Friday, November 26, 2021

What's not to love?


Well, this season of “volunteer interpreting” at El Rancho de las Golondrinas has come to a close.  The last event of the year was October 23’s “Spirits of New Mexico” – “meet the ghosts of history who lived and died in the Land of Enchantment!...a diverse assortment of characters from New Mexico’s illustrious and often little-known past...a family-friendly, but spooky Halloween atmosphere.”

This was our fourth time at Spirits – 2017 as visitors and 2018 & 19 as volunteer specters. The event did not happen in 2020. But Golondrinas did open late September through early October for limited numbers of masked guests to walk the property with the buildings closed and a few of us equally masked Volunteer Interpreters (VIs) on site. So we still got the opportunity to put on our costumes and share our ever growing knowledge of our new home state’s history with a much smaller than usual number of visitors. Most of them seemed intently interested in what we had to say – perhaps indicating how really starved for entertainment and human contact they were. All of them appeared as thrilled to be out and about as we were.

The museum covers 200 acres of a former 700 acre ranch and paraje (rest stop) on El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (the Royal Road of the Interior) – THE trade route with Mexico. It was owned by one family from the early 1700s to 1932. The property was refashioned into a living museum in the 1960s with what can be thought of as three major sections: Golondrinas Plaza (Placita), Baca Plaza, and the “Far Side.” The first is a partially reconstructed example of an 18th century Spanish colonial hacienda on El Camino Real. The second shows New Mexico in the first half of the 1800s after the arrival of goods from the United States along the Santa Fe Trail. The third segment portrays the territory/state from mid-19th to early 20th centuries – when the railroad came to New Mexico. Marsha is usually assigned somewhere in Golondrinas Plaza. Jim on the Far Side.

Normally the season begins with full-day training sessions on the four Saturdays of March. As was becoming normal, this year all the meetings were conducted on Zoom. Not held was the annual April series of “Spanish Heritage Days” wherein school kids from all over New Mexico – 1,000/day – are bused in for a crash course in the history of their state. The museum is defended by 20 unarmed docents. These sessions teach us to condense our stories of the past into bite-sized pieces and deliver them at warp speed to a perpetually moving audience. And to ferret out the “runaway teachers” who try to hide in the nooks and crannies of the property.

El Rancho reopened in June 2021 under the same ground rules as fall 2020. And we, now double vaxxed, were eager to get back on the job. Buildings were opened for guests in mid-summer when NM relaxed some of its Covid restrictions. Still, many of the VIs understandably did not return.

Golondrinas Placita is the entry point to the museum – and a necessary first stop in order to understand the story of New Mexico. With a smaller number of docents Marsha was frequently on her own or with one other guide.

The closed rectangular adobe architecture is designed fortress-style around an inner plaza for protection with two zaguanes (covered entries.) Comanche and Apache raids for food, sheep and human captives to be used or sold as slaves were not uncommon. Also other colonists who had e.g. a bad ranching/farming year might decide to replenish their larders by larcenous means. The rooms surrounding the placita make up the defensive exterior walls, with doors between the rooms and out into the plaza. Windows facing in are barred or shuttered, and large to allow air and light in. Exterior-facing ones are small, inset with selenite or mica to permit light in, and covered with animal skins and wood rejas (bars.) But, while there is a great deal of history to talk about on the outside, the story of the 1700s in New Mexico is best told by its interiors.

There are ten rooms: la cocina (kitchen,) capilla (chapel,) el cuarto de recibo (reception room,) el cuarto de familia (family room,) torreon (lookout tower/safe room,) la dispensa (pantry,) three talleres de hilar y tejer (weaving & spinning rooms) – and el cuarto de los cautivos y los criados (the captives & servants room.) Oh yeah, the Spanish also did that. There is no baño (bathroom.) It probably wasn’t even a word at the time. Each space covers different aspects of Colonial life in New Mexico – and depending on the size of that day’s volunteer turnout Marsha will interpret one, several, or all of them. Visitors are immediately confused by the small doorways and the lack of familiar looking furniture – and she likes to make sure our they learn at least that story before they leave Golondrinas Placita.

Door heights at that time were a little over five feet. (The phrases most frequently heard at las Golondrinas are, “watch your head” and “where is the ice pack?”) This was not because the people of that time were that much shorter, They actually were pretty much the same height as we are today. Away from the mountains there was a shortage of wood with which to construct them. Plus the smaller entryways helped maintain heat in a room – and to slow down unwanted intruders by forcing them to stoop over and slow down when entering. This is a fortress after all.

The interior design style came directly from medieval Spain and could also be seen in other Spanish colonies. North African Moors ruled the motherland all or in part from 711 AD until 1492, and the colonists brought the resulting customs and practices with them to the New World – most prominently “the low plain of existence”. Even in well-to-do homes everyday life occurred much closer to the ground than 21st century Americans (or New Englanders of the 1600s and 1700s) are used to. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries New Mexicans typically sat, ate and slept on floor cushions, short stools and low bancos (benches attached to the walls.) Some of these seating areas (estrados) were exceptionally lush with soft mattresses, pillows and textiles. This custom ultimately died out in the 1900s due to increasing American influence and affordable mass-produced furniture.

