Monday, June 29, 2009

Heading North in New Mexico

June 26

We left Roswell under cloudless skies, and quickly entered a landscape straight out of the Westerns we remember from our childhood—stony red land with patches of parched white grass and scattered yucca, sage and cactus. We stopped to take a picture of a grazing antelope, stopped about half an hour later to photograph grazing longhorn cattle, then we almost stopped for a tree—it was the first one we had seen in over fifty miles.

Around lunchtime, we visited Las Vegas, New Mexico, an interesting little historic town in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It was founded in 1835,
and quickly became a major port of entry to Spanish New Mexico for supply caravans on the Santa Fe Trail. Then it got another boost in 1879, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad reached the town. The old town center was on the west side of the river, and the railroad tracks were laid east of the river, so a new, more fashionable town of East Las Vegas formed literally on the other side of the tracks. The two towns remained separate until 1970, and although they combined, they still retain their very different individual characters.

We toured both—the traditional frontier town that spreads pinwheel fashion around the Mexican plaza in west Las Vegas, and the more formal Victorian town with its square grid street plan in east Las Vegas. Las Vegas proudly claims more than 900 buildings on the historic register, and more preserved structures than any other city in New Mexico.

Our favorite preserved structure is this Lion Fountain. The Women's Christian Temperance Union formed in Las Vegas in 1885 to protest the alarming proliferation of saloons and public drinking around town. They decided to erect this fancy drinking fountain in a neighborhood which had a particularly high concentration of drinking establishments, in the hopes that its fresh water would lure patrons away from their alcoholic beverage consumption. No word on how successful this strategy was, but we have a guess.

Another intriguing, and a bit mysterious, structure in Las Vegas is the United World College, which sits high on a hill above the town. The United World College Movement began in 1962 with a mission to unite people, nations and culture for peace and a sustainable future. Armand Hammer purchased the property to establish a United World College in the United States in 1981, and the school opened in the fall of 1982, with Prince Charles in attendance, as he was the president of the United World Colleges Movement at the time. The college has 200 students from 80 countries. U.S. students comprise less than 25% of the student body, and all of them attend on full scholarship. We think that, prestigious as attendance to the college may be (there are only 12 United World Colleges in the world), full scholarships are probably necessary to entice anyone to attend school on this hilltop in the middle of the desert, far from civilization, save for a tiny town that hit its peak over a century ago. Why Armand Hammer selected this site is a mystery—a minimum of distractions from the work at hand, perhaps?

We continued north, up the pine-covered slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, into the Santa Fe National Forest. The clouds, which had been building all day, finally opened up and gave us our first rain in over two weeks. We got out of the car to take pictures of a lush green alpine meadow and the temperature was 66 degrees. We kept climbing to the pass near the top of the mountain, and the temperature was 56 degrees. We came north to escape the heat, and we were successful!

We finally arrived in Taos, New Mexico (elevation 6,967 feet) in the late afternoon. We found a little local motel, the Sun God Lodge, which we thought could be a good base for our local explorations.
It had Western hacienda style units arranged around a shady central park, with a '60s road trip atmosphere about it. We knew we found the right place when we opened the door to our room, and it was decorated like the dream bedroom of a 1970s teenage cowgirl.

No comments:

Post a Comment