November 17, 2009
Over the time of my Southwest wanderings, nothing has spoken to me quite so eloquently and profoundly as has the volcanic peak they call Shiprock.
There it sits, regal and relatively alone, dominating the otherwise-flat landscape of that corner of the Navajo Rez. Through the years I’ve used it as a psychic-refueling stop, and I’ve never once had to pay at the pump.
Last week, from the air, flying southeast near Four Corners, catching sight of its easily-recognizable profile carried with it a warm and welcoming sensation. Even though I had only minutely penetrated New Mexico’s airspace, the excitement of having returned to the "land of enchantment" flowed over me like the Rio Grande in spring flood.
The prime motivation for this particular jaunt had to do with a couple of live-music events of note on back-to-back nights in the cultural Mecca that is Santa Fe. Of course, once you’re actually on the ground in northern New Mexico, additional opportunities for enlightenment appear, seemingly, behind every prickly pear and cholla.
But it was when the peace-through-music movement called "Playing For Change" announced that they were putting together a tour band and that Santa Fe would be one of the stops that the idea of a trip south took hold.
The day previous to the PFC concert involved a round trip to Taos, up on the "low road" and back on the "high road." (And I’ll be in Chimayo afore ye.) The famed Taos Pueblo itself was closed to the public due to scheduled sacramental rituals but, luckily, that knowledge never arrived beforehand and the magical mystery tour unfolded as planned.
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There’s this road, not much more than a paved pathway in some spots. It curves and meanders from the plaza area of old-town Taos to the 12 acres where Mabel Dodge and her future husband, Taos puebloan Tony Luhan, set about building, and continually adding onto, a house. The adobe abode would become a National Historic Landmark.
Over the years since 1918, when construction began on what became a 22-room dwelling, a crush of American writers, artists, philosophers, and activists would be drawn and, in some cases, dragged into the oftentimes overpowering aura that was Mabel Dodge Luhan.
Before finally putting down roots at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, Georgia O’Keeffe became a guest at Mabel’s Taos estate. Over the years, the list would also include the likes of Ansel Adams, Robinson Jeffers, Edna Ferber, Thorton Wilder, Willa Cather, Frank Waters, Leopold Stokowski, Thomas Wolfe, Aldous Huxley, and, most conspicuously, D. H. Lawrence.
During the ’60s, Dennis Hopper wrote the screenplay for "Easy Rider" while staying in the house and channeling that very special ancestral-bohemian mindset. For this counterculture pilgrim, it’s hallowed ground.
Back in Santa Fe the next day, a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum would keep that particular circle unbroken. Along with galleries-full of some of her most powerful works, a new exhibit of photographs of O’Keeffe in both New York and New Mexico revealed the artist at her most natural and artful.
The night before, however, belonged to the quite original song catalogue and performance style of storyteller extraordinaire Tom Russell. Tom maintains the sensibility that perceives Mexico City as the "center of the West." He has little use for the imaginary lines drawn in the blowing sands of geopolitics and his songs flaunt that ethic.
The randomness with which the soundman’s iPod spewed out one semi-obscure Dylan tune after another added to the already intimate ambiance within the music venue portion of the Santa Fe Brewing Company just south of time. Russell and his overflowing posse would ride the clouds until the moon took off for Gallup.
Then there is the breathtaking "Sky City" at Acoma Pueblo west of Albuquerque. Nestled upon a 70-acre mesa top and believed to have been occupied continuously since the 11th century, Acoma exudes an almost over-the-top linear sense of Southwestern history along with a spirituality evolved from the centuries-old proximity of ancient indigenous shamanism and, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 notwithstanding, the Catholicism brought by the Franciscan monks.
Recipe: To the above, add heaping helpings of Madrid up on the "Turquoise Trail," Truchas and Chimayo along the "High Road to Taos," the Church Street Café just off Route 66 in "Old Town" Albuquerque, and the El Farol watering hole up Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Smother in a "rista’s" worth of New Mexico "chile" (thereabouts, it’s never spelled "chili") and simmer slowly until your next visit to that enchanting land.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.