The best place to explain this is the familia – a true family room where parents, children, grandparents, et al ate, slept and prayed at their home religious altars. And where Marsha also likes to talk about one of everybody’s favorite subjects, chocolate – and how, having to be brought up El Camino Real, it was such a precious commodity that it was only consumed on special occasions such as Christmas. “Oh no!” wailed one young boy. “No chocolate! That’s the worst thing ever!”

Another part of Golondrinas Placita that seems to attract the interest of the youthful set, and many adults, is the demonstration loom in one of the weaving rooms. A small two-peddle device that allows our guests, most of whom are totally unfamiliar with the fiber craft, to get a first hand (and foot) primer on the subject. Some people get really hooked on it. One pre-teen girl told her parents to go tour the rest of the ranch since she was ‘just going to stay here and work.” It was a slow day and no other novice weavers were in sight, so Marsha let the girl remain while mom & dad wandered the grounds. A story that the couple later shared with Jim who was on duty at Sierra Homestead, which along with the “Big Mill” is one of his usual assignments on the Far Side.

This group of homes and outbuildings depicts a family farm in the mountains occupied by a young couple with children and their elderly parents in the mid-to-late 1800s. The insides of the three dwellings – Mora House, Grandmother’s house and Grandfather’s house – show life in a mountain village after the arrival of the railroad in the 1880s. (Her mother, his father.) The homes also can be interpreted to show the progression of architecture/construction beginning with the Casita Primitiva (Grandfather) when the family first came to the high sierras (dirt floor, flat roof) – to Grandmother’s abode (wood floor, pitched roof) – to the Mora House (high ceilings & doors, wood floor, pitched roof, three and ½ rooms) as the family became larger and more established. Each living space shows a mix of both purchased and handmade items that would have been typical of the times.

The compound seems to have two particular fan favs – each appealing to a different audience. Several women come to see the pig pen, in which actor Emilio Estavez hid during the 1988 movie “Young Guns  – or “Young Buns,” as many of these devoted fans refer to the film. But the big favorite is Grandmother’s House. The log-and-adobe cabin from Truchas NM was built in the 1880s and occupied into the 1920s. It was donated to the ranch when the museum was being created in the 1960s.

Young girls particularly are fascinated by the second bed in the residence. The grandchildren would spend extended periods of time with their “abuela” while she taught them traditional skills such as weaving, knitting and the folkways of the past including how to use the medicinal plants of the mountain areas. Grandmother would often be a curandera or traditional healer.

For older guests the home sparks memories of their own grandparents or parents who lived in nearly identical houses in various parts of New Mexico or Mexico. One thirty-something woman from Guatemala fought back tears as she told Jim of growing up with her own grandmother in her home country. “She even had the same stencils on the wall,” she sobbed.

At Spirits of New Mexico only the “upper part” of the ranch was open. Marsha was assigned to the weaving area in Golondrinas Placita. Although the looms are inside, in order to better engage with our guests, she was not. Jim was placed indoors at the main house in the Baca Placita. It was his first time there, but good information in the museum’s training manuals and general knowledge about NM history got him through the night.

Tickets were capped at 1,200 for the evening, which ran from 5 pm til 9 pm. In addition to the history there was hard cider, beer and food-truck food; entertainment by the “Lightning Boy” Native hoop dancers  and La Llorona  a folkloric ghost who roams waterfront areas mourning her children whom she drowned. The buildings had indoor fireplaces lit; hornos [outdoor baking ovens] in both placitas were burning; and barrel bonfires, candles, lanterns, farolitos and luminarias lighted the grounds and pathways. (“Farolitos are the candles inside of a bag,” says Damian Wilson, Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of New Mexico. “But a luminaria is a stack of wood where you stack it, two by two to create sort of a tower.”) 

Masks were mandatory for visitors going indoors. Volunteers were provided with pizza and hot and cold drinks – and we were encouraged to “paint a ghostly face” on ourselves. Something that we enthusiastically embraced. (Guilty pleasure confession – we have been streaming Netflix’s “Glow Up”  cosmetics competition series. This was our first opportunity to put into practice what we have learned from watching the program’s MUAs (Make Up Artists) in action.)

Enthusiastic guests who engage with us, embrace what they are hearing, and share their own personal histories. Plus free pepperoni ‘za to satisfy our hunger, face painting to nourish our artistic appetite, and low 50° temps. What’s not to love?

No wonder we’ll be back next year for more.


