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New Mexico – Adobe Boho And Arabian Nights

Travel editor Neil Sowerby goes in search of DH Lawrence and the “holy dirt”

Written by . Published on September 4th 2012.


New Mexico – Adobe Boho And Arabian Nights

BACK in Torrey, Utah, there’s a sheriff’s car permanently stationed mid-way along Main Street. It sure slows down traffic tempted to hurtle along that long, straight stretch. Only the locals (population at last count 171) know the moustachioed officer inside is a stuffed dummy, his vehicle a rusting wreck. It’s a ruse.

Dummy In The Sherriff's Car, Torrey, UtahDummy in the Sheriff's car, Torrey, Utah

The black pick-up perched off a lonely blacktop in the Carson National Forest was a real (disguised) speed trap. Alerted by a flashing truck coming the other way, we slowed down and proceeded in a stately fashion, as they say. In 2,500 miles of road trip that was the only live cop we encountered. Spreadeagled over the bonnet, cuffed and cautioned, maybe that was just the stuff of the movies. Natural Born Killers, No Country For Old Men. We missed out.

The epic drives under huge skies, startlingly sapphire blue or all storm clouds billowing in from distant mesas, induce a zen-like combination of exhilaration and creeping weariness. You have a destination – in this case Taos, New Mexico – but for the moment you are lost in the unprecedented emptiness. Count the other cars. Where are they?

Great Watering Hole Inchama, New MexicoGreat road trip watering hole in Chama, New Mexico

Urban intrusion comes as a shock. From the Four Corners where four States converge, this is Native American reservation territory. Farmington and Shiprock gridlock your brain with a bizarre combination of casinos and baptist churches, porn superstores and pawn shops. Ugly. Then suddenly you are out again among picket-fenced grazing land and prosperous ranches. Welcome to New Mexico.

Eventually, after 250 miles of road-tripping, it’s high time to take a break. We landed lucky in Chama, hill country outpost famed for its honey. We passed on the sweet stuff but devoured Odell craft ale from across the border in Colorado and, amazingly, the crispiest  fish and chips I’ve had in years. This mid-afternoon salvation came in the High Country Diner, a lovingly preserved saloon with a jukebox loaded with classic Americana. Springsteen’s Nevada never sounded so bittersweet.

From here it’s a 100-mile mountain journey over to Taos, legendary artists’ and writers’ colony. For over a century the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, our own DH Lawrence and all kinds of exiled European luminaries have holed up here. Today over 30 per cent of its 5,000 population are artists. Would it live up to the hype or be  unbearable?

Until they bridged the Rio Grande Gorge in 1965 it was damned difficult to reach Taos. Hence the Shangri-La reputation – one consolidated by the backdrop grandeur of 12,000ft high mountains, home to the Taos Ski Resort.

Idyllic %26#8211%3B Old Taos GuesthouseIdyllic – Old Taos Guesthouse, with a hammock and folksy interior

Hammock Tome At The Old Taos GuesthouseInside The Guesthouse

We checked in to the Old Taos Guesthouse, a couple of miles above town. We loved the warm informality of it all immediately. Sunset-watching from a hammock, sharing a fabulous Mexican takeaway before slugging beer round a campfire... and then to bed in an wonkily authentic adobe room.

Viva Los Gatos At Adobe Bar, TaosViva Los Gatos at Adobe Bar, Taos

Bopping At The Adobe, Taos InnAdobe – sand, clay water, sticks – is the predominant building material and style. It’s also the name of the Historic Taos Inn’s courtyard bar. That’s an institution. The next night, fuelled by some stinging margaritas, we people-watched as a band called Felix y Los Gatos, up from Alburquerque, rocked the old hippy-rammed dancefloor.

Taos FiestaHealthy eats at the Taos Fiesta; below, young warriors in the next day parade

Young Warriors In The Taos Parade

Outside there was one hell of a hubbub. It was annual fiesta time in Taos, so the chi chi ranks of art galleries were taking a back seat to party time in the historic Plaza. Official population is 5,000, but young and old had flocked in their thousands from the surrounding countryside for the mariachi concerts and parades – and some seriously stodgy eats.

Taos PuebloTaos Pueblo – age-old adobe multi-storey

By day the town’s’s old centre is a civilised place to wander round with museums and a good bookshop, but the only must-see is the Taos Pueblo, four miles outside town. Continuously inhabited for 1,000 years, it’s the USA’s largest inhabited multi-storey adobe structure. Hence its UNESCO World Heritage Centre status. Most of its current inhabitants flog stuff to tourists, but there’s little hassle.

Taos Pueblo Ceramic QuailsTaos Pueblo ceramic quails; below the "new" church and original graveyard

Taos PuebloTaos Pueblo Graveyard

We bought a traditionally fired pot shaped like a quail from a lone stall up by the graveyard after visiting St Jerome’s Chapel with its dazzling white gabled exterior. Inside, the shotgun marriage of Catholic and Native American idolatries is fascinating. The whole of the Pueblo is a beautiful place to linger – and so we did.

