In this second episode of our Taos visit during July 2021, we visit the Taos Plaza and Kit Carson Home and Museum.
The plaza is the place to be for gatherings, the farmers market (May through October), live music, parades, demonstrations, and art displays. Surrounding the plaza are various shops, studios, and galleries. A day or so before we arrived, there was a big to-do because city staff had mistakenly covered up a public art display in the crosswalks. Oops! Sorry! What else could the city say?
From a distance, the gazebo looked in fine shape. Although, a closer look revealed trip hazards of broken and sunken bricks in the walkway.
The veteran’s memorial recognizes all military branches. The black cross is dedicated to New Mexican service members involved in the Bataan Death March during WWII.
Prominently displayed nearby is a statue of Padre Antonio Jose Martinez (1793-1867). He is recognized as a person of influence in New Mexico’s history through the Spanish, Mexican, and American territorial periods.
Here are a few buildings that surround the plaza. Some of them are holding up pretty well, while others are showing their age.
The Hotel La Fonda de Taos is an appealing-looking place to stay. Hotels have occupied the site since 1820 when a mercantile store that also rented rooms opened. According to the website, a recent renovation of the building retained many historical features while including modern amenities for 21st-century travelers.
One store had emptied out its stock, and a sign in the window said it had to close because of pending demolition. Further research revealed the building, which once served as the former county courthouse, was slated for demolition and renovation.
The building includes ten murals created by four Taos artists in 1934 under the commission of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). I had to look them up online because we couldn’t see them in person. I hope the contractors can save the paintings from destruction. It would be a shame to lose such a treasure. To see the murals, go to The Living New Deal.
Lunch at The Alley Cantina
After walking around the plaza and visiting Kit Carson’s home, our stomachs growled with hunger. Our map app led us away from the plaza, down an alley, and past Taos Adobe Quilting to The Alley Cantina. We ducked in for a plate of chicken enchiladas and adovada, a red chile pork stew. Both were delicious, as were the margaritas.
Kit Carson Home and Museum
The Kit Carson Home and Museum (owned by Bent Lodge No. 42 of Taos and operated by the Kit Carson Memorial Foundation) seemed like an excellent place to soak up a bit of history, so we sought it out.
One might think Kit Carson would have found a fancy mansion for his family. Not so. As I walked through the four rooms, I tried to imagine seven children running around, plus several Indian children Carson took in after he rescued them from their captors and countless other extended family members from time to time.
We started our visit with a movie where several of us gathered along with a docent. When the movie ended, she told other stories of the man and his family and described the home, explaining the use of the various rooms.
She led us through the four small rooms, stopping to point out photos, memorabilia, and artifacts. Much of the furniture was not original to the home because Carson’s heirs sold off most of the belongings along with the house when he died. Luckily, collectors have donated some of the objects back to the museum.
Kit Carson purchased the adobe home in 1843 as a wedding gift for his bride, Josefa Jaramillo. They lived there for twenty-five years, although Carson traveled extensively while on scouting trips with John C. Fremont and serving as an Indian Agent and Army Officer during the Civil War.
Historical photos show a humble home in this circa 1863 photo
A 1920 photo shows the home when one room housed a licensed Indian Trading Post.
Thanks go out to the masonic lodge and foundation for having the forethought to purchase the home in 1910 and turn it into a museum to honor their Freemason brother, Kit Carson.
Murals are a common sight in historic towns, and Taos was no exception. Across the street from the Kit Carson Home and Museum, I spied the mural shown below.
When we returned to our campsite at Taos Canyon Stop, we found a not-so-nice surprise. Before we left for the day, Jon had secured the awning to our picnic table to keep it from flying away during the afternoon wind. What we didn’t count on was a hail storm rolling through the canyon that unleashed rocks of ice the size of marbles. Rain we expected. Hail? No way.
On the bright side, replacing the awning fabric gave Jon a project to work on when we got back home.
