Bandelier, Taos and the Rio Grande; destination Santa Fe, NM accomplished

During the past week, Steph and I have taken numerous day adventures.  Last Tuesday, we drove through Los Alamos where she and her husband lived and stopped briefly in White Rock.  There was an amazing ledge, spotted with black porous igneous rocks, overlooking the Rio Grande as it twists through the mountains into the distance.  Another mountain range, dusted with snow, hugs the horizon.

We spent the afternoon at the Bandelier National Monument just past White Rock.  There was a brochure of the park in Steph’s car that caught my attention a few days before.  We had spent a lot of time touring the various art shops and craft markets and I was excited to spend some time wandering around outside especially among ancient archaeology.

In the 1100s, this area was inhabited by the Pueblo people who carved out homes in the soft volcanic tuff that makes up the cliff walls.   In the canyon, sits the remains of the ancient village, Tyuonyi, which was a series of walled off rooms that stood two stories high and housed around 100 people.  There were a number of “kivas” in the center that were used for religious ceremonies and community meetings.  These were underground circular dwellings covered with wood and earth and entered by ladder.  Now all that remains are large holes in the ground with some trace of the posts that held the roof.

There is also evidence of earlier nomadic tribes wandering through the area over 10,000 years ago.  Near the end of the available Main Loop Trail are walls of eroding petroglyphs, carved symbols of people, birds, deer etc.  It was not a long hike but by the time we reached the glyphs I was quite happy to prolong my gaze at them.  Perhaps it was the elevation but I was extremely lightheaded and I ended up having a rather uncomfortable hypoglycemic issue on the way back down the trail.  It was worth it though; it was probably the warmest day since I’ve been here and we had the chance to enjoy the outside.

A couple days after, we were occupied with the festivities of Thanksgiving so we didn’t go adventuring again until Saturday when Steph, Aaron and I went to Taos.  Before we left Santa Fe, we stopped at the artist and farmers market they have every Saturday.  The Flea, an open flea and art market, was also attached.  We had seen a lot of these types of trinkets but I think this was the best variety of crafts, imports, antiques and local art.  In most cases, the vendors were really pushy; if you touched anything they would immediately tell you how much it was and in Steph’s case, one of the women actually grabbed the purse from her to show her the inside.  As I was scanning the locked boxes of jewelry along one counter, the seller stood on the other side and slowly followed me to the end.  I was very happy to meet a silversmith with a much gentler personality that had some elegant and simple flat sterling silver stud earrings that were within my price range.  At some point in the days prior, I had lost one of my earrings and I dreamed of finding a pair of cheap flat silver studs.  That’s harder than you think so I was pleasantly surprised that after so many jewelry vendors we had seen that I actually found exactly what I’d hoped for.

The farmer’s market was just closing up when we got there but we were still able to do a quick loop.  There were a lot of imported items and the vegetables were fairly thin by then.  Accompanied by a guitarist, there was a single old accordian player with a wiry gray beard and small fitted knit hat playing a slightly Spanish sounding tune.  An older woman, presumably in her 70s with short gray-red hair and a plushy leopard backpack on, beamed with a wrinkly smile as she slowly twirled to the music.

It takes about an hour to drive to Taos from Santa Fe.  The trip gave me time to reflect on what I felt so far.  As I’d said before, I found it hard to concentrate the first few days I was here.  I’m not sure if that has completely gone away.  I like the quietness here, I remembered the Black Hills as I watched the mountains crawling closer to the road.  The land here is hard to hear though.  It’s voice seems muffled but I don’t claim to know by what.  Perhaps it’s just that way to me right now.  You have to be in the right headspace to hear and maybe I just wasn’t there.  I feel like a Native perspective would be useful.  There are a number of reservations scattered in the area but I’ve only met Natives as vendors who are preoccupied with selling their wares.

Bordering the Taos Pueblo is the Rio Grande Gorge, our first stop near Taos.  The sun was beaming but the wind was extremely bitter.  We stayed very briefly to take a couple photos of this gargantuan crack in the earth’s skin zigzagging through the middle of a flat plain surrounded in the distance by snow covered mountains.  Unfortunately, it was so cold  and the sun was so stark on one side of the gorge that I was unable to take a satisfying photo.  Luckily, Steph came recently on an overcast day and was able to capture it.  I’ve added her image here.

A short distance down the road were the Earthships, a collection of eclectic eco-friendly homes.  Steph had been talking about them since before I got to Santa Fe so she had established a good amount of hype.  They were pretty amazing but we were very disappointed to see that it cost seven dollars for the self-guided tour.  We decided against that as it seemed rather unreasonable so we walked around the newest building in construction that bordered the parking area.  The walls were made mostly of tin soda cans tipped on their sides and covered with concrete, in some cases there were colored bottles and recycled tires.  The overall shape of  the building is rather fun and unique, hence the term, Earthship, a reference to an alien spaceship, more than likely as there is nothing nautical about them.

The overall experience there was fairly inhospitable.  There were a number of signs saying you were not allowed; oddly enough one of these was on the door to the “general store” with a sign saying “No tourists.”  I found this very strange considering there was an entry fee to go into the visitor center.  But this attitude isn’t uncharacteristic of the interactions I’ve witnessed in New Mexico so far.  There is a certain amount of rudeness and perhaps even as far as entitlement that I’ve experienced from some of the service workers and vendors.  Steph and I had one interaction on Canyon Road when we had a great time hanging out one afternoon with the owner of a local gallery and coffee shop.  We hit it off at first because we all instantly recognized that none of us were locals; we were too friendly and smiled too much.

Everything has a price.  We looked into going to the Taos Pueblo but there is a $20 entry fee and a $6 fee just to carry a camera in and then very specific rules about what can be photographed.  Some rules are understandable to protect the Native culture and show them due respect.  But the fees definitely put me off.  I would very much have liked to go to a Native reservation but I got the distinct impression that what I would be paying for would not be an authentic experience.  I would only be allowed to experience what a tourist is allowed to see and that’s not why I travel.

On Wednesday, I head back to Oakland.  Part of me is very happy to go back to the warm weather; it’s been pretty cold here.  I’m a little anxious too though.  I have a room to stay in and I’ll start paying rent and now I have to find a job.  It’s a little nervewracking but I’m ready for it I suppose.  I’m excited to make some money so I can find some decent pottery workshops or classes.  And if I can’t then I’ll just keep traveling and maybe I’ll head back to New Mexico in the summer as there are a lot of ceramic classes then.

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4 thoughts on “Bandelier, Taos and the Rio Grande; destination Santa Fe, NM accomplished

  1. Nicely chronicled, Fade. Your points about authenticity for tourists are well taken. I have really enjoyed some of my travels in the Southwest and it is always the areas that are least traveled and most remote. Check out Canyon de Chelley just across the border into Arizona if and when you ever get the opportunity. A well kept secret and absolutely beautiful!!!

  2. Fade…Emerson and I enjoyed your musings. I have never been to the Southwest so I enjoyed your journey vicariously. Remember, always carry some nuts and crackers with you when hiking to prevent hpoglycemic attacks.

  3. I am sorry the high elevation (7,00ft) and low humidity had an affect on you while you were here in Santa Fe. I hope our interesting explorations were worth it! I liked going to Bandelier, Taos and Madrid especially!

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