Tuesday, August 26, 2008

GTT II: Enchanted Circles in my Mind

Northern New Mexico is an enchanted place, and while the locals will tell you the whole state is enchanted- goes the state motto: New Mexico, Land of Enchantment- I think most of the enchantment lies on a 84 mile (135km), 2 lane route called the "Enchanted Circle." The Circle is listed as a New Mexico "scenic byway" because of its amazing views of Wheeler Peak (the state's highest point), the vast cacti spotted desert, and the diamond blue Eagle Nest lake. I love these sights and I'm glad I can see them all easily from my truck on a 2 hour day trip.

After my folks came and picked me up in Denver, we head down I-25 into New Mexico and spent a few relaxing nights in Angel Fire, a ski town on the south east end of the route. During our stay we took the obligatory trip around the Circle, driving clockwise around the route. Though I'd gone round the route plenty of times in the past, it finally dawned on me that the Circle is about more than majestic natural wonders: the Circle is a seer's crystal ball containing the entire New Mexican universe- from unchanged Indian dwellings to museums honoring Indian killers, i.e. Kit Carson's house; there's the impoverished Mexican, white, and Indian folk living in shitty trailer houses across the way from high class ski resorts nestled in the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains, and don't forget the long-haired, turquoise sportin' hippy artists selling blurry digital pictures in the town square, or the burly, chainsaw-wielding mountain men deforesting the hillside in order to carve depressed looking bears and goofy lookin' gunfighters out of timber, now toss in a some middle-aged biker dudes sweatin' their asses off in leather, add a dash of dying-breed cowboy, and lastly but certainly not leastly, throw in whole shitload of Texan tourists peeing their pants in excitement because after 8 hours of bash-your-brains-against-the-steeringwheel-driving they're finally in the mountains, breathing mountain air, and paying way too much for shoddy t-shirts- yep, the Enchanted Circle magically circumnavigates everything that is New Mexico, both geographically and culturally, so if New Mexico's got it you'll find it in the Circle. Now that's one hellova nice scenic byway for you.

So what did my family and I do whilst touring the Enchanted Circle? Well, we stayed at a hotel/ski resort called the Legends and ate great Chinese food in Angel Fire. From our base in Angel Fire we headin' clockwise into Taos and visited the eclectic town square before stopping by the "hecho in Mexico," southwestern store on the east side of 64 as you head out of town. We saw piles of Indian blankets and old-school furniture (painted so at any rate).
Then there were the ceramic chili peppers dangling from the front porch ceiling. It all looks cheap as hell- unfortunately the prices aren't- but it takes great pictures! Not satisfied with buying a t-shirt like the rest of the Texas tourists, ol' dad upped the stakes and bought 'em a poncho, and not just any poncho, but the biggest damn one on the premises. An elephant could wear this thing, leaving the newly clad Poncho Neily looking like a gringo in a blanket. What you don't see under that eagle curtain is dad's 44 magnum 6 shooter, so you best quit laughin'.

Goodies bought, it was off to the Gorge. The Gorge is just one of the places where the Rio Grande river cuts a scar into the New Mexican earth. This gorge is deep, hence the name, and is extremely difficult to photograph well.

Thank goodness I had my tripod (thanks CJ) with me so I could get this great shot of the fam in front of a terribly shadowed Rio Grande Gorge. *Future note: take pictures of gorges at high noon or not at all.

I got some of the greatest shots of my life at the Taos Pueblo Cemetery. We were gonna check out the tourist destination made famous in part by Ansel Adams's photography, but our wallets decided against it because of the $10/person entry fee plus an additional $5/camera fee. Too much for a family of 3 with a camera, so I just snapped some shots from the free parking area.

I'm sure we missed some amazing sights inside the place, but I'm extremely pleased with the way this photo of the cemetery, bell tower, and Wheeler Peak came out.

Making our way into the northern part of the Circle we made a soft right in Questa (a place not good for much but buying liquor after Der Martt closes) and cruised on into the small, one-street town of Red River. Red River is one of the most charming places on earth. Full of all things touristy, the town is home to a small ski resort, a few bars and steakhouses- one of which, Texas Red's, was the absolute, hands down best place to eat a steak before the place mysteriously burned down a few years ago only to re-open in a renovated gas station. Now the place sucks a fatty, making you feel like an idiot for paying $15 to eat a thunker steak inside a gas station. Come on Red. Texans love Red River more than any other stop on the circle because it is tourist t-shirt central. Fortunately Poncho Neily was driving so we passed the t-shirt shop but that didn't keep us from stopping at the chainsaw art shop.

Forget the great artists and mediums of the past; the chainsaw is the new paintbrush, and tree trunk the new canvas. This 5'5" (165cm) carved cowboy will run you $5oo, and you better have a pick-up and three corn-feds with you to help get it home.

The little swinging bear makes much more economical sense. He's cutest carved critter I've ever spied and seeing that flag behind him just gets me all fuzzy inside. Buy this little fella, give him a home. My mom bought my uncle Butch a bear that stands about knee high (my knee, not her's), and with a big ol' smile on his face holds a sign saying, "Go Away Asshole" in its cutely shaped paws. Just kiddin', the sign really doesn't say asshole.

Bear and poncho in tow we had gotten what we'd came for and it was time to head back east to Texas. We broke the circle by taking the road up the bald hill behind Eagle Nest, where I took a stormy shot of Eagle Nest lake, one the "proper" enchanted wonders.(I really like this shot and look forward to taking in again now that I have a UV Polarizing filter to sort out those blown heavenly highlights up top.) A little bit down the down the windy road that follows the Cimmaron river (best fly-fishin' river flowin') east out of the Circle, we stopped for a photo-op in front of the huge and steep cliffs known as the Pallisades.The Palisade are a big attraction evidenced by the big pull-off area and the marker in front of them. These cliffs are sight to behold for the flatlander, especially for the kiddies making their first trip into the mountains.

I took tons of photos along the way and began struggling with nature shots. The New Mexican skies are a blessing to any photographer as they transform any mundane object into a dramatic subject. I didn't remember there being so much sky in Japan; I suppose the Japanese traded it for high rises and power lines. With the big New Mexican skies wrapped safely in the globe of the Enchanted Circle, we pushed out east, making our way into the Texas panhandle; a story for the next and final installment of GTT-Gone to Texas.


To see more of my photos just click here to visit my flickr page.

1 comment:

  1. It is a truly beautiful place, one of my favorites. I spent a lot of time there as a youngster, camping with my Dad, hiking with friends, and enjoying the world (though the Gorge has always frightened me a bit). As an undergrad, I read a book called Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. He refers to parts of the region as the llano (pronounced ya-no), and my roommate and I spent the rest of our crazy college days thinking fondly of the magical, mysterious, yet only semi-fictional llano. We longed to go there, but more often longed to remake our crappy college town into a new llano. We even llano-ized parts of our home to make them sacred, and spent many drunken hours enjoying our temporary llano. Perhaps some sort of pilgrimage is necessary - the region does host the largest pilgrimage site in the United States. Vaya con Dios, my friend, vaya con who/whatever that may be.