Tag Archives: new mexico

Exploring New Mexican Names: Mount Taylor

Mount Taylor is a volcano 80 miles west of Albuquerque, the most prominent feature in the western panorama looking from the foothills of the Sandias. It was named in 1849 for then-President Zachary Taylor. The Navajo call it “Tsoodził” (don’t ask me to pronounce that), and the mountain is important in the beliefs of the Navajo and local pueblo peoples. The mountain is rich in uranium, and was a mine until 1990. In nearby Grants, you can visit a mock uranium mine. Mount Taylor is also the site of the grueling-sounding Mount Taylor Quadrathlon, featuring biking, running, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. 

Zachary Taylor was the second and last Whig to be elected to the presidency. Both he and William Henry Harrison were generals, and both died early in their presidential terms. Taylor was mostly apolitical; the presidency was his first elected office. He fought in the War of 1812, against the Black Hawk Indians in what is now Minnesota, and against the Seminoles in Florida. He became known as “old rough and ready.” His daughter married future president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, but she died three months into the marriage.

Taylor came to national prominence during the Mexican-American War. This war eventually brought the territory of New Mexico into the union, and is detailed in Amy Greenberg’s A Wicked War. Taylor won famous victories in the Battle of Monterrey and the Battle of Buena Vista. The war was initially popular, and Taylor became correspondingly popular after his victories. Taylor privately opposed the war from its beginning, calling an early troop movement “injudicious in policy and wicked in fact.”

Democratic president James K. Polk (1845-1849), who had almost single-handedly created the war, grew frustrated that Taylor, a whig, was getting credit for what Polk considered democratic achievements. Before the Battle of Buena Vista, Polk stripped Taylor of a portion of his troops, leaving Taylor and his troops more vulnerable to attack from the army of Mexican general Santa Anna. Santa Anna was a busy boy in early Mexican history; he was president 11 nonconsecutive times, and he was the leader of the Mexican forces at the Battle of the Alamo in the Texas revolution. As time passed, the war grew unpopular, and so did Polk. After the invasion of Mexico City, the war stagnated, with US forces harassed by guerrilla warfare. US troops committed atrocities, such as the Agua Nueva Massacre. Polk wanted to annex all of Mexico, and some wealthy individuals in Mexico preferred this to the constant coups that plagued early Mexico. But would this territory permit slavery? And how would dreaded dark skinned Catholics be allowed to become citizens? Eventually, the upper one-third of Mexico’s territory was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (a treaty that Polk opposed, but grudgingly accepted).

Taylor never saw Mount Taylor nor set foot in New Mexico, as far as I can tell. But he made his mark on the modern state of New Mexico in a couple of ways. The Mexican-American War brought most of the territory of New Mexico into the United States. And during his brief presidency, Taylor opposed Texas’ claims to the eastern half of New Mexico. Thanks in part to President Taylor, I live in New Mexico and not Texas.

Taylor assumed the presidency in March of 1849. Perhaps Polk resented this, but not for long; he had the shortest retirement of any president, dying just three months after leaving office. In the 1800s, presidents took office on March 4th after the election. Because March 4th, 1849 fell on a Sunday, Taylor refused to be sworn in. This led to “President for a Day” David Rice Atchison, who is slightly famous in my home state of Missouri. Taylor lacked specific policies and history considers him to be in the worst 25% of presidents. On July 4th, 1850, President Taylor ate some fruit and milk at a Fourth of July celebration. He became ill and died on July 9th, leaving Vice President Millard Fillmore, who is rated even worse than Taylor, historically. Polk, incidentally, is rated 10th best president, a ranking I suspect the author of A Wicked War disagrees with.

Perhaps someday I will learn how to pronounce Tsoodził, what it means, and the names and meanings of Mount Taylor in the Puebloan languages. Until then, I suppose Old Rough and Ready will have to do. He seems like the sort of person one makes do with.

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Western Ghost Towns: St. Elmo, Colorado and Chloride, New Mexico

The west contains amazing variety. You can see lava fieldsslot canyons, and dunes of white sand. There’s 400 years of Spanish history, and thousands of years of native history from multiple cultures. Artifacts in the hills and deserts of the west will stay put for a long time. The Animas River Spill led to coverage of abandoned mines in the west, remnants of the 1880s mining boom. This article at least suggests 150,000 abandoned mines, 4,000 of them uranium mines. On a happier note, many of the old mining settlements survive in some form today.

St. Elmo, Colorado is a beautiful little mountain town with nature and scenery. Its wooden buildings have been preserved very well, and are well-suited to photography.

Chloride, New Mexico, had one of the most excellent and unique museums I have visited. Mr. Edmund at the Pioneer Store Museum has spent decades of his life cleaning and documenting the store and the town history. He gave us a wonderful personal tour for over an hour.

