Today’s post is 1850 words, 28 photos, an 8 minute read. Enjoy!
Last week’s postcard arrived in your mailbox from Ashton, Wisconsin. If you missed that post, click here. As I write today, over 900 readers and counting have viewed that post including on Facebook. Thank you for your views and comments, even a couple of corrections!
I want to point out that I send these postcards when I’m out of fresh and current materials. I dig into my photo archive to reminisce about past travels and write with a new look and approach. I have new travel coming up in the next few months so you’ll see new photos and articles beginning in mid-May.
This week I’m sending you a postcard from Taos, New Mexico. Five years ago this April, I spent a week in the area attending a photography reunion workshop with fellow photographers that I met at a Madeline Island School for the Arts workshop a few years prior. Local photographer Geraint Smith was our guide for our time in Taos. If you find yourself in the area and in the market for a photography tour, I dare you to find someone more knowledgeable and skilled as Geraint. No, I receive no renumeration for this obvious plug!
The Turquoise Trail
I arrived in Albuquerque a day before the reunion began. This would give me time to take the 50-mile scenic Turquoise Trail from Albuquerque to Santa Fe where I would spend the night. The Turquoise Trail did not disappoint, I stopped often to shoot photos. One of my favorites is below. San Francisco de Asis Catholic Church at Golden, New Mexico was built in the 1830s and restored in the 1960s. It’s a charming little white church still in use near the highway.
Before leaving home, I booked a room at the Silver Saddle Motel (now the The Mystic), an old timey motel along Route 66. It was quaint, comfortable, and reasonable with a good morning breakfast thrown in for good measure.
The next morning, I explored the historic Plaza in downtown Santa Fe. There’s a lot to see and do, all within walking distance. I checked out the State Capitol building, a couple of historic churches, and the Palace of the Governors where I spotted Native vendors selling their authentic jewelry and art.
The Plaza is a popular place for artists to work in a town that is known for its art, artists, and galleries.
Interestingly, when I look at my photos from this trip to New Mexico, there are dominant two themes, churches and art/artists. It’s probably because there is an abundance of both!
The High Road to Taos
Too soon it was time to head up the road towards Taos. Both physically and metaphorically, I took the High Road to Taos. It’s a winding, slow paced drive through spectacular scenery and picturesque towns. One of my many stops was at the El Santuario de Chimayó. This shine is a National Historic Landmark and well-known in Catholic circles as a pilgrimage site receiving about 300,000 visitors a year. It is especially busy during Holy Week that begins today with Palm Sunday. The attraction is the “holy dirt” that is said to “cure” ailments. Pilgrims take a small amount of the dirt, a clay substance, in hopes for a cure for themselves or others. They often leave behind artifacts with prayers asking for healing. Here are a few photos from Chimayó.
My last stop before driving into Taos was in Ranchos de Taos, essentially a “suburb” of Taos. I was there to see and photograph the San Francisco de Asis Mission Catholic Church. This wouldn’t be my only stop at this famous adobe church. We would come here during our photo workshop and again when I was leaving town.
This church was built in the early 1800s and designated a National Historic Landmark 1970. This church and the surrounding plaza are popular with artists and photographers. Painter Georgia O’Keeffe said this church was one of the most beautiful buildings constructed by the Spanish settlers. Well-known photographers such as Ansel Adams and Paul Strand photographed this church many times during their active years.
During my last stop, I checked out the small gift shop and happened to run into the parish priest as he was watering the flowers. He told me that he’d been there for eight years and had become an expert in repairing adobe. He was often called upon to help other parishes in the area when repairs were needed. He told me that he was waiting for a family to come by to plan the funeral of their mother, one of the oldest members of the parish.
Across the plaza from the church was an adobe house with a blue door and an iconic chile ristras decoration. This scene is repeated many times in New Mexico. The blue door is warm and inviting, a sign of welcome to anyone who enters. Apparently, there is a practical purpose too, it confuses insects. They think it’s the sky and shy away. The ristras are also a symbol of welcome, good health, and good luck. They too have a practical purpose, they are hung up to dry for later use in cooking. Now you know!
