Road Trip to Santa Fe Part 3: Excuse me, Ma’am?


The basket and pottery rooms at the Arts and Culture Museum were dimly lit. It was a welcome relief from Santa Fe’s open landscape and hot sun. It’s the kind of place that could bring you to a whisper just by walking in. Light can do that, or lack of it.  At least, that’s what I thought. Not so much for the group of high school students in hoodies who were horsing around. They were probably enjoying each other’s flirty company more than beholding 100 year old ceramics on a forced field trip.

Who could blame them? Observing old baskets in a dark room when you’re 16 sounds like a snoozer. Still, at times I saw them staring through the glass cases, writing things in their notebooks.

Maybe they were amazed, like I was, at baskets dating back to 1856 but looked as if they were recently made. The structures remained remarkably sturdy. They somehow looked more well-used than old. The layers of weaving were smooth. With no faults perceptible to my scanning eye, it was hard believe they weren’t spun by a machine.

The white index cards beside these works of art contained, dates, tribes, location. What struck me most was seeing this.

Artist: unknown


Artist: Little Bobby’s Wife


Artist: Mary

Even if we don’t always know the artist’s name, scholars can “read a basket” by design, form, utility. It speaks without the artist.  It made me consider the word identity and source, a humble place, where things were built to last.

I thought about the 89 cent blue Lucite bowl that I have in my kitchen at home. Durable but totally disposable, a Wal-Mart special. Somehow I don’t think my chip bowl will ever end up in a dimly lit room. Most likely, a landfill when I tire of its color. God bless the crafts people who wake up every morning and do their thing or else the museums of our future might look like a cheap aisle of Target relics. Made me appreciate the baskets I brought back from Eritrea when I was in the Peace Corps even more.

Opened my cabinet and realized they were on the same shelf.

I walked by every case, steadying my hand for a no-flash photo. The curves and shadows of these clay and woven vessel shapes in that light was… well, sensual. earthy. full.  If the sound of that doesn’t make you strut a little taller in a pair of cowboy boots, than I don’t know what will.

I was almost stepping out of the museum when I stopped one last time in a room that highlighted contemporary Native American arts: Abstract painting. What a contrast! I was reading the wall text about an elder who felt stifled by traditional crafts. He encouraged artists to break out of traditional molds. I thought wow, that’s so brave and fascinating- coming up against all that tradition. Grappling with honoring it and changing the face of what is expected of a Native American artist.

Right next to the text was an incredibly intricate portrait of him woven from tiny beads. It looked as distinct as a photograph. There must have been over a dozen of colors to shade and create this portrait.  I raised my camera and took a picture. It was blurry, so I took another and that’s when I heard the voice.

“Excuse me, Ma’am.”

I looked up, delighted to see an exceptionally handsome young docent coming toward me.

“No photographs please. (beat)  You know, Native American.” He flashed me a smile as he stressed the last two words.

I turned exactly the color of my shirt: pink.

I gasped. I slapped my hand against my chest.

“OH MY GOD! I am so sorry.” I exclaimed

“No problem.” His demeanor was easy going, friendly.

“I usually pay attention to those kinds of things.” I said as I walked back with him toward his desk. “But I didn’t see any signs– oh would you look at that, here’s an 8 ½ by 11 yellow sign right here on your desk.”

He laughed. I laughed. I was now pinker than my shirt and an instant armpit sweat machine.

“I am really so sorry.”  What a faux pas. It wasn’t so much “no photos” as it was, “you know, Native American.” But of course.

Two things immediately flashed through my mind. 1) I tried to recall the first time I learned that Native Americans believed photos stole their souls. I swear I learned that when I was five years old watching a Grizzly Adams episode. Maybe Nakoma didn’t want his picture taken? I can’t remember for sure. I could be wrong that it was that show, but somewhere in my TV childhood I learned that there is something spiritual to consider.  Something that should be appreciated not captured. It would make sense that a photo has the power to diminish a moment as much as it can capture one.

I did see a Native American craft store in downtown Santa Fe that had a polite sign in the window. It asked tourists not to take photos of the crafts. It was phrased in such a way as if the spirits of the objects were asking for some privacy. I think culturally this is an old custom that has changed with the times. But still, walk away with photos I wasn’t supposed to take from a Native American museum? Bad. Bad. Bad.

