prominent pueblo to visit west of Albuquerque .
The Hispanic side of New Mexico ‘s heritage is celebrated in a National Hispanic Cultural Center . The Center has both a permanent art collection and traveling shows. There is a geneology library and a major theatre milieu for cultural activities.
The city has long been a trade and transport center. In the 1880s, when the railroads came, the center of town moved two miles west. Fashionable Victorian homes can be seen in the Huning Highlands area. Today the city spreads eastward to the Sandia foothills and west to the mesa. One intriguing transportation theme in Albuquerque is the Route 66 mystique. Fans of this historic highway work to preserve its artifacts. If you take lunch or dinner at the 66 Diner, you’ll get introduced to the story.
Since World War II, Albuquerque and the state have wed their future to military/civilian research and high technology, occurring in large companies such as Sandia Labs. Intel has a major chip production facility that employs 9,000 people. One fourth of all people who work in the state are employed by military or civilian government. Huge energy reserves in uranium, coal, natural gas, and oil are a major state resource, especially in the San Juan gas fields of the northwest.
The historical yet high tech combination gives Albuquerque a special urban tension, the aging lady rejuvenated. One fitting expression of Albuquerque ‘s style is the care given to making the freeway interchange where freeways 25-40 meet into something special. The interchange has an adobe pigment in the concrete and a band of turquoise blue color as a highlight.
LODGING AND FOOD IN ALBUQUERQUE
Hospitality has been a New Mexico tradition since the days of the early Spanish families.
La Posada de Albuquerque, downtown, is an example of the restored and revitalized past. The lodging’s lobby is a favorite gathering place, with its Spanish-style arches and heavy wood ceiling.
Sheraton’s Old Town Inn offers a choice location near Old Town . The Sheraton has all the amenities of a modern hotel, but with a location close to the main traveler attraction, Old Town .
The Hyatt Tamaya Resort, on pueblo land near Albuquerque , offers stunning views of the Sandia Mountains at sunset. The resort is set adjacent to a cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande .
For dining, Old Town ‘s Maria Teresa, built in the 1840s, is a hacienda-style establishment emphasizing New Mexican specialties, such as pinon chicken.
High Noon, in Old Town , offers good regional food. Try the chalupa salad or the enchilladas.
El Pinto, located in a cottonwood forest, does a brisk business selling its bottled salsas after the clientele becomes thoroughly hooked.
New Mexico foods to be on the lookout for include:
Navajo fry bread and other Indian breads, some still baked in beehive-shaped ovens, called hornos.
Spanish posole, a thick stew of hominy, pork, and chile.
Sopaipillas, small batter pillows, deep fried, which you nip the corner off of and dose with honey.
Enchiladas, with the spicy peppers more subtle and tempered than in some other locations.
Blue corn tortillas, made from a special corn with some blue kernels.
Biscochitos, an anise-flavored cookie, is the official “state cookie.”
A range of peppers that appear in the ever-present red and green sauces.
As a contrast with Mexican food, there is little rice in an authentic New Mexican culinary presentation. Rice does not grow at this high altitude. Your beans may not be mashed or refried, they may be whole.
Excursions from Albuquerque can include the exhilarating Sandia Tram ride and visits to six Indian pueblos.
The Sandia Tram is special because it is the longest tram in the U.S. From bottom to top you ride 2.7 miles in 18 minutes, climbing from 6,550 to 10,378 feet. The steak-and-seafood High Finance restaurant at the top and Sandiago’s at the base offer striking views as well as food.
You can also drive to the top of the Sandia Mountains on the Sandia Crest road. From tram top or road the sunsets are breathtaking, sometimes watermelon pink as the word “sandia” suggests in Spanish. The view extends over a mammoth 1100-square-mile expanse. In the autumn the road fills with travelers taking “aspencade” trips to see the golden leaves of aspen and the yellows of cottonwood.
The tram gives many travelers their first taste of the diverse natural world of New Mexico . There are six vegetation zones in the state, depending on altitude, which means a range of plants you would expect from the deserts of Mexico to the tundra of Alaska . This is a land of waterfalls, alpine meadows, wildflowers, and rugged mountains. The effect is a kind of enchantment, a magical appeal. The mountains were in several cases sacred to the Indians. Fully 1.4 million acres of the natural landscape are preserved as wilderness. Nine million acres are in National Forests. New Mexico is large, our fifth largest state, so there is plenty of territory to explore.
