Incoming storm in New Mexico. We decided neither bad weather or house painting emergencies would keep us from visiting this amazing state.
April 29 – May 2, 2019 (note the dates – this is a catching up blog from last spring).
I had been wanting to get back to New Mexico for some time. Although we have actually made many stops in the state, it has always seemed like we were just passing through to get to somewhere else or it was just too dang cold to spend any significant time exploring. Last Spring a year ago (2018) we were perched on a hill in the middle of the New Mexican desert writing blog posts and making plans to visit a few nearby spots when we were informed that there were houses back in Atlanta that were in dire need of paint. So we once again hurried through New Mexico and sprinted back east to save an aging Atlanta home from the ravages of time and a couple more weeks of fading and peeling color.
This year we found ourselves at the Colorado/New Mexico border with another month ahead of us before we had to get back to all our pets, friends and peeling paint. Finally, we had our chance to give New Mexico another go. We decided that we wouldn’t answer painting emergency calls, and we would deal with any unpleasant weather that came our way. I had a handful of places I wanted to visit; and surprisingly many of them weren’t our usual three Rs – rocks, ruins, or roadside attractions.
Although New Mexico is the 5th largest state (by area) in the US, its population density is ranked 45th. But still, the people who have lived here have often done so with a passion. We explored a few of these passions in New Mexico – sustainable living, art, and bombs.
Our first stop was at the Earthship community outside of Taos. Earthships are sustainable homes made from recycled materials. If we were to live in a house again, I’d want to build an Earthship. New Mexico probably has the best conditions for an Earthship, but you can find them all over the world, including places like Haiti and Puerto Rico, where funds have been donated to build sustainable hurricane-resistant homes.
Earth Ship has plans for pre-designed and custom-built homes. Homes use renewable energy. have adjustable roof vents, southern facing windows, and used-tire wall construction. We took a tour of this model home.
Earth Ship designer Michael Reynolds continually tries to make the homes more efficient. Here are experimental houses on a two-acre plot. He had to go to the state legislature to get approval to build these.
The northern side of each home is buried in a berm, which reaches up to the rooftop. Water cisterns are buried in the berm. Here you can see the edges of the tire walls. Dirt is pounded compact into each tire, and tires are stacked, creating sturdy walls.
The southern windows allow the sun to heat the homes. There is a combination of plants hanging in pots and plants in an irrigated space by the wall. excess water not used by the plants is filtered and used to flush toilets.
View of the rooftop, which is lined with rubber. It is designed to capture water and drain through a stone filter into a buried cistern. Water can also be delivered by truck during dry spells. Solar panels are mounted on the roof along with a secured box for the battery bank.
Water filtration system.
Another view of the model Earth Ship model home. The tower on the left is a wind generator whose blades spin when the wind comes from any direction.
Rio Grande Gorge
After our visit to Earthships, we headed down the road a bit to the Rio Grande Gorge Rest Area to do a bit of hiking and spend the night.
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge spanning over the Rio Grande is the 10th tallest bridge in the US at 600 feet.
Prayer flags and a rock labyrinth on the trail along the Rio Grande.
People have occupied the area around Santa Fe for at least several thousand years. First, indigenous peoples built pueblos on the current site of the city. Then came the Europeans. They started in 1598 when Don Juan de Oñate came north from Mexico to claim a colony in the region for New Spain. In 1610 Santa Fe was established as the capital of the region, making it the oldest capital city in the US today.
San Miguel Chapel is reportedly the oldest church in the US. It is believed that the original structure was built in 1610 by Tlaxcalan Indians who came from Old Mexico in 1598 with a Spanish contingent led by Don Juan de Oñate.
The church has been rebuilt and restored many times over the last 400 years due to feuds, revolts, and the ravages of time. An elaborate three-tiered bell towner was erected around 1848 and the 780-pound San Jose Bell was installed in the tower around 1956. In 1872 a strong storm struck Santa Fe bringing down the bell tower and the San Jose Bell. Today the bell is on display inside the chapel.
By 1887 the Chapel was in need of serious repair again but there were no funds for the renovation. When the local community heard that there were plans to demolish the church many people came to the rescue adding two two stone butresses to the front of the building, plastering the interior and exterior walls, replacing the mud roof with a tar and gravel one, and adding a new but smaller bell tower.
Around the corner from San Miguel Church is the oldest house in Santa Fe built in 1964. It sits on part of the foundation of an ancient Indian Pueblo dating from around 1200 AD.
