Saturday, August 9, 2014

Land of Enchantment

Moonrise over Hernandez, Ansel Adams 1941
New Mexico really was the land of enchantment for me in the summer of 1986, when I lived and Santa Fe.  I was working on a set of historic annotated drawings for the San Antonio Missions.  I had to wade through Jake Ivey's Historic Structures Reports and reduce his volume of research down to bite-sized information on the Historic American Buildings Survey drawings that had been done several years before.  Jake was stationed at the NPS headquarters in Santa Fe.

He was also working on a Historic Structures Report for the Salinas Pueblo Missions to the South of Santa Fe, which I visited among many other sites that summer.  I became pretty well versed in pueblo architecture, not only the latter Spanish pueblos but the much earlier pueblos of the native Americans.

Taos, Ansel Adams 1941
For lack of a better word, they were known as the pueblo builders.  The most famous of pueblos is in Taos, a short drive north from Santa Fe along the Rio Grande, which connects the chain of pueblos through the heart of the state.  Taos dates back to at least the 11th century.  The adobe walls tower four stories in height with its famous blue doors and window trims.  There is a Spanish mission there like there is at all the pueblos, which dates from the late 16th century.  The missionaries were all kicked out in the famous Pueblo Revolt of 1680.  For a short time, life returned to its old roots among the Pueblo Indians, but eventually the Spanish came back and re-established their authority.

Santa Fe became the administrative seat for the territorial government, but it was too vast a land holding to keep other settlers out.  The Republic of Texas tried to claim all the land as far as the Rio Grande in 1836, but since much of this land was controlled by the Comanche, it proved pretty hard to hold onto.  It wasn't until 1846 that Stephen W. Kearny took control of the region following the Mexican War and established a U.S. provisional government there.  Still, conflicts arose because this was a well settled land, and the native population didn't recognize the authority of the United States.

New Mexican woman, Ansel Adams 1937
New Mexico still feels like a land apart.  I remember the local paper liked to joke that it was the Forgotten State since most Americans either considered it still a part of Mexico or Texas.  For such an old region of the country, New Mexico had a surprisingly long journey toward statehood.  The first attempts began in 1850 but it wasn't until January 6, 1912 that its statehood was finally recognized.  I suppose this was in part due to the odd mix of people and the fervent nationalism that gripped the country.

I found myself reading John Nichols' New Mexico Trilogy, best known for the first book, The Milagro Beanfield War, which was made into a movie.  The cast of characters made New Mexico into a bit of a "Hobbit land," but his later novels were much darker in character as land development became the dominant theme.  New Mexico was a rapidly transforming state.

Georgia O'Keefe and Orville Cox, Ansel Adams 1937
Nichols was just one of the latest in many artists and writers who drifted to New Mexico and never left.  Ansel Adams captured many indelible images.  Georgia O'Keefe similarly made the state her home and inspiration.  The Millicent Rogers Museum brings together past and present in a fascinating range of artwork over the centuries.

Tourists come in droves to Santa Fe and Taos.  Santa Fe had since been "puebloized" to make it look more "authentic," but it had once been an eclectic mix of Victorian and pueblo architecture.  Albuquerque to the south was a sprawling modern city best known for its annual Balloon Fiesta.  The suburban sprawl was hemmed in to some degree by the Sandia Mountains.  You can take a drive or a tramway to the top and get a magical view.  I preferred the small towns like Cerrillos, which still retained their local character.  It seemed like a short bike ride from Santa Fe, but I just about melted in the sun getting there.  So much for the "dry heat."

I ventured to the Southern edge of the state on other occasions.  I took my family through Carlsbad and Roswell in 1999, skirting by the Guadalupe Mountains.  I couldn't resist not showing them the famed hub of alien activity.  We stayed at an old ranch between the two that purportedly Jesse James had stopped off at one point.  We drove North above White Sands, eventually reaching El Morro, where I had a friend who worked as a park ranger.

Ansel Adams, 1942
The range and diversity of the state is truly amazing.  I imagined us settling down here at some point, but that hasn't happened yet.  The various journeys are ingrained in my imagination.  I remember driving back to Santa Fe one evening and noticing a bright light on the horizon.  I expected to see the outskirts of the city, instead a huge moon slowly rose over the mesa.  The biggest I had ever seen.  It flooded the night sky.  Yes, this really was the land of enchantment.

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