Tag Archives: New Mexico

Oaxaca to New Mexico, a Contrast

I arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday afternoon. After getting up at three o’clock in the morning to get in the taxi at four o’clock to arrive at the airport forty-five minutes later, I’d say the trip was pretty easy. It was a mere six hours plus from Oaxaca through Houston to get here, with the added pleasure of going through immigration and customs.

Where have you been? the agent asked. When I answered, we engaged in a four minute conversation about the beauty of Oaxaca and how much he wanted to visit. I encouraged him. The next question was, Are you bringing in any fruit, vegetables, or alcohol?

Yes, I answered, two bottles of mezcal for my son. He smiled and waved me through.

When I left Oaxaca, it was over ninety degrees, oppressively hot, and this reaffirmed how important it is to stay sheltered. By nine in the evening, the house was hotter than outside, and I stayed under the palapa outdoors until it cooled off enough to climb in bed with all the windows open and two fans providing air movement.

Butch and Tia, my two dogs, were splayed on the patio under the palapa for eighteen hours, their underbellies on the cool concrete, keeping their body temperatures regulated. Fur coats are not required for this level of heat.

In the last week I was there, all we talked about was the heat, how to stay cool, and the alarming drought.

It hasn’t rained much in the last two years. My neighbors are drilling wells to get water to their corn fields. I read last week that the temperatures were eleven degrees above normal. Delivery of drinking and household water was delayed by as much as two to three weeks. I went to the beauty salon in the city to get my hair washed so I wouldn’t use water unnecessarily and deplete the levels in my tinaco (rooftop water tank). The honest truth was that I was looking forward to returning to New Mexico for some cooler air, and I got it.

I’m back in Taos where daytime temps are hovering in the low-fifties, and at night it’s getting down to a delightful twenty-six degrees. Snuggling under a pile of blankets is heaven after Oaxaca’s oppressive heat. One marvel of returning in early spring is that I can still enjoy the view of Taos Mountain still covered with a bit of snow.

Now, I’m hunkering down to do my taxes and then take care of medical appointments in preparation for late May right knee replacement. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, Shop Oaxaca Culture should open up by early next week. We have lots of beautiful clothing, baskets, and folk art from everywhere: The Oaxaca Coast, Michoacan, Chiapas, and the Mixteca Alta. Stay tuned for shop opening announcement.



Christmas Eve from Taos Pueblo, Oaxaca Connection, and Happy Holidays

We know that New Mexico, in fact the entirety of the southwestern United States, was part of New Spain, and then after Independence in 1821, part of Mexico. The Spanish conquered, enslaved, and imposed Catholicism into all parts of the empire. Christmas celebrations in Oaxaca are an amalgam of pre-Hispanic and Catholic rituals. They are similar here in Taos, New Mexico, where each Christmas Eve, the Taos Pueblo holds a posada against the backdrop of history.

The posada here features a band of men shooting rifles (with blanks). Each crack of gunshot is startling. Following them in procession are others holding flaming logs, pointed skyward, that might be ten feet long. Following them is a covered palanquin (litter) holding the Virgin Mary dressed in white. Locals follow, beating drums, chanting. They are covered in woven serapes or Pendleton blankets wrapped tightly around their shoulders. It is cold this time of year in Northern New Mexico. The children have shell ankle bracelets that jingle when they move.

At first glance, one might assume that this is the ritual of Catholicism worldwide — the Christmas posada, or procession, depicting Mary and Joseph seeking shelter where she can give birth to Jesus. Here, too, the Virgin is dressed in white and carried in a palanquin. I have experienced this so many times in Teotitlan del Valle, where the posadas continue for nine nights, from December 16 to December 24. La Ultima Posada, on Christmas Eve, is the final procession to find the manger where Baby Jesus is born. In Teotitlan, the host family offers an elaborate celebration complete with all night feasting.

But, it is different in Taos pueblo. Christmas Eve, the men carrying rifles, and the attending bonfires are a re-enactment of a painful memory — the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, when the Spanish military entered the village. Many of the pueblo inhabitants — women, children, men, elderly and infants — sought shelter in the church, believing that they would not be harmed there. The Spanish burned the church, killing all inside. The ancient adobe bell tower is all that remains, a reminder of this oppressive history.

In this re-enactment, I see the men shooting rifles symbolizing the Spanish invaders. I believe the burning wood stanchions are a reminder of the destruction of the church. And, I interpret the burning 25-30 foot high pyres to represent the church as it burned to the ground. Those who have not read the history, come to visit for the spectacle. And, indeed, it is that!

On a cold Christmas Eve in Taos, New Mexico, the burning wood towers keep us warm as we huddle together in the 20 degree Fahrenheit evening chill, remembering, honoring those who stood here before us.

This is the day that darkness begins to turn toward light. May this holiday season and your new year be light-filled, with good health, cheer, contentment, and peace. Thank you for reading.

