Tag Archives: New Mexico

Space Museum, Alamagordo

Road trip day one, Tucson to Alamagordo and the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Not to be missed, but it brought home quite painfully the deeply entangled histories of space exploration and war. Rockets that seek the stars, and missiled death raining from the skies.

Our rockets are only a step or two removed from the V2 missiles Nazis developed to rain terror on London. On my family. At the end of WWII we didn’t just bring Nazi scientists like Wernher von Braun, who features prominently in this place, but also 300 box cars of missiles and assorted parts and projects to the military installation here at White Sands. Their gadgets fill the exhibits, and outside the museum sits pieces of a V2, part of this war treasure exploded as a test here at White Sands.

All this not just part of the space race, but the development of the atom bomb. You can only visit the Trinity site twice a year on a guided tour, but a small model sits here surrounded by Trinitite, the sand melted into glass by the blast.

I have no words for the terror of the atom bomb.

White Sands continues to close regularly for missile tests. The thrill and excitement that space exploration brings me barely survives these reminders. I don’t know quite what to do with the tangle.

I leave it all there, to be what it is.

The primary navigation, guidance and control systems from the Apollo Skylab astonish in their simplicity. It is extraordinary not just to remember the early days of computers, but all that we managed to do with them.

A reminder like the Titan Missile Museum of how much space so very little computing capacity required. How basic it all seems to us now, the phone that snapped this picture more powerful than any computer in these displays.

There are buttons to be pushed here, though. Switches to be switched, gloves to be tried, guidance systems to be attempted. There are reminders of astronaut bravery, bits and pieces of their everyday life and the meeting of Americans and Russians in the vastess of space. The space hall of fame. A mock transporter from Star Trek which brought me immense joy. We arrived late in the afternoon and almost had it to ourselves, and the joy of space dreaming mostly won the day. We even bought a mug.

Enrique Salmón: American Indian Stories of Food, Identity and Resilience

13226644I came to Enrique Salmón’s Eating the Landscape through The Colors of Nature, this covers some of the same territory, but I learned even more about the Colorado Plateau that we had just been driving through. The landscapes of my baby-self, and so many of my dad’s stories. But no one in my family ever had anything as awesome as this:

I recall the many plant-related lessons I learned in my grandma’s herb house. this latticed structure was filled with hanging dried and living plants as well as pungent and savory smells from the many herbs hanging from the ceiling. The roof was no longer visible through the layers of vines that draped over its eaves to the ground. (3)

I love this connection between food and landscape, so obvious and yet I had not quite seen it in this way before.

…because so much of the food we are discussing in this book comes directly from the land, food landscapes remain intact when old recipes are regenerated. The food itself, and the landscapes from which it emerges, remembers how it should be cooked. This can happen because the food itself activates in us an encoded memory that reminds us how to grow, collect and prepare the food. (9)

Thinking about what our food teaches us about our landscape…well. I have learned a lot through my short time on smallholdings, through growing up in the desert, but I don’t know enough.

An essential lesson for us, as we continue on our current self-destructive path of monocropping, genetically modifying our food using artificial irrigation, and overfertilizing, will be to relearn how to cook our landscapes: the manner in which we sustainably steward our food crops, relying on a process that began in our home kitchens. (10)

It is not just loss of knowledge through city living or supermarkets, I think of Vandana Shiva writing about just how much the proponents of monocropping have actively destroyed. Yet there is so much happening that gives me hope. Like Emigdio Ballon, come from the highlands of Bolivia to Tesuque Pueblo of New Mexico. Working now with the Pueblo to grow fruit trees and beans, and maintaining a seed bank of heirloom crops.

I think too of settler and scientist arrogance, the kind that has driven unsustainable agricultural practices through the fields and lives of small farmers on the land for generations. Not seeing the complex systems these farmers were often embedded within:

For the longest time, the conservation and environmental movement had assumed that the human-environment equation would always result negatively for the land…until recently, researchers had not considered the possibility that humans could actually enhance their landscapes; that human communities might actually play a role in enhancing diversity; or that humans could be a keystone species of some ecological systems. (75)

In southern Arizona the Hohokam are everywhere, I remember hearing stories, imagining their presence across the land. There is a chapter on the Sonora desert and this:

The word Hohokam from the Pima language — always translated as ‘”those who have gone,” or “those who have vanished.” Archaeologist Emil Haury, who has studied the Hohokam, provided a more literal translation of “all used up.” (82)


Up near Phoenix, along the salt river, they built extensive irrigation systems. Left them. Salmón writes that this is possibly because they became salinized, silted up. Instead of upping the ante, the people returned to a simpler agricultural system, one that was more beneficial to their landscape and more sustainable over the years.

