From: firstname.lastname@example.org (David Sewell) Newsgroups: alt.culture.us.southwest Subject: A Loop Trip and the Meaning of New Mexico Date: 19 Aug 1995 22:02:15 -0700
These are some miscellaneous notes on a loop trip through New Mexico that my wife and I took from 11-17 August, mostly to visit places we hadn't ever seen or had previously seen too hastily. Rather than repeat descriptions of things you already know thoroughly or can read about in any guidebook, I'm focusing on lesser-known sites and on encounters that were personally meaningful or that said something special about New Mexico and the Southwest. The notes turn into a meditation toward the end, because I can't ever seem to travel without trying to convert movement into meaning.
The route, by overnight stops, was Tucson - Lordsburg - Three Rivers - Taos - Chaco Canyon - Socorro - Silver City - Tucson, a mix of motels and camping.
Deming. We stopped in the Luna-Mimbres museum not expecting much, and were blown away by what they had. They've recently acquired a couple of private collections of Mimbres pots, and all in all, what they have on display equals or surpasses the more established display up at Western New Mexico U. It was impressive, too, to see how much material the townpeople have donated (old cowboy paraphernalia, Victoriana, flapper dresses from the '20s, antique business machines, you name it). (I don't know just what it is about Deming, but the Florida Mountains grabbed me on my first cross-country drive through there, and I've had a warm feeling about the town ever since I pulled off there en route to Austin with a portable CD player about to burn out on account of a DC cigarette-lighter adapter with the wrong wattage rating, and practically the first thing that met my eye was a Radio Shack in one of the little old turn-of-the-century downtown buildings, when I'd thought for sure I'd have to drive on to Las Cruces to find an electronics place.)
La Mesilla. Ron Green had recommended La Posta as a place to eat, saying it rated a 'B' in his book. Ron, if that's only a B, what counts as an A? An Arizonan simply has to bow down in honor of the New Mexican's mastery of the chile. The best Sonoran cooking does things with masa flour and cheese that no one else comes close to, but the aesthetics of chiles in New Mexican cuisine is something we can't touch.
On Ron's recommendation again, we turned off at Aguirre Springs in the Organs, which confirmed the Organs' high status on my "must hike" list. (How much of the summit peaks and ridges are reachable without technical climbing?) Skipped White Sands, even though we'd never been there--with apologies to its partisans, if you've been in the Mojave dunes you don't quite see what all the fuss is about. (Imagine Crocodile Dundee holding up the 700-foot-high Kelso Dunes with the craggy Providence Mountains rising a mile out of the desert behind them and saying, "Now *these* are dunes!")
Quarai Ruins near Mountainair: here we first encountered buffalo gourd, massive patches of it, which was great excitement for me, since I've been growing its near cousin coyote melon in Tucson as part of my effort to replace invasive European weeds with indigenous ones. Since the winter rains this year my bible has been Kittie Parker's "An Illustrated Guide to Arizona Weeds" (I've identified 18 species around my house, all but 3 non-native to Arizona), so it was a kick to find horseweed and prickly lettuce growing around Quarai. I started pulling some of it up while we were picknicking, figuring I'd extend my crusade to New Mexico, which mildly horrified Meg (she was relieved that I at least didn't try to pull up any of the horseweed I saw at Taos Pueblo).
Taos was supposed to be a major destination for us, since we hadn't been there in years and thought maybe we'd spend most of a day around the plaza. But we should have known better; it measured about a 2.5 on the Sedona scale, so we wound up on the road by early afternoon. (1 Sedona is the standard measure of the amount of time it takes for a crowded, trendy tourist magnet to drive you away screaming crazy; approximately equal to one hour. On this trip the winner--or loser--on the Sedona scale was Madrid at .05, since we couldn't even find parking there.)
Coming south out of Chaco Canyon we stopped for lunch at Crownpoint: mediocre mutton stew and watery red chile beans. I used to have this theory, based on the Navajo and the English, that sheepherding cultures were somehow genetically linked to bad cooking, but the existence of Greek food kind of blew that one to bits.
Acoma: last time we drove to Sky City, the pueblo was closed in preparation for religious ceremonies. This time we made it up to the top. But the high point of the visit was finding Marus Chino back at the visitor's center selling pottery. I'd seen his work at a show in Casa Grande, Arizona, three years ago: he had developed a unique hair-thin brush-stroke style of painting jars which had already earned him honors at the Santa Fe Indian Market and Casa Grande. Since I had been genteely unemployed back then, the $400 jar I thought particularly beautiful was an extravagance I couldn't afford, but this time we decided we could manage a somewhat smaller jar with a circular lizard motif that reminded me of a style I couldn't quite put a name to until I noticed that Chino's flyer mentioned influences in his art from M. C. Escher. Then something clicked, and I said, "For that matter, Escher's lizards look kind of like Mimbres designs," and Chino smiled and said, "So it comes full circle, then."
Still there were abundant signs of pride, hope, and powerful sense of place, maybe nowhere more so than in a fellow named Nuñez we met at Lake Roberts, in the Gila NF north of Silver City. We were vacating our table after a picnic lunch; thinking it might be because his large family was just setting up for their own lunch, he said he hoped they weren't driving us out. I'd noticed his California plates, so to make conversation I asked whereabouts in the state he was from, and when he replied Riverside I said that I'd grown up mostly in the L.A. area myself. "Oh, but I'm *from* around here," he said; "went to school in Deming and Silver City." He was back showing his kids and grandkids some of his old haunts, and had passed through Globe to visit his father's grave on the San Carlos Reservation ("I think he was some kind of Indian" was his phrase, obviously containing a large untold story). He'd move back to the area if he could manage it financially; it was a little to early for him to retire yet. He agreed with me that the Riverside smog was bad, but said the biggest problem was with the people, the distrust, the unfriendliness. "You meet someone there, you probably can't just talk to them. Like we're doing right now!" We told him that we had picked up and moved to Tucson without jobs but knew it would be harder to do that in a smaller town; he said he figured one way or another he'd manage it.
It has been like a slow return to health to live in a city where no one thinks it odd to see a 40-year-old Anglo guy driving a car with a license plate in O'odham listening to a radio DJ called the Manic Hispanic play a bilingual mix of Tejano exitos and "cruisin' classics", after growing up in a middle-class LA suburb that was literally divided from the East LA housing projects by a single street that might as well have been the Berlin Wall, and where "California's Spanish Heritage" was a joke we paid lip service to a couple of days a year in school. Which is not to say that Tucson's perfect, and when you look up north to Phoenix you see a city at least as divided as LA and far more stupidly complacent about it.
Despite its history of Pueblo Revolts and ejido battles, New Mexico is the one place in North America that has most clearly managed to turn historical antagonisms into a powerfully creative cultural fusion, and that's more than ever a model this country needs.
All of which, if it doesn't make perfect sense, is at least a good excuse for me to take vacations and head east more often. :)
-- David Sewell email@example.com || Where the earth is dry, Old Fort Lowell barrio, Tucson, Arizona || the soul is wisest and best. U of Arizona: firstname.lastname@example.org || --Heraclitus WWW: http://packrat.aml.arizona.edu/~dsew/ ||Back to the dsew Netwriting page