STATE 18: NEW MEXICO
It took awhile, but we drove to what seemed to be to the edge of the world and made it out of rugged and wild Texas. The only connection I’ve had to New Mexico was that my childhood friend once lived in Albuquerque, home of the Lobos.
Luckily, Kendra’s online research and route planning led us on a trail of a National Park, two National Monuments, a free night’s stay at yet another Walmart, and an overnight slumber party with a herd of some of New Mexico’s finest champion-bloodline of alpacas — which are for sale, if anyone’s interested.
The first stop was Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a national park that is entirely underground. The story goes that in 1898, a teenager discovered a cavern and with a homemade wire ladder, climbed down hundreds of feet to discover a nearly endless series of limestone chambers. I don’t know about you, but it takes some MAJOR guts to do that. Climbing a homemade ladder alone would be beyond my means, let alone into an endless black hole of the unknown.
Plus, he didn’t even have a flashlight. They weren’t even INVENTED until the following year, 1899. Mind=blown.
We didn’t much more time than to take the 750ft. elevator ride down into the caverns and a swift walk around the major chambers. Thankfully, we didn’t get stuck on the elevator like this Michigan family did just a few weeks after we were there.
After staying the night in a Walmart outside Alamogordo, we visited White Sands National Monument, site of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Thankfully, Holloman Air Force base didn’t shut down the road for missile testing, because that’s a thing there. The White Sands Missile Range is the largest military installation in the U.S. and was also the site of the Trinity nuclear test for the Manhattan Project.
Millions of years before humans created disastrous bombs, this area was a shallow sea that eventually dried out, leaving a sandy gypsum bottom behind for Noel to enjoy. Don’t worry, she didn’t drop her own bomb to make it her litter box. She’s better than that...
Nonetheless, White Sands is the most visited NPS site in the state, and for good reason. Once the paved road disappears into a sand-covered trail with nothing but waves of white sand hills all around you, it feels like a different planet — which is probably why all these movies have been filmed here.
To us Michiganders, it felt like a day at the beach confused with a Wintery blizzard. We didn’t quite know what to do.
Our second stop of the day was to Petroglyph National Monument, one of the largest collections of ancient carvings in North America left behind by Native Americans and Spanish settlers.
Some archaeologists can date the carvings as far back as 3000 years ago, but 90% of the petroglyphs were created during the period between AD 1300 until the end of the 1600s, so says Wikipedia.
What may look like a pile of volcanic rock holds an estimated 24,000 hidden graffiti from pueblo peoples, nomads, and explorers. Crazy, right?
By the time we made it to our Harvest Host site for the night, it was dark. And when I say dark, I mean dark. No street lights, no moon, no nothing. Our host was nice enough to back us into place with a flashlight like an air traffic controller.
The next morning we smelled a little something. After blaming each other, we pulled back the curtains and revealed a pen of alpacas. And a large pile of alpaca poop. Fun fact: alpacas all poop in the same pile. They’re long-necked fuzzy geniuses. The pile outside our bedroom windows was, however, a human-made pile of piles of alpaca poop. So much poop.
Despite the poop, Kendra was in a weird version of heaven on Earth. She loves alpacas, so when she found out we could wake up at Blue Mesa Alpacas farm and feed them breakfast, she was all about it. Plus, there was a farm cat. Double bonus. And a pony. TRIPLE bonus.
After our couple-day adventure up our own version of a much safer Santa Fe Trail, we made it to Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground, our home for the next 10 days. What we weren’t expecting was snow in New Mexico — at least I wasn’t. Come to find out, we were sleeping 7,199’ above sea level.
The also would have explained the mild form of elevation sickness we were all experiencing, Noel included. Yet, it made for a cozy couple days of catching up on work, coffee, naps, and a bit of exploring beautiful Santa Fe National Forest.
After settling in and getting a basic lay of the land, we headed into downtown Santa Fe to begin experience local food, markets, and adobe architecture — which we loved.
However, beyond the sites and sounds and smells of the beautiful Southwest, there’s also a tension and troubled history, much like the rest of the country but in a slightly different way. Beyond the potential of cultural appropriation of the native culture through gift shops, replicated art and design elements, and so much more, there’s also a deep scar of oppression. Instead of civil war monument removals being debated over, it’s Spanish conquistador statues.
I think our country could benefit from taking a realistic look at our history and have some honest conversations that can help us heal rather than ignore or minimize any longer.
Taos is one of nineteen pueblos in New Mexico in addition to three Apache tribes and the Navajo Nation — each is a sovereign nation with its own government, life-ways, traditions, and culture. Visitors are welcome to visit each of them, but under certain hours.
If you have some time, visit the New Mexico website to learn more about the Pueblos, Tribes, and Nations that make the state so vibrant and unique.
We made it to the Taos Pueblo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the country and the only to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. The multi-story adobe homes are believed to be built over a period of time between 1000 AD and 1400 AD are still full-time occupied by around 150 Taos Indians with an additional 1,800+ living nearby throughout the 99,000 acres of Taos Pueblo lands.
We were honored to tour a portion of their storied homes and appreciate their desire and ability to maintain their culture despite the constant changes and pressures in the modern world around them.
Not far from Taos Pueblo is a completely flat bridge that is barely noticable on the horizon. That’s because this steel deck arch bridge spans across a gorge 1,280’ long while the Rio Grande flows 600’ below. It was strange to imagine this was the same Rio Grande River we had sat in a hot spring of just a couple weeks prior when we were in Texas at Big Bend National Park.
The million dollar question is: how long would it take for my shoe to make it from this Rio Grande Gorge Bridge to that hot spring in Big Bend National Park? By roadway, it’s roughly 600 miles, or 10 hours of drive time. By river? TBD.
The bridge cracks the Top-10 in tallest bridges in the country and it definitely made your weak in the knees when we looked over. Just thinking about it makes me a little queasy.
Our STATE 18: NEW MEXICO project was hosted at IAIA (Institute of American Indian Arts), a tribal college based in Santa Fe that focuses on honoring and preserving Native American art while also encouraging the next generation of artists to continue and evolve the heritage and traditions of their culture.
It was special for us to work with designer Ben Calabaza, a member of the Kewa Pueblo and professor at IAIA, along with U.S. Army Veteran Valentina Herrera from the San Felipe Pueblo. Listening and learning from both of their experiences growing up in pueblos was fascinating for us Midwesterners, who basically have the least amount of “culture” of any region of the country.
The community-focused lifestyle and appreciation of their history is far from the standard of the majority of Americans today, which is a shame. If we lived more selfless and community-minded, we wouldn’t have the strife and divide we’re facing today nor the dark history of the founding of our country. Imagine that.
We spent most of our time in Santa Fe, including an insightful meeting with the book publishing company Radius, yet we still did make a day trip to Albuquerque. We didn’t do the Breaking Bad tour but did grab a coffee at the beautiful and historic Los Poblanos inn and organic lavender farm before we educated ourselves at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and also met with members of the AIGA New Mexico chapter.
Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to visit again sooner than later!