Tag Archives: First Peoples

Southwest Road Trip: Zuni Pueblo to Gallup, NM

There are 23 Native American tribes in New Mexico. In Oaxaca, we count 16 distinct indigenous groups each with their own language. My sister and I decided to do a Southwest road trip about six months ago instead of making an international trip. We chose to do a wide circle starting from Albuquerque (ABQ), traveling to Zuni Pueblo, then on to the three Hopi Mesas in Arizona, up through Monument Valley, on to Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, and Chaco Canyon before returning to Albquerque and then to Taos.

The Zuni people live on native lands about two-and-a-half hours west of ABQ. We signed up in advance for a tour operated by the Zuni Cultural Center, where we met Shaun, a cultural interpreter, who took us on a tour of the original pueblo called Middle Village. The name Zuni, Shaun told us, is an abbreviation of the Spanish Conquistador Gaspar de Zuniga, who colonized New Mexico with Juan de Oñate. Their original name is A’shiwi.

The Zuni are known for their exquisite silversmithing and fine inlay work called petit point, using predominantly turquoise and coral. He explained that about 75% of the village is engaged in the artisan craft of jewelry making, but most are only able to sell through middle men, who take a 40-50% commission from the retail price. This is a familiar number to me, since this is what tour guides in Oaxaca charge artisans when they bring tourists to workshops and studios and the customer makes a purchase. Finding markets to sell directly to clients is difficult for most artists and artisans, who are makers and not promoters.

Isolation amidst exquisite landscape enabled the Zuni people to survive despite Spanish colonization, and then later expansion of the American west. This is a similar story to that of Zapotec, Mixtec and Mixe pueblos in Oaxaca; remote mountain villages were able to retain original language and culture because they were far from the colonizers. In the Zuni pueblo, we could feel the isolation and see the struggle to achieve economic well-being.

We left the pueblo in late afternoon and headed toward Gallup where we found a room at the El Rancho Hotel on the original Route 66. This is a memorabilia hotel is steeped in history of the silver screen. Hollywood directors made this hotel their headquarters for western films shot in the region. The two-story lobby boasts photos of John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple (as an adult), Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Ronald Reagan, and more!

Vintage Navajo rugs adorn the walls. Movie star photos, leather banquettes, antlers, carved table lamps with cowhide shades, a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace add to the old-timey atmosphere. And, the restaurant is always packed, likely the best place in town to eat. What’s yummy? Enchiladas with Christmas sauce (red and green salsa), and a Prickly Pear Margarita to wash it down.

The next morning, we set out for Ganado, Arizona, and the historic Hubbell Trading Post, a mid-way stop on our way to the Hopi Mesa. The trading post is the oldest operating in the Navajo Nation, and is operated by the National Park Service. To be continued.

Vast Austerity of Landscape: Speaking of (New) Mexico and Georgia O’Keeffe

I’m in New Mexico and hour north of Santa Fe in the village of Abiquiu, where painter Georgia O’Keeffe reconstructed a dilapidated adobe, converting it into a winter home of extraordinary minimalism. She would have been at home in the living simply movement of modernity. One could also say she shaped it.

View from O’Keeffe’s bedroom window

Here in Nuevo Mexico, thinking of Mexico is unavoidable. The vast, expansive, unending landscape of desert, scrub oak, sage and cactus always brings me back to the root of native Americans, of indigenous First Nation peoples, to New Spain and the conquest, to the land that was once an integral part of Mexico. Place names call out original Hispanic settlers, land grants. Tribal communities draw parallels to Mexican pueblos where creativity thrives and hardship is an undercurrent.

Hollyhock seed dispersal, random regeneration against adobe wall

The land stretches out in folds, crevices, upheavals, arroyos, twelve thousand foot mountain ranges. It is dry and hot in July. It is getting drier and hotter. Afternoon thunder clouds build up and in the distant purple hills, I see rods of lightening and the softening horizon of rain. Along the green ribbon Rio Grande River Valley ancient peoples who migrated south from Mesa Verde continue their traditions.

An iconic O’Keeffe image

We are not permitted to photograph the interior of the Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio in Abiquiu. We are not permitted to take photos of the interior through the glass picture windows while standing outside. The home is as it was when she left it, each particular and well-chosen item in its particular place. Each item a sculptural statement, most created by icons of modern furniture design.

Weathered and dry, reminding me of parched skin

The walls are pale mushroom or cream or beige or faded salmon. They are thick adobe. Deep and cool. Through the window is a living painting. The walls are barren. Bare. Empty only to the imagination of what might lay beyond. The vast changing of the sky, the season, the chill or warmth of air. One can imagine the isolation and solitude of living there amidst the expansiveness of the hills, mountains, a ribbon of road, eagles soaring on the thermals, a garden to feed and nurture belly and soul.

Hollyhocks, fruit trees, vegetable gardens at Abiquiu
Beware of Dog

The palette at the O’Keeffe house in Abiquiu is neutral. White cotton covers the kitchen sofa. The kitchen faces north, the light preferred by painters, the guide tells us. The windows are huge. Standard Sears metal cabinets disappear recessed into deep adobe walls. The table is simple whitewashed plywood that sits atop sawhorses, worn smooth with use and age. Nature and living space merge.

She painted this doorway and wall … multiple times
Passages connecting patios, studio and home

Throughout the house the naked walls speak — nothing is necessary. A painter’s easel served as coat rack when she turned from painting to making ceramic vessels.

Unmarked in the La Fonda lobby, I recognize this as O’Keeffe
Weathered to a patina

Details complicate things, she said. To become acquainted with an idea, one must revisit the same subject over and over. Her paintings took on the austere minimalist life she lived. Seeing this, hearing this, reminded me of the traveling exhibit Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, I saw in Winston-Salem, NC, at Reynolda House, that included a dress that she designed and sewed into multiple versions using different fabrics and colors.

St. Thomas the Apostle Church, built atop pre-Puebloan Tewa Indian village

Being there also challenges one to revisit lifestyle and think about how we are acculturated to consume, compete and communicate. I am always grateful for these moments of self-reflection to ask the essential question: Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? Being with O’Keeffe in Abiquiu helps in the continuing process of self-reflection.

Adobe ruins, Abiquiu, around the corner from O’Keeffe home
Inside the Spanish colonial church, Abiquiu