We planned a trip to New Mexico because it was the only state that I have not visited. I always thought it would be a neat place to visit and I was right. We arrived in Albuquerque on a very windy day. I saw my first tumbleweed rolling down the road as we drove our rental car out of the airport parking lot. We stopped at the Petroglyph National Monument to check out the petroglyphs. It was so windy that we didn’t make it up the entire hill, but we saw some cool drawings nonetheless.
New Mexico was beautiful. Everywhere we drove, I was gawking at the views of the mountains. New Mexico has an interesting selection of restaurants. There are a lot of Mexican restaurants and they are considered New Mexican, NOT Tex Mex. They get offended if you are looking for Tex Mex. The difference, from what I could tell, was the use of the chili. The sauces were very spicy. There are also a lot of BBQ that has brisket, which makes me think it’s a bit of a crossover from Texas. The first place we ate was a mix of both Mexican and BBQ. I had an amazing brisket sandwich with spicy cheese and mushrooms. I couldn’t finish it all.
We stayed in an Air BnB that was attached to a house, but had a separate entrance. It was off a dirt road right outside of Santa Fe. The next day we drove to Bandelier National Monument. On the way, we stopped at a scenic overlook to take a few pictures of the landscape.
We drove through the Bandelier National Monument and saw maybe two cars as we made our way to the visitor’s center. There were very few cars in the parking lot and the air was cold enough for me to wear a scarf and hat. We walked out on the boardwalk and almost immediately saw six deer right next to us. They did not seem too upset by our presence. We saw two people leaving right after the deer and we told them where they were located. They gave us their park map, which I really appreciated because we could read about what we were seeing and not have to look it up on our phones.
The above picture is a kiva.It was the center of the community, not only for religious activities, but also for education and decision making. There would have been a roof on this kiva with six wooden pillars to support it. You can see where these pillars were places from the logs on the floor in the picture. The entrance would have been through an opening on the roof. They made the roof sturdy enough for the tribe to walk on it. There were three kivas in this pueblo.
Tyuonyi buildings were one or two stories high and contained about four hundred rooms and the central plaza had the three kivas. There were about a 100 residents. They relied heavily on agriculture. This pueblo and the caves in the canyon were constructed over six hundred years ago and were inhabited at the same time. This is one of the few sites that has been excavated, updated, and stabilized. Native Americans prefer not to disturb the homes of their ancestors.
The coolest part of this visit was being able to climb up into the cliff dwellings. There are three that you can enter. However, when we were there only two were open. The third one was a kiva and it was closed because it was vandalized. (It makes me so mad when I find out people ruin these experiences for others, plus they totally disrespect the history and the people.) The cave rooms are referred to as cavates. Although the rock is soft, it still would have been very difficult carving these rooms with the stone tools they utilized. The walls were usually plastered and the ceilings were smoke blackened to harden the volcanic tuff and make it less crumbly. The park service has to blacken the ceilings periodically to keep it hardened. The house picture is a reconstruction, but it turns out it’s not accurate since they would have entered through a doorway in the roof.
Although the people of this time were smaller than today (men averaged five feet six inches tall and women five feet), these rooms are still very small. The views are beautiful and the sun warms you as you look out toward the river. We decided to continue walking out to the Long House, where the people had multi storied homes along the cliff base. There are also petroglyphs carved into the cliff and a painted design that was uncovered from under plaster.
After Bandelier National Monument we took a drive to Valles Caldera National Preserve to see the caldera. We spotted an entire herd of elk and had a wild dog run out across the road in front of us. We then drove through Los Alamos. We had to stop at a security checkpoint that warned our car could be searched. We had to show our license and the guard told us not to take any pictures or videos for the next two and a half miles. If he had not said anything to me, I would have never even though about taking a picture. The labs are still super top secret. We went to the Bradbury Science Museum and learned all about how the labs were created and how they built and tested the atomic bomb. The only picture I took was of the old checkpoint area.
On our way to Taos Pueblo, we stopped at El Santuario de Chimayo. There was no one there. We wandered around the various capillas and went inside the lovely church. They had the coolest statue of Jesus that I have ever seen. It reminded me of Botero’s style, but without the pot belly. I could not take a picture because there were none allowed in the church.
When you enter Taos Pueblo there is a parking lot directly on your right. We parked there and walked across the street and paid for our entrance to the town. Then we crossed the next street to enter the pueblo. There was a sign that said there would be a tour at noon. A woman directed us to the church, which is where the tour would begin. We went inside the church while we were waiting and took a few pictures.
Our tour guide was a member of one of the few families that lived in the Pueblo. It was interesting to have her perspective on the history and present day Native American culture. She told us that the church is a mixture of their native beliefs that are closely connected to nature intertwined with Christian teachings. We walked over to the cemetery, which also contained the ruins of a church. She told us that when the government came through to try and clear out the Native Americans, all the women and children hid in the church because the early missionaries taught them that the church was a sacred place. The government burned down the church and killed all hundred people inside. Those people are buried in that same cemetery. The ruins of the church are there as a reminder of what happened that day.
