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…chasing Apollo, Leg #9. Santa Fe Trail

  • Thursday, April 24, 2014

Walking and climbing at 6500 feet above sea level still bothers Jim and me. It's hard to breathe and we tire easily.

By Gayle L. Carson

Special to the Moultrie News

City of Rocks pops out of the flats of the Chihuahuan Desert, a surreal landscape of igneous rock millions of years old. We climbed over, under and through what looked like anything one’s imagination could think up: city streets surrounded by rock houses and chimneys. We found petroglyphs (etched) and pictographs (painted) left on rocks by ancient peoples and lovely blossoms and prairie dog colonies all around, but no rattlesnakes, thank goodness. The wind still howled and the dust blew suffocatingly, so we gave up and ran from it, hopelessly trying to escape. We stopped in Silver City and prowled up Bullard Street and its side streets of artsy shops. My favorite was SYZYGY where local artisans, including students from local schools, cut, press, paint and glaze by hand the most unusual and lovely tiles and mosaics. We ate Ooxana (chicken mole) at the Curious Kumquat Beer Garden (since nowhere else would seat us with the pups) and then strolled back down their take of the Riverwalk, except they call it “The Big Ditch Park.” It was really quite cool and lovely. Leaving City of Rocks, we understood why so many stories have cropped up about this remote area over the years. We passed the largest open-pit copper pit mine in the world, The Chino, a travesty of incredible dimensions on an already blighted landscape; “Trinity Site,” where the Atomic bomb was first exploded in July 1945; “Very Large Array,” the site from sci-fi films of acres of satellite dishes aimed at outer space (except it really is real!); and Roswell, supposed site of the July 1947 landing of “extraterrestrials” and of the infamous Area 51. No one could or would live in such a dimension and we could not get away fast enough.

Next stop was Elephant Butte, waterfront site: you could see the largest recreational lake in New Mexico from a butte, but couldn’t get closer than two miles… quite a difference in the terms “waterfront” from here and home. Boy, are we thirsty for water! Alberqueque we liked despite its recent accusation of police brutality and mismanagement. We were downtown. There is an old town and a modern, new town; both seem clean and friendly and artsy to us. Jim had the world famous green chili cheeseburger at The Owl, but I just got a kraut and swiss dog, both with homemade milkshakes. All the places we eat have been recommended multiple times by foodie books and taken national awards from people like James Beard, and we haven’t eaten a bad meal out. The modern roadways have adobe colored walls with mountain scenes etched into them…all salmon colored and very pretty.

And finally, we saw the attached photo: snow peaks and trees in the Sangre de Christo mountains behind Santa Fe. We have stopped here for a week and rented a car to explore the Four Corners areas. Weather is lovely 70s in daytime and 30s at night, however the wind is still with us. Our Yorkie, Grits, will no longer go out for walks because of the wind and dust, and when it howled last night she was so scared, she left my side in the bed and went to hide under my co-pilot’s chair. We washed everything inside: sheets, bedspreads, towels, clothes, rugs, trying to shake the dust. We drove the old Route 66, which is also the old Sante Fe Trail and Pecos Trail into the Santa Fe Railyard for the Farmers’ Market and Artists Fair. There were a couple of bands playing and some individual musicians playing and singing on curbsides (as they were in the Old Town Plaza). Though crowded everyone moved slowly, stopped to listen and dance to the music, and seemed friendly and in high spirits. Dress is blue jeans or hippie chic, a lot of funky goods and people. We had lunch at Clafoutis, a French Bistro, on the other end of Guadalupe Dr. after touring the old Mission of Statuaria de Sante Maria from 1600s. The ground under and around the chapel is a sacred healing area. Hope it works on arthritis. We left Clafoutis with fresh baked breads and pastries for the week. After touring Canyon Road galleries (dragging Jim reluctantly), we went to Old Town and he refused Georgia O’Keefe’s museum which also had Ansel Adams’ photos of Hawaii, waiting on the street while I toured. So we skipped museum hill and did some of the shops around the plaza. The Govenor’s Palace on the plaza is one of the oldest public buildings in the US and is very impressive in the size and ornamentation of the rooms. Jim and I do like the Basilicas (blessed by the pope) and the one on the plaza for which Santa Fe was named is the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assissi. We also had to see the spiral staircase at Loretto Chapel, the oldest house (1600) with Indian artifacts underneath that dated back to 1200…the same with the San Miguel Mission which has plexiglassed windows in the floor showing steps from the 1610 chapel and then the Indian flooring and artifacts from AD to 1200.

My best buddy then bought me a beautiful set of Navaho Indian jewelry necklace, earrings and ring which I wore to a fine dining experience at Coyote Café, the best dinner we’ve had since Charleston…but a much needed break in the camping routine to prove to ourselves that we could still act appropriately in an elegant setting. We started with summer squash blossoms stuffed with Dungeness crab, blue tortilla corn fingers. Entrée was capered halibut in a cognac butter sauce, Crimini mushrooms and asparagus. I’ve forgotten details…too much “Senorita” Rita…but we brought home enough for a second night with the varied truffles they gave us since we were too full to order the extravagant desserts they offered. Needless to say, we love Santa Fe…the whole town is flat-topped adobe that blends into the hillside.