Interior view of Santa Fe’s oldest house. The coffin you see in the picture holds the symbolic remains of Juan Espinoza. The legend goes that Juan had fallen love with a beautiful woman named Catalina but had a rival who Catalina favored named Pedro. In order to sway Catalina’s love in his direction Juan visited two witches, Doña Filomena and Doña Lugarda, looking for a love potion. The Doñas mixed him up a tea and assured him that it would work if he followed their strict instructions. First, he needed to kill a pig and eat its raw heart and then take the tea to Catalina and have her drink it. Juan paid the women in gold and left with the potion. But he decided he didn’t like the idea of eating a raw pig’s heart so he skipped that part and headed to Catalina’s house where he drank the tea with Catalina and her father. After a few days of not hearing from Catalina, he ran into a rather jovial Pedro who told him that Catalina had agreed to marry HIM! Pedro jumped on his horse and sped to the witches’ house, burst through their door, accused the women of lying, and demanded his gold back. Of course, the Doñas knew that he hadn’t followed their instructions and refused to return his gold. Juan drew his sword, but one of the witches was quicker and knocked it out his hand with her cane. The other witch grabbed the sword and brought it down on Juan’s neck severing his head from his body. Some Santa Feans say that the headless horseman can be seen riding in front of the Oldest House still looking for his head on moon-lit nights. The headless skeleton in the casket is a plaster of Paris model.
After our trip to Mexico and learning about Mexican artists who had a passion about their environment and country, I wanted to explore great American artists that had similar passions. We found Georgia O’Keefe in New Mexico. Her home and studio in Abiquiú was a bit pricey, so we opted to just visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe.
Ritz Tower, 1928. Georgia O’Keefe’s art career began in the early 1900s. The art dealer and photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, held an exhibition of her work in 1917 in New York. A year later he convinced her to move to New York from South Carolina where she was teaching. Seven years later Stieglitz and O’Keefe married.
Bella Donna, 1939. O’Keeffe is most famous for her close up large scale flower paintings. Of the more than 2000 painting she did over her career 200 of them were of flowers.
Horse’s Skull with White Rose, 1931. Georgia O’Keefe first visited New Mexico in 1917, but didn’t start coming regularly to the state until 1929. She went on many trips into the mountains by packhorse. She collected bones and rocks from the desert to paint.
Kachina, 1931. O’Keefe was fasicinated by these figures sacred to the Hopi and Pueblo peoples of New Mexico. In 1940 she bought a house on Ghost Ranch property, north of Abiquiú and then a second house in 1945 in Abiquiú. She alternated living in New Mexico and New York until 1949. Three years after Stieglitz’s death she made New Mexico her permanent home.
Machu Picchu I. In the 1950s O’Keefe started traveling around the world. she painted many views of scenes from airplane windows.
O’Keefe’s art materials. She moved to Santa Fe in 1985 and died the next year at the age of 98. She was cremated. As she desired, her ashes were scattered on the land around Ghost Ranch.
From Santa Fe we headed to Los Alamos to visit the Manhattan Project National Historic Park and the Bradbury Science Museum.
In 1942 the US was looking to study atomic bomb development. Robert Oppenheimer, among others, advocated a central facility where theoretical and experimental work could be conducted and suggested that the bomb design laboratory operate secretly in an isolated area. Located on a mesa about thirty miles northwest of Santa Fe, Los Alamos was virtually inaccessible and fit the bill. Some of the buildings appropriated for the project still stand. A few of these are open to the public.
Spoiler alert! The atom bomb was built (and used). But the Los Alamos National Laboratory still exists and is still tightly secured. A tour of the Bradbury Science Museum can give you an idea of what the scientists are working on now.
The Ranch School in Los Alamos, NM was established in 1917 to provide wealthy teen-aged boys education with an emphasis on vigorous outdoor activity. One year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the school was told its campus was needed by the War Department. It closed. Some well known attendees were William Burroughs, Gore Vidal, Edward Hall, Arthur Wood and Bill Veeck.
Teacher’s room at the Ranch School. The boys slept on outdoor porches year-round. (It was cold enough to wear coats when we visited in May.)
Hans Bethe’s House on Bathtub Row in Los Alamos. Elite scientists were assigned housing on this short street distinguished by homes that had bathtubs. By the end of the war the population here had grown to over 100K. The race to provide housing and infrastructure during the Manhattan Project never really kept up with the demand.
Rober Oppenheimer’s old house on Bathtub Row is currently occupied, but may be open to the public some day.
– Manhattan Project Museum
During the Manhatten Project Los Alamos was a secret city, protected by the military, and excluded from maps. There was a single post office box, and mail was censored. At the feet of this uniform is a Los Alamos license plate with no information on it but the number 1190.
Many scientists at Los Alamos were Nobel Prize winners. The family of Frederick Reines donated his award so that we could all see what one looks like. You should probably have some good profile pics ready in case the Nobel committee calls you!
Golden caps made to protect Al Graves from his radioactive fillings. He and several others were exposed to radiation in an incident at Los Alamos which killed Louis Slotin.
Artwork showing the sites of nuclear tests from 1045-98. Number of tests for each country is beside the county’s flag. The US wins with 1032 explosions! Total tests 2053. Surprize! Two were done in Lumberton, Mississippi. Click this link to view the video.
– Bradbury Science Museum
We visited the museum in May, 2019. It’s hard for museums to keep displays current when our foreign policy changes on an hourly basis. At this writing, the US was not producing new nuclear weapons. Scientists at Los Alamos are focused on maintaining our existing stockpile.
Enrico Fermi built this mechanical “trolley” which was used to make quick predictions about the paths of sub-atomic particles when an atom was split.
Replica of Little Boy, the gun-type bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Replica of Fat Boy, the implosion-type bomb dropped on Nagasaki.