Next up: Red River, Cimmaron, and Cimmaron State Park
A 30-mile drive southeast of Santa Fe to Pecos National Historical Park (PNHP) made the park an easy drive for a day trip. PNHP’s mission is to preserve “the natural and cultural resources” by stabilizing and repairing existing buildings.
We started our tour by watching the introductory film in the kiva-style theater and exploring the displays in the visitor center. Then we picked up the Ancestral Sites Trail Guide and ventured outside.
Signs along the trail matched the guide, which allowed us to learn more about the people who called this place home for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
Four churches, or conventos, were built outside of the pueblo, with the first built in 1617-18. A second larger church built in 1625 was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. A third one-room church replaced the one destroyed. What we see today are ruins of the fourth church, completed around 1717, that sits upon land where the second church stood.
Archaeologists believe the village once supported up to 2,000 people. The first encounter with the Spanish occurred in 1540, when a scouting party from Francisco Vazquez de Coronado’s expedition came on the scene. Fifty-eight years later, the Spanish returned with settlers and Franciscan priests.
The technique currently used to preserve the church is encapsulation, whereby park staff make bricks on site—using original methods—then encase the original adobe bricks. Another technique is to apply a coat of mud plaster to prevent further weathering of the original bricks.
Bandelier National Monument
A fifty-mile drive took us to Bandelier National Monument, another site populated by ancestral pueblo people. Except at this site, it appears the people abandoned the village during the mid-1500s. Thus Bandelier avoided Spanish influence and populated settlements that could have destroyed the ruins.
We picked up the Main Loop Trail Guide and followed the numbered spots through Frijoles Canyon on the 1 ¼ mile trail.
The trail guide described the kiva as having a roof supported by six wooden pillars with ladder through the roof used as the entrance. The guide continued, “Imagine climbing down the ladder into a darkened room, flickering torches offering the only light, people sitting on the floor and along the walls.”
Edgar Lee Hewett, an educator and archeologist is responsible for the designation of Frijoles Canyon as national monument. His efforts began in 1899 and continued for 17 years until President Woodrow Wilson designated 22,400-acres for the monument on February 11, 1916.
From above, the scale of the community is brought to life with each square of brick walls representing a home or storage area that may have risen two or three stories in places.
The cliffs are made of volcanic tuff. The inside walls of the dwellings would have been plastered, and the ceilings smoke-blackened to make the tuff less crumbly.
The people who lived here had a life expectancy of 35 years. The average women stood five feet tall and men averaged five feet six.
Within the boundaries of the Pueblo de Cochiti Nation on the Rio Grande, sits Cochiti Lake and Dam.
Inside the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) visitor center, we found displays detailing the dam and lake’s history along with their role in controlling flood and sediment along the Rio Grande System.
The earthen fill dam is 50 miles north of Albuquerque, the 23rd largest dam in the world, one of ten largest dams in the US and one of four United States Army Corp of Engineers projects for flood and sediment control on the Rio Grande System.
Outside is a loop trail with views of the lake and dam.
Controversy seems to pop up in places we visit, especially in locations involving tribal groups. Without going into too much detail, agreements were required between the government and the Cochiti Keres Pueblo, promises were made, promises were broken, and a sacred place was destroyed. Who’s heard this theme before?
Besides the destruction of a sacred place, the Cochiti Keres Pueblo lost significant tracts of agricultural land and had to fend off encroachment by a developer in order to protect their land and way of life. ACOE made a public apology to Cochiti Keres nearly twenty years later in 1994 for destroying a plot of land ACOE promised to protect, and the federal government paid to restore the agricultural land.
Overall management of the Cochiti Lake area now rests with both the Cochiti Keres Pueblo and ACOE under a 2008 agreement. I wonder how the situation would have turned out had the federal government invited the Nation to join them back in 1950. Sadly, we’ll never know.
Besides the colorful rocks, shrubs and cactus, along the trail, hikers may even find a snake hanging out in a bush.
Next up: We wrap up our time in Santa Fe before packing up and heading north to Taos.
