Chili Dog Road Trip Part 3: Taos, New Mexico

by Becky Burns / Aug 16, 2012 /
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Taos Pueblo, Mabel Dodge, and Carrie Nation – History Lessons for Modern Times

Taos, New Mexico is one of my favorite places in the states. Although it has changed over the many years that I’ve made my pilgrimage there, it remains true thanks to the hard work of many of the local folks to preserve its core. This core is sort of a combination of artist haven, high desert refuge, counter culture jewel, and Pueblo history magic. The land of enchantment does not disappoint in Taos.

 

More beauty in Taos

More beauty in Taos

 

 

Lily had not yet been to New Mexico, so this was a special time for us. Sharing your favorite spot with your daughter last summer, and then your best friend this summer…well, it is just pure bliss. We stayed at Mabel Dodge Luhan house, an historic inn on the edge of the Taos Pueblo land. Mabel’s has a rich history. Mabel Dodge, a New York socialite, entertained Georgia O’Keefe, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence, among others, in her adobe home after she came west and married Tony Luhan, a Native American, her fourth husband. Go Mabel! Her salons in Taos were famous, or infamous, as reported in the NYC newspapers in the 20’s and 30’s. The place was purchased by Dennis Hopper in the 1960’s, and was a draw for musicians, writers, and artists who longed for respite there. Hopper wrote “Easy Rider” while living in the adobe home. Writers have been drawn to this space over the years, and Natalie Goldberg continues to teach workshops there each year. Suffice to say – Mabel’s is quintessential Taos. And Tony’s room, which is where we stayed, is the best room in town. (By the way, thank you Barbaloosa for telling me about this place a long time ago!) A huge sleeping porch surrounded by hundred year-old Cottonwood trees, Tony’s room offers comfort doused with magic.  There’s just something about staying there that sticks with you, helping you find your way. Over and over again I come back, reorienting, and setting the compass for the next year. It always works. And I always find my way forward…and back.

 

On the porch of Tony's room at Mabel Dodge Luhan House

On the porch of Tony's room at Mabel Dodge Luhan House

 

Did D.H. Lawrence really paint these windows?

Did D.H. Lawrence really paint these windows?

 

Mabel's dining room

Mabel's dining room

 

 

Lily and I, intent upon our desire to hear as much live music as possible on this journey, went to the Taos Inn and were not disappointed. Each night we heard good bands, but the second night we heard a GREAT band.  Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy (the name of the band) consists of eight young men, each an unbelievably talented musician. All of their work is original, and it is hard to describe the genre of their music. It doesn’t fit any category, and this, I imagine, is happily their intention. Sounding a bit like funky Cajun, rockabilly folk, and alternative bluegrass, their pace is frenetic, guitar picking as fast and furious as I’ve ever witnessed. A trombone player never misses his rapid-fire notes, and the same goes for the trumpet player. Banjo and mandolin keep on pickin’, a standing string bass is plucked masterfully by a barefoot kid, the drummer sweats with the beat…dang, these guys are good! Oh, did I mention the fiddler? Amazing. The lead singer, whose lyrics were clever bordering on profound at times, had all of our attention. These guys are from Wichita, Kansas and are touring all over this summer. Check out their website: carrienationandthespeakeasy.com and learn a little bit about Carrie Nation.  She was a mean dude, an avid supporter of prohibition who went into bars with an axe to grind, literally. Ripping apart establishments that sold liquor, perhaps she was a factor in the establishment of the speakeasy hideaway. I’m just sayin’…

 

One of our days was spent exploring Taos Pueblo.  The pueblo continues to be a functioning community as it has been for over a thousand years. Low adobe huts, complete with mud cooling mounds, are clustered around a church and graveyard. The pueblo does not have electricity, running water, or indoor plumbing. Scattered about are little storefronts where native artisans sell their wares. Jewelry, pottery, and beadwork are plentiful, and tourists can also try the flat bread, a deep-fried bread that is a staple food in the region. Taos Pueblo is surrounded by hundreds of acres of protected land, much of it sacred to the Native Americans that live there.  The day we went the crowd was light. Many of the artisans enjoyed sharing their stories with us, how they make their pieces, where their grandchildren have gone. I got the feeling that although life in the pueblo continues to change a little with each passing year, the rich traditions remain solid and secure. I left there feeling hopeful.