Saturday, November 06, 2021

Santa Fe's Founding Mothers


We are pleased to report that El Rancho de las Golondrinas – our volunteer gig – was voted 2nd Best Museum in the Santa Fe Reporter’s “Best of Santa Fe 2021” reader’s poll. Not bad in a city that hypes such institutions as a main part of its tourist appeal. The Museum of International Folk Art (MoIFA) was 1st and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum 3rd in the voting.

Each of the three was established by one of Santa Fe’s “founding mothers,” women who came to New Mexico, fell in love with the place, saw a need, had the will and wherewithal to act on it, and did. That seems to be the way things happen out here – especially culture, art and history – but not always without controversy.

One of the town’s current hot button issues is the construction of the Vladem Contemporary in the city’s Railyard District – the epicenter of Santa Fe’s gentrification over the past few decades. Named in honor of the $4 million gift from Ellen and Robert Vladem, the building will be an addition to the downtown Museum of Art – “physically and ideologically [bringing] the museum into dialogue with the cultural scene in the Santa Fe Railyard district,” according to the State Historical Preservation Office. More arts entertainment for residents and tourists.
It also means the destruction of a 40-year-old mural created by one of Santa Fe’s “Living Treasures” Gilberto Guzman, which is located on the side of the building to which the Vladem will be added. “The work is supportive of the folks and the native peoples, and the mix of cultures,” according to El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe. Ironically the mural’s site also bears a sign that reads “a nation that forgets its past has no future.” Efforts to have the painting integrated into the new building, or saved in some other way have thus been futile.

Such acts of largesse usually receive respectful recognition rather than rancor. Less contentious e.g. was the founding of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in November 1995 by Fort Worth Texans and part-time Santa Feans Anne Windfohr Marion (heiress, rancher, horse breeder, business executive, philanthropist and art collector) and her husband John (Chair of Sotheby’s Auction House.)

“I’ve always loved [O’Keeffe’s] work. I grew up with it in my home – my mother had two of her paintings,” Anne Marion said. The Museum of Art in Santa Fe, having dissed the artist as a mere “bone painter,” had but one of her works. The O’Keeffe opened in 1997 with fifty paintings (many from Anne Marion’s personal collection) at the former site of an art gallery that had been carved from a Spanish Baptist mission church. It now includes around 3,000 items – some at O’Keefe’s former home and studio in Abiquiú  “An idea waiting to happen, the inevitable brought to life by spontaneous combustion of a longtime dream, perfect timing and Texas money galore,” said the Washington Post.

In 1996 while vacationing here we came upon a spin-off event of the upcoming opening. The U.S. Post Office had issued a Georgia O’Keeffe stamp and was selling First Day of Issue commemorative envelopes and a postmarked poster of the artist’s “Red Poppy” painting. After spending twenty-one years in the family room of our former Wethersfield, CT home our copies now hang on the wall adjacent to the spot at which this is being written.

2021’s “Best of Santa Fe” Museum (MOIFA) was founded in 1953 by Florence Dibell Bartlett (1881-1954) – a Chicago heiress and folk art collector who began visiting New Mexico in the 1920s. Soon she built a winter home, “El Mirador,” in Alcalde, New Mexico, near that of anthropologist Mary Cabot Wheelwright, herself the founder of Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

Like her father Adophus (wealthy partner in a large wholesale hardware business that became part of True Value Hardware,) and sister Maie Heard (co-founder of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ,) Ms. Bartlett was a generous philanthropist with a strong sense of civic responsibility. She traveled the world on her own learning about local women and their customs – and buying stuff. Lots of stuff. 

The MOIFA website says Bartlett “envisioned and funded the original building...donated the museum’s founding collection of more than 2,500 objects including textiles, costumes, ceramics, wood carvings, paintings, and jewelry [and] established a foundation dedicated to supporting the mission of the museum.” She gave her Alcalde house and property to the State of New Mexico, as part of her gift that founded MOIFA. (The museum is state-run.) Part of the land is now the site of New Mexico State University's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center (SASC.)

Bartlett plunged to her death in 1954, from the patio of her seventeenth-floor penthouse apartment in Chicago. Her cook, told police she saw Bartlett make three attempts to climb over the three-foot brick wall of the porch which overlooks Lake Michigan, but did not see her leap.

Our own volunteer casa-away-from-casa, El Rancho de las Golondrinas, owes its existence to the work of three remarkable women: Eva Scott Fényes, (1849-1930) and her daughter and granddaughter, Leonora Scott Muse Curtin (1879-1972) and Leonora Francis Curtin Paloheimo (1903-1999) – aka Eva and the Leonoras.

A child of privilege, educated at a formal all-girls school and recipient of an arts education in New York, Europe, and Egypt Eva Scott Fényes created her own path in life. In 1878 she married U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant William Muse, then gave birth to Leonora Scott Muse in 1879. On a trip to Florida she met imprisoned Native artists Zo-Tom and Howling Wolf and was inspired to commission notebooks of their work and provide them with art supplies – the beginning of her arts philanthropy.

