Arriving in New Mexico, we drove past an Earthship community. “Earthships” are off-grid and self-sufficient houses made mainly from old car tires, bottles and other waste material. The “ships” as they are called are built half under the earth and have a year-round indoor temperature around 21 degrees. Standard features include a greenhouse where vegetables and fruit are grown and electricity is generated from the sun and wind. How much nicer do you want it? Having had the idea of a tiny house in our heads for a while ourselves, we found the tour of one of these “Earthships” very interesting.
We drove on over one of America’s most beautiful steel bridges that spans the Rio Grande here. Tomorrow we would visit the town of Taos.
For us, Taos is a gateway to the Spanish-Mexican culture that makes up New Mexico. One of the oldest communities of Native Americans mixes here with Mexican emigrants, artists and dropouts. The entire town consists of adobe houses, whether café or bank, all buildings are built in this style with adobe. We walked through the city centre around the old Spanish Plaza. One gallery follows the next, many people sit relaxed outside and drink coffee. Spanish conversations can be heard everywhere; we almost felt a bit like we were in Mexico already. After our stroll, we actually wanted to visit Taos Pueblo, where the indigenous people of this region have lived for 800 years. What stopped us was a road sign saying “Road closed – Tuesdays and Wednesdays for residents only”. A pity, but nothing could be done about it.
We set off in the direction of Santa Fe and chose the Taos High Road, which did not lead us directly, but through fantastic scenic areas and several pueblos in this region. The pueblos are old villages of the Pueblo Indians, the indigenous people of New Mexico, whose traces we could already admire in the Mesa Verde National Park. The first destination was Picuris Pueblo, formerly one of the most powerful pueblos in this region. But here too we had bad luck, again a signboard with “Road closed”. So we continued to Las Trampas, where we enjoyed our lunch stop in front of the beautiful Church of San José de la Gracia. We could only catch a glimpse of the interior of the church, built in 1760, because restoration work was being carried out. What we saw, however, was very impressive.
In Chimayo we visited the “Lourdes of America”, the pilgrimage site Santuario de Chimayo. The whole place radiated a lot of peace and the small adobe-style chapel was somehow quaint. Pilgrims visit this sacred site hoping for healing, salvation or happiness for themselves or one of their loved ones, thousands of whose pictures were on the walls. It is considered to be the most important Catholic pilgrimage center in the United States. In a small room inside the church is a round pit, the source of the “holy dirt”, which is believed to have healing powers. Many visitors to the church take a small amount of the “sacred soil” with them, often hoping for a miraculous healing for themselves or someone who could not make the journey. In the past, the pilgrims often ate the soil. Today, those seeking healing tend to rub the soil on their skin or simply keep it.
Our last stop was the Nambe Pueblo, but here too there was not a soul to be seen. Instead, we admired bizarre tuff landscapes, which were sacred territory for the indigenous people and therefore fenced off. The drone helped us to take some nice photos, anyway. Our drive on the Taos High Road ended in Santa Fe, one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the USA. Tomorrow we will go exploring here.
The great thing about Santa Fe is that new buildings are also built in the typical pueblo style. Admittedly, they are no longer built from bricks and clay. More modern techniques are used, of course, but the building style and color match those of earlier times, giving this city a totally different look from other cities in the US. Looking for the central plaza, we walked past cozy restaurants, coffee shops and boutiques. We read that Santa Fe mainly attracts the upper-class tourist which was reflected in the offerings. Brands like Breitling and Rolex were present and a rug made of mountain sheep fur was also something else than a cheap rug from IKEA. Our budget was sufficient to have a regular coffee at the French-looking La Fonda restaurant.
On the plaza, a Native American performed in traditional costume. Supported by traditional music, he danced as if a powwow had been organized. We closed our eyes and imagined a prairie landscape ourselves. Between dances, he talked about the past and present of the indigenous people and how important culture is to them and that they have only been allowed to express it again since the 1970s.
About five kilometers away is the Santa Fe Museum Hill. On this elevation from where one has a nice view over the valley, one can visit four museums. We were interested in the life of Native Americans in this area and visited the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. The exhibition consisted of two parts. In the first part, we learned what an important role ‘pottery’ played in the culture of the Pueblos. Large and small jars or vessels made of clay and painted with the most beautiful motifs all told their own story. Some jars were more than 120 years old and had been through a few things.
The second part covered the lives of the Natives who have inhabited this region for hundreds if not thousands of years. Using ancient props, videos and recreated homes and trading posts, customs were explained. After five months of travelling across Canada and America, we have already learned a lot about the original inhabitants of this land. It is interesting to see that customs change a little bit each time and adapt to the area where they live.
On our way to Albuquerque, we drove on the Interstate through a desert landscape. Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico and spreads across much of the valley. Since arriving in America, we had been toying with the idea of eating at a typical Diner. One sometimes sees Diners in American films. A restaurant where you sit on benches like in a train compartment; and where a cheerful lady with an apron carries the coffee pot through the dining room to serve the guests. Where better to do this than along Route 66? Route 66 has now been transformed into a boring but comfortable Interstate between Chicago and Los Angeles, but some parts are still like the old days.
An original stretch runs right through Albuquerque where the Route 66 Diner keeps the folklore alive. Like the disappearance of the old Route 66, so do the Diners, which are mostly bought up by fast-food chains. The Route 66 Diner is a striking appearance. The typical building still exudes nostalgia and with music by Elvis, we were already put in the mood outside. Upon entering, the bright colors hurt our eyes at first. Bright green, yellow and red is the standard. A lady in work apron showed our place and slowly we got used to the surroundings. Fifty years back in time, we had our dinner tonight. With a full belly and richer with experience, we left the Diner and headed for a truck stop along the 66 where we would spend the night.
Given the moisture on the inside of our windows and the thin layer of ice on the outside, it had been a cold night. After the last sip of coffee, we drove inland. In this landscape of rocks and desert plains, it remains a pleasure to drive for miles. Suddenly, a large rock loomed in front of us. The story goes that once the Acoma Pueblos had lived at the top of this giant rock. We couldn’t imagine a safer place to live, but it didn’t seem very practical. The fact is that the Acomas still live atop a rock or Mesa, only a few kilometers away.
From a distance, the houses were already clearly visible. Usually, it is possible to visit this place with a guide. In the visitor centre, we unfortunately were told that the village elders did not yet consider it responsible to allow outsiders in times of Covid. We therefore only visited the museum. This place is the longest continuously inhabited area in America, which we still found special.
We eventually rejoined Route 66. Largely, the 66 has now been replaced by Interstate 40, a boring highway. Occasionally it is possible to drive a section of the original route alongside the highway. That this is more interesting than driving on the highway is probably logical, but the charm the Route 66 will once have had is completely vanished in many villages or small towns. We saw mainly run-down motels or abandoned restaurants along these parts of the Route 66 and there wasn’t hardly any life left.
Near the town of Grants, we left the Interstate once more to drive through desolate no man’s land again. It’s amazing how quickly one feels alone in the world here. We passed the El Morro Historical Monument. Secluded in the bush, a visitor centre has been built where the story of Inscription Rock is told. This ancient route has been used since the 17th century by Natives Americans, Mexicans, conquistadores from Spain and later by white Euro-Americans coming from the east. Evidence of this are the many inscriptions left in the sandstone rock.
We walked a four-kilometer route across the mesa and circled the rock through the back where we tried to decipher the various inscriptions. A bit like today’s graffiti. The intention behind it is the same, everyone wanted to leave their mark. Back at Interstate 40 in Historic 66 town of Gallups, we slept comfortably in a Walmart car park before continuing on to Arizona.