If you make a clockwise tour around Albuquerque , devoting a day to exploring, here are some highlights, beyond the tram, to focus on:
*The Sandia Man Cave , accessible at the end of a narrow road, has yielded spear points carbon dated to 23,000 B.C., making it one of the earliest habitation sites in the U.S.
The other prominent supplier of paleontological clues in the state is Clovis Man, from 14,000 years ago.
*The array of 218 solar mirrors at Kirtland Air Base focuses sun energy on a boiler, creating steam used to turn turbines and make electricity. This facility, built in the energy-crisis era circa 1976, developed the research that made possible the commercial 10 megawatt solar electrical generation plant at Barstow , California , known as Solar One. Kirtland experimented with the next generation of solar mirrors, called heliostats, which are round mylar-covered units, rather than glass and metal mirrors. The continuing goal is more kilowatts per buck. This solar site was selected partly because the area gets about 70 percent of the available, potential, annual sun, suggesting how clear the skies can be.
*The non-commercial Isleta Pueblo contains a particularly photogenic Church of Sts. Augustine/Antonio , originally from 1613, making it one of the earliest.
Trout and catfish fishing, picnicking, and camping occur at Isleta Lakes , operated by the Indians. Isleta is an agricultural pueblo in a fertile valley, bordered by grasslands and woods.
*Among the pueblos near Albuquerque , Acoma holds special interest because it may be the oldest continually occupied com mu nity in the U.S. , with residents since 600 A.D. Sited on a butte, it is also a visually striking setting. Trout fishing is possible at Mesa Hill Lake . Mission San Esteban is a picturesque church.
* Petroglyph National Monument , west of the city, allows you to view over 24,000 incised images carved by Indians.
*The Coronado Monument salutes the early Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who passed through here 1540-41, staying at the pueblo of Kuana for the winter. He was searching for an elusive seven cities of gold. Spanish settled here as early as 1598. Spanish influence was direct from 1598 to 1821, at which time Mexico won its independence. The Coronado site is unusual today because it boasts a restored kiva, or Indian ceremonial room, open to the public. Ordinarily, kivas are off limits to the public.
* Bien Mur Indian Market Center , in the northeast area of the city on the Sandia Indian Reservation, is another prominent Indian craft market for kachina dolls, spirit dolls of the Indians, as well as rugs, jewelry, textiles, and pottery.
Following a perusal of Albuquerque, continue on to Santa Fe, a one-hour drive along scenic Highway 14, passing the former gold, silver, and coal mining villages of Cerillos, Madrid, and Golden. Interstate 25 is faster and attractive of itself, following broad valleys with the mountains to the east and west, but Highway 14, called the Turquoise Trail, is a preferred backroads route. Golden boasted the first gold strike in the West, in 1826. Madrid , once a coal mining town, now houses artists and craftspeople. The majestic Sandia Mountains frame the drive near Albuquerque . The light is often so clear and the expanses so breathtaking here that you can see immense distances. At one point near Santa Fe it is sometimes possible to see Mt. Taylor 140 miles away.
Santa Fe bills itself as the oldest capital city in the U.S. , recalling its title as Royal City , Villa Real, founded 1609 as Capital of the Kingdom of New Spain . On the plaza you see the four flags that have governed the town–Spanish, Mexican, Confederate, and U.S.
The Spanish and Indian imprint is strong here, especially in the enduring style of pueblo architecture, combining thick stucco or adobe walls with heavy wood pole and beam construction. Rounded corners, flat roofs, simplicity of line, and beige earth tones are signatures of the pueblo style. The city of Santa Fe has embraced this single style of architecture with surprising uniformity. Adobes mu st be painted some shade of brown, so it could be said that a Santa Fe person has a feel for the nuances of brown as complex as an Eskimo would have for shades of blue. The only other style allowed is called Territorial, meaning a squared off roof, with white-painted wood-frame overhangs and entrances, and a line of bricks often used for decor. The city ordinance requiring architectural conformity dates from 1957.
The character of New Mexicans sometimes comes in conflict with the dominant American passion for individual achievement and entrepreneurship. To the New Mexican Indian, the group is always more important than the individual. To the Spanish New Mexican, the family also often predominates over the desires of the individual. In both contexts, the strivings of the individual are suppressed and the group interest is paramount.
Santa Fe is also a quirky place. To some locals “change” is a four letter word. Santa Fe is a place where you need to know the local scene to make accurate judgments. As the novelist and once-governor of New Mexico , Lew Wallace, once said, “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico .”