Damn. I can’t imagine that conversation, our current reality is worlds removed from that kind of thinking. Perhaps this is a great part of the problem. One other thing I never have experienced, but so want to:

The diversity of the Sonora Desert seems more obvious the farther one travels through its namesake Mexican state. (128)

There are lots of stories here of the Colorado plateau, the fields in canyons and along washes hidden from sight — oh, I wished so much we caught just a glimpse. He writes of Peabody Coal’s draining of the aquifer and the drying up of springs. An enterprise bringing death to extract energy, destroying place to facilitate movement. A mindset alien to the people here, and to me. I loved the description of a concept from Juan Estevan Arellano:

Hispano querencia: that which affords his people a sense of place. Querencia is also simply the love for the land and place. (118)

Salmón continues:

To Hispanos, querencia is a blend of mental spaces not only involving bioregionalism but also including emotional, spiritual, cultural and ecological health. When people think of land the concept is enmeshed with notions of cultural memory. These and other mental spaces merge into a multidimensional blended space… (118)

This is the space of resilience, of community, of words. The thing evoked so powerfully in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetry describing these same places. It is strange finding the language of development I am so familiar with rewritten, recoded in this way:

Story is at the core of community resilience. It comprises the matter, substance, and adhesive of human capital. Stories communicate our values through the language of our heart and our emotions. Stories are what we feel. In northern New Mexico, enough of the viable land remains in which the story of querencia can be housed. (121)

More ways to reframe development debates, from The Declaration of Seed Sovereignty that came out of the Traditional Agriculture Conference held March 10-11, 2006 in Alcalde, New Mexico:

Sustainable stewardship and cultural resilience are neither decisions nor rights. Nowhere in the Declaration of Seed Sovereignty does the notion or term of rights arise. Instead, the associations conferred to include in their “living document” concepts of relationships, generational memory, embodied practices, spirituality, caring, respect, traditions, and celebration when declaring their revival and survival of their way of life. Together, these concepts reflect identity connected to responsibility towards one’s place in a community within a landscape. (150)

Everything is relational and connected.

Salmón, Enrique (2012) Eating the Landscape: American Indian Stories of Food, Identity and Resilience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

The meaning of home: Jimmy Santiago Baca’s Martín

1143647More poetry from Jimmy Santiago Baca, poetry of place and home. Poetry of labour. What it means to build or rebuild a house that will hold you, that will hold meaning. From Martín:

I gutted the plaster frame house,
nailed, puttied, roofed, plumbed,
poured cement, sheet-rocked, tiled, carpeted,
tore-out, re-set,
piled, burned, cleaned, cemented, installed,
washed and painted,
trimmed, pruned, shoveled, raked,
sawed, hammered, measured, stuccoed,
calloused handed, muscle-firmed, sleek hard bodied,
our small house rose
from a charred, faded gravemarker,
a weather-rotted roost
for junkies and vagrants,

wind, rain, and sun splintered
jagged stories of storms on,
I corrected,
re-wrote upon
this plaster wood tablet,
our own version of love, family and power. (47)


But It burns down, this home. They need someplace to stay. Temporary places that don’t fit. These dislocations I share, so rarely found in books.

From Meditations on the South Valley


Cruising back from 7-11
esta mañana
In my 56’ Chevy truckita,
beat up and rankled
farm truck,
clanking between rows
Of shiny new cars–

“Hey fella! Trees need pruning
and the grass needs trimming!”
A man yelled down to me
from his 3rd-story balcony.

“Sorry, I’m not the gardener,”
I yelled up to him.

Funny how in the Valley
an old truck symbolizes prestige
and in the Heights, poverty.

Worth is determined in the Valley
by age and durability,
and in the Heights, by newness
and impression.

In the Valley,
the atmosphere is soft and worn,
things are passed down.
In the heights,
the air is blistered with glaze
of new cars and new homes.