It was a short drive into Taos proper. I checked into my room at the El Pueblo Lodge and met up with my photography friends. The word Taos is derived from the native language as “the place of the red willows.” With a population of nearly 7,000, Taos is known primarily for its art community and outdoor recreation. There are over 80 art galleries, venues for the performing arts, and an independent film series. Hiking in the spring and fall, skiing in the winter, mountain biking, and rafting are some of the recreation activities available in the area.
I didn’t do any of that, I was there for photography and there was plenty of that to do. One of my favorite photos from my time in Taos is of San Rafael Mission Church near the hamlet of Rainsville. I was glad it was cool outside as I got low in the grass to get this shot. There was a sign on the church to watch out for rattlesnakes!
This is a view of the church from the cemetery on the side of a hill. While the rock wall was in ok shape, the rest of the cemetery was overgrown and appeared to be neglected.
This a landscape photo I took during one of many stops driving around the area.
One morning, we were up early to shoot photos of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge about ten miles north of Taos. I can attest that it was quite chilly that morning but it was worth it to see the sun come up and begin to light the bridge. This bridge was completed in 1965 and it on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s one of the highest bridges in the US at about 600 feet above the river. Apparently, this bridge is the site of numerous suicides but few prevention steps have been taken.
The sun was bright one morning during our stay as we set out for Abiquiú, a distance of about 60 miles from Taos. On our way, we passed through the hamlet of El Rita. On the edge of town was its tallest structure, the Mars Polar Lander. As you can see, it was made of odds and ends recycled from an electronics graveyard. There were even a few of those old egg-shaped iMacs. We didn’t see anyone around, it would have been fun to talk with the designer/builder. Bet he was an interesting, quirky guy.
Just outside of Abiquiú is the Penitente Morada of Abiquiú. The Penitente Brothers (men) are a lay, secret, off-shoot of the Spanish American Catholic Church primarily in New Mexico. They meet in moradas such as the one pictured below. The history of the Penitente’s includes the rite of self-flagulation replicating the Passion of Christ before crucification. Apparently, the Catholic church tries to distance themselves from this small cultish offshoot.
The following photo is of the Rio Chama, a major tributary of the Rio Grande. We stopped at the overlook for photos, I was enthralled with the beauty and the rugged valley through which the river flowed.
After leaving the Ghost Ranch, we stopped along the highway to photograph this majestic, colorful landscape. It’s on private property so we had to make photos from the road or ditch. It sort of reminds me of the scenery of Monument Valley a few hundred miles to the northwest in Arizona.
It was late in the afternoon when we stopped at the Plaza Blanca, translated to English as “The White Place.” It’s privately owned by an Islam education center and mosque. They graciously allow visitors to view the landscape and hike the many trails. It is said the Georgia O’Keefe drove her Model A Ford to this area to paint the landscape. We spent the better part of an hour photographing the rough terrain, contrasting features, and interesting textures.
Three photographers taking a selfie at Plaza Blanca!
After the photo workshop ended Sunday afternoon, I pointed my rental car to the north of Taos to the 84 mile Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. Just before reaching Questa, I turned off the main highway towards the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument operated by the BLM that includes the Wild Rivers Scenic Area. My first stop was at this interesting cemetery along side the road. From my quick perusal, I determined there were a number of veterans buried in this cemetery thus the proliferation of flags adorning the graves.
After the workshop ended, I headed back to Albuquerque by way of the back roads. As I was making my way through the countryside, I came across a group of plein air painters on the side of the road. I stopped and chatted for a few minutes and asked if I could take their photos. They consented.
Farther down the road, I came across this church (Scared Heart Catholic Church) near Pojoaque with a most unusual cloud formation in the sky. After stopping to make some photos, I saw a plein air painter creating a painting of this scene. I asked her if I could take her photo making the painting. She agreed and I chatted with her a bit. This photo is my very favorite of the whole trip.
I spent the night in a motel north of Albuquerque after spending a few hours at Bandolier National Monument. The photo below shows the cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples that moved into the area that is now Bandelier National Monument in about 1150, finding the southern exposed porous rock walls suitable for shelter. They also were attracted to steady supply of water that continues to flow through Frijoles Canyon, the main attraction in the present day monument. I recommend a stop if you are in the territory. It’s a national treasure.
Well that’s the postcard from Taos. I’d like to return and further explore the area, there is so much to see and do. Stay tuned next week for another postcard from a destination yet to be determined.
Until then, happy travels!