Day Three - Taos - Thursday, April 20th
A bright, clear morning dawns, and we have a cunning plan. Today, we're going to drive up to Taos
- about sixty, seventy miles north of Santa Fe - and check it out.
The road climbs out of Santa Fe and we begin to wind our way through a bunch of small towns - most with an alarming number of drive-throughs.
(forget about what you've heard about L.A. denizens being impatient, always on the go, and unwilling to wait, because judging by the number of drive-throughs of all types, New Mexicans have go
to be the most impatient people on the planet. We saw a drive through liquor store. Heck! We saw a drive through pizza
place! I want you to think about that
one a bit. What the heck are they in such a hurry for out there, anyway?)
Eventually, the road drops down along the Rio Grand, then begins to climb again next to it. Eventually, the mountains open up, and you're driving along the edge of a large flat plain, ringed in the distance by hazy blue mountains. And curving across this plain, in a deep gash cut into it, runs the Rio Grand.
Taos has a whole forty-one-hundred people in it, but being a tourist town, it also has a ton-O-restaurants, gift shops, and (this being New Mexico) galleries. We stop briefly at the Visitors Center
, then continue our journey north, to Taos Pueblo
, billed as the "Oldest Inhabited Community in North America."
As we pull into the modest parking lot that sits outside the walls of the pueblo, it's pretty obvious that they've got a good claim on that being true. Taos Pueblo is a classic walled adobe pueblo, where the newest
building is a church they built in the 1850 (to replace one built in the 1600's
and later shelled by the U.S. Army for arcane reasons during the war with Mexico). The old church - now a crumbling pile of adobe with just one tower standing - stands guard over the pueblo's cemetery.
Unfortunately, if proves to be surprisingly expensive to get in (surprising, until you realize that's pretty much their only source of money to maintain the place). It's ten a person to get in, then another ten if you want to take photos. Okay, this isn't really
expensive - except that they couldn't take a credit card and I only had about twenty-five dollars in cash.
So, no pictures this
time (apart from a couple taken from the parking lot - but here's one from Great Buildings Online
We took the tour of the pueblo and both found it fascinating. There have been some
over the centuries to the place. For instance, they eventually went with doors rather than the roof accesses and they can have gas installed (though no electricity or running water is allowed). There's glass in some of the windows and linoleum on some of the floors, but all and all it really hasn't changed all that much in a millennium.
Only about fifty to one-hundred people still live in within the walls these days, but all the houses are still owned by individual families who come in every so often to do maintenance on their ancestral home.
"Maintenance" with adobe means putting on another coat of mud once or twice a year: A more inexpensive, easier to build with, easier to maintain housing material
is hard to imagine. There's a moment of discontinuity - at least, there was for me - as you're walking next to the walls of these centuries-old houses and you realize, "hey, this thing's made of dirt!"
Basically, all you need do is re-mud the walls to replace what washes away in the rainy season and those walls will stand pretty much forever. Heck, even without
doing this, the stuff lasts a surprisingly long time - the old church, after all, hasn't had anything done to it in a hundred and fifty years and apart from
a slightly "melted" look, what was left standing after the shelling is still standing today.
We finish our tour, then wander through some of the small shops that lie within the walls. Finally, we take our leave and head back out to newer New Mexico.
We now make a quick side trip over to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, supposedly the second highest steel bridge in the world (the woman at the Visitor Center incorrectly referred to it as a "suspension bridge." It isn't - it's a steel-arch bridge).
And it is
pretty high above the green waters and sheer walls of the Rio Grande gorge. I walk out to get some pictures while Dee Dee - not at all
fond of high, peers carefully over the edge at the end of the bridge.
While I'm doing some of my own peering over - from the center
of the bridge - I notice eagles circling below, gradually getting higher and higher till they rise out of the gorge and fly off across the plain.
It's getting late now, so it's time to head on back to Santa Fe. The drive is just as scenic on the way down as on the way up and a couple of hours later, we're back at the motel.
Dinner that night is a bit of a disappointment - and the less said about Austin's Steakhouse, the better...
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All Non-Linked Pictures Copyright 2000 - David William Johnson