Cool Dudes, Arroyo SecoCool dudes chilling in the lunchtime heat, Arroyo Seco; below, Taos maverick

Grass Roots Protest, Taos

The airy plateau around Taos is irresistible. After a sally up to the Alpine forests of the Ski Resort for a Bavarian beer we chilled down below in the decidedly bohemian hamlet of Arroyo Seco, whose hostel is called the Abominable Snowmansion and the Mexican chocolate ice cream from the Taos is something else, man.

On the same wavelength are the Earthships out on Highway 64 – self-sustaining eco savvy houses constructed out of used cars and cans, buried on three sides by earth. You can rent one overnight or just take a guided tour. We drove on in search of one of the original bohemians – DH Lawrence, who in the 1920s lived in a ranch outside Taos.

Taos Magnet Mabel Dodge LuhanTaos magnet Mabel Dodge Luhan and, below, DH Lawrence

Dh LawrenceThe clear, dry air was suited to combat his TB, but the great writer was also in search of a utopian community, so accepted the invitation of a socialite turned art patron called Mabel Dodge McLuhan. She had married a local chieftain but fancied DH and inflicted lots of therapeutic drumming on her guests.

The Dodge Luhan House is today a guesthouse, conference centre and Lawrence shrine  in Taos. In the 1970s Dennis Hopper ran it and entertained Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen; later he came back to die there.

Much more difficult to find is the 160 acre ranch Mabel gave to Lawrence and his wife Frieda. In return she got the manuscript of Sons and Lovers (definitely the better of the deal). A memorial chapel alongside the Lawrences’ cabin holds the writer’s ashes. When they were brought back from Europe Frieda – who was to die in Taos in 1956 – ensured Mabel wouldn’t scatter them by tipping the urn into fresh cement at the memorial.

San Miguel, Santa FeMajestic simplicity inside San Miguel, Santa Fe

The remote complex is now administered the University of New Mexico, but they show no signs of fulfilling any obligations to literary pilgrims (like us). The website of their Physical Plant Department warned it was closed indefinitely for renovation. We heeded not, drove up Highway 522 and then round in circles until a kindly country postmistress told us it was four miles up a dirt track – and heftily padlocked. Back to the campfire.

If Taos is an artists’ colony, then Santa Fe – the oldest US state capital and highest, at 7,000 ft – is an art mecca extraordinaire. The UN named it as the “most creative city” in 2005, thanks to its wealth of galleries and museums and world famous opera.

We reached it via a back country route that is a work of art in its own right, the Taos High Road, stopping off en route at El Santuario de Chimayo, the “Lourdes of the Americas” on a spot of earth famed for its healing properties.

Crutches line the walls of the inner sanctum, where the faithful come to rub on the tierra bendita (holy dirt). Some even mix it with water and drink it. We instead lunched on some classic New Mexican cuisine at the nearby Rancho de Chimayo – a foretaste of the foodie delights awaiting in Santa Fe.

Santa Fe Chic Cowboy BootsSanta Fe chic – cowboy boots that might cost you a packet

This is unlike any city I’ve ever been to in the States. It’s great to wander round on foot or to watch the sunsets from its many rooftop bars and eateries. Any of the places I mention below – all at the affordable level – are terrific. Cowboy chic shopping around the historic Plaza will set you back some, though. Beware the boots. Similarly prices for modern art of the South West in the galleries along Canyon Drive are prohibitive, but I do recommend a great bookshop nearby called Garcia Street Books.

Marble Rooftop Bar In Santa FeWho was that masked man? Marble rooftop bar in Santa Fe

For more obvious souvenirs try the native Americans selling jewellery and pottery beneath the portico of the Palace of the Governors. This is on the leafy Plaza, which dates back over 400 years to the city’s foundation and was once the terminus of the western trading route, the Santa Fe Trail. Rustic chic rules today. The Pueblo Revival of the Eighties is not known as the Santa Fe style for nothing. Along the cottonwood lined avenues of ochre adobe residences there just are no rough edges.

The low-slung city boasts, too, an overwhelming choice of quality museums, many downtown, including the Georgia O’Keeffe, housed in a former baptist church at 217 Johnson Street (www.okeeffemuseum.org) and devoted to the artist whose work most signifies New Mexico.

Santa Fe International Folk Art Museum 6Santa Fe International Folk Art Museum – weird and wonderful

Sata Fe Folk Art Masks

International Folk Art %26#8211%3B South American Crucifix

I’d suggest, though, taking a 15 minute bus ride to the institutions clustered up on Museum Hill. Of these, I particularly recommend the Museum of International Folk Art, which houses more than 10,000 objects from around the world – dolls, puppets, masks, toys, entire handmade cities. Naif, whimsical, bizarre... quite astonishing (www.internationalfolkart.org).

Equally astonishing was our Santa Fe lodging – the Inn of The Five Graces. This collection of suites and rooms straddles a lane in the old Barrio de Analco, five minutes’ walk away from the Plaza. Neighbours include the Santa Fe Playhouse and the atmospheric San Miguel Mission, regarded as the USA’s oldest church site and much more satisfying to visit than the city St Francis Cathedral.