Because this was the second thing that had flashed into my mind.

The dreaded Tiki from The Brady Brunch

Remember Bobby and Peter found a native Tiki at a construction site and started having bad luck? Yep. First a heavy wall hanging fell and nearly missed Bobby’s head in bed. Then Greg wore it and had a near fatal wipe out on his surf board. Finally Peter ended up with a giant spider on his chest. The bad luck could only be undone by bringing the idol back to an ancient burial ground which they did in their awesome bell bottom 70s pants.

I walked outside. With bright sunshine overhead, I sat on the wall of the garden and deleted 15 photographs from that museum. Bye-bye vessels and baskets.  I guess you are only ours to see in person.

The docent didn’t ask me to do that. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could have just kept them, he seemed so friendly. No doubt, I was not the first tourist to get some photos given their lo-fi signs.

Television wilderness and Polynesian moral-dramas aside, I felt obligated to get these photos off my camera. It just didn’t seem right to keep them. My brother John and I often joke about questionable bad luck vibes around an object, referring to it as, “Ooo Tiki.”

I didn’t want to walk around with that feeling. There are somethings in life that are not ours to hold on to.









Road Trip to Santa Fe Part 2

I’m not sure what I was expecting. Log cabins? Clapboard houses? Architecturally all the buildings are in adobe-style. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I thought if I left the historic downtown district the city would morph like most old cities do-the middle stays ancient looking while the outer reaches look like a commercial from Home Depot.   But even new housing developments in the suburbs have the adobe-look.  It’s both interesting and slightly disorienting to see the same earthy exterior everywhere.  You can visually feel lost. But at every turn, you know you are in Santa Fe. It’s beautiful in an unusual way.

For how impenetrable the outside of an adobe looks, I can’t help but feel there is something warm going on inside: people talking, cooking and life’s intimacies happening close to the hearth. I wanted to find out what’s in there. It gave me the sense that Santa Fe has a particular tough sun baked exterior and a very rich private interior. I fall in love with people just like this.  But as easily as I’m drawn to unravel a mystery of the quiet-type, I’m equally confounded by it.   I’m guessing it takes time to infiltrate Santa Fe at its heart, to get beyond the façade of tourism and really know its people but with only 4 days, I wasn’t going to find out for sure.

It’s not the kind of place with hearty handshakes and ‘ C’mon inside!’ (Except for my friends who opened their home to me. Thank you!!) It’s more like a place where the land takes you in first, people second.  There is no denying that the landscape is a character to know.  Maybe the majesty of the Sangre de Christo Mountains (Spanish for Blood of Christ) and the other ranges collectively bind the community together. I can see why people are drawn to this place.

fancy hotel and spa

love the shadows cast on this home

Downtown Santa Fe



Some Kick-ass skull boots


You must cruise The Plaza, at least once, for the magnificent turquoise jewelry, cowboy boots and sparkly belts. I was not prepared for the outrageous price tags that went along with them. The stuff in glass cases, as you can imagine, was thousands and thousands of dollars. It’s good that browsing is still free. I did plenty of that.  I casually picked up earrings and had to blink several times to make sure my contacts weren’t fuzzing up the wrong decimal place. The prices are whistle-worthy.

There were other shops that had more affordable jewelry, but unique certainly carries its own price tag. The high-end designs and craftsmanship were truly awesome, something to behold. I came across a turquoise pendant the size of a Whoopie Pie!

honkin’ whoopie pie size

The Plaza. The oldest church. The oldest house. The miracle staircase.  All of this was really great to see, but you know what I wanted to see more than gazillion dollar necklaces? I wanted to find an honest to goodness antique junk shop. The kind my romantic eye imagined exists in a place like Santa Fe.  You know the kind, a ramshackle house filled with bric-a-brac and the possibility of needing a tetanus shot if you reached into a pile haphazardly. A treasure is sure to be in the midst.

