Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas in New Mexico, Day 3 and Day 4

Day 3

Christmas Day dawned overcast. I looked up at the mountains and predicted snow. We drove up the scenic Rio Grande Canyon to Taos. The backseat fell asleep. As usual.

Before heading to the Pueblo for the dance, we took a detour to a bridge over the Rio Grande. The rest of the party walked across it and took photos of the 400 hundred foot gorge.

The Pueblo was performing the Deer Dance. They do not allow photographs of it. The walks around the Pueblo had been shoveled. Some people used the mounds of snow to gain a better vantage point for the dance. Many of the residents stood on the roofs of the lower units and on porches of the second story to watch.

The Deer Dance is performed by many tribes throughout North America. Each group has its own variation, but generally, the dance is meant to honor the deer and to bring good luck in the hunt for the coming year.

At Taos Pueblo, the “Clowns” built a very smoky fire. I saw them throwing branches of evergreens on it. Smoke in many cultures is purifying.

The Clowns have several roles in the dance. I heard a parent warning a child that if she didn’t behave, the Clowns would take her away. A woman refused to come out of the restroom because she was afraid of the Clowns. I know that they have some function in “policing” the behavior of the tribe, but it is more one of upholding social mores than in punishing miscreants. Unless you count being ridiculed as punishment.

Two lines of women, dressed in their traditional off-one shoulder costume danced into the plaza following a drummer. Did I mention that it was snowing? They looked cold. The costumes were of many different solid colors with bands of embroidery at the hem and top. They were carrying a sprig of evergreens, a rattle, and over one arm, a colorful blanket. They danced in an oval and then the two halves danced up the center, following two women dressed in white. The women formed a circle around the dance floor. They wrapped up in their blankets, but kept their rhythm.

The Clowns escorted the deer dancers into the circle. The clown’s faces were painted white with black patterns around their eyes. They wore little on their torsos, but a cloth wrapped partially around them. Their hair was tied back with corn husks, and they had what looked like hawk wings on each side of their head and down their arms.

All the dancers wore warm-looking leggings and thick boots.

The Deer Dancers wore the heads of deer or buffalo on their heads with the rest of the skin over their shoulders and down the back. Their torsos were awrapped over the shoulder and around the waist. They carried two sticks that they used to walk like an animal. The deer were lead by two older men wearing white antlers whose torsos were painted white. They looked cold.

Men of the tribe formed a line across the entrance to the dance floor. Tribal policemen were there to keep the crowd of visitors away from this walk way. My impression was that they were there to keep the visitors under control; the residents, under the sway of the Clowns, knew how to behave. The Deer Dancers moved in a group around the dance floor. The Clowns would capture one of them and try to force their way through the men at the entrance. The men at the entrance tried to keep them in. If the Clowns succeeded in breaking through, they would carry their prey away, presumably to a warm place to wait for the next dance. If they couldn’t break through, the dancer returned to the dance.

One of the Clowns was a very witty fellow, judging from the laughter that greeted his comments. I don’t speak the language, so I don’t know what was said. There was a lot of foolery between the Clowns and the spectators closest to the dance floor.

I was told that the different dance beats were meant to imitate the gaits of various prey animals.
As we started down the canyon, the backseat passengers began to bicker. I suggested that they go to sleep. “Please.”

Here and there, the canyon floor widened. Small towns and farms filled these flats. In the cold, winter dusk, they looked cold. I thought how much warmer the occasional apartment house looked. The Pueblos were built to conserve heat. They were a much more communal society than the Europeans who invaded them.

We had dinner at Denney’s. :-(

This has been the most difficult blog to write of the whole trip. The one describing the day following this one was much easier, and indeed, done sooner. Standing in the snow, watching a very old dance that has the force of a religious observance was an awesome experience. I have tried to get in as much detail as I can, but the words are inadequate.

Day 4.

My daughter and grandson decided to try snowboarding at Ski Santa Fe. We drove them up to the ski lift, stopping to rent equipment. A 19 mile drive sounds like nothing, but over icy roads, it was a trial. It snowed all the way. For the first time, the backseat didn’t fall asleep in the car. I guess I should have been more apprehensive, but I have complete faith in my son’s driving.

He and I adjourned to a couple of nice, warm museums. After a good lunch in the Museum Hill Café, we visited the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art. Both had fantastic exhibits. The Folk Art Museum had a display of doll houses arranged as though it was a block in a town, complete with painted yards, streets, walkways, people, (dolls) and toys -- horses, wagons, etc. An imaginative exhibit. The houses were all different and all lovingly crafted. It looked like a turn of the 20th century scene.