How many days of my life
I have spent fixing up
rusty broken things,
charging up old batteries,
charging pieces of old batteries,
wiring pieces of odds and ends together!
Ah, those lovely bricks
and sticks I found in the fields
and took home with me
to make flower boxes!
the old cars I’ve worked on
endlessly giving them tune-ups,
changing tires, tracing
electrical shorts,
cursing when I’ve been stranded
between Laguna pueblo and Burque.
It’s the process of making-do,
of the life I’ve lived between
breakdowns and break-ups, that has made life
worth living.

I could not bear a life
with everything perfect. (59-60)

Read a book sometimes, and someone captures just what you been missing in these places you been living.


in the Valley at my house
y parcelita de tierra,
I added, raised, knocked down,
until over months and years,
the place in which I lived
had my own character.
I could look at it and see

This apartment
reflects a faceless person,
with no future,
no past,
just an emptiness. (61)

I remember the house my dad built, I want to build a poem too — and I am happy these words have been breathed into the world.  A different kind of home.


After that, the interior of the house
emanating blue dawn light,
full of gusto in the fresh-timber smelling house,
proud of the 3 bedrooms, hallway, livingroom & kitchen,
my finest poem I thought,
that sheltered me from the rain and wind,
as we worked our way
into doors, staining kickboards, putting doorknobs in,
(fine-tuning the poem),
measuring cabinets, leveling the floors,
shimmying here & there,
spitting & stomping, throwing our tools down in disgust
and huffs of temper,
yelling into the cold mornings
at each other, trying to go on and finish
in six weeks. (97-98)


Quarai and Abó, dust and rain

After the Turquoise Trail, after Los Cerrillos and Madrid, we headed south to Quarai, south through Moriarty (!) and McIntosh, Estancia to Mountainair.


1143647We were driving through the countryside poet Jimmy Santiago Baca writes about so compellingly. I read Martín & Meditations on the South Valley, look how time and evil rewrites the nature of towns — driving now we would only know Estancia as home to yet another prison, networked into the US carceral nation. This is how Baca knows it from Martín:


The religious voice of blind Estela Gomez
blackened the air one day.
“92 years mijito. ¿Que pasó? There were no more
beans to pick, no crops to load on trains.
Pinos Wells dried up, como mis manos.
Everyone moved away to work. I went to Estancia,
con mi hijo Reynaldo.
Gabachos de Tejas, we worked for them. Loading
alfalfa, picking cotton for fifty cents a row. (11)

Here too, are the ruins of Quarai. Before looking for the hotel we stopped at the ruins, hoping for a sunset peak. It was all closed off, sadly, but the town’s church was beautiful:


the countryside golden:


We came back in the morning, the church is mostly what is visible:

Quarai Ruins

There was once a great pueblo here too, up to three stories. It sat along the trails by which salt was once traded, another place of encounter (Three such church and pueblo complexes form the Salinas Pueblo Missions Natinal Monument — Quarai, Abó, and Gran Quivira, which we weren’t able to see).

Here is it’s reconstruction from about 1300 — fascinating that it seems to have been left to the ancestors for many years just around this time, and reoccupied just before the arrival of the Spanish:

Like Cicúye / Pecos, this was a place of coexistence for a very long time after the Spanish Entrada. This is a reconstruction of the church.


It is huge, making us feel small.



Called El Misión Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Cuarac, it was completed around 1629, and for a while served as a seat of the Inquisition. That gives me chills, though the park service information boards focus on the inquisitions struggles with the army more than its actions surrounding native beliefs and religions.

Like Cicúye, there are kivas here too amidst the Christian buildings. Like this one, square. That sits in my heart somehow. Change, contrariness built into stone and ceremony.


The pueblo ruins remain at peace beneath great mounds, covered with melons.


Jimmy Baca writes of how this place continues to live.



Dawn in the Manzano mountains.
Pine and piñón from chimneys
smoke the curving road
with resinous mist.
My black feathered heart
effortlessly glides
in the clear blue sky
above the pueblos
de Manzano, Tajique, Willard and Estancia.
At the foothills
my grandmother herded sheep
and my grandfather planted corn y chile.

I turn my motorycle off
and silence drops
into the canyon
sounding like an ancient song of sadness,
like a distant boulder
echoing into the blue sky and stubble grass

I step into the open rock pit
hollowed in the earth
with flat rock door facing east,
pinch red clay and chew
my teeth black with earth prayer,
then speak with QUARAI–

the grit and sediment I am,
mineral de Nuevo Mejico. (38-39)

I am not sure how much work had been done here when Baca arrived, it it was closer to what we could see, or this view of the church in 1935.

