Lunch in Truth or Consequences,
Dinner in Santa Fe

Click to enlarge this route mapWe 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 sandwich.

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 explicit) thenceforward.

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.

Dorothea and Nancy in a shop -- click to enlargeOur 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 also wonderful.

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

Click to enlarge this route mapThe 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.

Trujillo's -- click to enlargeOn 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.

Snowy mountains in the distance -- click to enlargeAs 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 she finished.)

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.

Taos Pueblo

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.

Taos pueblo -- click to enlargeThe 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

San Francisco de Asís -- click to enlargeBefore 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

Click to enlarge this route mapOh, 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 example.

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.

Rio Grande gorge -- click to enlargeIt 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.

Melting snow in the Tusas Mtns -- click to enlargeThe 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.

Once into 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

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