Santa Fe sits on pinon-covered benchlands at 7,000 feet near the southern extremity of the Rockies . Every traveler should take time to savor the refreshing air and clear light here, returning home with a collection of sunsets. The late afternoon thunderstorms of summer yield particularly glowing sunsets. The foods that can grow here, in the short 120-day growing season, are corn, beans, chiles, sage, and pinon nuts. Trout flourish in the high mountain streams. Those are components of the true Santa Fe cooking.
Start a city tour with a look at the Plaza, dating from 1609. The age of Santa Fe becomes more compelling when one ponders that the Palace of the Governors was being built at this remote outpost of the Spanish empire in the same year that William Shakespeare was writing Julius Caesar. The former Palace of the Governors is now a mu seum to the city’s past. Exhibits on early cartography, when no one knew how extensive New Mexico was, are intriguing, as are the ox carts and carriages used in the early days. In the portals of the Palace you’ll find Indians selling crafts. A buyer can purchase directly from one of these highly-skilled, certified jewelry producers.
Each August an Indian Market draws the most discriminating collectors and dealers to a massive sale in the Plaza. About 1,250 of the top Indian craftsmen are juried participants in a show that sells out at roughly $40 million, generating an estimated $140 million for the city after the hoteliers and restauranteurs add up all their receipts. A Spanish Market, in July and again in December, features such crafts as weaving, woodcarving, tin smithing, furniture carpentry, and the painting of Catholic religious images. The Spanish people have preserved and perpetuated these arts here for 400 years.
Adjacent to the Palace is the Museum of Fine Art , repository of choice pieces of New Mexico historical art. The mu seum gallery mounts shows of the major modern artists in the state.
Much time can be spent observing the flow of life at the Plaza. Beyond the people, shops, and restaurants around the Plaza, walk a block to the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi and then south to the Mission of San Miguel. The Mission is one of New Mexico ‘s cherished buildings, dating from 1710, but containing an earlier altar from 1610, built by Tlaxcalan Indians the padres brought from Mexico .
Beyond the Mission is the State Capitol Building , constructed in a round shape to approximate a Zia Indian sun symbol. A traditional gold-domed echo of the Washington DC capitol would have been totally out of place here. Santa Fe absorbs the modern world in a selective manner. This is the only state capital, for example, without an elaborate airport. Most visitors fly into Albuquerque , 60 miles southwest.
Santa Fe is a major art town, with tours of some of its 150 galleries a sufficient purpose to occupy an entire trip’s time. Canyon Road is the main gallery lane. As a sample, stop at the Karen Ruhlen Gallery to see contemporary art, Scarlett’s for antiques, and Morning Star for Native American Antiquities. Some artists sell directly from their homes. One example is Ford Ruthling, who is known for his striking mono-prints.
For a small city of 60,000 people, cultural life here is vigorous. The famous Santa Fe Opera presents a July and August program. A Chamber Music festival flourishes in July.
Three specialty mu seums ornament life in Santa Fe . They are all within walking distance of each other on a mesa southeast of the plaza, now known as Museum Hill.
The first is the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, a special institution because of its dual role: skillful interpretation of Indian life from the earliest days and emphasis on modern craftspeople, such as weavers and potters, showing current production. One remarkable historical artifact on display is an elaborate hunting net made from human hair. Another exhibit shows a turkey-feather blanket. A visitor gets expert introduction to the pageant of Indian cultural development in New Mexico for the last 10,000 years, seeing prime examples of their historic pottery, baskets, and textiles.
Nearby, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian celebrates a 1927 venture between scholar Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Navajo medicine man Hasteen Klah. They sought to safeguard materials that reflect Navajo culture and ritual. At the time, Navajo culture seemed in the throes of dissolution. With the modern resurgence of Navajo spiritual self-direction, many of the collected artifacts have been returned to the tribe. The basement of the Wheelwright now functions as an elaborate trading post.
The Museum of International Folk Art , built around the collection of Alexander Girard, is one of the world’s finest collection of this sort. Girard began, as a boy, by collecting Christmas nativity scenes. He continued, as an adult, to amass folk art materials from all cultures. Girard saw the colorful, vital objects in folk art as witness to the shared humanity of all peoples.
Santa Fe ‘s main celebration is the September Fiesta de Santa Fe , said to be the oldest ongoing celebration in the U.S. , dating from 1712.
LODGING AND DINING IN SANTA FE
Several Santa Fe lodgings emphasize the traditional pueblo architecture.