It takes an insider’s insider to know about a good junk shop and most likely a trip to a place not on my map. In Raton, I asked the kindly desk clerk and she pointed to an antique shop next to the Kentucky Fried Chicken. I drove over to it but could see it was closed. I even tried to stop there on my way back to Denver. Still closed. Maybe if I knocked someone would have emerged?  That’s okay, a little disappointment keeps the heart yearning. I know hidden treasures are out there.

What was not to be found at a junk shop, was made up easily with the “Local favorite”  Green Hatch Chili infused Margarita I had on the rooftop of the Coyote Cantina. Spicy! Easy! Gave me the feeling I was wearing those kick-ass skull boots but wasn’t. Likely the kind of drink that gets people in all kinds of predicaments. The food was d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. Best tacos I’ve ever eaten. You could make food your sole itinerary in Santa Fe and look forward to all your excitement happening on a plate.

There’s so much to write about and hard to condense….I have at least one if not two more installments to write about this trip and it includes my faux pas at a museum. Lord help me. That needs its own post. Stay tuned. Until then, how do you think this necklace would look on me?

self-portrait with turquoise necklace


Road Trip to Santa Fe Part 1

Last Wednesday I hit the road for New Mexico.  I grabbed my little red cooler, two handfuls of cds and forgot to apply sunscreen.  Nothing reminds you of changing skin tones quite like the fluorescent lights of a gas station restroom.  Aside from the toasty face and left arm, the 6 ½ hour ride down Rte. 25 South went roof tapping good.

Once I passed through the morning commuter traffic, I encountered fewer and fewer cars, until it seemed I broke free of my contained life and opened up to the vast yellowy plains with paper mountain cut-outs in the distance. It was serene. People complain that some of this ride can get boring, but I couldn’t have been more dazzled by the changing clouds and the open space.


The posted speed limit is 75mph. I thought about how Sammy Hagar used to sing, I can’t drive 55, olden times, I guess.

I passed by the occasional RV towing a car in the back or a few long haul truckers. For the most part, the road was mine. Two lanes in the open land.

On a road this spare, it’s easy to notice a roadside memorial for those who made an untimely departure in an accident. I see these from time to time in Denver, but out on this almost 400 mile road trip I came to see so many, I started counting.  I think I got up to 17 just in the south bound lane.  Simple white crosses stood knee high affixed with silk flowers and hand lettering; another had butterflies and yet another had a girl’s name spelled out in a curve of metal letters. Each seemed to capture a little bit of personality, like the one yellow safety vest flapping on a cross- a vest just like I saw the road workers wearing.

Most were singular crosses, but then I saw sites that had 3 crosses in one place. Two big. One little. It’s hard not to wince.  I thought about the people who traveled back to these places to honor their loved ones, marking where their spirit left. These memorials gave off both warning and remembrance.

I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album on the way down and the lyrics from the song Atlantic City particularly moved me as I drove by these roadside memorials.

“Well now, evrything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe evrything that dies someday comes back”



Sun in my face, arm out the window, the soulful harmonica hammered through me.  I nodded to something unknown. I turned up the volume.

It bears mentioning that one of my first 5 minutes stops in NM was Raton. There are two things worth mentioning. They have old style motels here with old style prices. Maybe people sing I can’t drive 55 here? Look at the pic below. $29.90! When’s the last time you saw that price?  My cable bill is more than that.


Secondly and most importantly, at the Visitor’s Center you can pick up a FREE plastic Deputy Sheriff’s badge. Yup. Believe me; no child was more excited to pick one out than me.  I even said so to the two nice ladies at the desk when I signed their guestbook.  I only wish I could have heard their conversation afterward. What can I say? My new badge was my road talisman. My silver star.  I kept it near my gear shift.

I was so excited to be on the road. To be on vacation. In the several hours I spent on the same highway, I came to recognize some of the same trucks and RVs by color, license plate. I felt like a kid again. As I passed another 18-wheeler, I had the split second urge to slow down, catch eyes with the trucker in the window, push my clenched fist up and down, like when I was a kid and wanted them to sound their horn. If I had a CB radio, I would have gleefully said, “10-4 little buddy. Smokies up ahead.” In this kind of desolation, you watch out for each other.  But I thought better of making eyes at a trucker and yanking a fist up and down on a deserted road. Maybe he doesn’t share my idealism.

To be continued…