Today was a day of magical scenery, taking us around the route known as the Enchanted Circle of this enchanted state, from Taos through a remote mountain area and valleys filled with Wild West history, ending our trip in Cimarron, a major stop on the Santa Fe Trail.
We began our day at the Taos Pueblo, which has been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years. Touring the sacred center of the pueblo, we saw the ancient living quarters of what at one point was a community of about 2,000. Today, about 150 people live in the old section, without any utilities, as they are not allowed. (Pick-up trucks and cars – no problem.) All around the old section are newer pueblo homes and a casino, as the Taos Reservation is large and well-occupied.
The Franciscans came through with the Spanish, of course, and left their mark. Julian, our guide, told us that about 75% of the community is Catholic, but that they integrate their own culture with that of Catholicism. Mary, for example, is considered to represent Mother Earth, and her statue inside the church has many drawings and symbols of the harvest painted around her. He said that today’s version of religion in the pueblo is an amalgam of Catholic and Indian celebrations and orthodoxy. Good for them.
We talked a bit about the Indian Revolt of 1680. It was led by the Taos Pueblo, whose runners went to all the other pueblos and gave each a string of yucca seeds, from which one seed was removed each day, to coordinate the exact timing of the revolt. All the pueblos rose up on the same day as one force.
There is a north and south side to the old pueblo, and evidently the river that separates them serves to delineate a fairly competitive spirit. That old north and south thing, again.
We then headed to the Rio Grande Gorge, which must have been a big surprise to the first people who found it. We at least have the benefit of modern engineering and construction. You think you are driving across flat land and then suddenly realize you are crossing a bridge over an enormous cut in the earth. Quite powerful stuff, water.
A few miles down the road is where all the hippies landed and now practice eco-pioneering. We arrived at Earthship Biotecture, where all is off the grid and everything you see is recycled something. New members welcome.
Our next goal was to go to the D.H. Lawrence ranch, a very remote home Mabel Dodge gave to him and Frieda, and where his ashes have supposedly ended up. I say supposedly because when he died and Frieda sent her lover to France to disinter him, have him cremated and return to Taos with the ashes, there was evidently much controversy about whether they actually made it to New Mexico.
And then, Frieda had the alleged ashes mixed with concrete and made into a lump of a monument in front of a small house that Mabel Dodge called that “outhouse of a shrine.” It’s hard to evaluate whether Frieda’s treatment was intended as an act of revenge or devotion.
However, it’s also hard to give you our take on any of this. We crawled down 15 miles of unpaved roads to get the ranch, only to find it unavailable to the public today. I guess the University of New Mexico thought that by taking down any signs that would lead to the ranch, thus forcing us to navigate by bear tracks, no tourists would come. That “closed” sign would have been so much more appreciated back by the highway, but they don’t ask us for our thoughts on these matters.
We drove for miles through gorgeous snow-covered pine forests and finally found a place to eat. Yes, the Wildcat’s Den just hit the spot. We knew it would be good, based on the number of trucks parked in front – the Wild West version of Zagat’s and Michelin, which hasn’t failed yet.
So after going through the ski resort of Red River, we veered off the Enchanted Circle to Cimarron, and our evening at the St. James Hotel. The hotel has hosted every bad boy of the West, and some good guys too. It was founded by a French man, Henri Lambert, who was chef to U.S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln. When he opened the St. James, he created the most celebrated hotel on the Santa Fe Trail. It was celebrated for his cooking, along with the number of gunfights that took place there, and the body count in the saloon, where Buffalo Bill Cody first met Annie Oakley. There are 26 bullet holes still in the ceiling there.
The place is well-preserved, and I’ll let you browse the stories, the pictures, and the legends. We are staying in Room 23, known as the Waite Phillips room. As far as we know, he didn’t die here. But some did. What this hotel is now known for is the paranormal activity here. Many unexplained ghost sightings supposedly occur, and one room is permanently locked because of the nasty spirit there. Check it out on Google and YouTube if you follow that stuff.
Here’s a brief tour of the surrounding town, of which there is very little to see around our hotel. The old jail is noteworthy, and was used until 1963! We have wild turkeys and horses just outside our windows.
In the meanwhile, our room is lovely and we expect an uneventful repose. However, if we don’t return to civilization, find our bodies and please don’t give us the Frieda Lawrence treatment.
P.S. Are you wondering how and why Don finds these places? You aren’t the only one.