Finding her married life “unsatisfying,” she obtained a divorce in 1890 and moved to Santa Fe where she continued her support of artists and began collecting Native American crafts. In Cairo, Egypt Eva met Hungarian physician and entomologist Adalbert Fényes. They married in 1896 and together they moved to Pasadena, California to reside in the “Feynes Mansion.”

In 1898, author and preservationist Charles Lummis suggested that Eva document California’s remaining Spanish missions and other historic buildings. Her 300 watercolors and more than 3,000 sketches are held at the Pasadena Museum of History.

Meanwhile Leonora(1) met her husband, Thomas E. Curtin, a lawyer in the Santa Fe District Attorney’s office, married in 1903, gave birth to Leonora(2) and moved to Colorado Springs where Thomas developed railroads and resorts. He died in 1911 and the two Leonoras went to live with Eva in Pasadena.

Adalbert’s career and wealth expanded, to the delight of Eva who wanted to ensure that her daughter and granddaughter had the same financial independence and security that she had. The Leonoras fell in love with Santa Fe, became familiar with its needs and opportunities, and were taught “how to” by Eva’s and other women’s examples.

It worked. Leonora(1) studied the local herbs and plants used for healing by both the Native American and Spanish American cultures interviewing local native healers. This research resulted in two widely respected ethno-botancial works, “By the Prophet of the Earth” and “Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande.” Leonora(1) also served on the Executive Board of the School of American Research and the Board of Directors of the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, California. Leonora(2) established Santa Fe’s Native (now Indian) Market. Together they were founding members of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society..

“Returning often to New Mexico, where they nurtured friendships with a building colony of artists, writers, and archaeologists, they soon determined to build a house of their own in Santa Fe,” (“The House of the Three Wise Women: A Family Legacy in the American Southwest.”) The adobe house was built in 1926 and now holds the Women’s International Study Center. Much of the information herein comes from the WISC website.

While Eva returned often to Pasadena, the Lenoras began to see Santa Fe as their primary home.

In 1932 they purchased El Rancho de las Golondrinas (The Ranch of the Swallows) – an historic rancho strategically located on the Camino Real, the trade route from Mexico City to Santa Fe. The ranch provided goods for trade and was a paraje – an official rest stop – the first when leaving Santa Fe and the last when coming to it.

While much of the land in northern New Mexico was given as land grants from the King of Spain, La Cienega where Golondrinas is located had no such formal “deed.” The land was instead acquired by “royal purchase” with the first owner of record being Miguel Vega y Coca in the early 1700s. The family raised livestock including sheep the wool from which was used to weave cloth for clothing and household items; grew and ground their own wheat grain in water powered mills; and made tools from iron imported from Mexico. The ranch remained in the Vega y Coca family until sold to the Leonoras by the heirs at the time, the Bacas.

The new owners leased part of the property to a dairy, but kept the other portion as a country retreat. After Leonora(2)’s marriage to Finnish Consul to the United States Yrjö Alfred (Y.A.) Paloheimo in 1946, she and her husband saw the potential in the old ranch as a site for an outdoor living history museum – and devoted themselves to transforming the property into a place where visitors could physically immerse themselves in the history, heritage and culture of 18th and 19th century New Mexico. Existing buildings were restored, a few period structures were replicated and others were brought in from sites around New Mexico. (The parts were numbered with metal tags, disassembled and reconstructed on site.) The museum opened in 1972.

Leonora and Yrjö were parents to four adopted children: Eric, Eva, George and Christine. Some family members now reside in houses on parts of the property not devoted to the museum. Another portion of the original ranch is set aside as the Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve, part of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. (La Cieniga where the property is located translates to “the swamp” – a wetland system unique to the American Southwest in otherwise arid landscapes. A main reason that the original ranch was built there.) 

In 1973 Leonora and Yrjö created the Paloheimo Foundation to support and benefit those charitable and educational endeavors and organizations the couple supported during their lifetimes. Their former home in Pasadena is now part of the Pasadena History Museum along with a house that Yrjö purchased as the Finnish Consulate in 1949, now the Finnish Folk Art Museum. Eva passed on in 1930, Leonora(1) in 1972, Yrjö in 1986 and Leonora(2) in 1999.

As docents we are frequently asked how the museum came to be. We are glad to talk about it. After all, the stories of those who worked to preserve Santa Fe’s history are themselves an important part of that history.

One, Two, Three


We recently came upon the grave of American frontier legend Kit Carson. No, not on one of our daily walks on the trails in our community. We were in Taos, NM on our first overnight out-of-town jaunt since a February 2020 trip to the southern part of our state with CT friends D & P and new New Mexico friends S & P. A vacation that wrapped up minutes before the Covid lockdown began.

We’ve been visiting Taos ("place of red willows” in Tewa Native-speak) since our first trip to NM in 1992 – hiking in the nearby wilderness areas, exploring its museums and buying works of Folk Art from local Santera Lydia Garcia. A “Santera” (female) or “Santero” (male) is a creator of religious depictions of Saints (“santos”) – either “retablos” (flat painted images) or “bultos” (statues.) So we were well aware of the legendary frontiersman’s presence there.

