New Mexico – Majesty Abounds

There seemed to be a line drawn at the Arizona & New Mexico border – we could REALLY see a difference in topology almost immediately. It was a delightful day to travel first to Grants NM for an overnight stop and then on to Santa Fe, about 50 miles north of Albuquerque.

Our stop at Grants was driven solely by our 3-3-3 rule of motorcoaching (less than 300 miles, in by 3 pm and, at every opportunity, stay 3 days). Grants met the criteria for two, but we did not plan nor did we need to stay 3 days. Once a thriving town on Route 66, its employment and riches came from the uranium mines throughout the area. When those closed, so did the town. We were, of course, reminded of our fabulous visit to the North Channel Yacht Club in 2015 aboard Ivory Lady as we did The Loop. Their entire marina, including all the rails for storage and launching of vessels, came from the uranium riches of that area.

The KOA campground was everything we have come to expect from this organization- clean, level sites, pleasant people and often not much else. This one set itself apart by offering home cooked meals delivered to your coach every evening! After touring Grants, we understood why – the only restaurants were McDonald’s, KFC and Sonic. There was a Mexican restaurant, but I would not have set foot in it and it was closed on Sunday. However, we are fully equipped and stocked, so having them deliver dinner (complete with home baked pie and ice cream) was only a temptation.

We were on to Santa Fe on Monday morning, without issue as we drove through downtown Albuquerque. As the state capitol and prior to that the center of Native American history, Santa Fe has a distinct vibrancy and energy. The galleries of amazing New Mexico and Native American art will take your breath (and your hard earned dollars) away.

Our first stop was San Miguel Church, the oldest church structure in the USA. The original adobe walls and altar (ca 1610) were built by Tlazalan Indians from Mexico under the direction of Franciscan Padres. There is an area within the church where excavation exposes some of the original adobe bricks. We would learn later why the buildings appear as new on their exterior.

On to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the mother church for the Roman Catholic Dioceses of the southwest and home to the Archbishop of Santa Fe, Most Rev. John C. Wester.

We spent a lovely day wandering shops, chatting with locals and absorbing the energy of the “old town.” Near mid-afternoon, Captain Bill expressed concern on the ever-darkening clouds and our distance to our car without an umbrella. Off we hoofed at a lively pace and slid into the car as the first pellets of a downpour began. A quick stop at the gallery where we had purchased a wall-hanging for our casita at Desert Shores and we were off for the coach.

Wednesday we were off early in the Toad for an amazing journey up the Rio Grande Gorge to Taos. We knew the day would culminate with connecting with good friends, but we had “a day” of learning the history and structure of the Taos Pueblo and its people.

Taos Pueblo is the largest pueblo of the nineteen pueblos in their council. There are three councils of the Pueblo Nation, but structurally are less “governed” as in the Navajo Nation. The Red Willow People of Taos Pueblo have been there since approximately 1,000 BC, but no archeological testing has been allowed, as they see no need!

The loose definition of a pueblo is a defined settlement (usually a walled community) that provides for the needs of the people that reside therein. The first church at Taos Pueblo, San Geronimo, was built in 1619 during the first “invasion” of the Spanish. It was destroyed twice, first during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, (led by Red Willow and other Pueblo Indians including Hopi & Zuni) when they drove the Spanish back to the Mexican border. Their rebellion was driven by both their treatment by the Spanish, and because of the forced Roman Catholic beliefs and the elimination of their own sacred spiritual and natural beliefs. They destroyed “their own church” because it was seen as not theirs but of the Spanish.

The Spanish returned 12 years later; an event known as the Re-Conquest. This time, however, they came with missionaries who rebuilt the Church – but also respected the beliefs of the Pueblo People and included them in their worship and life.

In 1847, another uprising, this time against US occupancy, was led by Native and Hispanic forces. Governor Bent was murdered and the retaliation by US forces was a bloody and costly conflict where hundreds of Hispanic and Native people were killed as they sheltered inside the church. The remains of the church stand today overlooking the central cemetery for Taos Pueblo.

The second and current San Geronimo – Center for the Taos Pueblo Community.

The current San Geronimo was built in 1850 and serves today centrally to the community for mass, weddings, etc. Today, the Red Willow People say they have a dual-religion of Catholicism and Pueblo spiritual beliefs.

The Red Willow Creek was raging with all the winter snow melt and significant rains.

Blue Lake, a glacier lake located 25 miles up into the Taos Pueblo wilderness area of the Sangre de Christos mountains feeds Red Willow Creek. Not only the only water source for the pueblo, Blue Lake is also revered as sacred. Under Theodore Roosevelt, the lake and surrounding lands were taken in 1906 and placed under the US Forest Service. Through much effort by many, Taos Pueblo regained 48,000 acres in 1970 from President Richard Nixon, utilizing the Religious Freedom Act. Today the lake and over 100,000 acres remains in its pristine state and is cared for and utilized exclusively by tribal members.