Inn Of The Five Graces Main EntranceInn Of The Five Graces main entrance

But The Graces offers a romantic parallel universe to its Hispanic surrounds. Step inside its heavy wooden doors and you are whisked away into some Arabian Nights fantasy. Owners Ira and Sylvia Seret have created their own personal combo of caravanserai, bazaar and palace.

Inn Of The Five Graces, Our Citrine BedroomInn Of The Five Graces, our Citrine Bedroom and, below, bathroom

Our Bathroom At The Inn Of The Five Graces

The Serets’ love affair with the East that began in Sixties Afghanistan seemed to have found its apogee in our first-floor suite, the Citrine. It offered kilims and dhurries, sumptuous textiles and an Aladdin’s Cave worth of artefacts, with a vast stone fire place and an equally vast carved wood king-size. More practically, grand windows overlooking separate courtyards, a kitchenette and walk-in shower. In the bathroom Sylvia’s richly-hued mosaic tiles ran riot. Yet the sumptuous luxury didn’t seem over the top. You felt – I could get used to all this.

The rest of the Inn – a Relais & Chateaux property – is an equally eclectic mix of Buddhiast, Islamic and Hindu influences with laid-back service. I especially liked the hidden courtyards filled with flowers and vines, fountains and lounge chairs – an oasis of peace. None of this comes cheap. You’d expect to pay $750 a night, including breakfast, for a suite like ours. Special occasion? Yes,but it would certainly be special.

You could imagine you were setting off from here on the Silk Road to Samarkand, but on the fourth leg of our South West States Road Trip we were bound for Route 66 – and a trek along the Grand Canyon. Epic.

Don’t miss the the first two legs of Neil Sowerby’s Road Trip Around The South West States:

www.planetconfidential.co.uk/Abroad/Viva-Vegas-Elvis-And-Us

www.planetconfidential.co.uk/Abroad/Rugged-Road-Tripping-In-Utah

Fact file

Getting there:
Delta (www.delta.com) run flights from Manchester to Atlanta, and Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com) to Orlando and Las Vegas. From all three US airports South West Airlines (http://www.southwest.com) fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico. Santa Fe is just over an hour’s drive away and Taos two and half hours.

We drove directly from Utah to New Mexico, having booked our American car hire through Dollar in the UK: www.dollar.co.uk.

Staying there:
Inn of the Five Graces, 150 E DeVargas Street, Santa Fe NM. www.fivegraces.comThe Inn is a member of the Relais & Châteaux association of the world’s finest hoteliers, chefs and restaurateurs. www.relaischateaux.com www.relaischateaux.com.
Old Taos Guesthouse, 1028 Witt Road, Taos NM. www.oldtaos.com.
Earthship Rentals, Highway 64, Taos. www.earthship.net.
Abominable Snowmansion, Arroyo Seco. www.snowmansion.com.

Eating and drinking:
Guadalajara Grill. Two eateries 822 Paseo del Pueblo Norte and 1384 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Taos. Award-winning Mexican/Latin cuisine. http://guadalajaragrilltaos.com.
Adobe Bar, Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos. With Doc Martin restaurant part of the Old Taos Inn. www.taosinn.com.
Eske’s Brew Pub and Eatery, 106 Des Georges Lane, Taos.
Rancho de Chimayo, County Road, 98. www.ranchodechimayo.com.
Coyote Cantina, 132 Water Street, Santa Fe. Rooftop casual dining option at fine dining Coyote Cafe. www.coyotecafe.com.
Galisteo Bistro, 227 Galisteo Street, Santa Fe. www.galisteobistro.com.
Marble Brewery Tap Room, 60 E San Francisco Street, Santa Fe. Microbrews and pizza overlooking historic Plaza.
Bell Tower Bar, La Fonda, 100 E San Francisco Street, Santa Fe. www.lafondasantafe.com. Sunset cocktail spot.
Ore House, 50 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe. Plaza balcony. Even better margaritas.

For essential tourism information on New Mexico visit  www.newmexico.org.

For Taos visit http://taos.org and for Santa Fe http://santafe.org/Visitors_Guide/.

Manchester Airport parking:

Neil Sowerby left his car park in T2 Long Stay. Here are all the options:

VIP Valet – drop and collect your car right next to the terminal and get fast tracked through security. Your car is parked on site.Meet and Greet – drop your car off with staff next to the terminal and collect on your return. Your car is parked on site.

Multi-storey car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ultra-convenient multi-storey car parking right next to the terminal. Park and walk under cover to reach the terminal.
Long stay car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ground surface car park offering free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.Shuttle Park – secure parking at great rates for cost-conscious travellers. Free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.

JetParks –  low-cost parking option run by Manchester Airport, fully manned 24/7, parking from £2.99 per day. Visit www.manchesterairport.co.uk/Shop/MAN/Parking.

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