Monday, October 24, 2005

Trip to Taos, NM

Just returned from one of my favorite places on the planet. I've been going to Taos, NM whenever I get the chance for about nine years. I go with my friend Ellen from Dallas. I've been trying to get John out there. He was supposed to go this time, but he had to stay home because of work. Another Dallas friend of ours, Mary Ann and her husband Newell live there most of the year so they hang out with us when we come.

Ellen and I try to stay at the Mabel Dodge-Luhan House when we can. Mabel Dodge was a New York socialite who back in the early 20th century left her third husband and moved to what must have seemed like the moon to her metropolitan circle of friends.

Upon arrival she quickly married Tony Luhan, a Taos Pueblo Indian. During their remaining 40 years, Mabel and Tony's ridge-perched home became a remote salon that drew some of the most brilliant artistic and literary talent of the time--including Georgia O'Keeffe, Ansel Adams, D. H. Lawrence and Edward Weston.

After Mabel and Tony passed in the 1960s, Dennis Hopper owned the house. He shot out the ceramic roosters you see on the roof of the loggia (they've been glued back together).

Now it is a guest house and retreat center. It is a great place to go if you need some creative inspiration.

This is the gate to Mabel and Tony's house. On the right, you can see one of the six large dovecoates that housed Mabel's slew of birds, most of them pigeons. At one time she had a sign outside the wall that said, "Do not honk at the gate. The pigeons don't like it." An art dealer from Chicago stole it back in the 1930s.

We stay in the Gate House if it is available. You can see part of it through the gate and between the gate and the dovecoate. It looks like a hobbit's home from the outside, but it has a kitchen, two living rooms, two bedrooms, two baths, a fenced in patio and two fireplaces. I love building fires in the morning when I am there. The air is so dry that one day I was able to light the fire with a match, half of a grocery sack, and a mid-sized log (we were short on kindlng).

Mabel and Tony planted Cottonwoods all along the water ditch that runs past their house. The water from the ditch has helped these trees grow into giants.

The ditch, which is about 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep looks more like a stream and is actually a tightly regulated irrigation system that flows from the mountain down to the farmers in the valley. There are strict rules that govern who can take water from it, how much and when.

Mary Ann knows a woman from New York who built a house in Taos along a water ditch in an area where she was the only Anglo. She also dug a well at the same time. Soon after the woman dug her well, many of her Hispanic neighbors began to bring her flowers and plants, which they planted in the yard for her. She discovered later what the locals knew all along but were too polite to tell her--if you have a well you can only have ditch rights if you also have a garden, and thanks to her new neighbors, she now had all three.

I couldn't keep my eyes off of this mountain. It is called Taos Mountain by most Anglos. The Taos Indians simply refer to it as "Sacred Mountain", a.k.a. El Monte Sagrado in Spanish. It is big time holy. Because El Monte is on the Taos Peublo reservation, developers cannot touch it, so there is not a single building on it. The mountain towers over Taos valley, and at night when the lights of the village and the stars fill the landscape, there is an enormous mountain-shaped black hole on the horizon.

This is not the biggest mountain I've seen, (it looks even smaller in the photo because we were pretty far away), but it is the only one that has ever felt soulful to me. The atmosphere seems downright deferential to it. Like animals in the Garden of Eden coming to Adam for their names, clouds sidle up to the peak throughout the day. As the wind pushes them along they grab at the hillside. Soon the clouds are stretched, thin and gauzy like little piles of picked through cotton. They settle into their new forms with a pokey amnesia and then just glide blithely away.

One morning we went to a hot air balloon rally. We were going to take a ride, but we didn't want to miss breakfast at Mabel's, which is a BIG selling point for the place by the way. There were about 50 balloons launched. I have photos of them filling the sky, but there was something l liked about this picture of one by itself.

Here are Ellen and Mary Ann with Kathleen Brennan, a Taos photographer. Kathleen is holding her dog, Sarafina. Mary Ann is friends with a lot of Taos artists. She is forever having us drop by their studios unannounced (not much announcing happens in Taos). Artists, like everyone else, love Mary Ann and are always happy to visit. I bought John's Christmas present from her and one of a series of photographs she took of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Gates in New York.

Just one more shot of the landscape. You drive the rim of Valdez to get to Taos ski basin where we hiked on this particular day. Little homes dot the slopes and valley of Valdez like cloves on a country ham. All kinds of folks live here, including Julia Roberts, who Mary Ann says is treated by the locals pretty much the same as anyone else.

If you ever get the chance, take the trek to Taos. Call me and I might just go with you. It is about an hour north of Santa Fe and for my money a lot more intersting and less expensive. I'll get you set up with places to stay and eat as well as things to do. Like a lot of places, its greatest treasures are not to be found in guidebooks. I'm anxious for John to get out there. It is definately one of the few places I could live if we ever had to move.


Blogger Jane said...

Hi Troy,
My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
I was looking for blogs about Taos to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
Hope to hear from you soon!

10:50 AM  

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