Tag Archives: New Mexico

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.

National Hispanic Heritage Month, Crypto-Jews, and High Holidays

National Hispanic Heritage Month began on September 15 and continues to September 24. It officially recognizes the contributions Hispanics and Latinos make to our national culture in the United States of America. Coincidentally, the Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Days of Awe — emphasizing renewal, reconciliation, and self-reflection — began on September 15 and continues through September 24. The weeklong holiday reaffirms an annual commitment to make the world a better place and individual and collective responsibility pursue a more just and equitable world for all. Which brings me to the topic of Crypto-Jews in Mexico, New Mexico, and the American Southwest.

New listings today in Jewelry and Clothing on Shop Oaxaca Culture

Genetic research shows that almost 25% of Mexicans have Jewish DNA. This traces back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico (which included Texas, Arizona, California, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado) in the early 16th century. In 1492, when the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs declared that all Jews must convert to Catholicism or leave the Iberian peninsula, many Jews chose to convert but secretly practiced their religion. Believing that the Inquisition would not be as virulent in the New World, many crossed the Atlantic and came to Mexico. As the Inquisition in Mexico became more pernicious, many Crypto-Jews migrated into the Southwest, particularly into New Mexico.

Yesterday, four of us traveled the Taos High Road to explore and discover on the High Road Artisans Tour. The tour continues September 23-24. The winding road takes us through the Kit Carson National Forest from Taos to Española, into small, Hispanic villages and hamlets also populated by Native American peoples.

Two of these women, both of Hispanic descent, declared themselves to having Jewish ancestry tracing from great-great grandmothers and grandfathers who came to the Americas with the conquerors. Nora told me that her Spanish family went first to Zihuatanejo, and when the Inquisition caught up with them, decided it would be safer in New Mexico, and settled here in the San Luis Valley. Bonny said her ancestor married a Jewish woman and brought her to New Mexico, traveling with Juan de Oñate, whose mother was descended from Conversos or Crypto-Jews.

I write about this as we celebrate our cultural diversity and the richness that this brings to our society, and punctuates our interconnections throughout history. A cause for celebration, regardless of our personal stories.

Our route took us to Peñasco, then to Picaris Pueblo, then to Ojo Sarco, on to Trampas, Truchas, and Chimayo, then through Española, before we headed back through the Rio Grande River Gorge into Taos.

La Malinche: Mexico’s Mestizo Origins

For those who don’t know, La Malinche was the young woman-child and slave sold to Hernan Cortes on the Maya coast of Mexico in 1521. She was traded by the Chontal Maya along with 19 other 12-year olds. Her narrative is complex and formidable. An exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum examines her role as survivor, interpretor, and companion. In viewing the exhibit and knowing of her story, I continue to ask myself, Why was she so maligned?

In contemporary history, as interpreted by Mexican writer/poet Octavio Paz in his 1950 essay Sons of Maliinche, he defined La Malinche as a traitor responsible for the Spanish conquest of indigenous Mexico. This is an interpretation that has stuck and is only beginning to be questioned and debunked.

Mestizaje, the mixing of Spanish and indigenous, is the origin story of modern Mexico. It factored prominently during the Mexican Revolution when political leaders were trying to establish a new identity for the re-imagined nation, one based on honoring indigenous roots. And, yet, La Malinche continues to be denigrated as the ultimate betrayal. To be known as a Malinchistas is a derogatory slur applied to those who favor anything foreign.

To understand Mexico is to understand the context of the Spanish conquest and Aztec (Mexica) dominance. The Aztecs controlled the territory from Tenochtitlan to Nicaragua for over 150 years. Heavy tributes were collected from indigenous tribal groups and the Aztecs were hated by many. La Malinche recruited indigenous allies, some of which included the Zapotecs, the Tlaxcalans, and those from Texcoco (surrounding Tenochtitlan) who aligned with the Spanish to defeat the Aztecs. With this backdrop, La Malinche emerges as the negotiator, interpretor (she learned Spanish and knew Nahuatl, language of the Aztecs), facilitator.

Her images are depicted in the codices of the time — the painted pictorials that told the story of the Spanish expedition in Mexico. She wears a red and white huipil, her hair is tied in braids around her crown (sign of a married woman). She sits with Cortes and tribal royalty to broker the alliances that would destroy the Aztecs. Why is she depicted as evil, as the traitor?

it wasn’t until the Chicano movement of the 1970’s that La Malinche began to be reinterpreted as heroine, representing the sacrifices that women made for family and community. Women have culturally had no voice, are controlled and dominated. This is evidenced by machismo, and we see even more of behavior now in the United States with the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the dominance of conservative, repressive values that have migrated into our legal system.

There is no better time to talk about La Malinche as symbol of survival and intelligence. It is also the time to talk about missing and murdered indigenous women in Mexico and in Navtive American tribes of the United States. Domestic violence against women rose signficantly during the pandemic.

In modern Oaxaca, La Malinche survives in the Dance of the Feather. Her duality as an indigenous girl and a convert to Catholicism (legitimate) and baptized Doña Marina is depicted by two distinct individuals, as if one could be separated from the other. Dance as historical interpretation exists in New Mexico, too, with the Dance of the Matachines, depicting the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. La Malinche plays a prominent role here, too. As a resident of Oaxaca and New Mexico, I find this overlap fascinating. The exhibition concludes with contemporary photographs of New Mexico indigenous villages celebrating the Dance of the Matachines.

As I exited the Albuquerque Museum, I could help but make these observations and a list:

  • Men determining the fate of women
  • Women without choices
  • Women without voices
  • Women without rights
  • Women as slaves and chattel
  • Women who are powerless
  • Women as evil, bearing the Garden of Eden legacy
  • Women as temptress, sexual object
  • Women objectified in fashion, film, photography

I found this exhibition to be provocative and gave me pause to think about the fate of La Malinche and all women who are enslaved in traditional roles with few choices and little chance for escape. This is why this exhibition is so important. I hope it comes to a city near you.