Southwest Road Trip: Chasing the Solar Eclipse at Chaco Canyon

We heard that Chaco Canyon would be at the epicenter of the solar eclipse earlier this week. Little did we know when we planned this trip months ago that we would be at Chaco for the event! We bought the special glasses at the Mesa Verde visitor’s center, but the National Park Service rangers at Chaco gave them out for free for all the visitors. Thank you, United States government.

The closest place to stay is in Bloomfield, NM, about an hour and fifteen minutes away. We knew that the final fourteen miles to get to the canyon would be unpaved, and we also knew that there were only enough parking spaces inside the park for one hundred vehicles, and that entry would be allowed at 7:00 a.m. So, we woke up at 4:30 a.m. and were on the road by 5:45 after filling the gas tank.

We got there just in time to get a place in line and were assigned an official parking permit for Hungo Pavi, the first archeological site in the park. The site is not rebuilt to demonstrate to visitors how archeologists found the various Ancient Puebloan structures here before they underwent restoration.

There were ten cars parked at Hungo Pavi. We saw licenses plates from Colorado, California, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Michigan, as well as New Mexico. Eclipse chasers brought high-powered telescopes and cameras with long lenses mounted to tripods. The woman parked next to us advised that if we were using our iPhones, to put the special filters over the lenses so as not to burn them out.

Well, we figured out that if we did that, we might get some pretty good shots of the eclipse as it was happening. We did a lot of experimentation. Not professional, but good enough! As we waited for the 9:15 a.m. beginning of the eclipse, we stayed warm (it was 27 degrees Fahrenheit outside) inside the car, eating our breakfast of leftover blue corn pancakes and bacon from the day before.

We found a sheltered corner amidst the ruins that protected us from chill, and from there we shot most of our photos. Colin, a park ranger responsible for overseeing Hungo Pavi, struck up a conversation and gave us an explanation for why Chaco Canyon is so important in the development of the Puebloan Culture.

This was the center of the universe for Chacoans. They flourished between about 850 AD and 1200 AD. They believe they emerged from water, and this site with its river and abundant summer rainfall reinforced their origin story.

We will know more on Sunday, October 15, when we take a tour with a local Navajo guide.

This is the last leg on our journey. On Sunday evening we return to Albuquerque, and then on Wednesday we head back to Taos. I return to Oaxaca on Monday, October 23.

Buen viajes.

Southwest Road Trip: On The Floor of Canyon de Chelly

We have hopscotched through four states — New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado since October 1, 2023. We left Canyon de Chelly (pronounced SHAY) and Chinle, Arizona, yesterday morning and are back in Gallup, NM, before going on to Chaco Canyon, NM, where we will see the annular solar eclipse on October 14 as it passes over us there. This location promises to give us the maximum view!

Mostly, for the last week, we have been in Navajo country, a vast area of 16 million acres that spans New Mexico and Arizona. Diné is the native language and this is what the people prefer to be called. I was compelled to do this road trip after reading the epic tale of conquest of the American West, Blood and Thunder by historian Hampton Sides.

He eloquently tells the story of the Diné people and their expulsion from their sacred homeland, Canyon de Chelly, by Kit Carson and the U.S. Cavalry in 1964. They employed a scorched earth policy by burning corn and wheat fields, killing churro sheep, and starving them out. They cut down 5,000 mature peach trees on the valley floor. The Diné forced Long Walk to desolate Fort Sumner in southeast New Mexico along the Pecos River near the Texas border, resulted in hundreds of deaths. It is told and retold today, a painful part of history.

In a sense, this trip has been about learning more deeply about Native Americans by visiting them on their ancestral lands, in their pueblos, appreciating their connection to the spiritual, and the beautiful weavings, pottery, baskets, and jewelry that they create. We have eaten Navajo tacos (fry bread topped with chile con carne, onions, tomatoes, and cheese, and attended the Northern Navajo Fair in Shiprock.

Most importantly, we spent a full day on the floor of Canyon de Chelly with a Diné guide exploring the cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloans and retracing the footsteps of great grandmothers and grandfathers who were forcibly expelled and then interned at Fort Sumner from 1864 to 1868.

Yes, Diné people still inhabit the canyon floor where they farm, tend apple orchards, raise horses and cattle. They are the descendants of the survivors. On the canyon rims, too, there are ranches and farms where Diné gave lived for generations.

What is remarkable here are the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, much more numerous than at Mesa Verde. We made the trip through Canyon de Chelly in a Jeep, across gullies and washes, through shifting sand, wind, over rocks and between old growth trees. I sat in the back seat and figured after this ride, I could easily ride a horse in Michoacan.

Our destination was the impressive Mummy Cave and White House. We saw some amazing petroglyphs, also created between 350 and 1300 AD. The Diné painted glyphs of Spanish conquistadores that came through in the 16th century using charcoal.

From the South Rim road, we saw Spider Rock, the birthplace of the Navajo Nation. From the canyon floor, we saw where the Diné climbed the narrow crevice to get to the top of Fortress Rock to escape, and hide from, the U.S. Cavalry.

The only way to explore the ancient archeological sites, caves, and petroglyphs is by going on a tour with a Diné guide. It was expensive, but it was well worth the experience. We both agreed that this was a highlight of our trip so far.

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.