Quarai was abandoned in the 1670s and fell to ruin. Above, the mission church before excavation and stabilization, c. 1935 Courtesy of the National Park Service
Quarai was abandoned in the 1670s and fell to ruin. Above, the mission church before excavation and stabilization, c. 1935
Courtesy of the National Park Service


We traveled down Highway 60.

Route 60

Abó is very similar, but people still live just to one side, and more recent ruins of settlement make this place feel a bit less like a ‘monument’. This is nice. They believe that while Quarai was of the Southern Tewa or Tiguex people, this was the place of the Tompiro. My favourite picture:

Abó Ruins

It is more lush here:

Abó Ruins

Another massive church here:

Abó Ruins

Abó Ruins

Again a kiva.

Abó Ruins

The pueblo hidden beneath mounds of earth. Bordered by flowers.

Abó Ruins

Abó Ruins

From here we drove on, drove on home

Route 60

A final poem from Baca’s Meditations on the South Valley:


Send me news Rafa
of the pack dogs sleeping
in wrecked cars in empty yards,
or los veteranos
dreaming in their whiskey bottles
on porches
of the past, full of glory and fear.
The black smell of wet earth
seeps into old leaning adobes,
and prowls like a black panther through open windows.
Austere-faced hombres
hoeing their jardines
de chile y maíz in the morning,
crush beer cans and stuff them in gunny sacks
and pedal on rusty bicycles
in the afternoon to the recycling scale.
and at Coco’s chante
at dusk tecatos se juntan,
la cocina jammed like the stock exchange lobby,
as los vatos raise their fingers
indicating cuánto quiren.
There is much more I miss Rafa,
so send me news. (57)

Route 60

We ate lunch in Truth or Consequences. Were too tired to stop in Hatch. We hit rain and a huge dust storm just outside of Deming. Pulled to one side. They are terrifying if you live here, have grown up with the news of 10 (20 to 30 to 100)-car pile-ups along these freeways. Fatalities. People drive like where they got to go and the time they got to get there are more important than life.


Finally then…good to be home.

[FAG id=7260]


Madrid, New Mexico: Coal Mining and Company Town

We drove from Los Cerrillos, down Highway 14 it’s only a few short miles to Madrid, New Mexico. But a world away.

A company town, an old coal mining town. The coal trail isn’t as picturesque sounding as turquoise I suppose. Madrid, New Mexico is full of tiny wooden shacks — the picture that brought us here:

From The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: the Desert States
From The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: the Desert States

So Madrid as it is now was completely unexpected.

I have no current pictures of them because this town was full up, no parking, no where to stop until we had almost driven the length of it. That quintessentially western kind of hippie counter culture, biker, tourist boom town. Either brightly painted or left/made to look properly old and weathered and ghost towny. More pronounced than Bisbee because it is nowhere near as substantial — and this town had all but died. Maybe it’s better to compare it to Tombstone, the bones of an old town twisted and touristed and made subject to a variety of interpretations of authenticity. I’m not saying it doesn’t succeed in many ways, though Los Cerrillos is more my kind of place. With trips down here for company and live music.

We spent most of our time here with its ghosts, alone for the most part in the museum backing off the Mine Shaft Tavern. So-called, because it has this:

Madrid, New Mexico

It is, however, also the original Red Pony in Longmire, which made my mother very happy. Other things filmed here (and a longer list for the Turquoise Trail as a whole — somewhere along here we passed the ‘private movie ranch’): Easy Rider (1969), The McMasters (1970), Flap Aka: The Last Warrior (1970), The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), Greasers Palace (1972), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Convoy (1978)… I’ll stop there, with this hilarious poster:


The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad once came through here, and from the tavern you go into what was once the engine repair room and is now a theatre, with an old engine presiding. It stares in at you through the faded velvet curtains.


We walked through, out into the yard full of old equipment towards a larger shed:



Into wide open spaces crammed full of things, and more things. Some displays. I bring you Edison himself:


He had attempted a gold extraction project in the mountains, but that failed. He did build a successful electric power plant at Madrid, though, to power both his failed gold experiment and the town. Every town had electricity by the 1920s, before Santa Fe, and they boasted the first lighted baseball park in the West.

The Madrid Miners, there is some very cool stuff on the baseball team.


Some amazing old machines.