La Fonda, on the edge of the plaza, is the historic hotel here. Mule and wagon trains of traders on the Santa Fe trail ended up at La Fonda, which advertises itself correctly as the inn at the end of the trail. The Fonda has witnessed the pageant of 400 years of European and American influence here.
The Inn at Loretto, two blocks from the plaza, is an example of a modern hotel constructed totally in the pueblo-motif, resembling the mu lti-story Indian structures a traveler sees at Taos .
Another major hotel in the pueblo-style is the Eldorado Hotel, which has a modern fitness center for people who like to work out while traveling.
The Hotel Plaza Real, close to the Plaza, offers a cozy and central location in a building fashioned in the Territorial style.
Outside of town, the Bishop’s Lodge offers country peace and quiet, plus horseback riding and hiking, only a 10-minute drive from the city.
Among restaurants, try New Mexico cuisine at the Coyote Cafe, where the feature of the day might be Southwest Sausage, or at the Pink Adobe, where the enchiladas made of blue corn tortillas are a specialty.
The Restaurant at the Inn at Loretto (that’s actually the name) serves a delicious steak.
Celebrations on Canyon Road emphasizes its New Mexico enchiladas and locally-made olive bread.
At The Old House restaurant in the Eldorado Hotel you might begin with a quail appetizer and proceed with the rack of lamb.
Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen is famous for its margaritas and its dedication to authentic New Mexico cuisine. Owner Al Lucero has written two books on the art of making margaritas.
La Fonda would rank as the most traditional restaurant in Santa Fe, a counterpoint to a culinary scene always evolving.
Two appealing roads lead from Santa Fe north into the mountains to Taos. Take one road each way to get the full flavor.
Taos is important as an art center (with 60 galleries), Indian habitat, ski site, and as a window to the natural beauty of the Rio Grande and the mountains.
Highway 285-68 is the main road, leading through several pueblos and following the Rio Grande. The so-called High Road is the more mountainous Highway 76-3, traversing back country villages. The terrain north of Santa Fe is the Sangre de Christo Mountains, so named because the purplish color at sunset suggests blood. Aspencade trips on the High Road offer blazing gold fall color in October.
Both roads pass near the village of Chimayo, known for its remarkable church, the piety of its people, and the range of crafts they produce.
The roads also skirt the San Ildefonso pueblo, whose Tewa Indian potter, Maria Martinez, is internationally known for her black clay work.
Santa Clara is another interesting pueblo here. Stop to see the red and black pottery.
Highway 68 then takes you through the fruit-growing area of Velarde to the Rio Grande Gorge State Park, a good picnic spot right on the river. Here the Rio Grande surges as a wild and scenic river. Rafters appreciate the technical challenge of an 18-mile section of the river, known as “The Box”, outside Taos. Further south in the state, the river widens and is finally consumed entirely by thirsty water users. The Chama River is also a popular rafting stream. Trout fishermen cast Royal Wolf and Irresistible dry flies at their quarry in both rivers.
The High Road, by contrast, takes you into the mountains, where you see Spanish villages with poetic names, such as Truchas, Vadito, and Trampas.
Two National Monuments could be considered excursions from Santa Fe in a roundabout trip to Taos. The Pecos National Monument is a Spanish colonial Mission ruin with a 12th-century pueblo. Bandelier National Monument contains an interpretive center and Anasazi ruins from circa 1200-1500 A.D. Anasazi is the Navajo word used collectively for the earlier Indian cultures, roughly translating as “the ancient ones.”
At Taos, start at the tree-lined plaza to get a sense of the town, dating from 1763. A block away you’ll find Kit Carson’s House, filled with the frontiersman’s memorabilia. Two blocks from the plaza is R. C. Gorman’s Navajo Gallery, where his elegant Navajo women appear in several media. Taos is especially interesting to explore for the art enthusiast. At the Grycner Gallery, for example, you can see the work of Taos native, Miguel Martinez, whose roots go back to the conquistador past. Martinez’s subject, like Gorman’s, is the New Mexico woman, with Martinez drawing the Spanish women floating meditatively in the light and landscape of Taos.
The Indian pueblo of Taos lies two miles north of the modern city. Multi-storied houses flank both sides of clear, cool Taos Creek, with the Taos Mountains as backdrop. The white church, beige structures, occasional human figure swathed in a blanket (a tradition here for men), and brilliant blue sky make this a moving place to visit. It is known that people have lived here for 800 years, preserving their environment intact. The beauty of this scene is New Mexico at its best. (Acoma pueblo, sited on a butte west of Albuquerque, is Taos pueblo’s photogenic rival for the most dramatic Indian setting in the state.) At the Taos pueblo you can encounter Indians selling breads and crafts. About 50 Indians still live in the ancient pueblo, without benefit of water or electricity. A more modern pueblo surrounds this enclave.