(A portion of our “Lydia Wall”)

The public park in the center of town is named in his honor. The Bed & Breakfast we were staying at is on Kit Carson Road, just up the street from the Kit Carson Home and Museum at which we took a self-guided tour a couple of years ago. Jim has read Hampton Side’s “Blood and Thunder,” an account of Kit’s place in America’s western expansion – and in Taos. “An illiterate mountain man who twice married Indian women and understood and respected the tribes better than any other American alive [and yet] a cold-blooded killer who willingly followed orders tantamount to massacre. [His] almost unimaginable exploits made him a household name when they were written up in pulp novels known as ‘blood-and-thunders,’ but now that name is a bitter curse for contemporary Navajo, who cannot forget his role in the travails of their ancestors.” ( But we had never seen his final resting place.

After breakfast on our first morning we strolled down an unpaved roadway that led from our B&B towards what we assumed was the park. From the end of the street we could see dog walkers emerging from a small, semi-fenced, semi-mowed grassy area dotted with a handful of headstones. It had the appearance of the small family cemeteries we’ve seen on the backroads of rural North Carolina.

The names on most plaques were unfamiliar to us – except for that of Christopher Houston “Kit” Carson. We later learned that he and his third wife Maria Josefa Jaramillo both drowned in 1868 in Boggsville, Colorado and were interred here one year later. Further research showed that noted-people-wise this is the Taos equivalent of Hartford’s park-like Cedar Hill Cemetery – resting place of luminaries such as Katherine Hepburn and Samuel Colt. However, although located near the beach-volleyball courts of a public recreation area, this cemetery is definitely not “park-like” in the sense of a Victorian “rural cemetery.” And the monuments are way smaller.

Established as “The American Cemetery” in 1847 for U.S. soldiers and civilians killed during that year’s Taos Rebellion, it was at the time the only burial ground for non-Catholics. When the Carsons arrived it was renamed in Kit’s honor. Also interred there are servicemen of the 1846 Mexican War, Indian Campaigns of the 1850's, Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI and WWII as well as many of the early Taos traders and merchants, plus members of old Spanish, French and American families. Trust us, it does not look anywhere big enough for all that.

As much as we love historic graveyards however, that was not why we took this trip. Our itinerary was threefold: (1) to drive the “High Road to Taos,” (2) to see the “Santo Lowride: Norteño Car Culture and the Santos Tradition” exhibit at the town’s Harwood museum and (3) have lunch at the Sopapilla Factory in Espanola. Plus, we hoped, a couple of surprises.

(1) The "High Road" (actually NM Rtes 503, 76, 518 and 68) winds slowly for 60 miles or so through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and villages such as Chimayó with its traditional weavers and 19th-century Santuario (sanctuary) known as the "Lourdes of the Southwest"; Cordova, Truchas and Ojo Sarco with galleries selling woodcarvings, pottery, rugs and other local arts and crafts; and Las Trampas with its 18th-century mission church San Jose de Gracia. It then climbs through the Carson National Forest to Ranchos de Taos and the frequently photographed and painted San Francisco de Asis Church. “Dramatic and varied geography, from low deserts and sun-baked pastures to piney mountain passes, wide sandstone cliffs, and river valleys dotted with tin-roofed shacks,” per A lovely and peaceful drive to put us in a laidback New Mexico state of mind – it is our preferred route to the northern New Mexico artist colony.

After checking in at our B&B we strolled into town to see what was new since our last visit, had BBQ Pork Ribs at a restaurant overlooking the town plaza and relaxed and read in the B&B’s courtyard. The next morning, after our graveyard discovery, we headed off on foot to the second entry on our things-to-do list.

(2) “Just as [New Mexico’s Santeros] seek a physical channel between the heavens and their daily life, the lowrider [car] has evolved as a modern-day vessel for the belief systems of multicultural Norteño  communities...[this exhibition shows] how these two art forms share subject matter and religious function, binding them across past and present peoples.” (Harwood Museum of Art)
“During colonial times New Mexico was completely isolated from the outside culture and had a whole different and unique set of influences – Franciscan piety and spirituality, local folk traditions and the indigenous cultures of the area...for many years when there were very few priests in New Mexico, these paintings and statues were the New Mexican peoples' primary connection with the spiritual domain.” ( Likewise the artwork on the lowrider cars of Northern New Mexico are much, much more than just colorful decorations.

While we are really hooked on this style of folk art – cars included – we don’t claim to experience that same linkage to the divine when we look at them. They do however speak to us in a different way than the other genres that we see hanging on museum walls, or even in our own home.