Pictures of the old mine and equipment:


This was a company town. From the town’s merchant’s association website, a kind of amalgam of beneficent yet autocratic rule, possibly a lurking hidden fear of strikes and unrest, a mandatory and worker-funded town pride:

in 1919 Oscar Joseph Huber was hired by Mr. Kaseman, of the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company, as full time superintendent of mines. Under his capable leadership Madrid became a model for other mining towns to follow. Elementary and High Schools, a fully equipped hospital, a Company Store and an Employee’s Club were some of the benefits of line in Madrid during the 20’s and 30’s. Believing that idleness was an enemy to a stable community, Mr. Huber formed the Employee’s Club, requiring miners to donate from .50 to $1.00 per month for community causes. They were also required to participate in town events such as the Fourth of July celebration and the now famous Christmas Light Display.

In the Museum they describe Madrid as the “Town of Lights” & “Toyland”, as every Christmas the ballpark was converted, a miniature train and Children’s Ferris Wheel erected.

Beginning in the early 1920’s, Madrid miners lit up the winter sky with 150,000 Christmas lights powered by 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. The power was provided by the company’s own coal fed generators. The displays were the product of both Madrid and Northern New Mexico artisans and laborers. Madrid’s Christmas celebrations ended with W.W.II and the mines closed in the 1950’s.

It is hard to imagine planes diverting their flights to allow passengers to marvel at the light show from above, and promotion of Madrid’s celebrations in LA, Miami, Chicago.

The museum display states:

The last coal sublease, Johnny Ochoa & John Taber’s one care “wagon mine,” was abandoned in 1961.

A view of the Ferris Wheel now from on board the old engine:


And the engine itself — so cool to see after riding the steam train from Chama…The engine:


The controls (!):


The blowdown lever — this expels water, creating the great spout from the side of the train and subsequent rainbows that we saw in the trip from Chama to Antonito.


There were awesome engines of another kind:



It was good to find it so vibrant now, though this isn’t entirely my kind of scene. Way too many people. And I keep bumping into hard questions raised by sentences like this:

In the early 1970’s Joe Huber (Oscar’s son), then owner of the entire town site, rented a few of the miner’s cabins to rugged individuals, artists and craftsmen eager to make a home in the mountains of New Mexico.

Of course, the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company had put the whole town up for sale in 1954. I hate the idea of one company, one person owning a town. But I am glad this is no longer true:


[FAG id=7232]

From Cicúye to Pecos Ruins — Coronado’s expedition and Spanish settlement

I read The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542, by Pedro de Castañeda de Nájera several years ago —  a bilingual version, which I love because the Spanish is old and Spain’s Spanish not mine, though the quotes here are from the online version you can find here, translated in 1904. As we drove to what are now called Pecos ruins from Chama, I thought I remembered this place mentioned — it was a curious text, tragic in what it meant and yet leaving you with little sense of tragedy, perhaps because it was so strangely matter of fact, even boring. But what I remember was that the Spanish were welcomed in village after village, and in village after village they killed and stole and demanded gold and anything else they wanted. Women seem to have been included in this.

Cicúye, now known as Pecos ruins, was no different. Upon their arrival:

Five days from here he came to Cicúye, a very strong village four stories high. The people came out from the village with signs of joy to welcome Hernando de Alvarado and their captain, and brought them into the town with drums and pipes something like flutes, of which they have a great many. They made many presents of cloth and turquoises, of which there are quantities in that region. The Spaniards enjoyed themselves here for several days … (40)

This is what this thriving, welcoming village looks like now. Great mounds with a few of the walls and structured excavated.

Pecos Ruins

Pecos Ruins

Pecos Ruins

After such a welcome…well, this is what greed and conquest look like.

When Hernando de Alvarado reached Tiguex, on his way back from Cicúye, he found Don Garcia Lopez de Cardenas there, and so there was no need for him to go farther. As it was necessary that the natives should give the Spaniards lodging places, the people in one village had to abandon it and go to others belonging to their friends, and they took with them nothing but themselves and the clothes they had on. (41)

It is clear who the barbarians are here, demanding lodging. And then the manufactured incident, the kidnapping…and yet they still manage to see themselves as victims through the whole of the narrative.

