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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Santa Fe, New Mexico: Serendipity in the Southwest

In June, Steve and I departed on a new adventure. We’ve often talked about going to New Mexico, but had never “pulled the trigger.” Finally, Steve’s sister Debra offered the opportunity to join her and her husband on a trip to Santa Fe and we jumped at the chance.

This was one of those trips--setup loosely to allow for adventure and casual exploring--that really did work out much better than if had it been meticulously planned. Steve had a general goal to find some really terrific Acoma Pueblo pottery to add to his beginner’s collection, and I always love the subjects of archeology, geology, UFOlogy and southwestern foods--subjects which are known to be well represented and plentiful in New Mexico! But in fact, we had no idea just how wonderful our experience would be.

We had chosen to drive, and so, we agreed not to rush our trip from Phoenix into Santa Fe. Instead, we promised to give ourselves time to stop and see whatever was of interest. First, we took Mike and Debra for a nice filling breakfast at La Bellavia in Flagstaff—always tasty, always reasonable. Then, Debra had never been to Winslow, so we had to show her the progress of the renovations at the La Posada Resort. Much has changed there, and we were glad we stopped. Of course, we snapped the ubiquitous “Standin’ on the Corner” shot, too.

Mike had driven this route many times as a kid, (even pre-Interstate highway) and so he was able to point out the things that were still present after so many years—rest stops, cement Tee-Pees, trading posts, all the Route 66 kitschy places you can think of. His one disappointment was that he’d never had the chance to see the Petrified Forest. However, we opted to try to see this one on the way back, since we knew there was more to see on the way once we crossed over into New Mexico.

Once across the line, Steve’s eyes were peeled for the Acoma Pueblo. And Mike was remembering yet another spot he’d never actually gotten to see as a kid—the Ice Caves at Bandera Volcano. When we saw a small sign for “Sky City,” Steve remembered that particular phrase as the loose translation for the Acoma name. So, off the road we went. What a surprise to come around a bend in the road and see a beautiful panoramic view of the pueblo on top of a mesa, and a brand new cultural museum that rivals museums in large cities.

After meeting and talking to a few really nice folks selling their artwork at the open market, we agreed we wanted to try to see more and promised to come back to take the tour up the mesa on our way home. By this time, we felt as if we had made many new friends—everyone was so friendly and welcoming!

Now the Ice Caves were the next stop down the road. When we saw the signs and took the off-ramp we learned to our dismay that the destination was another 23 miles south. It was getting late and we didn’t want to get into Santa Fe too late to check-in, so we made another promise to make this a priority stop on the return home.

We buzzed through Albuquerque, and after a one-hour delay on the route into Santa Fe due to a Brinks armored car crash with the local metro commuter train, we reached our destination just after sunset. Santa Fe’s landscape is truly breathtaking, and it makes me so proud to be a resident of the Southwest—I wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world! (I say this even as the heat outside my window in Phoenix is well past 105 degrees.)

The next day I got up and went on an early exploratory walk—the trip in the car the day before had left me full of nervous energy. It was a pleasure to find out that the heart of downtown “old town” was only a few blocks away. I noted some interesting spots, and went back to the room to report that this was gonna be a cool vacation indeed!

The highlight of this trip of wonders, surely, came just a few hours later. We met a lady at the downtown market who was from the Santa Clara Pueblo near Santa Fe. We struck up an easy conversation, and after Steve and I had both talked to Judith at some length about our interest in pottery, native culture (old and new), and New Mexico in general, we then found that we had other like interests and experiences: grown children/empty nests, professional careers that veered and split from our youthful plans, a love of travel and exploring new places, new foods, new people, and just a general type of like-mindedness that comes from common paths and shared generational experiences. We kiddingly accepted an invitation to Judith’s home for homemade green chili, and before we knew it, the meet was on!

We’ll never forget meeting Judith and Andrew; they literally ended up taking the four of us on a cultural tour you’d never find in an organized guidebook. On reflection, my first impressions were that they were as welcoming and giving of their time and home as my grand parents were while I was growing up. That same small community feeling was evident as the invitation was extended to lunch at the home of Judith’s friend in the neighboring Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan) Pueblo community. Veronica “Grams” greeted and welcomed us with open arms and a terrific spread of chilis, posole, stews, homemade bread, salads, sweet potatoes, cookies, pie and a bread pudding that Steve and Mike will NEVER forget. This was the Okey Owingeh Pueblo Peace Day feast, so we not only had a wonderful lunch, but then we enjoyed an open invitation to the village’s festival and dances—an event not many outsiders get to enjoy.

While we were there, Steve and I marveled at the fact that not only were these folks so open and friendly, but we even ran into one of the couples who’d been selling their art at the Acoma Pueblo. It never occurred to me that different Pueblo peoples bartered and sold their goods at each other’s events and festivities…duh! They’ve been doing this since long before the Spanish Conquistadores brought Christianity here!! Why change now? Debra and I commented on the fact that we’d only been in New Mexico for three days, yet we’d already started running into friends!! Is New Mexico’s Native American community tight, or what?

Actually, Judith explained a lot of things to me as we drove: she touched on cultural dating rules and how young men and women always have to get the permission of an elder grandmother in the family before they can marry. The older women in the clans always know who’s related to who, and they keep an eye out to be sure cousins are not too closely related to one another. She said it can be very frustrating at times for the young couples who meet, fall in love then find out that Grandma doesn’t approve!

