I arrived in Taos two days ago after a too-short drive over the famous High Road from Santa Fe, a road that goes through lovely scenery and appealing small towns. Although it was Sunday, and hardly anybody was to be seen, I enjoyed the quiet.
But before I left Santa Fe, I had to return for breakfast to the place where I got those fabulous blue corn pancakes with roasted pinon nuts. Tecolote, which has moved in recent years because of its popularity, now lives in a strip mall, but who cares when the food is that good?
This time I had another house special: Huevos Yucatecos, described like this on their menu:
I had posole, known in English as “hominy.” This belly-busting breakfast also came with a bakery basket containing three sizable muffins: jalapeño, blueberry, and raisin. It was a superb meal, and kept me full till dinnertime, a dinner that consisted of a salad and some fruit (I need to detox before I resume my gluttony):
Out in the parking lot I saw this license plate, which I’d dearly like to have on my car:
The High Road (see link above) goes through scenery that looks like the next two pictures:
The San Jose de Gracia Church, also known as Church of Santo Tomas Del Rio de Las Trampas, is a historic church on the main plaza of Las Trampas, New Mexico. Built between 1760 and 1776, it is one of the least-altered examples of a Spanish Colonial Pueblo mission church, with adobe walls rising 34 feet (10 m) in height. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
Shortly after arriving in Taos and booking a cheap room (yes, they left the light on for me), I headed for perhaps the most famous of New Mexican adobe churches, San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, built between 1772 and 1816, and also a National Historic Landmark. Its rear faces the road, so it’s easy to miss. But the rear of the building is, as artists have found, more visually interesting than the front:
The front, with two cross-topped bell towers:
One reason the church is famous is that it’s been depicted by many painters and photographers, most notably Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams:
Here’s O’Keeffe’s painting (below) and her take on the building:
The Ranchos de Taos Church is one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards. Most artists who spend any time in Taos have to paint it, I suppose, just as they have to paint a self-portrait. I had to paint it—the back several times, the front once. I finally painted a part of the back thinking with that piece of the back I said all I needed to say about the church. I often painted fragments of things because it seemed to make my statement as well as or better than the whole could. And I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at—not copy it.
And an Ansel Adams photograph:
The entire landscaped front:
And, of course, since this is a Catholic church, there’s a recent “memorial to the unborn.” It wouldn’t be as affecting if the picture was the single cell of a fertilized zygote.
The inside of the church with its wooden ceiling:
The main altar, repainted in 1981:
One of the two paintings flanking the entrance. The Mary and Jesus is complemented on the other side by Jesus holding his bleeding heart.
A closeup of the adobe exterior, showing the straw mixed with the dried mud:
Of course all of us amateur photographers have to have a go at a picture, too, and this is mine. Sadly, the morning light wasn’t great and the photo turned into what I call “Adobe Buttocks”:
Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The multi-story adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over a [sic] 1,000 years. The Pueblo is 3 miles northeast of Taos Plaza. Archaeologists say that ancestors of the Taos Indians lived in this valley long before Columbus discovered America and hundreds of years before Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. Ancient ruins in the Taos Valley indicate our people lived here nearly 1000 years ago. The main part of the present buildings were most likely constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D. They appeared much as they do today when the first Spanish explorers arrived in Northern New Mexico in 1540 and believed that the Pueblo was one of the fabled golden cities of Cibola. The two structures called Hlauuma (north house) and Hlaukwima (south house) are said to be of similar age. They are considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the USA.
Below is a photo of the “north house” (I couldn’t approach the “south house” as it’s off limits; as Wikipedia notes, “The Taos community is known for being one of the most private, secretive, and conservative pueblos”.).
The two “houses” are big adobe apartment buildings, with each door opening into a single-family unit. There are up to three stories, with the upper units accessible only by climbing a ladder. (I wonder how the older people manage that). There are also isolated, smaller houses.
Other views of the north house. There is no electricity or running water; water comes from a creek running through the pueblo that debouches from a pure mountain lake in the mountains behind. It’s a sacred lake, and was made 100% Tiwa-speaker property by decree of Richard Nixon.
I have no idea how many people live in the Pueblo. I took a tour from a woman who was a member of the tribe and studying biology at a local college, intending to go into “native medicine.” She told me there were 15-20 people living there permanently, but others visit from time to time or during ceremonies. Each unit is passed down within a family.
The way to get to an upstairs unit:
Some of the residents sell basked goods and handicrafts from their homes. Their own baking is done in outdoor adobe ovens that look like this:
It’s a breathtaking structure, and of course requires maintenance to keep the adobe uncracked.
I am told that the wooden racks are used to dry vegetables and other foodstuffs:
Some adobe bricks ready to be used:
A view from the courtyard of the local church, built by Indian labor under the Spanish whip:
Red Willow Creek, the source of the Pueblo’s water:
The Pueblo residents fiercely resisted Spanish occupation, attacking the killing several priests and the Governor General. Their last big revolt was in 1847, when the Spanish attacked, forcing the residents to hole up in this original church, which was then knocked down with cannons. The bell tower and original bell remains, surrounded by a graveyard that one isn’t allowed to photograph:
The rest of the day I wandered around downtown Taos, including the plaza, which is full of ritzy stores. Nearby is the home and grave of the famous Kit Carson (1809-1868), a frontier polymath, or, as Wikipedia describes him, “an American frontiersman. . .a mountain man (fur trapper), wilderness guide, Indian agent, and U.S. Army officer.” His deliberate murdering and scalping of many Indians has taken a lot of the shine off his image. Here are the first and last known photos of Carson, followed by my photo of his grave:
Finally, the home of Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879-1962), a wealthy heiress who moved to Taos in 1917 with her third husband, becoming a patron of the local art scene. She also entertained many famous artists and writers. From Wikipedia:
D. H. Lawrence, the English author, accepted an invitation from her to stay in Taos, arriving with his wife, Frieda, in early September, 1922. He had a fraught relationship with his hostess, however, later writing about it in his fiction. Dodge later published a memoir about the visit entitled, Lorenzo in Taos (1932). Editor and book designer Merle Armitage also wrote a book about this time in New Mexico. Taos Quartet in Three Movements was originally to appear in Flair Magazine, but the magazine folded before its publication. This short work describes the tumultuous relationship of D. H. Lawrence, his wife Frieda, artist Dorothy Brett and Mabel Dodge Sterne, a wealthy patron of the arts.
. . . In New Mexico, Dodge and Luhan [Tony Luhan, her fourth husband and a Native American] hosted a number of influential artists and poets, including Marsden Hartley, Arnold Ronnebeck, Louise Emerson Ronnebeck, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Robinson Jeffers and his wife Una, Florence McClung, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mary Hunter Austin, Mary Foote, Frank Waters, Jaime de Angulo, Aldous Huxley, Ernie O’Malley and others.
All those luminaries stayed here: