Thursday, January 9, 2020

Old New Mexico


Let's flash back now to 1995, and a weeklong trip I took to New Mexico with my mom. At the time, I'd been back about eight months from my two-year stint living in Morocco, and I was reporting for a daily newspaper in Southwest Florida. I'd long been fascinated by the art of Georgia O'Keeffe, and I wanted to see the country she depicted so skillfully in her paintings.

As my journal reveals, our trip wasn't without its tensions. Rightly or wrongly, as a 28-year-old gay man traveling with his mother, I felt like a loser. I had to escape to a coffee shop each day to write and have some alone time.

But I also had a lot of fun with Mom, and overall it was a positive experience. Here are a few photos and some excerpts from my somewhat snarky journal entries at the time.

June 17, 1995

I am on vacation with Mom, of all people, in Santa Fe, of all places. We landed in Albuquerque yesterday, in a ripping dry wind, and rented a green Plymouth Alliance that we've been using to zip around in. We stayed last night at a Best Western and I've eaten so much Mexican food I could explode. But it has been really good -- we went to a place tonight called the Blue Corn Cafe that was excellent -- I had sangria and some great tamales.

Santa Fe is all adobe -- it's all beige and earthy. Even the Jewel Osco grocery store was adobe.

And downtown was great with tons of neat stores. Except that Mom doesn't like to shop, so I may have to go down there sometime on my own so I can explore them all. We stumbled on an art show in the plaza and wandered around.

It's pretty here -- mountainous -- a lot like Morocco and actually COLD. And RAINY today.

Old cemetery near Taos

June 21, 1995

On Monday we made an expedition to Abiquiu, to see Georgia O'Keeffe's country. Abiquiu itself is a muddy little village perched on a hill, and after just a few minutes of driving around we found O'Keeffe's house -- it stood out, a cool-looking pink adobe house surrounded by trees and a walled garden. A black chow was perched on a corner of the wall -- I recall that O'Keeffe kept chows. Just to be sure it was her place, I asked a workman outside, who confirmed in a tired but patient voice. I wonder how many times he's been asked that question -- "Is this the O'Keeffe house?" I wonder if the people in Abiquiu view her as an asset or a scourge? We also drove to Ghost Ranch, now a Presbyterian Conference Center. The hazy blue Pedernal rose in the distance, as well as the red and yellow cliffs, all immediately recognizable from her art.

Red and yellow cliffs

We also visited Taos yesterday, and it was a tourist hell -- at least that's my opinion. The drive up there was great, and we took a loop through mountains to the northeast that was nice. The land was beautiful -- the peaks snow-capped, the valley of the Rio Grande a deep trench in a smooth green plain. We saw Rancho de Taos church, which O'Keeffe painted, and drove past D.H. Lawrence's ranch. In Taos we walked around and went to a museum in Ernest Blumenschein's old home -- a bit like visiting the World's Largest Ball of String, or perhaps marginally better. But the town itself was gridlocked with people and I found it really hot and gritty and touristy.

Indian pueblo near Taos

June 22, 1995

We drove back up to Taos, but this time on a different road that runs through the mountains and the villages of Chimayo, Truchas and Las Trampas. And back down -- without even going into the tourist hell of Taos -- through Mora and Las Vegas. The mountains were green and lush, thick with purple irises along the rushing creeks. Then, above Las Vegas, we went to some state park on a lake -- the name escapes me but it was Storrie or something like that -- and we ate lunch on an incredibly windy bluff in an inadequate picnic shelter.

There's a "rainbow gathering" in Taos next month, and a lot of scruffy '60s types are turning up in town. I hear the locals are pissed. (That's from the papers.) Next to me now -- some longhaired guy with multiple ponytails, Birks and filthy black feet.

Rancho de Taos church

June 25, 1995

Now I am home, finally. It is 10:53 p.m. Florida time and I've been back since about 7:30 or so. I was definitely ready for that vacation to end -- I told Mom if we had to do one more thing in New Mexico I would scream. I'd had it up to my neck with turquoise and adobe.

And, predictably, being home makes me miss the trip. Even if we just watched Nickelodeon in the hotel room, it was nice to have someone else around. I was really lonely coming home tonight.

The last days in New Mexico were fun enough. Mom and I left Santa Fe yesterday morning and went to Sandia Crest, above Albuquerque, where we hiked. We didn't go far -- just along the crest trail to something called the Kiwanis Stone House. We saw lots of birds -- a nuthatch and a beautiful blue Steller's jay. We bought expensive cups of cheap coffee and drank them in the tacky gift shop -- the only place that wasn't exposed to the chilly gray weather.

Went to a nature center in Albuquerque and saw Canada geese and redwing blackbirds -- people were gathered in an air-conditioned room to watch the birds through plate glass, which seemed terribly silly to me. Then we ate a nauseating Mexican meal at Little Anita's. (If Anita eats like that I don't see how she could be little.)