There are only about ten families that live in the Taos Pueblo on a daily basis. Most people don’t want to live there year round because there is no electricity and no running water. There are many people in the tribe that come and live there for a few months at a time or they come to visit when they have important ceremonies. The tour guide said there were about 3,000 members. You could walk around the town on your own, but there were areas that were closed off to tourists. We asked her why and she said they were either the areas with kivas or where the families were currently living. We also asked her what she thought about sports teams changing their names to honor Native Americans. She said that her people don’t care about that stuff. It’s just another example of people making a big deal in the name of people who have no interest.
These are the traditional ovens that they use during ceremonial times. They bake bread, cookies, and other goodies. She said that they learn how to light the fires and then rake out the coals, then they put the food inside. The covering is used to dry out animal skins.
The colorful doors indicate a shop. We went inside every shop that was open. The top picture is of a coffee shop. They made us some delicious hot chocolate. The first shop we entered was the light blue door on the right. It had beautiful pottery. We met the artist since she was also the shopkeeper. She also had some paintings by her son. Her pottery was the most colorful and interesting that we saw and after walking around the entire pueblo, we returned to buy this bridal vase.
Flower Basket gave us a nice discount on the vase and we thought she should have been charging more money for her art. She also chatted with us about how she doesn’t like our Florida governor or Trump. It was very interesting to hear her opinions. I also found a Christmas ornament at one of the shops with Santa as the storyteller. She made the ornaments in the back of the shop and she was very busy trying to fulfill an order before Christmas. We saw a lot of beautiful jewelry as well. I bought a small pair of turquoise turtle earrings. A lot of the jewelry was super expensive both because it was made by hand and because of the stones they used. I would have loved to buy a piece, but I couldn’t justify the price with how often I would probably wear it. I loved the experience of walking around the pueblo and talking to the artists and having a tour from someone who lived there. It was a very authentic experience.
After Taos Pueblo we drove out to the Earthship community. It’s a community of about 90 houses that are built from all recycled materials. Their water and heating systems are naturally constructed as well. You can check out the visitor center and read a bit about what they do there. You could also pay to tour the house where the visitor center is located. There are these types of houses all over the U.S. You can rent one through Air BnB and they look amazing. I wish that more people knew about these type of houses and the work they do for the environment. If you are interested in these communities check it out on earthshipglobal.com.
That night we ate at a New Mexican restaurant. I opted not to have the chili sauce on my burrito, but I got it on the side. I’m a big wimp with spicy food, but I dipped my fork into it and had to take a long gulp of water after I did. The burrito was tasty, but I was more impressed with my Margarita. At the first restaurant I got a tiny Margarita for $13. This one was only $8 and it was plenty for two people!
We bought advance tickets at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. (I wanted to visit her home, but it is closed in the winter.) The museum was surprisingly busy for a weekday morning. It was smaller than I expected, but it had a good representation of the different stages of her painting. I fell in love with her painting when I attended one of her exhibitions at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. shortly after she passed away. Her paintings of the clouds took up an entire wall and I connected with her experience of being on a plane. Here are a few of my favorites that were displayed:
After the museum, we took a tour of the Capitol of New Mexico. We were the only two people on the tour, which was awesome. We saw the normal areas where they hold votes and meetings and even went into the governor’s office. The neat part of the tour was that this capitol is filled with so many different pieces of art. After the tour we wandered around on our own to see the rest of the exhibitions. Here are some of my favorite pieces:
It looks like a painting of a blanket, but it’s actually a blanket.
A representation of the various tribes in New Mexico.
This entire piece is made from recycled materials that a little girl wanted to create to be displayed in the capitol.
This was painted by a ranch hand who had no experience in painting. You never know what you can accomplish until you try.
This is the Oldest House in the U.S. It was built in 1646 and used to have two floors.
This is the second oldest church in the U.S. It was built in 1610. They still hold services.
We spent some time checking out the artist shops around Santa Fe. There were a lot. Our favorite was in a renovated traditional New Mexican house. It was neat to view the artwork along with the original architecture. We saw a lot of pottery, but nothing we loved as much as what we found in Taos Pueblo. It was all a lot more expensive too. We visited the town of Madrid, which was in the midst of celebrating the holidays. There were many interesting shops and very nice people. On our last morning, we checked out the Balloon Museum in Albuquerque. It was free that day. We learned a lot about both ballooning in general as well as the history of the festival. As much as I would love to experience the festival, I think the sheer number of people there would ruin it for me.
We had a wonderful time in New Mexico. Although I only visited a small area, the culture was very mixed, but also prominent. It was different from any other states that I have visited. I can’t wait to go back and explore more.