The Harwood Museum of Art is located on Ledoux Street, a one-way, narrow curvy roadway lined with adobe shops, galleries, museums and studios – many with country flower gardens and wall murals. Like similar roads in Santa Fe it probably was once a pre-automobile dirt trail. An Historical marker says it, “was named after the French trapper and guide Antonine Ledoux, who settled in the area around 1844 [and the street was] developed in the fortress style with gates at each end.”

Next door to the Harwood is the Ernest Blumenschein Home and Museum, which we decided to visit knowing only that its owner was one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists in the early 1900s. (In 1898 Blumenschein was traveling through the Southwest with fellow eastern artist Bert Phillips. In northern New Mexico, a wheel from their carriage slipped into a deep rut and broke. Blumenschein lost the coin toss and rode 23 miles into Taos to have the wheel repaired. They became so entranced with the beauty of Taos Valley that they decided to make it their home.)

According to the institution’s website the house “is maintained much as it was when the artist and his family lived here...filled with a superb collection of the Blumenschein family's art, a representative sampling of works by other famous Taos artists, fine European and Spanish Colonial style antiques, and the family's lifetime of personal possessions [that] illustrates the lifestyle of Taos artists in the first half of the twentieth century.”

From the outside the adobe building appears to be u-shaped. But, as is frequently the case with such homes out here, the inner reality does not seem to reflect the outer appearance. Rooms enter directly into other rooms in a pattern that seems to bare little resemblance to the path that was indicated from the outside. And the interior appears to take up more space than the exterior walls can hold. We entered through the kitchen whose utensils and appliances reminded us of Wethersfield Historical Society’s Hurlbut-Dunham House, for those of you familiar with it. The remaining spaces were like a well-curated small museum of furniture, crafts and artwork. Interesting tour through some nice digs – even if it is made of mud.

On the last day of the trip it was time to check off our third itinerary item.

(3) The Sopapilla Factory, like the Cheesecake Factory, is not a manufacturing plant, but rather a restaurant. Its eponymous menu item is a kind of fried pastry found in areas with Spanish heritage. Hollow inside, and puffier than fried dough or Indian Fry Bread, sopapillas look similar to French beignets and taste a little like American donuts. Here in New Mexico they are eaten with honey and/or butter.

In addition to several sopapilla-based entrees, each meal at “the Factory” is accompanied by a basket of them, much like Hush Puppies might be served in the south or bread in the northeast. As you might expect each eatery has its own variation. This, IOHO, is the best one. Nonetheless, deep fried dough, no matter how light and fluffy, is not the best thing for septuagenarians to indulge in on a daily basis. Thankfully the restaurant is 35 minutes away so we only stop there when we are already in the neighborhood.

Or, as in this case, plan our day around being there at lunch time. Which we did by taking the “low road” from Taos along the Rio Grande to the town of Alcade and the 148-acre Los Luceros Historic Site – whose 5,700 sq. ft. Territorial-style 18th century adobe hacienda “Casa Grande,” chapel, Victorian cottage, carriage house, guesthouse, and farmyard were once the home grounds of Mary Cabot Wheelwright, founder of Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian. We walked enough of the property, and absorbed enough history to work off most of our B&Breakfast, and build up an appetite for lunch.

This visit’s food of choice was Pueblo Tacos – “chicken, ground beef or shredded beef with whole beans. Served on a round sopaipilla with onions, sour cream, garnish and red or green chile.” Plus two sopapillas in a basket – our dessert. We ate half of the entrees at the restaurant and took the rest home for dinner – with a couple more “sopas” to go. (BTW, other than BYOScissors, does anyone know the secret to opening those single packages of (in this case) honey without breaking a sweat, or a fingernail?)
Then we headed back to Santa Fe. Three goals accomplished. Two nice surprises. One good mini-vacation.

As he was writing this essay one of those images – a kind of apparitional painting of a lowrider in front of El Santuario de Chimayó – spontaneously started appearing on Jim’s IPhone screen. Marsha took the photos with her SLR camera – then downloaded them to our photo library in “the cloud,” to which both of our IPhones have access. His device was locked and inactive each time that it happened. Kinda makes you wonder.

Brief PSA: For those of you in the Greater Hartford area who have not visited Cedar Hill Cemetery, or taken advantage of its programs and events we urge you to check it out.



Autumn is coming reluctantly to our part of the world. The Aspen in the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains have turned their bright yellow. While the one on our placita stubbornly sports its mid-April colors. In our community the Cottonwoods and Locusts are still undecided. El Rancho de las Golondrinas held its annual Harvest Festival. And – in spite of the fact that our Geraniums and Hollyhocks continue to bud and blossom – the cold nights, cool mornings and evenings, and warm sunny days are telling us that the time to gather and reap is here.

John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada – but not New Mexico. No need to. When it came to such crops, and most of their foods, the Colonial Spanish were all for BYO.

This acronym, along with the time of year, puts us in mind of PYO harvesting. So, like many of you, we are heading off to our local Pick Your Own orchard for the year’s last round of self-harvesting and… Wait Toto, we’re not in Connecticut anymore.