After the festival, Judith and Andrew offered to take us up to Taos, since it was actually closer than if we’d driven back to their house and around again. We made a pit stop in the Ohkay Casino, grabbed some sodas and a minute or two of play time. Then off to the old Taos Pueblo, the well photographed and painted Ranchos de Taos church, and some other famous spots of interest. Our next stop was for dinner at Taoseno Restaurant where we just had to have some sopaipillas and honey, or “soapy pillows” as Judith called them. A surprise was a stop at the Rio Grande Gorge for a breathtaking view of the bridge and overlook. New Mexico is so full of beautiful vistas. Not to downplay our own beautiful state, but this high desert is so different than our own. I loved it!

The end of our day with Judith and Andrew was spent learning about their craft: pottery and jewelry making, and basket weaving. Andrew and Judith both work in these artforms, having learned them from their grandparents. Andrew even gave Steve, Mike and Debra a chance to polish a couple of very small—and hopefully expendable—pots. He uses smooth polished stones, and his clays and slips are all made from those gathered from close by his home. Andrew’s baskets are made from willow gathered from around the Rio Grand river, and he’s teaching his son to weave as well. Andrew’s work has a wonderful contemporary look that is a standout from amongst the work of others in his community. Judith showed me some jewelry pieces that were lovely as well. We’ll have to apply ourselves to our own livelihoods in order to be able to acquire more of their work in the future!

This day had turned out to be a very long one, and the boys were tired. Yet, no one was complaining—that’s a first! As a matter of fact, our heads were whirling with all the things we had seen and done in that one jam-packed day. We made our new friends promise to look us up when they come to Phoenix for the next Indian Market—as you can tell, Judith is a very friendly, outgoing person, and we weren’t surprised to learn that they have friends all over the Phoenix metro area! She’s the consummate networker and I could learn a lot from her.

Our trip wasn’t over yet, though. We still had reserved sessions at the Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Spa. This also was memorable, and not just because of the lovely herbal wraps and salt glows Debra and I received. Steve actually got a massage, too! Not his first, but still…unexpected. He took advantage of the salt foot bath and serenity room while awaiting my and Debra’s release. We all came out like happy, wet noodles. Which made our last night’s dinner at Mu-Du Noodles even more appropriate! I do think we found a true, non-Mex food gem, there. We had our meal in the hidden garden out back, and it was a luscious fusion-Asian delight. Debra and I are still trying to remember how they made their Ginger Lemonade. A big “Thank You” goes out to the young studio manager on Canyon Road who sent us there.

As planned, the drive home was packed with more things to do. We had penciled the Ice Cave, the Petrified Forest and the tour at Acoma on our schedules for last. We were able to fit in two of those items, both of which we thought were well worth driving off the main road. We left the Petrified Forest for another time—heck, it’s petrified. It’s not going anywhere. And we do want to go back.

There is one small lesson we learned that we won’t repeat. After close review of the map, the two “wayfinders” among us (me and Mike) decided we could get home quicker by taking a shortcut off the main Interstates. We veered south at Winslow and headed toward Pine/Strawberry on SR 87. We’d been on part of this road before, and it seemed familiar. All went well, until it got dark. We passed some signs that warned us about free-wheeling elk ahead, which we promptly ignored. I’ve never come across elk when the sign says so. But that wasn’t the case this time. I had just remarked on how we hadn’t seen much in the way of wildlife on this trip—only a lonely raccoon thumbing his nose at us from the side of the road—when I came around a bend in the road and there, standing in all his beauteous glory, was a full grown, gazillion-point bull elk! After I slammed on the brakes and came to a full stop, he stared at us for a moment, then turned and calmly trotted off the road. We, on the other hand, were not CALM after that encounter. After that, not only were my eyes peeled, but the quiet coming from the back seat indicated that Mike and Debra were trying to will the elk off the road with all their mental might.

It didn’t help much; we saw a total of nine of these big beautiful creatures, and nearly ran down three more silly, young females who couldn’t make up their minds which way to bound—“right, left, right, left, oh, heavens, I just can’t make up my mind.” We finally realized why it seemed that all the other cars we saw were in bunches…they were actually traveling in convoys as a strategy for self-defense! I imagine one would take point for a while, then back down and let another car pass. It was a nerve-wracking way to drive, and I was glad when we finally got down into Camp Verde and onto the Interstate. Oh well, so much for shortcuts!

What an exciting way to end an adventure, though. The sight of that first elk daring me to hit him is burned into my brain for eternity…beautiful, regal and dangerous to speeding cars, I’ll never forget the sight. Steve said he looked just like the Hartford Elk!!

Don’t you just love the Southwest!?

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  • Great pics Ma. You guys seemed so relaxed and rested after that trip. Maybe this means more spa trips are in the future...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/14/2009 5:47 PM  

  • Here's a link to more pictures from the New Mexico trip on Facebook...

    By Blogger Terry R, at 7/15/2009 8:29 AM  

  • This is wonderful, Terry!

    I am so amazed at your talent and writing ability! Most Excellent, sis!!!

    You really need to submit one of these sections to New Mexico's equivalent of 'Arizona Highways' so they can publish it. It is as good if not better than some of the articles I've read in their magazine!

    By Anonymous Danny, at 7/18/2009 7:46 PM  

  • DJW, Enq.,
    Thank you, you are most kind. What can I say? The scenery was inspiring!

    By Blogger Terry R, at 7/18/2009 9:17 PM  

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