 

Dogs and wares at the pueblo

Dogs and wares at the pueblo

 

 

Back on the gallery circuit of Taos, Lily and I were surprised to see a dearth of high quality original artwork. Many galleries were selling prints, not original paintings. There were exceptions, of course. We saw a few galleries where the work was astounding. And many of the gallerists were more than happy to spend time with us. So it was a mixed bag. I thought that perhaps some of the artists had simply left to establish themselves outside of the main drag, perhaps on the High Road. We found out later that this may be the case. But first, I need to share another chili dog that weaseled its way into our pathway. One of the galleries we walked into at the end of our day, which was sort of an eclectic place, had bins of prints.  Sitting right on top was a drawing of a very happy dog, gazing eagerly our direction, surrounded by chili peppers floating in the air. His collar read “Chili Dog”! We laughed out loud, and Lily bought it for me to commemorate the trip. As she was purchasing it, the owner of the shop chatted with her about where she lives, and in response, he asked her to turn over the print to read the first line about the artist. Yep, you guessed it. The artist is from Italia. We explained the chili dog road trip to him, and he laughed along with us.

 

Chili dog

 

 

One of our last days in Taos, I decided to take a short cut back to Mabel’s. Given my propensity for short cuts working out as long cuts, we knew that this was a risk. Not more than a block down this new road, we passed a sign that said “Lily’s Café and Garden Center”. We turned around. The place was a charming combination of delectable bakery with a garden and gift shop imparting a New Age tilt, and the flowers were impeccable. We sat down at one of the little tables for iced tea and a piece of blueberry pie, served with clotted cream, just like in England. Oh my. The sun shining through the windows framed with tiny little lacey curtains, we felt as if we’d discovered a treasure. We had a wonderful conversation with the baker, Ginger, who came to Taos from Connecticut. She is a life coach, and suffice to say that we received a complimentary mini-session. Divine. Lily’s Café. Home again.

 

Lily's cafe and garden, Taos

Lily's cafe and garden, Taos

 

 

The next day our intention was to take the High Road from Taos to Santa Fe, a combination of back roads that wind through the mountains, passing artist studios where well known artists are often working and willing to greet visitors. The problem with our plan that day was something that was not typical in northern New Mexico: torrential rains that began early in the morning and just wouldn’t abate. Again, the region sorely needed the rain, so far be it for us to complain. We headed out, but because the rain was so heavy, we just didn’t get far. Plus, it was a Monday, and lots of the studios were closed.

 

Luckily I had the number of a friend of mine who is a painter, Leigh Gusterson, who became successful by showing in top galleries in Taos and Santa Fe. I knew she lived in Penasco, right off the high road, and that she had just finished doing one of her pleine painting workshops that weekend.  So, I called her and she was home! Lily and I drove up to the hills nearby Penasco, and after having a cup of hot tea and looking through Leigh’s portfolio, the rain diminished enough for us to walk out to her studio, which is housed in a yurt nearby her home. Leigh’s paintings are fabulous, brightly colored thick-brushed vistas of New Mexico. I have one of her Rio Grande gorge paintings in my living room. Her style reminds me of Cezanne, one of my favorite impressionists. Anyway, Leigh and Lily had a great time talking art, and I listened. We then found out that Leigh had decided to leave both of the galleries where she had been showing for several years. I imagine her story might be a familiar one to many artists that work so hard to show in a top gallery only to experience a change in ownership and a disheartening shift in support. We listened, and then understood a bit more about why some of what we observed in the galleries in Taos might be happening. The strange power of commercialism is so often a vampire, sucking true expression, true art. Sadly, we shook our heads in recognition.

 

However, it was great to see Leigh, see her dogs, and be reminded of the power of an amazing woman. Her studio will be on the High Road tour in September, and Lily and I have no doubt that Leigh will continue to create success. Her website is leighgusterson.com . Eventually, we took off for Santa Fe, this time opting for a direct route so that we could arrive before dark. The only chili dog we had with us was the little guy on the print in the back seat. Cute little thing, and he doesn’t do a thing to hurt my belly!

 

 

Read Chili Dog Road Trip Part 1: Go West, Young Women!

Chili Dog Road Trip Part 2: Off to the Mountains! 

Chili Dog Road Trip Part 4: Santa Fe 

Chili Dog Road Trip Part 5: Cheyenne, Nebraska, Iowa 

 

 

Becky Burns, our Soulful Traveler editor, is an educator
living in the Chicago area. Her column will give you insight and
inspiration, taking you to the core or essence of the travel experience,
something we all feel as a result of exploration and discovery. Look
for her monthly postings describing local exploits in and around
Chicago, regional road trips in the Midwest, national adventures from
coast to coast, and overseas excursions. You are bound to be inspired
and enriched, nodding your head in agreement as a familiar reminiscence
comes to light again.  You can find her work at beckyburns.com or
soothethespirit.com 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Becky Burns