The general sent Hernando de Alvarado back to Cicúye to demand some gold bracelets which this Tm’k said they had taken from him at the time they captured him. Alvarado went, and was received as a friend at the village, and when he demanded the bracelets they said they knew nothing at all about them, saying the Turk was deceiving him and was lying. Captain Alvarado, seeing that there were no other means, got the Captain Whiskers and the governor to come to his tent, and when they had come he put them in chains. The villagers prepared to fight, and let fly their arrows, denouncing Hernando de Alvarado, and saying that he was a man who had no respect for peace and friendship. Hernando de Alvarado started back to Tiguex, where the general kept them prisoners more than six months. This began the want of confidence in the word of the Spaniards whenever there was talk of peace from this time on, as will be seen by what happened afterward. (45)

The Spanish were demanding gold, to know where these fabled cities of gold they sought could be found. The demanded at gunpoint, through the holding of hostages, and believed everyone lied to them when they denied knowledge of such a place. A place that did not in fact exist. So this little stratagem of the people of Cicúye seems pretty brilliant.

The general followed his guides until he reached Quivira, which took forty-eight days’ marching, on account of the great detour they had made toward Florida. He was received peacefully on account of the guides whom he had. They asked the Turk why he had lied and had guided them so far out of their way. He said that his country was in that direction and that, besides this, the people at Cicúye had asked him to lead them off on to the plains and lose them, so that the horses would die when their provisions gave out, and they would be so weak if they ever returned that they would be killed without any trouble, and thus they could take revenge for what had been done to them. This was the reason why he had led them astray…They garroted him… (74-75)

Cicúye was once a great center of trade, sitting here close to Glorieta Creek and the the Pecos River, commanding great visibility across the valley and sitting near Glorieta Pass, it was where the Indians of the plains, Apaches and Comanche came to trade with the Pueblo Indians, they would set up their camps outside the walls of the pueblo that rose three to four stories. This was a place of cultural encounter and exchange, a place of openness. A map of the pueblo, what has been excavated so far:


What is here now represents the curious melding of cultures that happened in the centuries after Coronado. Because of course the Spanish would not leave such a strategic village to their traditions and ways of life. By 1598 colonization had begun. They started to build this:

Pecos Ruins

The museum details a complex system of both tribute and forced labour demanded from residents of Pecos Pueblo, tensions between priests and landowners. The great pueblo uprising of 1680 defeated the Spanish — I am looking forward to learning more about this. They were forced from the countryside for over a decade. Clearly their reign wasn’t quite as benevolent as it feels from National Park Service descriptions.

But the Spanish returned. Rebuilt. Bigger.

Pecos Ruins

Pecos Ruins

I love, though, that a kiva exists even here, in the Spanish section of this settlement. It is unknown when or how this was built, if it was constructed as part of the church’s cooptation of native tradition or as resistance — perhaps there is more in the books written from the pueblo perspective.

Pecos Ruins

And so the Spanish continued there. Where there was once usually plenty of grain to trade with Apaches and others, there was no longer enough after the encomendero and their own survival — this is noted in the museum but its consequences not followed through. The Spanish presence, and the violence and disease and crushing taxes they brought with them, had surely destabilised everything. When there was no corn to buy, there was probably little left to do but raid or starve for traditionally nomadic tribes.

I don’t know, after this did they in fact build a peaceful community anew together with the Spanish? Was it one of equality and true faith? Was it just the raids and maybe some weather that forced people out? I am perhaps willing to believe this, people grow together sometimes, but not from just one source. Given the ongoing prejudice against dark skin, indigenous language and tradition, against anything indio, I am doubtful.

By 1838, the last residents of Pecos left the pueblo to the spirits of their ancestors, a living memory of the place that they made and their connection to the land there. They moved to Jemez Pueblo, where they continue to keep their traditions.

The death of a community, and it was not the only one. But another post for more on Quarai and Abó.

It remains, in spite of all of this white greed and empire building, in spite of the civil war battle of Glorieta Pass and proximity to the Santa Fe Trail a peaceful place, a good place. And it is still full of life.

Pecos Ruins

Navajo Nation to Aztec Ruins, New Mexico

Before leaving Tuba City, we went to the museum right next to our hotel, one of my favourite stops on this trip.

Navajo Interactive Museum

The Navajo Interactive Museum shares some of the Navajo’s own history. It is the first place I have ever been that does not try to whitewash the history of conquest. It does not shy away from how people were killed, enslaved. It tells of the forced march, relocation, return. The immense loss. Grief. It shows how much has been saved, how custom and belief are not things of the past but of the present. It shared versions of the creation. Methods of weaving, the sheep that are the sources of wool. The building of hogans and some of their spiritual meanings. It is divided by the four directions, reclaims history for its own people, and offers it as a gift to us.

