Thursday, November 08, 2018

Three Days in Taos

After attending the “Stills and Collins” Saturday night concert and volunteering at the las Golondrinas Renaissance Faire the next day, on Monday we drove north to Taos, New Mexico to get away from home for a few days – and while there spent much of our time at other people’s digs: a former ranch that was one of our temporary staying places when we first came to northern New Mexico twenty-six years ago; the early 20th century 4,000 square-foot, asymmetrical, adobe Pueblo and Mission Revival residence of a renowned Russian artist and his family; the early 19th century adobe of a mountain man, wilderness guide, Indian agent, and U.S. Army officer who became a frontier legend in his own lifetime; a hacienda built during the Spanish colonial era that is now a living museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and a 21st century community of passive solar houses that is made of both natural and up-cycled materials “living off the grid.”

Stephen Stills, formerly of Crosby, Stills, & Nash (and later Young), and folk music legend Judy Collins were apparently “an item” in the 60’s resulting in CS&N’s recording of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” featuring the unforgettable lyric “Doo doo doo doo doo – doo doo doo doo doo doo.  Doo doo doo doo doo – doo doo doo doo” (admit it, you’re hearing it in your head) – and her break-up song “Houses” (You have many houses, one for every season.”)  Now they are touring together performing these and other songs (some solo and some together).  And one of their stops was the Camel Rock Casino up the road apiece across from the large, eponymous, red stone Camel Rock.

Not being gaming house people it was our first visit – so we took a warm up lap around the gambling area with “over 500 of your favorite slot and video poker machines” plus with “table games” on special nights, before we settled into our chairs in the “10,000 square foot event center that easily accommodates wedding receptions, conferences, corporate parties, concerts and more.” 

We both are fans of her, much more than him, and of less amplified music – which is how we remembered both CS&N and JC, but not how it was to be that night. Fifth time we have seen her and her multi-tiered voice is as good as ever.  His never was that good.  Still, overall a good experience.

Sunday we were both volunteering at the very busy 11th Annual Santa Fe Renaissance Faire at El Rancho de las Golondrinas – the museum’s most attended event – with a surprisingly large number of visitors who were just as interested in Spanish Colonial history as they were in the jousting, light & heavy weapons armored fighting, and kid’s Fairy Village.  Marsha had the unusual opportunity to coach a partially armored heavy weapon combatant through some basic weaving, while Jim began his morning being visited by a snow-white unicorn (actually a rather tall stallion with an invisibly attached horn) being ridden by his white clad princess to stretch his legs and visit the goats in Sierra Village.

We took the High Road to Taos, stooping at Trujillo and Ortega Weavers in Chimayo and enjoying a decadent “lunch” of hot fudge on pistachio ice cream at the “Pink Sign” just within the Taos town line.
 

We stayed at El Pueblo Lodge – originally built as a small ranch in 1912 – now with additional units and suite accommodations spread out over several buildings, many of adobe construction.  Marsha discovered El Pueblo through AAA for our first trip to northern New Mexico in 1992.  Its appeal to us was location at the north end of the town’s main drag within walking distance to “downtown Taos” (essentially one street and a side Plaza), price, outdoor pool & hot tub, and free breakfast (coffee and donuts).  The price is still comparatively low and the breakfast has gotten much, much better.  The location, Taos’ size, pool and hot tub are still the same.


 

On Tuesday we strolled down the street to the Taos Art Museum located in the former house of Russian artist Nicolai Fechin, his wife Alexandra and daughter Eya.  A somewhat successful artist in Russia Fechin emigrated to New York City, where he became quite successful, and then in the 1920s to Taos with the encouragement of the town’s doyenne of the arts (and pretty much driving force for everything social) Mabel Dodge Luhan who felt the dry climate and altitude would be good for Nikolai’s tuberculosis and the landscape inspirational for his painting.  He purchased his house in 1928 and remodeled it by enlarging the porch; adding and widening windows to take advantage of the views; and carving many of the fittings of the house and its furniture, using typical Russian design elements such as triptych windows and intricately carved doors.  The result “reflects a modernist sensibility combined with Russian, Native American and Spanish traditions.”


From there we journeyed farther on down the road to the former residence and now museum of Christopher “Kit” Carson – perhaps Taos’ most famous and celebrated resident.  The house is a modest single-story adobe structure, built in 1825, that is an east-facing U shape with a central courtyard. The oldest portion of the house consists of the front three rooms, and the next room to the north. The interior of these rooms has been furnished in the Spanish Colonial and Territorial styles of the Carson period, while other rooms house museum offices and displays.  Some improvements, such as wooden supports and floors have been added for visitor safety and comfort.  Carson was (as the museum brochure describes him) “an enigmatic and complex man who participated in, and helped pave the way for, almost all of the major historical events of America’s westward expansion” – to his credit and detriment.  Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides is an extremely well written history of Carson and the westward expansion.

After refreshing ourselves with falafel, and other middle-eastern delights we drove out of town to the Hacienda de los Martinez located on the bank of the Rio Pueblo de Taos– a large landed estate built during the Spanish colonial era and now a living museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places.   Don Antonio Severino Martinez bought the property and then four-room adobe dwelling in 1804 expanding it to twenty-one rooms around two inner courtyards, or placitas. Like the Golondrinas Placita within which Marsha docents and weaves it was constructed as a fortress for protection against attacks by Plains tribes, such as Comanche and Apache raiders, when there was a threat of violence, the livestock were brought into the courtyards of the hacienda for safety.  The buildings are interpreted as the 1820s under Spanish colonial rule. For example, the weaving exhibits display wool died with vegetable based tints (as are those at las Golondrinas); the hacienda's interior walls are white washed with tierra blanca, a mixture of micaceous clay and wheat paste; and the dirt floors are sealed and polished with oxblood.  Martinez Hacienda is one of the few remaining Spanish colonial haciendas open to the public year round in the United States.