I could have spent the entire time we had in that museum, but the Indian Arts Museum had an equally enthralling exhibit, Here, Now & Always about the cultures of the Native Americans of the Southwest. As a native Oklahoman, I’ve always been more interested in the Southeastern tribes, but on this trip, I’ve become interested in the Pueblo Culture. When I was a child, the story told when I visited Mesa Verde was that no one knew where the residents went and why they left. It is now pretty sure that they merely migrated to the various Pueblos and Pueblo ruins in the southwest. We still don’t know why.

It snowed the entire time we were at the museums. All too soon we had to leave to pick up the rest of our party. It was a long, cold, snowy drive up the mountain. We were fortunate to follow a snowplow. The road up the mountain was icy. There were quite a few cars coming down. One car had driven into the snow at the verge of the road. We didn’t quite make it up to the pick up point. My son decided that it would be better to walk the rest of the way than to take a chance on getting stuck.

I could tell that they had fun, but we still had a cold snowy drive down the mountain. We were fortunate enough to get behind another snow plow. Or maybe it was the same one. No tracks could be seen on the other side of the road, the one we had just driven up. The snow had covered them.

By the time we got down we were ready to call it a night. We ate an interesting dinner at the Flying Tortilla adjacent to our motel and turned in.

Tomorrow: Roswell

Following a snow plow down from Ski Santa Fe

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas in New Mexico, Day 1 and Day 2

Wishing one and all a Happy Hanukkah, a Joyous Yule and/or a Merry Christmas; and a Prosperous New Year.

Current Mood: happy

This didn't get posted everyday as I had intended.

Day 1

After some hemming and hawing, we left Arlington in the morning and drove straight through to Santa Fe, arriving in the dark to a snowy landscape. My grandson leaped out of the car, threw a snowball at my window, fell down and made a snow angel. This is his first white Christmas. He thinks he likes New Mexico.

It took about 11 hours over mostly four-lane highways with not many towns to slow us down. We drove from the Metroplex through the wide open space of Texas which looks pretty much the same where ever you go to Ammarillo. The backseat passengers slept for most of the way. My son drove.

Someone commented on my blog about a perceived insensitivity to urban poverty. I saw plenty of rural poverty and some rural prosperity. There were abandoned houses and even more ugly abandoned mobile homes all along our route. Some of this has always been a feature of the Texas landscape, but I saw some falling down houses on the main streets of the little towns we passed through. The front of one house has fallen in and part of the roof had caved, leaving exposed pink insulation blowing in the Texas wind. Seems like someone would have removed these eyesores from the towns at least.

Incidentally, my reply to the insensitivity comment was that poverty is not an urban or rural issue.

Some houses were neatly kept, prosperous looking,surrounded by windbreaks. There would be clusters of such houses, not close, but within sight of each other.

We saw an obviously ripe field of cotton. We wasted some time in idle chitchat about why that field was still unharvested while others near by were. Later we saw some harvesting equipment sitting beside a field. It was noon, and the sky was still overcast; we didn’t know why no one was working. Later still we passed the cotton picking machines working a field. Who knew that cotton was harvested in December?

We didn’t need to speculate at all. In time, all questions are answered.

I also observed fields of winter wheat, barely up, like a green fuzz on the ground. Some of the green wheat fields had cattle grazing on them. I had heard of this practice. As a recent home owner, lately responsible for the cutting the grass, I realize that this winter grazing will have no effect on the eventual crop which is a seed heads of the grass. No matter how many times I cut it, if I let it go at seeding time, there will be lots of seed heads.

In one town, I saw pumping oil wells closer together than I have ever seen them. So close that unless they were at different levels, it almost seemed that they would be working against each other.

At times there were tumbleweeds blowing across the road. They don't really damage a car, unless they hit just right, and then they might scratch the paint.

Tumble weeds, in some people’s estimation a symbol of the American west, are not even native to America. They are called Russian Thistles, and probably arrived as seeds contaminating a shipment of grain. When the seeds are ripe, the stem becomes brittle and breaks off. The ubiquitous western winds of the prairies and deserts sends the whole plant blowing across the landscape scattering the seeds far and wide. The sight of the rootless weeds blowing across the wide open spaces came to symbolize the life of the cowboy, not tied to any place, but roaming free across the west. In reality the plant puts down a deep taproot and comes back every year to produce more tops which break off and scatter more seeds. As survival-of-the-species mechanism go, it is very effective. How can you eradicate a plant like that? Western farmers have tried without success.