Today's flight was uneventful -- but of course now I'm not tired because it's only 9 p.m. New Mexico time.


e said...

Wow, do you feel differently about this trip now than you did then? You have some very cool photos and memories with your mother here. Speaking of your mom, how is she doing?

Yorkshire Pudding said...

A fascinating post that I enjoyed reading. However...

June 19th 1995
Last night I ate so much Mexican food that I did explode! There were gruesome bits of me all over the walls of the "Los Potrillos" Mexican restaurant. The staff were none too happy but they called for an ambulance and I was rushed to St Vincent's Hospital in Santa Fe. Luckily Mom had collected up my internal organs and had stuffed them in her purse so that I could be put back together again. Oh I wish that I lived with a fellow called Dave in a garden flat far away...perhaps in Sheffield, England or even London. Do dreams ever come true?

Mary said...

Ah, New Mexico. My husband's family live in ABQ now, having moved from out East. In fact, they live in the Sandia Heights area, just below the Sandia Crest you mention. A lot of people don't realize a lot of NM is high altitude, like Denver, so it takes time to adjust. But let's just say: not my cup of tea. The ubiquitous Mexican food, the endless beige landscapes and turquoise jewelry...yeah. I don't miss it either. Not that there aren't some interesting landscapes, places like the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge area (gave my DH vertigo just trying to look down) and Sandia Crest. Like you, we've also driven the loop around Taos mountain area and stayed in a small town of Red River. Agree with you about the tourist areas of Santa Fe and Taos, but I enjoy going to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in SF and then driving around isolated places to see the landscapes that inspired her. Okay place to visit. I just don't want to live there.

Fresca said...

"I'm with Mom, of all people..."
O to be so young and dismissive again, eh?
(NOT to say our parents were our ideal companions!)

robin andrea said...

Reading this and looking at the photos made me wish I had done more than just drive through New Mexico all those times I drove across country. I love that you kept a journal back then. I wish I had done that as well. Journal details and photos are such great memory sparks.

Penelope said...

I lived in Questa, New Mexico right after I married. It is just north of Taos. Back then it was a sleepy little village with little to do. I loved driving down to Taos and visiting the shops and art galleries.
The photo of the cemetery looks similar to the Terlingua Cemetery.

Sharon said...

I loved reading this and seeing the photos. Your descriptions of places in New Mexico are spot on. I do love the natural beauty of New Mexico. As the only 'single' daughter, I traveled with my parents many, many times. I always enjoyed myself on these trips but there was always a nagging suspicion that something was wrong with me since I didn't have a partner to travel with. Looking back today, I'm so glad I had that time with them.

ellen abbott said...

my niece and her family live in Albuquerque, well my two great nieces are away at different colleges so really it's just her and her husband now. my sister visits a couple of times a year and she really likes it. I've never been but I enjoyed you journal entries. and Taos is just about what I would expect.

Ms. Moon said...

I did a little bit of traveling in that area once with my husband and two sisters-in-law. It was a strange trip in many ways but I did love the area, the art, the architecture, the food. I realized that it wasn't my place to live but I was glad to visit it.
I'm glad you kept a journal. Pictures alone would never bring back the experience in the same way. I'm sure it was odd to travel with your mother but it's a memory that you have now of a time that the two of you shared.

Edna B said...

I'm so glad you kept a journal complete with photos. I've never been to this part of the country so it was wonderful seeing it and hearing the descriptions. Thanks for the trip. You have a wonderful day.

37paddington said...

How much we appreciate having spent such time with our parents when we are able, years later, to look back on it. This was a precious time, and you are a good son.

Linda Sue said...

the photos are lovely, new mexico is quite an interesting place, the land is exceptional. So glad you have kept a journal, that is the coolest part! Pretty sure your Mother appreciated your 28 year old self being with her. I would have! Santa Fe is at a very high altitude, it would take most people a week to acclimatize, let alone run around.

Catalyst said...

I think I now understand why you live in England. ;^/

Alphie Soup said...

I spent a few days in Santa Fe in 2007. I loved it. I went everywhere on foot, by local bus and the inevitable day tour, which included Taos...
I also ate at the Blue Corn café.
I'd forgotten about until I read your post.

Beth Reed said...

I really enjoyed this trip back in time. Someday you might look back more fondly on the trip with your mother. I so wish I had more memories with mine but I treasure the memories that I do have.

I lived in New Mexico someplace when I was little. I think it was Dublin but not sure. I remember we lived on an Indian reservation and I was terrified when I went to bed at night because we could hear the drums beating and I was so scared that the Indians were going to ride up on their horses and scalp us all.
Even worse was the fact that I couldn't understand where the cowboys were???? lol.....