Here’s what the native NM apples are like: “sweet and leathery...bitter sweet [and] the size of a plumb... small sweet variety of very little value” – at least in the 1870s according to out-of-state commentators as quoted in “Fruit, Fiber, and Fire” By William Randall Carleton. (The title refers to apples, cotton and chiles – all successful New Mexican crops during parts of the 19th and 20th centuries.)

Things have changed since then. The local fruits are better than that now, but still not as good as the ones at e.g. Belltown Orchard in Glastonbury, CT – our erstwhile PYO of choice. Not enough to warrant twelve hours of flying back-and-forth – but certainly worth a phone call. More on that later. First a little about the history of apples in our new territorial home.

According to the Food Empowerment Project, “Europeans believed that food shaped the colonial body [and that] the European constitution differed from that of Indigenous people because the Spanish diet differed from the Indigenous diet...thus the fear that by consuming ‘inferior’ Indigenous foods, Spaniards would eventually become ‘like them.’ Only proper European foods would maintain the superior nature of European bodies, and only these ‘right foods’ would be able to protect colonizers from the challenges posed by the ‘new world’ and its unfamiliar environments.” That Spanish diet was composed mainly of bread, olive oil, olives, meat, and wine. In addition Catholic doctrine decreed that “the proper matter for [communion] is wheaten bread … [and] only wine from the grape,” per Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.

However early explorers found “neither wheat, nor grapevines, nor any proper animal…present in the new colonies.” Thus, the Spaniards who settled New Mexico in 1598 brought with them the so-called “tríada Mediterránea” of wheat, grapevines, and olives – plus Eve’s forbidden fruit. The new territory’s climate, altitude, and soil mirrored that of the best apple-producing areas in Spain. Not so for the olive trees. Lard replaced EVOO. So much for the Mediterranean Diet. For a “proper animal” the Spaniards brought Churro Sheep, which provided both meat and clothing – and now gives us the chance to talk to las Golondrinas guests about the “Three W’s” of colonization, “wheat, wool and wine.”
So what varieties were these incoming Spanish apples, and how were they consumed?

We have been unable to answer the first question. A New Mexico State University “fruit specialist” is attempting to create a Colonial Heritage Orchard with cuttings from what are believed to be direct descendants of the original Spanish fruit stock – but not yet.

As to the second query, based upon what happened in other places, the fruit was most likely too bitter and chewy to be eaten direct from the tree. Instead it was made into cider – hard cider, which had a longer shelf life and whose octane could be adjusted for the kid’s menu. (Northern Spain has been making cider since 55 B.C. The Principality of Asturias boasts annual consumption of 14 gallons per person/per year – probably the highest in the world.)

(Monzano Mountains)

“The first apple trees seem to be the handiwork of Franciscans at the Abó and Quarai pueblo missions [now the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.] Planted in the 1630s, the friars also taught the Pueblo Indians and the nearby colonists how to graft the seedlings for a hearty crop. Within years, apple trees and orchards were flourishing along the mountains north of today's Mountainair. When the Spaniards returned to the area following the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, they found apple trees...still bearing fruit, all along the mountains. So dominant were these apple trees, the returning settlers named the mountain range the “Manzanos” – the Spanish word for apple trees.” ( Such naming conventions are not uncommon out here. Albuquerque’s Sandia Mountains are so-labeled for their resemblance at sunset to a ripe watermelon.

“New Mexico is indeed home to the first apple-growing region in the country,” claims Craig Moya, New Mexico Hard Cider owner. A 1926 survey of the Manzano Forest Reserve identified a tree believed to have been planted before 1676.

Under Spanish rule New Mexico was pretty much isolated from the surrounding United States until 1821 when Mexico took control and opened up trade along the Santa Fe Trail. So for 200-plus years it is probable that not much changed vis-à-vis the state of apples in the territory. Then in the middle of the 19th century come the horticultural efforts of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy.

(Archbishop Lamy 2nd from left.)
According to historian Marc Simmons, “a total of four acres bordering Alameda [Street] were enclosed by an adobe wall and transformed into a bountiful oasis. On several trips east, Lamy brought back flowering shrubs and fruit trees, transporting them in cans of water inside ox-drawn wagons. The churchman’s garden was shaded by large ornamental trees such as locust, maple, cottonwood and willow. Then there were fruit trees of several varieties – peach, pear, apple and cherry-plus almond trees.” The food was distributed to the poor and hungry in northern New Mexico.

In 1859, John Clark planted apples from Missouri north of Santa Fe at Los Luceros. Anglo settlers – among them Mormons – brought in tree cuttings in the late 19th and early 20th century. As mentioned previously these newcomers viewed the local apples as inferior in taste, texture and size. But they were still proof of the territory’s good soil and fruit-growing conditions. By the 1870s, apples from this small number of new orchards were receiving praise from far as away as Colorado.