From one of the signs:

Indigenous languages are holistic, fluently expressing intrinsic human relationships with everything. Navajos believe that their language is a spiritual gift from the Holy People, for it connects them directly to the entire universe. It is a language of webs and motion, relationships and process, not of nouns and objectivity.

I have been thinking so much about language and patterns of thought, the limitations of science and how perhaps it is built into the English language itself. Spanish too, but just knowing two languages helps you understand language’s limits. There is still so much I cannot express, I wish that I had been honored to speak such an indigenous language. It is not hard to see why conquerors would work so hard to destroy language, it is so intertwined with culture, with worldview. It is always a place of strength and resistance.

Next door was a small museum in honour of the Navajo code talkers, the men who joined the US army and used their language to keep our transmissions from the Japanese. The whole text of the ‘Navajo Code Talkers Act‘ was on the wall, and it surprised me. I have put in bold the things I never though the U.S. government would say out loud, and we circle around language…

(1) On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor and war was declared by Congress the following day.

(2) The military code, developed by the United States for transmitting messages, had been deciphered by the Japanese and a search by United States military intelligence was made to develop new means to counter the enemy.

(3) The United States Government called upon the Navajo Nation to support the military effort by recruiting and enlisting 29 Navajo men to serve as Marine Corps radio operators; the number of enlistees later increased to over 350.

(4) At the time, the Navajos were second-class citizens, and they were a people who were discouraged from using their own language.

(5) The Navajo Marine Corps radio operators, who became known as the Navajo Code Talkers, were used to develop a code using their language to communicate military messages in the Pacific.

(6) To the enemy’s frustration, the code developed by these Native Americans proved to be unbreakable and was used extensively throughout the Pacific theater.

(7) The Navajo language, discouraged in the past, was instrumental in developing the most significant and successful military code of the time. At Iwo Jima alone, the Navajo Code Talkers passed over 800 error-free messages in a 48-hour period.

(A) So successful were they, that military commanders credited the code with saving the lives of countless American soldiers and the successful engagements of the United States in the battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa;

(B) So successful were they, that some Code Talkers were guarded by fellow marines whose role was to kill them in case of imminent capture by the enemy; and

(C) So successful were they, that the code was kept secret for 23 years after the end of World War II.

(8) Following the conclusion of World War II, the Department of Defense maintained the secrecy of the Navajo code until it was declassified in 1968; only then did a realization of the sacrifice and valor of these brave Native Americans emerge from history.

I am unsure what the U.S. government has done since then to grant full, respectful, honoured citizenship or to encourage the speaking of indigenous languages, but I suppose medals were something. It would take a few years before other tribes were honoured for similar roles, the Comache and Choctaw among them, in WWI as well as WWII.

navajo_code_talkers_617_488We drove and drove, Northeast, out of the red rocks towards New Mexico. We passed Black Mesa, and the Peabody Company’s coal mine — another reminder of exploitation, another form of resource extraction.


Peabody uses this pristine water supply simply to mix with crushed coal-called “slurry.” This “slurry” is then pumped through a pipeline over 275 miles to the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada.

With every breath we take, 50 gallons of pristine ground water has just been pumped from the dry lands of northeastern Arizona. On Black Mesa, home to the Hopi and Navajo people, more than 300 gallons of potential drinking water has, in the last 10 seconds just been mixed with crushed coal. In the time it took to read these sentences Peabody Coal Company pumps over a thousand gallons of the cleanest groundwater in North America, simply to transport coal. Today, Peabody Coal pumps more than 3,600 acre-feet (equivalent to 4,600 football fields, one foot deep) per year of pristine water from the Navajo Aquifer.

You can find out more on the Southwest Research and Information Centre site. These beautiful lands are also be exploited for their uranium, in summary of the report on uranium mining on the Navajo Nation from Brugge and Goble:

From World War II until 1971, the government was the sole purchaser of uranium ore in the United States. Uranium mining occurred mostly in the southwestern United States and drew many Native Americans and others into work in the mines and mills. Despite a long and well-developed understanding, based on the European experience earlier in the century, that uranium mining led to high rates of lung cancer, few protections were provided for US miners before 1962 and their adoption after that time was slow and incomplete. The resulting high rates of illness among miners led in 1990 to passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

You can read and listen to more on Democracy Now’s program ‘A Slow Genocide of the People’.  Even now people gather to stand against another exploitation of the earth and threat of contamination for land and water — the North Dakota pipeline.

