Lunch in Truth or Consequences,
Dinner in Santa Fe
We left El Paso on I-10 northward, changing to I-25 at Las
Cruces, where I-10 turned west again. I-25 took us
north past Albuquerque. At Truth or Consequences, NM, we stopped for lunch. It
was an hour earlier than we thought, because although the western tip of Texas is on Mountain Time, our time in El Paso had been so relaxed that neither of us
thought to reset or even look at our watches. We walked into the Town Talk Café
looking for something bland, like a tuna fish sandwich, but — finding that
everything on the menu had a pretty heavy grease component —we gave up and
ordered fried-egg sandwiches. They came with lettuce and tomato, and with
mayonnaise on both sides, something neither of us had expected. Dorothea
loathes mayonnaise, and I explained this diplomatically to the waitress, who
took the sandwich back and in due course produced a brand new one, virginally
innocent of mayo. Dorothea declared the French fries the best on the trip so
far, and rewarded my advocacy by donating some of hers, as well as half of her
As far as I know, no diner in New England would put lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise by
default on a fried-egg sandwich. We had entered a land where, it appeared,
different conventions reigned, and we resolved to be more vigilant (and more
Back on the road, we drove through rolling desert hills
green-spotted with clumps of what we decided must be sagebrush. Interesting
looking mountains loomed in the distance on either side. The Rio Grande was
rolling along beside us for much of the way (though of course in the opposite
direction). It was occasionally visible in liquid form where it crossed under
the highway or was dammed into a reservoir, but usually it was evident only as
a band of thicker, darker, greener vegetation.
New Mexico highway signs sometimes invite the driver to engage in philosophical
speculation by stating the proposition “Gusting winds may exist.” Often the signs have a small windsock attached to provide empirical assistance in
dealing with this issue. Gusting winds certainly did exist as we climbed up to
the Colorado Plateau. Santa Fe, which we were now approaching, sits at an
elevation of 7,000 feet.
Our motel was a little south of the city, and we reached it
late in the afternoon. Dorothea phoned her friend Nancy, who had moved here
from Massachusetts, and we agreed to meet at the Plaza in the center of town, after which
we strolled around for a while looking at the famous Santa
Fe adobe architecture and occasionally poking into a shop.
Some art galleries were having openings on this Friday evening, and one of them
had a mariachi band playing for their guests on a balcony above the street.
We ate at The Shed — very good Mexican food that included
blue corn tortillas and tacos. Dorothea and I were leery of the famously hot New
Mexico chile sauces, and took our red chile (the
milder variety) on the side. I cautiously applied increasing amounts to my taco
(unspiced chicken filling) and enchilada (cheese filling) and found that
the sauce had a dark, complex taste in addition to its hotness, which was far
from extreme in the small quantity I tried. I drank a good “Santa Fe Pale Ale”
they had on draft. For dessert we all had mocha cake with genuine whipped
cream. The cake was frozen — on purpose, though I don’t know why — but it was
Afterwards we went to see Nancy’s
new house, built in the local adobe style. We met her sister and
brother-in-law, who live near Albany and were visiting her in the course of a
somewhat shorter version of our own trip.
Over the Hills to Taos
The next morning, the high road to Taos took us into the Sangre de Cristo mountains — a name
that, it seemed to me, only Mel Gibson could love. The high road began when we turned aside from the main route just before Espanola. We found ourselves on a smaller road that began climbing into the mountains.
On the way, it took us through Chimayo, where we stopped at Trujillo's Weaving shop.
We found samples of local weaving as well as a modest but nice selection
of pottery and jewelry. Weavers work at the shop on weekdays, but as this was
Saturday none were present. Dorothea bought some woven coasters and a purse, and I
found a Navajo pottery turtle (with the water serpent carved on its back) that
would make a nice birthday present for my friend Adrian, for whom the turtle is
a personal totem.
As we climbed higher into the mountains near Truchas, the temperature dropped
and we noticed that the deciduous trees were just putting out their spring
leaves. We passed signs warning us to watch out for elk or falling rocks — or
maybe it was rocks or falling elk — but we saw neither. Taos is lower down,
sitting on a flat plain at the foot of the high mountains. Only sagebrush grows
wild in the sandy soil there.