And in the 1920s, the Stark Brothers, the nation’s leading purveyor of trees and the developers of Red and Golden Delicious apples, came to the Española Valley to sell their product to aspiring orchardists. (BTW the story of Stark Bros. is in itself an interesting one.

“A salesman from the Missouri-based company rode the train to Santa Fe [and] helped fill agricultural tracts that had been appropriated by the U.S. government and returned to [original Spanish] land grant heirs in 1908,” according to current day fruit-grower Eddie Velarde

Nonetheless apples in New Mexico were largely considered a secondary crop. “The families here grew most of their food and used the orchards for alcohol production...Often they were given last priority if there was a water shortage. Then the trees were cut down during Prohibition,” said Moya.

Malus, “a quarterly print journal featuring bitter-sharp criticism and commentary by America’s great cider thinkers” takes issue with the story that orchards were “destroyed or replaced due to local or national prohibition laws or the temperance movement.” “The oft-repeated example of the unnamed orchardist who took an axe to his trees in a fit of Temperance fervor is, even if true, an isolated example,” wrote cider historian Ben Watson.

The misinformation is attributed to Michael Pollan and his book Botany of Desire. “Just about the only reason to plant an orchard of the sort of seedling apples [Johnny Appleseed] had for sale would have been for its intoxicating harvest of drink...Eventually they [temperance advocates] would attack cider directly and launch their campaign to chop down apple trees.”  “Unless your neighbors dropped a dime on you, no one was going around trying to eradicate cider,” says Watson.

Still websites such as aver, “by the end of Prohibition, the only apples left were those for eating, not for making hard cider. And thus, beer became the drink of choice, and the resource needed to make hard cider – cider apples – had been completely destroyed.”

As for New Mexico’s prohibition-inspired apple tree destruction we offer this semi-analogical explanation. The “Big Mill” at El Rancho de las Golondrinas was a commercial business near Las Vegas, NM supplying wheat flour to the U.S. Army forts in New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma from 1880 to 1920. When the forts shut down the mill did also – sitting intact until the 1960s when it was donated and moved to the museum. Surprisingly its metal parts were not scavenged by the U.S. Government for the WWII war effort, as other vacated factories were. One Golondrinas guest told Jim that it showed that even then no one knew New Mexico existed. Similarly it seems unlikely that the Revenuers would have thought to look for hard cider scofflaws here in the Land of Enchantment. On the other hand New Mexicans did approve state-wide prohibition by three-to-one in 1917 – three years before the national law went into effect. Perhaps that “fit of Temperance fervor” carried over to NM’s orchardists. Our home state has clearly changed its point-of-view and is now ranked sixth in “States with the Worst DUI Problems,” per CT is number 38.

Whatever the reason, during the 1920s many trees were cut down – and over the years development and drought has taken its toll on New Mexico’s orchards. One of the oldest and most popular, Dixon’s Apple Farm in Peña Blanca, shut their doors in 2012 after fire followed by flooding.

So the apple situation was not that great in New Mexico when we moved here in 2017. And now this. “Historically, the [orchard] had about 10 days per year when temperatures hit 100 degrees, but last year had 62 such days, Eddie Velarde said. Trees that were formerly on a 14-day watering cycle are now watered every 10 days. The peak of the picking season used to fall around Labor Day, but now it’s in August. Global warming is happening.”

A sad state of affairs for those of us who were used to years-and-years of bi-monthly PYOing just across the river from our Wethersfield home. Apple season for us in 2017 was consumed instead by looking for and moving into our new home in Santa Fe. In 2018 we searched unsuccessfully for a NM orchard at which we could self-harvest, and for “real” apples at the Farmers Markets – and we seriously began missing our favorite New England fruit. In later October, close to the edge of total apple despair, Marsha took her cell phone in hand, punched in Belltown’s phone number and soon enough by way of a “Big Brown” delivery truck an assortment of “the ones that travel best” were in our eagerly quivering hands. We rationed ourselves to one-a-day savoring each crunch and drop of juice on our chins. Repeated the process in 2019, 2020 – and soon will in the current year.

On the down side, all this gustatory goodness put us in mind of other CT favorite foods. Some, such as Polska kielbasa from Martin Rosol’s in New Britain, CT, we will have shipped to us,. Others we probably will never have again. For example a sausage, eggplant and pepper grinder with provolone cheese and sauce “in the oven,” from our old neighborhood pizzeria, “Leo’s.” (For you non-Connecticuters grinder = hoagy = submarine=hero.)

We have found nothing that comes even remotely close. In fact the only similarly shaped sandwich we’ve found is at the local Subway franchise. There was no Spanish BYO of either it or its ingredients – except perhaps berenjena (eggplant.) PYO doesn’t even make sense. And UPS doesn’t offer a GrubHub type on-time delivery guarantee. There is certainly an abundance of indigenous (small “i”) foods to take its place. And we definitely are not concerned about becoming “like them.”

But still…