On Sunday we drove our little rental, a chevy Eqinox, through the Santa Fe National Forest along the Pecos River scouting for fishing sites for Jim, seeing some wonderful countryside with rushing waters, green trees, and giant mule deer grazing calmly roadside, twitching those burro-sized ears. We explored the Pecos national Monument, 2000 year old Pueblo church and ruins. Monday, despite an evening of rain, snow and rain we headed into the Jemez Mountains and again saw beautiful countryside, hot springs, and ancient pueblo sites.

…chasing Apollo through Ancestral Ruins, Leg #10

When Jim and I started this odyssey, we both admitted that we were not very interested in Indians or the geological upheavals that had created the strata of the US, but we committed ourselves o learning. We have followed the Pecos River to its tributaries in the Santa Fe National Forest in the Sangre de Christo Mountains, exploring the Pecos Pueblo National Monument, meeting huge mule deer face to face, almost close enough to stroke those big, burro-like ears. We saw the extraordinary influence the Spanish conquistadors and Catholic priests had on these early peoples, building out of the clay, dirt, and straw of the land tremendous churches and small-roomed homes with fireplace, air ventilators, drainage and cistern systems, and agricultural fields on prime sites overlooking waterways and rich flood plains.

We climbed (breathlessly at 7300 feet above sea level) the pocked cliff dwellings of the Jemez Pueblo in the Jemez Mountains National Monument and learned the similarities and differences between these two affluent and sophisticated pueblos. The Ancestors build 2 -3 story adobe homes against the cliffs and then carved out or used weather-carved caves in the cliff of Frijoles Canyon in which to live and defend themselves. Over 2,000 ancients lived in over 400 rooms of a circular village below on a pateau and used 3 kivas, subterranean ceremonial houses entered through ladders in a hole in the ceiling, for important gatherings. Yet further below this runs the great Rio Grande. The earliest Ancestors only spread seeds, hoping to come back to harvest corn and squash later in their nomadic travels; only centuries late did they actually start an agricultural system of tending to crops. (Pictures of all this are on my Facebook page.) . The Valles Caldera, one of 7 super volcanoes in the world and home to the largest elk population in the state, is now a giant meadow where bear, elk and other wildlife are easily seen and trout streams abound. Jim wanted to go there and, in return, we were to soak in the 11 sulfur-free, geothermal, mineral pools at Ojo Caliente hotsprings. Unfortunately, we ran out of time for both, and for the rest of the scenic highway that would have taken us by a number of waterfalls, famous rock formations, and the Jemez State Monument. We did marvel at White Rock’s overlook of the Rio Grande snaking through the White Rock Canyon under the snow topped peaks of the Sangre de Christo. We saw several “Top Secret” installations in Los Alamos, but agreed not to visit the lab where the Manhattan Project developed the atomic bomb, nor the Bradbury Science Museum of History, Defense, and Research. As I write this from the “office” in our Thor A.C.E. coach, co-pilot’s seat, we are traveling to Aztec Ruins, a World Heritage UNESCO site where we will camp among the thriving cultural capital I’m sure I will make mistakes in my discourse and offend these special peoples with my generalizations, so I will separate the remaining western tribes the best I can before discussing their heritage sites that we visit.

Briefly, let me tell you about The People, because it is offensive to call them Native Americans or Indians. They prefer tribal names, but I can neither spell, pronounce, or remember those. So one acceptably calls them American Indians or The First Americans. They consider themselves one with every rock, plant, and animal in these lands and therefore a part of The Ancestors whose spirits still inhabit these lands. Even more so, this makes these lands sacred and we, as visitors, must treat he lands as sacred abodes of the still present Ancients. New Mexico has 19 Pueblo tribes who built the great stone cities we are visiting. Most welcome visitors to their ruins and casinos, but there are many restrictions on trespassing and behavior. Other tribes in the Four Corners Regions which Jim and I are exploring are the Hopi, 11,000 people in NE Arizona who consider themselves descendants of the ancient Puebloan and live similarly but are completely surrounded by the Navajo reservation with regular and expected border disputes. The Navajo Reservation is the largest with over 200,000 people who adapt easily to new ways. Remember the WW II code talkers used their unwritten language as the only undecipherable code to the Japanese. The Paiutes, in Utah and northern Arizona number only about 1800 and are wonderful basketry artisans. The Havasupai are a small tribe who have lived lived for centuries down an 8 mile trek of the western Grand Canyon. Although they welcome visitors into their green, riverside utopia, Jim and I will be unable physically to visit them. The Utes are Colorado Southern and Mountain; ranchers and farmers today, they used to be hunters and gathers. The Hualapai, descendants of nomadic hunters and gathers, have also settled near the western end of the Grand Canyon and require permits from those wanting to cross their lands. Finally, the Jicarilla Apache, nomadic hunters and fierce warriors, number about 2500 today and welcome hunters, fishers, capers, and recreationalists to their 850,000 acre reservation in NW New Mexico today.

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