In North Dakota, indigenous activists are continuing to protest the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, which they say would threaten to contaminate the Missouri River. More than a thousand indigenous activists from dozens of different tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, which was launched on April 1 by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

I wish I could be there too. Instead I am here, writing. We drove onward. It looks pristine, but corporations are poisoning this land.

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama


Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

A sea of crushed metal, old cars left here.

Road Trip Tuba City to Chama

Up to the ‘Aztec’ ruins. Midway between Chaco and Mesa Verde, this was an incredible Anasazi construction, planned and for the most part built within a very short time. Labelled Aztec because that’s all people apparently knew of indigenous cultures building in stone, too ignorant or racist to ask its real name. The National Park Service did try to give a ‘balanced’ history, but such radically different ways of seeing the world sit uneasily next to each other. There could be nothing too critical of the role archeology has played in the mythologizing of western expansions, nor of those expansions, nor the disrespect of native histories. A disrespect that stems from their attempted destruction. But it was good to hear native voices here, and the contrasting ways of seeing.

Aztec Ruins

This is a place that feels good, a place left to the ancestors before white men arrived, like Chaco, like Mesa Verde.

It’s construction is beautiful, full of details. The corner openings:

Aztec Ruins

T-shaped doors

Aztec Ruins

Stones rolled smooth from the river

Aztec Ruins

And other bands of decoration:

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins

Once standing three stories high

Aztec Ruins

This wall traces exactly the path followed by the sun during the summer solstice

Aztec Ruins

It is a beautiful place. To see with eyes open and with eyes closed. The ground story of storage rooms still stand

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins

Aztec Ruins

They open into other rooms, a mat left behind is still here, hundreds of  years old.

Aztec Ruins

From archaeology we see the map of the whole. Almost all of it built between 1100 and 1130, which is amazing. Then slowly added to.


This map shows its symmetries, though it cannot explain their meaning.

Aztec Ruins

They have reconstructed the great kiva here, I am not sure about entering such a place of ceremony without ceremony. Without invitation. So I didn’t take pictures, but I did give thanks to be there. With mum. They are wonderful sacred spaces.

Aztec Ruins

Several of them, along with the large central one, are surrounded by smaller rooms. I have never seen this before.

Aztec Ruins

I didn’t love the small museum as much as the one in Tuba City, but the pottery was beautiful (so much here, as in the other NPS museums, on loan from far away. Pottery and artifacts taken away as property by the institutions who sponsored digs, I do not understand how they do not see this as a living place to which things still belong). Apart from the maps of the place itself, the trade routes were also wonderful:

Aztec Ruins

From here we continued on and on, up to Chama. A good day.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad, Chama to Antonito

The Cumbres & Toltec Railroad is amazing, a narrow three-foot gauge railroad along which the steam engines of yore still ride…Built in 1880 by the Rio Grande to serve the silver mines in the San Juan mountains. As we all know, the Sherman Act of 1893 destroyed the silver industry for a good long time, but this train line kept slowly going until the 1960s. This piece of the track was saved by a handful of wonderful people working to preserve this awesomeness, it was secured in 1970 by New Mexico and Colorado working together, and is now run by a commission and a friend group.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

I love how trains inspire the utmost love and devotion, brings groups of people to selflessly work together to keep them going despite all odds. People also stood by the side of roads and RV parks to wave at the train, a couple of cars followed us down I-17. A number of cars pulled off the road to take pictures of the train.

For me, though, this particular train had a slightly different glamour. I am not a proper fan girl of many, but James Garner is one. James Garner as Maverick? Especially. For some reason I climbed up onto this train and suddenly felt myself close, very close. It didn’t even take that much imagination to ignore everyone else. I stood at the end staring at the mountains and wished I had a cigar. It was grand. I didn’t even mind the constant shower of grit.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We climbed high up into the mountains, then back down to high-desert plateau. We saw deer, chipmunks, prairie dogs, antelope. Unbelievably beautiful.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We even spouted rainbows.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Even more special, is that me and mum first took this trip with my Dad and my Godmother Clare when I was about 2 years old.

(I have skipped a day, yesterday we drove through rainbows but I was just too tired to think and write, and there is more to write! But it will be made part of this history)

[FAG id=7119]