The community is a combination of single level, dual level and multi-level structures that look like “apartments”. Each “home” is one or at most two rooms, always on the same level. The homes are owned by a family and passed down from one generation to the next. The homes have no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing. The ladders you see allow the owners on the homes on higher levels to gain entry to their home, as there are no interior stairways. Some homes have been retrofitted with propane to provide heat and lighting, but many remain with the kiva (wood fireplace) as the only source of heat and light.

The structures are built with hand-made adobe bricks of mud, straw and water, with a smooth layer of the same adobe material spread over the brick. Each year, the adobe is repaired at the right temperature for curing and drying by adding another layer of mud, straw and water — making it look “new” again. The walls are very thick and are natural insulators.

A traditional Horno – seen throughout Taos Pueblo

Outside many of the homes, you will find a horno (oven) structure. Introduced by the Spanish, the Pueblo people have perfected the structure to suit their needs. Commonly used for baked goods, a cedar fire is allowed to burn down to coals, the coals are then removed with something akin to a wet mop and then the items are placed in the oven for baking. It is by testing the oven with pieces of straw that determines when the oven is the correct temperature for baking. If a piece of straw placed in the oven catches fire, it is still too hot. But wait too long and the baked goods of pies, cookies and breads will not completely bake!

Our guide, Summer, is a college student whose family owns a home in Taos Pueblo. Like many today, they also own home outside the walls where more modern accommodations (heat, light, plumbing) are allowed and available, but they often spend time in their family ancestral home. Summer is studying to work in the dental field, but spends every minute she can at Taos Pueblo, both to honor her heritage and to learn the native language, Tiwa. Her first language was English, as her mother was not from Taos Pueblo, but she wants very much to maintain the language and heritage of her forefathers for the next generations. The importance of this can’t be overstated as all of the native history is oral and not chronicled anywhere.

With much reluctance, we departed Taos Pueblo, having a great appreciation for their way of life and their commitment to the continuity of that way of life for centuries past and centuries to come.

We made our way to the Rio Grande Gorge to view the bridge that spans the Gorge and the surrounding majestic views. The gorge was originally created as a result of volcanic action that separated the mountain range, leaving a 10 mile wide plain. Over the last several million years, the Rio Grande River has cut the gorge some 800 feet from the surface. The gorge runs approximately 50 miles from the Colorado border from northwest to southeast and then the Rio Grande continues its way south to become the border of Texas and Mexico. It is not nearly the magnitude of the Grand Canyon simply because it is much younger than the Canyon and the Colorado River cutting through it.

After a perfectly lovely day, the best was yet to come — an evening with Bruce & Sherry Popham (and Bruce’s mother, Barbara). Good friends from our days in the Florida Keys, Bruce & Sherry sold their business, Marathon Boatyard, last June and by January of this year had sold their home and relocated to just outside Taos. What fun it was to catch up with them – and share with each other all the changes in our lives since our days in the Keys! For those of you that have traveled with us since the beginning of the Loop, it was Sherry to saved us on our first day! Ivory Lady developed a sensor issue not two miles off the dock on the day of our departure (Saturday) and Sherry made magic happen with one of their technical team from Marathon Boatyard and we were on our way the same afternoon!

They have a lovely home near the Rio Grande Gorge and less than 25 minute drive (in good weather) to the ski slopes that they love so much. They are certainly treating life well, seem so happy with their “next chapter” and very happy to share their heaven with friends. We look forward to more opportunities to connect in the seasons to come.

Our last day in Santa Fe found us in the Railyard District, an up and coming area of town where people go to “see and be seen.” It has a variety of art galleries, boutiques (sweatshirts are $250!), movie theatre and delightful restaurants. It also has a sweet little tasting room for Santa Fe Distillery – which we were forced to visit! We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Santa Fe Train Depot as a train disembarked – it runs from Albuquerque to Santa Fe with 9 stops in between. It’s wonderful that they are maintaining and utilized this classic train depot.

We love trains – and have gone to sleep almost every night of this trip listening to the sounds of their whistles!

But, alas, all good things must come to an end. We returned to Contessa to prepare for an early departure the following morning – for our longest travel day of the trip.

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilled, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” – John Muir

Author: Contessa & The Toad Get Hitched

After years traveling this beautiful country by boat, the Captain and the Admiral are bound for land adventures. Whenever Contessa (the motorcoach) and the Toad (Jeep Grand Cherokee) get hitched (towing the car) - we’ll post our adventures!

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