Despite a leisurely pace that had us frequently pulling over
to let others pass, we arrived in Taos at 12:30, too early to check into our
motel. We drove into the town to eat lunch at the Bent Street Deli: flour
tortilla wraps full of turkey, bacon, guacamole, green chilis, and salsa. Just
enough heat but not too much, though like others of their kind the sandwiches
dripped liquid down our arms as we ate. (“I need a bath,” said Dorothea when
After lunch we walked down to and halfway around the Plaza,
where the town was celebrating the 70th anniversary of its
incorporation by rededicating its Bataan monument. We
paused respectfully for the National Anthem, but otherwise paid little
attention to the ceremony. The fancier shops were temporarily closed in its
honor, but we browsed in a couple that sold cheap trinkets, one of them
advertising “everything at half-price.” Dorothea found a cute Peruvian owl that
she thought perhaps our friend Connie (a collector of cat and owl art) didn’t already have, and I found Adrian another
turtle, tiny but very cute, even if it did
come from a Chinese factory.
By now it was half past two,
and we suddenly realized that Taos Pueblo would be closed to the public in two
hours. So, even though all our stuff was still in the car, off we went. I
felt slightly ambivalent about visiting, fearful that I might unintentionally commit some dreadful
gaffe and offend a Native American, or that I might find the pueblo squalid and
have to go through hideous liberal agonies to suppress this impression. But
Dorothea was keen to go, and so was I, really. Admission was $10 per adult and $5 per camera.
We decided to take only Dorothea’s relatively inconspicuous camera, so she did
all the Pueblo photography.
The adobe structures were beautiful, though you might not
think so if you feel that beauty requires perfection, pristine newness,
or a flawless background. There were plenty of dogs, dirt, beat-up cars, and kids dressed in
most un-Indianlike outfits. Nevertheless, Taos Pueblo is a beautiful place. About 150
Pueblo Indians live there; a larger number live elsewhere in the area but
consider the pueblo their cultural and spiritual center and come there for
festivals and religious ceremonies.
We took a short tour narrated by a lovely and articulate young woman. I was highly impressed, and as we neared the end of the
tour, I mentioned to Dorothea that I had a five-dollar bill ready for a tip. I
expected a protest that we couldn’t afford such extravagance, but she responded
“Have you got a ten?” I had.
More Adobe and Chile
Before checking in at the motel, we drove a few miles south to
the village of Ranchos de Taos to see the lovely adobe church of San Francisco
de Asís — better known to most of us as St Francis of Assisi. The church is
surrounded by a tiny plaza where several other buildings are also
constructed in the traditional adobe style.
When we finally checked into our motel, it was ten minutes
to five. We rested a bit, then returned to the town for dinner at Eske’s Brew
Pub, where they served us a reasonable facsimile of Tandoori chicken on basmati
rice, fresh spinach in a currylike sauce, and grilled pita bread in the role of
nan. Not quite South Asian, but good. I had an excellent Mesa Pale Ale, then tried
a glass of “Why Rye?” ale. It was good, but not as congenial as the pale ale, so I
had another of those, ordering a bowl of their green chile stew, because
(perhaps emboldened by alcohol) I wanted to find out if New Mexican green chile
really was too hot for me. This wasn’t — at least with the accompanying
tortilla to bite into — but I know there are far more rigorous versions.
North to Colorado
Oh, misery — the “basic” continental breakfast at the Taos
Days Inn. The proprietors were neophytes, a young family who had been
at it only a few months. Everything was scrupulously clean, but they didn’t
seem to know a lot about what motel guests expect. The breakfast was a good
There was peanut butter, jelly, and margarine to spread on
the bread, but no knives to spread it with, only spoons and forks. The woman at
the desk told us they were planning to order some. There were styrofoam bowls
for cereal, but no plates to hold bread or toast while you were attempting to
butter it. There were two or three kinds of sugar-coated cold cereal, and a
couple of flavors of instant oatmeal, but there was no milk to put onto or into
anything — nothing but powdered nondairy creamer. I don’t even
like the stuff in coffee, but on cereal?
Basic wasn’t quite the word for it.
It was a beautiful morning, however, and the drive soon
cheered us up. A few miles west of Taos we crossed the Rio Grande where it has
cut a deep gorge into the Colorado Plateau. The steep-sided canyon — almost invisible
until you get right up to it — was quite spectacular, at least to travelers who
had not yet seen the Grand Canyon.
The drive to Durango was pleasant, and quite beautiful — through Tres Piedras and over the Tusas Mountains, through woods where snow
was still visible at the margins, past trees with young leaves, or feathery
infant leaves, or no leaves at all, depending on the altitude. All the rivers
and streams were lively with recent snowmelt. We took some pictures, but mostly
just said Wow. At Chama,
NM, near the Colorado line, where the elevation was 7,766 feet, we crossed the Continental Divide for the first time.
Colorado, we stopped in Pagosa Springs and got sandwiches for lunch. We also
bought a few gifts in a very nice jewelry (etc.) store that we happened to park
in front of.
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This section last updated 12-13-2004