Who are we

We are a family of 3 who took a break from our routine. Usually we live in Scotland but February to the end of July 2011 we were on the road in North America for 6 months. We are Mark (also known as Dad), Rachel (also known as Mum... and a whole bunch of other names... my usual at-home blog is here) and little h (10/11 years of age during the trip).

Friday, 13 May 2011

New Mexico - Land of Enchantment? Part Two.

So, it turns out yesterday was a bad day to post a blog update. The whole system was on the blink, our first New Mexico post came and went (and then came back again), comments disappeared... very confusing! Right now we're deep into Arizona and lots of great photo days coming up soon so we want to make sure New Mexico doesn't get lost altogether (or our reports of it at least) so here is the second part of this short series. And we'll be back with Arizona... some time next week.

So after Bandelier (see last post) we spent the rest of Sunday driving north east to Taos. The drive took us through a reservation, along the edge of the Rio Grande (we stopped, h paddled, we enjoyed listening to the bilingual Spanish/English kids jumping in and out of languages…) and then we passed through more and more beautiful mountain scenery (at one point we caught sight of the Rio Grande Gorge and it is spectacular!). Then we got to Taos – sleepy little Taos is a smaller, quirkier Santa Fe and it’s at the foot of even higher mountains. The keep-to-the-adobe-look restrictions seem to be well enforced here too – even McDonald’s has no high arch in Taos (see photos).

We’d booked two nights in Taos (at the very reasonable and very lovely Taos Pueblo Lodge) but after our first evening out on the Sunday (lovely food and drink, really relaxed atmosphere, great music in a bar/restaurant – the excellent Taos Inn, hippies aplenty etc.) we booked another night and determined to have a little rest and catch our breath in this special wee place. The next day (Monday 9th) we really did rest (siesta!) and apart from that we just wandered a bit around the centre of the town (a lot of tourist shops but good bookshops, eco-friendly shops and so on too). It’s so beautiful with the mountains all around and the trees and the general air of calm that we really did wind down a little. Then on Tuesday 10th we resumed tourist/travelling duties and visited:

The Taos Pueblo – this is the area next to modern (i.e. Spanish colonial and beyond) Taos where the local Tiwa Native Americans still keep their houses pretty much as they have been for hundreds of years (i.e. no electricity or mains water – you can read about it here). Their leaflet says the Tao Pueblo is “considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the USA”) and visitors pay to enter (not very much) and pay to take in a camera (though you are asked to take photos only for ‘personal use’ hence no photos of the Pueblo will be in this blog). No-one pretends that the locals live only and always here (they have other more modern houses outside the Pueblo walls for the most part) but the area is still very much in use and has a large church (many of the Tiwa are now Catholic as well as keeping to other older beliefs - kind of blended together from what we could understand) and a cemetery within its borders (as well as a lot of other activity going on just outside). We were a little surprised how many of the buildings in the Pueblo were used as shops of some kind just now (selling jewellery, ceramics, clothes, art, very tasty ‘fry bread’) but then tourist destinations are tourist destinations and people have to make a living so there was no reason to be surprised really. I think we just wanted a break from gift shops… but evidently there is no such thing (and then we went mad anyway and ended up buying a necklace, a painting and some fry bread…like a light naan bread with icing sugar on… oh heck, we’ll need a trailer for the car soon… and some new, bigger clothes…).

After the Pueblo (and lunch in the hotel picnic area… and a game of horseshoes there too) we visited some much newer houses – the Earthships that are out on the 64 highway, over on the other side of the amazing, and very gusty, Rio Grande Gorge bridge. The Earthships are eco-friendly buildings first built in New Mexico (about 40 years ago) but now appearing all over the world – their website is here. They concentrate on using renewable energy, using rain/snow water for the building’s water supply and using some recycled materials for construction (mainly car tyres packed with earth and cans and bottles in cement – see the photos and you’ll get the idea). The visitor centre has some information (though we had a few more questions than could be answered by the very friendly, young intern) and it’s undeniable that the buildings are very, very striking (green does not have to be dull or ugly!). You can even rent an earthship for a night to try one out for size (but we already had our names down elsewhere). Interesting to visit – though we would have liked a proper tour rather than the self-guided business. It is a fascinating subject (how to make housing, and indeed all construction, less of a drain on resources) and we are very interested in it. Our Taos photos (including the town, the earthships but not, as I said, the Pueblo) are here:

Taos and surrounding area

On Wednesday 11th it was time to leave Taos and set off down the 64 and past the Earthships again (but this time we kept on going west). Bizarrely the weather had completely changed and on this day, instead of the warm (or downright boiling) weather we’d experienced in New Mexico so far (35C back near Roswell on the Friday), it started to snow. The 64 is a pretty high road (it goes through the San Juan mountains) and at some points we could hardly see the road and the temperature went as low as -6C (and our snowboots and shovel safely back in Ontario…). Compare this photo from this stretch of the drive to the picture at the top of this post!

Luckily though it was only a temporary phase and by the time we got to Chama for lunch it was slowing down and the snow turning to rain. Then by the time we drove further west (through the Jicarilla Apache Nation, more Carson National Forest, more dramatic rocky scenery) the temperature was rising again and it was off with the heating and the fleeces and back to “where did you put the flip-flops?” again. At one point a very small sign showed that the map was right and we were crossing the Great Divide (or Continental Divide of the Americas – see here). Quite exciting… we’ll cross it again some time in Canada on our way back east of course.

We looked for an overnight place in Bloomfield but they appeared to be digging up all the roads so we ploughed (or plowed…) on to Farmington and one of those roads with all the hotels and lots and lots of pick-up trucks full of oil industry guys (from what we could see). The next section of our journey will be grand valleys and canyons and all kinds of wonderful but this New Mexico section has certainly been something special (there is so much history, so much colour and art and beautiful scenery here…). No-one here (especially in Taos) has been very surprised by our ‘off for six months with the kid’ travels – it’s like they get all sorts of people and all sorts of travellers here and we are nothing unusual or strange (and that hasn’t been the case everywhere). And then someone we met at breakfast on Wednesday said they liked the state so much that they were coming back next year for a whole month’s visit and we could completely understand. So as we leave we’d say “New Mexico…enchanting… yes, most definitely”. We loved it.


The Bug said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed NM! I will put it on the list of things I want to see someday. That said, all that scenery didn't really call to me they way "my" mountains do (western NC).

Rachel Fox said...

It's certainly drier than anything we're used to in most of NM (NC is more like home). But then there was the snow...

Titus said...

Brilliant, beautiful, and oh, I want an earthship!

hope said...

And as you sail along under blue skies, we're painting the bathroom blue...the living room was a more "blush" kinda color.

Your vacation seems to be more work free than mine, so thanks for giving me something special to look at. :)