St. Elmo, Colorado

St. Elmo is in a remote valley of central Colorado near the Arkansas River headwaters. We stopped by en-route from Great Sand Dunes National Park to Pike’s Peak. St. Elmo is a quintessential mountain ghost town, with beautiful timber construction, moody skies, and looming snowy mountains. Its population peaked at around 2,000 people. St. Elmo had gold and silver mining (over 150 claims in St. Elmo alone). It was near the Historic Alpine Tunnel, an engineering marvel, built in the 1880s and still the highest rail tunnel in the country. (If you want to see that, that requires some walking.)

When the railroad stopped maintaining the rail line in 1910, the town faded. One family stuck around, and today a lot of buildings survive in lovely condition. St. Elmo has mountain biking, an adorable-looking Bed and Breakfast, ATV trails, and more. Also nearby is Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, which looked inviting.

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Chloride, New Mexico

How can you not adore a name like Chloride for a mining town? Chloride was named for its silver chloride deposits, and was a silver town. At its peak, it reached a population of 3,000 with 9 saloons. (Today, it has 11 residents.) The town collapsed when President McKinley made gold the monetary standard, and silver prices plummeted. Chloride had 42 mines, a crushing plant, and a smelter.

The general store continued on after the mining bust. In 1923, it was boarded up while the son went east to study. He studied physics and moved to California, so the store sat unmolested (except by bats) for 70 years. It is a time capsule rich with history. You can peruse the signatures in the post office book. The museum manager, who restored the building and its contents himself, will show and tell you about the many fascinating items within the store. There are purchase records, old bottles of whiskey, packages of gum, nails, ladies hats, and even a dynamite detonator.

Today, one mine is still active nearby, mining zeolites, which are cool, but a tale for another time.

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Chaco Canyon: New Mexico’s ancient convention center

Chaco Culture National Historic Park is in remote northwest New Mexico. The drive will take you on twenty miles of dirt roads and beyond cell range. But in this most remote reach of New Mexico lies the crossroads of an ancient culture. In Chaco Culture National Historic Park lies 3,614 recorded archaeological sites, including many massive great houses. The largest, Pueblo Bonito,  has roughly 800 rooms; visitors may walk through the doors and rooms of Pueblo Bonito. The Chaco Culture also built astronomical features into many of their works; some windows align perfectly with the sun on solstice, and some decorations align with phases of the moon.

When Chaco was discovered in modernity, it was thought to be a vast city. Having walked through it, it feels that way. It feels like it could hold thousands. But archaeological evidence suggests otherwise—there is little garbage, and few burials. Massive Pueblo Bonito may have housed only 70 people on a permanent basis. The guides at the park suggest that Chaco might have been a meeting ground, used for trade and weddings and astronomical ceremonies for a small portion of the year. Remnants of cacao from 1200 miles south have been found at Pueblo Bonito. The bones of macaws, native to eastern Mexico, have been found at Pueblo del Arroyo. They apparently didn’t flourish; only the bones of adults were found. So the astonishing quantity of ruins at Chaco Culture Park may be the remnants of an ancient convention center.

Chaco offers an amazing range of ruins, from the many-roomed grand houses to petroglyphs to astronomical markers to ancient stairs and roads. Like Mesa Verde National Park, not so far to the north, the whole site was abandoned in the 1300s, well before European influence. Like Mesa Verde, archaeologists don’t know exactly why the people left. There is evidence of an ancient drought. Some argue for catastrophic deforestation after all the building at Chaco (because all that construction took a terrific amount of timber, some of which still remains in the structures), though there is not consensus.

I grew up in St. Louis, a town once called Mound City for the mounds left by the ancient Mississippian culture. The massive city at Cahokia was also abandoned around the year 1300. A city of 15,000 abandoned, around the population of London at the time, and we don’t know why. It’s easy to live in the United States and think of it as the new world. But these amazing works of ancient people live on quietly. The inconvenient mounds of St. Louis were largely destroyed; those who did so may not have even realized their origin. But the remnants of the Pueblo culture at Chaco remain, mostly protected by their isolation over the years. Though the journey today is easier than it ever has been, Chaco is still hours from the interstate and quiet. As I took in the ruins, I was filled with the same wonder and questions that Cahokia Mounds always presented. Places like Chaco and Cahokia are reminders of humanity—no matter the size of the structures we build, one day people will view the barren remnants and wonder about us. We will walk the same valleys and cliffs, touch the same stones, but we won’t know each others names or voices or values. Ruins like Chaco remind of us of our place in the universe, and how beautiful and belittling that can be.

 

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The stars through my tent at Chaco Culture Park. Chaco is one of the night sky parks, where the darkness of the sky is specifically preserved through lighting choices and such. In light of the ancient Pueblo interests in astronomy, it seems appropriate.

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Sunrise at the camp site.

One year a New Mexican

A year ago this week, I arrived in the Land of Enchantment and called myself a New Mexican. Since then, I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot, much of it I have posted here at this blog. More than I could ever fit into a single post. So instead, I include 24 of the 24,000 pictures I’ve taken since I moved to this lovely state. They are images of architecture, culture, geography, wildlife, weather,industry, and celebration from all around New Mexico.