As I said, the backseat slept all the way to Amarillo. The scenery got more interesting after that. As we neared the New Mexico border, one of them who was old enough to know better started asking, “Are we still in Texas?” After a while we started reading the mile markers to her.

We crossed the border into New Mexico. Yes, there really is a turquoise sky. This time it was only a little fringe on the north above the mountains, but it was there. I knew I wasn’t in Texas any more.

Tomorrow, we are going to Bandelier.

Day 2.
Current Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Christmas Eve arrived bright and clear. The skies were a deep uncharacteristic blue, the snowfields were white, except where snow plows had cleared the roads. With four highly individualistic persons on this trip, we started out with the usual hemming and hawing.

We drove through scenic snow covered mountains to Bandelier National Monument. Around every bend was a photographic vista.

Looking down into Frijoles Canyon.

When we got there-- a setback.

The park was closed. We found a phone number and called to learn that it would open at noon. We drove back to White Rock, NM and ate lunch in the Bandelier Grill. My burger was well-cooked. The men of the party opted for chicken-fried chicken and steak, respectively, which arrived on huge platters. When it comes to eating, my teenaged grandson is classified as a man – or a plague of locusts, whichever way you want to look at it.

Next time we'll call in advance.

Getting to Bandelier is to drive through deep canyons and up hairpin turns across the ridges to the next deep canyon. The ruins are in Frijoles Canyon.

Alfred Bandelier was an amateur anthropologist who toured the ruins and wrote extensively, including a novel, about them. There are ruins in other parts of the park, but it is a two-day hike to get to them. These are the most accessible. There is the ruin of an adobe pueblo on the canyon floor which was occupied from 1200 to about 1500 A.D. It was not one of the pueblos ruined by the Spanish Invasion. I had an interesting discussion with the Ranger about why it was abandoned. We don't know. Her theory had to do with very slow growth of timber in the area. She speculated that they may have moved because they ran out of lumber to heat the Pueblo. The temperature outside was almost 32 degrees Fahrenheit which send our thoughts in the direction of heating problems.

I hiked to the Pueblo Ruins, but didn't climb into the ruins of the cave dwellings. People lived both on the canyon floor and in the caves on the canyon walls, although I have the impression that the caves were used more for storage and as places to retreat to when some of the nomadic bands in the area were raiding. My grandson and daughter climbed into the ruins on the cave walls. I went back to the Visitor's Center where there was a nice, toasty fire, and I could converse with the Rangers and listen in on Tourist questions.

The one ruin inaccessible in winter in the area of the Visitor's Center requires a climb up 140 feet of ladder. Not a good idea just after a snow storm.

Almost all the canyons feeding into the Rio Grande Basin were occupied by Indians of the Pueblo culture at one time or another.

San Idlefonzo and the associated Santa Clara Pueblos claim to have migrated from Bandelier, but I think the Ranger was saying not from the Frijoles Canyon ruins themselves. The Cochiti Pueblo and the associated Pueblos of Santo Domingo and San Felipe also claim to have descended from the Indians of the Bandelier area. The last group to claim descent is the far-off Zuni Nation. I keep trying to get all the Pueblos straight without much success. Who knows which of the Pueblos destroyed by the Spanish after 1680 also descended from Bandelier?

Looking down on the ruins from the rooms in the cliff.

I think most of the Pueblo ruins were probably not abandoned at one time. (Except of course the ones we know historically.) Most likely as the population grew, groups moved off to found new Pueblos where there was room to farm. Why any one place was abandoned is still unknown, but the story of the Pecos Pueblo which was documented in historic times is instructive. The Pueblo got down to 17 people. Too small a base to support life in the desert. The last survivors migrated to Jemez Pueblo which still honors some of the Pecos Pueblo traditions. Pecos Pueblo is a little unique. Because of their position, they traded extensively with and were raided extensively by the nomadic Comanche Indians. See for a fuller account of this Pueblo.

My son spied some deer and photographed them. My daughter photographed a Rufus-sided Towhee, AKA a Canyon Towhee. None of us saw the rabbit-eared Abert's Squirrels for which the area is famous.

We headed back to Santa Fe and another trip to Target for things not packed.

We had a great dinner at Tortillas Flats. My diet is not going well.

Afterwards we drove through the main square and to the Canyon Drive area to look at the Christmas lights. Quite a few other people had the same idea. It was lovely.

The Novel above is The Delight Makers by Adolph Bandelier.

Notice the netting on the cliff in this photo. It is there to protect the road from falling rocks.

Tomorrow: Taos Pueblo