Having OD’d on the past, the next day we visited Earthship Biotecture, pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds – a hoping-to-be community of passive solar houses made of both natural substances like adobe, and up-cycled materials such as earth-packed tires.

We took the self-guided tour of the exterior of some houses and the entire visitor center – including that building’s roof containing the capture mechanism that begins the rain-to-potable-to-gray-to-black-H2O.  (Marsha was assured by visitor center greeter that even out here in the desert rainfall is sufficient – although “a few of the owners did have to buy water last year.”  Earthships have also been built in Haiti where that is less of an issue.)   The rooftop was easily accessible since the north side of the building is embedded into the hilly earth.  Many of the buildings incorporate glass bottles for style and are adorned with structural elements similar to those of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, whom we studied in an Elderhostel program in Barcelona and whose works we find attractive and appealing.

There are currently twenty or so residences built on the large, semi-remote desert property on the west side of the Tres Orejas (Three Ears) Mountain 1.5 miles beyond the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  Some dwellings can also be rented for evenings or longer.  Earthship #96590 – a comfortable solar heated and solar photo-voltaic electricity powered, green, two bedroom, one bath, 1,800 sq. ft. home located on two acres – is currently on the market for $149,000.

Oddly our real estate agent did not bring us out here when we were looking last summer.

Rain curtailed our visit to the DH Lawrence Ranch, the 160-acre property where the English novelist and his wife lived in the 1920s.  Lawrence was clearly blown away by the Land of Enchantment – “In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new.”

Now that’s our kind of place.  Next time for sure.

Friday morning around ten we went to the Post Office to pick up our mail, which we had held there during our absence.  Standing at the counter we thought we heard the “cock-a-doodle-doo” of a crowing cock emanating from behind the window clerk.

“Do you have a rooster back there?” Marsha asked.

“Yes”, answered the postal employee impassively– with an implied “of course we do” in her voice.

“Only in Santa Fe,” commented Marsha as we left.

Some New Mexico Fauna

I think that I may once have seen a hummingbird moth in our “butterfly garden” back in Wethersfield, Connecticut.  It snuck up beside me while I was working in the flowerbed one sunny summer afternoon.  Alerted by its whirring sound I looked up just in time to see it leaving.  Not knowing about such insects I thought it must have been a tiny, perhaps young, hummingbird – which of course was one of the fauna, along with colorful butterflies, that Marsha and I were hoping to attract with our patch of nectar-bait flora.  The moth was about the best we did.


 

Out here now in Santa Fe, New Mexico I have actually been on the lookout for this plump, clear-winged, and (unlike most moths) day-flying Lepidoptera.  We were told by a docent at the city’s botanical garden that we could expect to see the little guys hanging around our newly planted purple four-o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa, the marvel of Peru) – which, as their name implies, open their flowers just in time to provide a nice end-of-day snack for the little fake-hummers
         
While we haven’t witnessed that particular insect happy hour, both Marsha and I have seen the buzzing bug hovering around our red penstemon bush – one of the drought tolerant plants left by the previous owner in our front garden along with: another penstemon; (this one low growing); several lavenders; a potintilla; something that may be a Russian Olive tree that we keep pruned at a slightly lower height than the bushy penstemon, which it is immediately behind; and some volunteer pink evening primrose.  We have added three cactus, an agave, another penstemon variety, two yucca and the aforementioned four o’clock – all also requiring little or no hydration.

We are enjoying learning about the existence of these unfamiliar flora.  But just as much, if not more so, we are also taking pleasure in the new animals we are seeing on a daily basis both in our yard and on our walks around the neighborhood and in the desert.

        
 


First of course are the real hummers that began appearing at our nectar feeder about one month ago after the nesting and fledging of the new little ones was completed.  We have discovered that ours is a Rufous hummingbird who, typically for the breed, is  quite territorial and belligerent in defending its turf – or at least the space above it.  Which is to say if you want more than one hummer at a time, and one of them is a Rufous  – then you need more than one feeder, not to be placed too close to the others.  Something we are in the process of taking care of thanks to our local Wild Birds Unlimited store.

 Based upon what we have seen of the solitary humming moth it seems to act pretty much identical to its slightly larger avian role models, so we suspect that it will also exhibit the same possessive trait towards our penstemon.  We do not however plan to expand out garden to accommodate a bigger crowd.



 

Meanwhile, beneath our feet, is a plethora of the Official State reptile Cnemidophorus neomexicanus – the New Mexico whiptail lizard.  They are literally everywhere – on our placita patio, on our exterior stucco walls, in our gardens, strolling on the sidewalks and walking trails, and scurrying across the desert caliche.  About 3.5" from snout to vent, slim, light brown with seven yellow or cream colored stripes and numerous light spots, blue or gray-green tipped tail, and a slim, pointed snout – other than the color you would fully expect these cute little guys to stand up on their hind legs and try to sell you protection for accidents in your home or automobile.  But you would be wrong on two accounts.  (1) They are more interested in eating insects than providing liability coverage.  And (2) – none of them are guys.
 

The whiptail – along with several other types of the four-legged reptile – is parthenogenic, that is absolutely no male assistance is required to produce other little lizards.   Which is of course a good thing since there are in fact no males available.  Interestingly, although only one set of genes is involved in the creation process, the offspring are not clones of the mom.
 

Cuteness may count in selecting who gets to officially represent a nation or territory or an insurance company – but we are hoping that the whiptails excessive numbers and omnipresence are the principal reasons for its official state status.  And why other New Mexican reptiles such as red racer snakes and diamondback rattlers don’t have similar honorifics.

 Or did not, we hope, even make the short list.