Santa Fe Railyard Arts District and Guadalupe Historic Area
We set out to replenish our fresh fruits and vegetables on Saturday, June 26, 2021, and found a thriving Farmer’s Market in the Santa Fe Railyard Arts District. Still feeling jittery around crowds without masks, we grabbed what we needed and left. The market runs year round on Saturdays and on Tuesdays from May through November.
The main objective for our visit to the Railyard the following Wednesday was to see the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. On our walk toward the sanctuary, we strolled along the nearby streets, admiring the adobe houses and other buildings unencumbered by herds of people.
The Guadalupe District is listed as one of the oldest neighborhoods in Santa Fe. It became a farming market place in 1880 when trains arrived. The prevalence of the automobile and decline in rail travel led to the community’s decline.
In the 1960s, vitality emerged, and the district continued to thrive. In response to the return of train service when the Railrunner Express came to town in 2008, the city kicked off the transportation district revitalization project. Preservation of a public space, local history, and culture were among the project’s priorities.
I recently read John Grisham’s Camino Island and Camino Winds that featured a book seller who traded in collectible books as the protagonist. So when I saw the Beastly Books sign advertising collectibles and autographed books, I had to duck in and take a look.
Fans of A Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin’s other titles would love this bookstore. Martin’s books and books by other authors who write in science fiction, fantasy and horror genres fill the shelves in Beastly Books.
From the coffee bar in the corner came the aroma of fresh brewed coffee that followed us throughout the store as we admired the collection of memorabilia.
Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the oldest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary that is still standing. The shrine commemorates Mary’s four apparitions in 1531 to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian from Tepeyac, Mexico. The twelve foot statue, Dona Georgina Farias’s Nuestra Señora (Our Lady) de Guadalupe, was installed in 2008.
The sanctuary, originally built by Franciscan missionaries between 1776-95, was constructed on a Latin cross floor plan like other churches and cathedrals. The adobe building had a flat roof, walls three feet thick, and a dirt floor. At some point, a pitched roof covered the flat one, and a spire replaced the original adobe bell tower.
A fire in June 1922 destroyed the church’s roof, collapsed the spire, and damaged painted frescoes inside. The walls and altar survived. Saved from the fire is one of the most valuable treasures in the church, the altar screen. The painting, signed by Jose de Alzibar, a renowned painter from Mexico, depicts Our Lady of Guadalupe in the center. The images in the four corners represent the 1531 encounters with Juan Diego.
The church was rebuilt and used continually until 1961, when the new church opened next door. A restoration project in 1976-78 added a bell tower and a new wooden floor.
The chapel is now used as an art history museum that contains Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s collection of New Mexican Santos (carved images of the saints) Italian Renaissance paintings, and Mexican baroque paintings. The chapel celebrates mass daily and is a place of prayer.
On our way back to the truck, we stopped in at Iconick Coffee Roasters to see if they had decaf coffee beans. Music played in the background, and most of the headphone-wearing patrons sat in front of laptops. When a few of the coffee drinkers looked up, their faces seemed to say, “What are you doing in here?” which gave me an eerie feeling.
A similar vibe came from the three baristas who stood behind the counter. None of the young men looked busy, nor did they smile or acknowledge our presence until Jon asked if they sold decaf beans. We made our purchase and left out the back door as soon as we could.
We used the beans a few days later and were sorry we hadn’t sampled the coffee before buying. It was a light roast, and we prefer darker varieties. A lesson learned.
A few blocks down the street from Iconik we found Boxcar Bar and Grill where we ate lunch. This was a great people-watching place with soccer fans cheering and groaning as the action played out on the big screens and busy servers dodging patrons who got in their way as they ran from table to table taking orders, delivering drinks and food, and checking to see if all was well. I suspect they kicked off their shoes and passed out on the couch when they got home after their shift.
What we didn’t have time to explore at the Railyard were the seven contemporary art galleries, nor did we join the historic walk which is offered during the summer months on Tuesdays. These are activities we have added to our list if we ever make it back to Santa Fe.
Next up: We take a few day trips to see more historical sites.