Happy anniversary to me. New Mexico, I can’t wait to see what you show me in the next year.

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El Morro National Monument

El Morro National Monument is a tiny park tucked in remote western New Mexico. For this reason, it is one of the least visited National Monuments in the west. Ironically, El Morro is a park because it was once a travel hub—a source of year-round drinkable water amongst miles of dry scrub. Over many centuries, visitors came to the oasis and left their mark. Ruins of a 700 year old pueblo sit on the mesa top. Around the base, there are petroglyphs, signatures of conquistadors, and marks of early Americans traveling west. El Morro was scouted for the railroad, but it went 25 miles north. Now El Morro is a quiet place, a sandstone guestbook with centuries of entries.

Don Juan de Oñate

Don Juan de Oñate was the first Spanish colonial governor of New Mexico from 1598 to 1610. He founded the city of Santa Fe in 1610, eleven years before the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving. This carving at El Morro took place on an expedition to the Gulf of California.

Oñate is sometimes called the last conquistador. After the Acoma indians refused to give the Spaniards more food in the winter of 1598, a scuffle erupted that killed 11 Spaniards. Oñate’s retaliation killed 800 Acoma. Oñate enslaved the remaining population; men over 25 had their right foot amputated. Oñate was recalled to Mexico City for cruelty. He resigned his post in 1610 after the founding of Santa Fe. He was banished from New Mexico, although cleared of charges. Acoma Pueblo was rebuilt, and is one of the longest continually occupied places in the country.

Amazingly, people still honor Oñate. El Paso erected a 34 foot statue of him in 2007. Española, New Mexico has an Oñate monument with a bronze statue. In 1998, the 400th anniversary of his arrival in New Mexico, someone removed the statue’s right foot and left the note “fair is fair.” The foot was replaced, but the seam is still visible. Oñate deserves his place in the history books, but multi-million dollar statues seem unnecessary.

Standing in the presence of his carving reminds one of the vast history of New Mexico. The Salinas Pueblo Missions were a generation old at this point, to say nothing of the indian cultures they encountered. We think of the west as new, but this was all before the Pilgrims dined.

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A bit hard to read, but at the end of the first line are the letters “don ju” and at the beginning of the second “de oñate”. This was carved in 1605.

The Camel Corps

In addition to tragedy, the west is full of quirky, charming history, and the US Camel Corps is one of those bits. Desert animals like camels must have seemed ideal for the deserts of New Mexico. 25 camels traveled through El Morro in 1857.

The US gained the territory of New Mexico after the Mexican American War in 1848. (If you ever want an eye-popping historical read, take a look at the list of Mexican heads of state from 1821 to 1848. I thought US history from Jackson to Lincoln was chaotic, but wow. It makes telenovelas look plausible. It’s amazing the US didn’t take more land from Mexico considering the utter disarray of their government.)  Several early expeditions took place, mostly with the goal of figuring out what to do with New Mexico.

The camels went to Camp Verde in Texas, which was taken by the Confederates at the beginning of the Civil War. Some of the animals were sold at auction, some went to zoos, some went to circuses, and some escaped. Camel sightings were reported in the west until the early 1900s. This charming postcard memorializes the Camel Corps’ visit to El Morro.

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The walls of El Morro are full of inscriptions, tiny slices in the lives of people who altered the west, for better and for worse. Though they are just gouges in sandstone, it is humbling to stand and look at the names and know what extraordinary efforts those people took to reach this oasis. And I consider it a bit inconvenient because it’s 2 hours from Albuquerque. We who pass through are still altering the west, though we are warned not to do it by carving El Morro. If you really must, they have a sacrificial chunk of sandstone by the visitor’s center.

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Bookbinding once more!

There’s nothing like a cross-country move to raise one’s creative spirits. New words, new faces, and new ideas. But a big move also challenges order. Everything goes into boxes, and even when you bring it back out, it goes into a different room and belongs in a new place. Then everything in every other room is similarly displaced. And there are new restaurants and new people and new sights, and pretty soon, you’re hopelessly in disarray.

So last week, I finally fought back against entropy. For me, a good workspace has my favorite tools in arm’s reach, but never in the way. I set forth to accomplish that goal.

The ultimate test of a working space is simple—does it inspire work? Over the weekend, I tested my space. It does inspire. I made my first three books in New Mexico. They are relatively humble, but they are setting the tone for the work ahead.

I am inspired. =)

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New Mexican travel post cards

I love the old-fashioned posterized postcards that many of the national parks have. Whenever I visit a park, I go hunt for postcards. I have a wall of 4×6 frames of postcards. Whether they are the old WPA posters from the 30s or the modern versions, I adore them.

Sometimes, I would go to a park, and they wouldn’t have any. So naturally, I had to make my own. Now I do it everywhere I go. Below are from my grand trip last weekend through southeast New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, and White Sands National Monument. I also visited Three Rivers Petroglyph Site, a BLM property, and River of Fires BLM site, but no postcards there as of yet.

Happy travels!

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