The ski area lies just north of Taos. Wheeler Peak, at 13,161 feet, is the highest point in the state.
For the traveler with ample leisure time, Highway 64 from Taos to Raton is a lovely road, especially the aspen-filled forests west of Cimarron. The road from Cimarron to Raton follows the historic Santa Fe Trail known to mountain men, traders, and early pioneers.
LODGING AND DINING IN TAOS
A block off the plaza, the historic Taos Inn enchants. The lobby approximates a pueblo setting of adobe walls and heavy log beams. The Inn’s Doc Martin’s restaurant offers one of the town’s fine dining experiences. Try the pepper-crusted lamb.
SKIING NEW MEXICO
A traveler in the autumn or winter may wonder: what is it like to ski New Mexico?
Among 10 commercial ski areas, the most challenging is Taos Ski Valley, where half of the 73 runs are for advanced skiers.
The closest skiing to Albuquerque is at Sandia Peak Ski Area, 20 miles from the city. Sandia has runs for all skill levels of skiers, with emphasis on intermediate.
Albuquerque is the state ski gateway, with all ski slopes within three hours of the city. Fly in and drive yourself is the popular ski mode.
Santa Fe’s Ski Basin, 16 miles northeast of the city, is in the nearby Sangre de Christo Mountains at high altitudes, up to 12,000 feet. Runs are primarily for intermediate and expert skiers.
The snowfall rate is over 100 inches for roughly 10,000 square miles of mountains. Some sites get as mu ch as 600 inches.
Cross-country skiing is popular at Sandia Mountain near Albuquerque, Hyde Park near Santa Fe, and at Carson National Forest north of Taos.
Winter aromas include the pine scent in the air from the burning pinon logs.
A skier who can combine a New Mexico visit with Christmas will witness the notable Christmas show of luminarias (or farolitos) around the main square in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The words refer to sand-filled paper bags with candles inside, a special New Mexico tradition, meant by the faithful to light the way of the wise men in search of Christ. Re-enactment brings alive the biblical stories, such as Las Posadas, the rejection-from-the-inns sequence.
GALLUP: WEST OF ALBUQUERQUE
Though Santa Fe and Taos, north and east of Albuquerque, will absorb the time of most travelers, another adventure lies west of Albuquerque.
The trip takes you to the major Indian trading town of Gallup, which calls itself the Indian Capital of the World. The annual August Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial includes mu ch dancing and an All-Indian Rodeo.
From Gallup you can venture either south to the Zuni settlement of Black Rock or north to the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, site of the highly developed 12th-century pueblo culture.
Zuni pueblo is the largest among the 19 major Indian entities in New Mexico. The Zunis are known universally for their jewelry, baskets, and textiles. The tribe also maintains a modern RV site at Black Rock.
Chaco culture, among its many achievements, developed 1200 miles of roads, whose pattern is discernible from the air by knowledgeable archaeologists. Chaco was abandoned precipitously, probably due to drought.
New Mexico may have disappointed Francisco Coronado, who failed to find his seven cities of gold there. But the modern traveler, content with treasures such as mountains of golden aspens in September-October, will be amply rewarded. New Mexico is our most foreign and among our most intriguing states. It is no accident that business cards from New Mexico sometimes include, after their zip code, the initials U.S.A. , hoping to preclude any geographic errors or doubts.
NEW MEXICO : IF YOU GO
The overall state tourism office for New Mexico is: New Mexico Department of Tourism, Lamy Bldg., Room 106, 491 Old Santa Fe Tr., Santa Fe , NM 87503; 505/827-7400, 800/545-2040; www.newmexico.org.
Albuquerque ‘s information office is: Albuquerque Convention and Visitor Bureau, 20 First Plaza NW, Suite 601, Albuquerque, NM ; 800/284-2282; www.itsatrip.org.
For Santa Fe, the contact is Santa Fe Convention and Visitor Bureau, P.O. Box 909, Santa Fe, NM 87504-0909; 800/777-CITY, 505/984-6760; www.santafe.org.
Taos also maintains an active traveler information source: Taos Chamber of Commerce, Drawer I, Taos, NM 87571; www.taoschamber.org.