Night 25: North Mexico

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
Trip End Jul 18, 2012

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Where I stayed
Grizzly Inn Alamosa
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of United States  , Colorado
Saturday, July 14, 2012

Night 25: North Mexico

Today we drove 268 miles in a big U shape across the Rio Grande Valley. Weather was mild and overcast, topping off at about 78. We met with some light afternoon rain from the monsoon situation previously mentioned.

I won't wrote too much today since I am very tired. I am mainly writing a summary so I will remember to fill in blanks later. It seems my memory is failing. On this trip I have lost a hand axe, a tent pole, a rubber mallet, my glasses, and that is what I know about. I often misplace the valve for my air mattress. I can never find my wallet, the atlas, or the forks for eating.

I even left the pot on top of the van in California. We sped off and it clanged off into Hwy-1. The lid slid down the windshield. I picked it up just as a passerby decided to claim it as his own. I said, "Thank you." He paused and decided to be honest and gave it back.

Earlier today, I swore I lost my cell phone AND my iPod, which I use everyday for everything. I searched high and low and only found it after retracing my steps. They were amazingly folded into my air mattress. I wouldn't have guessed this was even possible.

While searching, I lost hope and sat on the tailgate sad and stupid. I was thinking hard about where I saw them last when a man walked by, chest out, impressed with the long haul packing he could see behind me in the van. Then the worst thing happened: After I answered his question about where we were from, he told me he coincidentally was also from Chicago. He really meant Wauconda, a suburb about 35 miles northwest of my house in real Chicago. This prompted further discussion as he recommended interesting sights in his new hometown of Taos. I was curt and didn't make eye contact. I was just down in the dumps. I felt bad to put a wet blanket on his enthusiasm. I wish I could tell him I'm sorry, but I didn't see him again.

We started today camped on the shore of Heron Lake, a manmade reservoir in a high ponderosa and piņon forest. The lake is locally popular for boating and fishing. We woke up to the sound of various diesel engines scraping against the quiet. A huge family had come down to camp for the weekendband were trying to squeeze 30 foot fifth wheels in 20 foot campsites. They also were parking pontoon boats on trailers. The camp hosts here were quite strict and it didn't take long for them to come down and make suggestions about where to put all these toys.

New Mexicans are like other Westerners. They do whatever they want and wait for limits to be imposed. Midwesterners tend to worry about the law and limits in advance of any trouble. New Mecicans are Luke Texans in their love of freedom, but don't carry around the cocky superiority compex that Texans do. There is something unique to the Westerner that I can't quite put my finger on yet.

After breaking camp and making food, we drove around the hills at the base of the San Juan Mountains. There were small towns with Spanish names and Spsnish faces and businesses along the road. The drop from the plateau to the Rio Grande valley was noticable. The countryside was dotted with small ranches and forests. We passed through a portion of Kit Cardon National Forest.

I drove into the larger town of Espanola where locals were having a huge celebration in the city park. People were wearing costumes. When I rolled down the window I heard a band roundly playing the Mexican Hat Dance. Luckily there was a long stop light so I could enjoy the music.

From here we crossed the Los Alamos Highway and found the winding road known as the "High Road." This famous road connects Taos with Santa Fe. It travels through country at about 6500-8000 feet above sea level. The road passes desert towns with strong Catholic and Mexican roots. It also passes hugh cold deserts.

The first stop was Chimayo, a tiny town pulling in not-so-cool tourist money due to two reasons: 1) It is home to the Chimayo sanctuary. 2) It is considered the weaving Mecca of the Southwest. We were introduced to it by a Fernando Ortega song by the creative name of "Chimayo" and have visited the rustic little town a few other times.

The sanctuary, built in adobe style in 1816, is the focus of Mexican pilgrimages. When we first saw it, the sanctuary was a bit smaller. The walkway to the sanctuary was lined with crutches that people left. They no longer needed them. The waters that spring nearby and the dirt underfoot are considered holy and restorative by believers. Some pilgrims eat the dirt from inside the church, which is replaced daily by church sextants. The place is special because it is so special to so many people. They take care of it and fill it with memorials and art. Even for a non-believer, it is a place pulsing with culture. Like most Catholic pilgrimage sites, the place is teeming with vendors. You can buy rosaries, ice cream bars, bottles for holy water, etc.

I am particularly a fan of Indian-made wooden santas. Little wooden statues hiding indigenous religious symbols amidst the more overt Catholic iconography. And the Spanish crucifixes oozing blood and pain. Just like the Spanish empire that ruled this region, an area they thought had cities made of gold.

True, the cliffs and rocks are of a golden color and the adobe Tewa pueblos look golden when seen from far off, but no gold. The Indians who could not return to the conquistadores with gold, had their feet cut off. Those who refused Catholicism were burned alive in "baptisms by fire." The Puebloan leader Pope led the people in the blodiest of many rebellions. The High Road is full of bloody memories. The people here carry a lot of history in their family trees.

Another Chimayo tradition is weaving. Chimayo weaving go for hundreds of dollars in galleries around the world. Here the huge Ortega family runs a small gallery where one can buy scraps for their own creation. Even the scraps exude quality and unparalelled craftsmanship.

We rode past the high deserts in the 8300 foot range. The hills were sandy and dotted with small bushes. We came upon other familiar Spanish mission towns, with their adobe churches and artist colonies. My favorite is the church and square at Las Trampas. It is not a particularly holy place so there are no crowds. The twin church towers lean in a little with age.

The road eventually ends at Rancho de Taos, home of the church that inspired Georgia O'Keefe paintings: San Francisco de Asis. To the north is Taos proper where we stopped for Mexican food and a rest in the shade. Clouds soon rolled in and it seemed rain wad on the way. The clouds never broke.

We explored Taos' plaza and bought a few items including a resting wooden Indian figure. There is one in my Buick and it always calms me down so I wanted to get one for the van. Andrew and I went to play in a huge playlot operated by a local toy store. Taos is mainly for the well-to-do skiing type, but still has opportunites for other travelers.

We left Raos and drove north past the famous pueblo and the ranches and New Mexican villages. The radio dj's spoke to us in a mixture of Spsnish and English. A kid on the radio thanked the stars that her rodeo participation kept her from having to carry the "nut bucket" [sic] while ranchhands carried out castrations. Every once in a while we passed tiny strips that are part of Tewa reservation lands.

Passing the Colorado border is meaningless. It is simply a continuation of New Mexico's Rio Grande Valley here. The towns have Spanish names. The people have Spanish names. Buildings are fashioned with adobe and faux adobe

The best New Mexican Colorado town is San Luis, named after the wide valley between the San Juan and Samgre de Cristo Mountsins. Here farmers used Irrigation to create circular farms. The walls of different businessses are adorned with very nice murals of Christ and the Virgin. An old church sits in the middle of town.

This town sits at the end of the San Luis Valley at its widest point. This valley is the highest dedicated to agriculture in the world, but most if it is a semiarid waste dedicated to here and there rangeland. The city with the most agriculture and influence is where we are tonight: Alamosa.

We pulled into town after a debate about where to stop. We had little choic actually since there us nothing much around here. We ended up at the Grizzly Inn, named for the mascot of local Adams State College. The room is fine. The neighborhood is acceptable. We did stop by Burger King for a nighttime meal where an entire extended family seemed to be meeting. It was a weird place for a reunion.

This whole town is weird.
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