Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Road to Ruins

From Dave Brigham:

If I'd had more time in New Mexico, I would have visited a pueblo on feast day, when food is offered and religious ceremonies are held. I know next to nothing about Native American cultures, but being in the Land of Enchantment, and seeing Indian artwork, clothing, jewelry and people made me want to learn a little something about the place I was visiting.

Welcome to the third and final installment in my New Mexico series. Previously I wrote about the place I lived with friends back in 1988, and some of our hangouts (see May 24, 2017, "The Land of Enchantment"); and shared photos and a brief write-up about an early morning walkabout in downtown Albuquerque (see May 25, 2017, "Duke City Downtown").

This post is about the Jemez National Historic Landmark (also known as the Jemez Ruins, which is how I will refer to the site). In planning my two-day visit to New Mexico with my friends Andy and Pete, with whom I'd lived in Albuquerque for a short time in 1988 after a road trip, I added a few potential historic ruins to my list. I zeroed in on Jemez because it was closest to Albuquerque. I would love to return to the beautiful deserts of New Mexico to see other ruins, and to witness some native ceremonies.

The drive from Albuquerque to Jemez was stunningly beautiful. The majestic Sandia Range was off to our east, its green peaks set off nicely against the brown earth all around. Once we got off the interstate, our views changed to red rock cliffs, miniature canyons and a mesa off in the distance. There were cacti here and there, along with the odd horse farm and broken-down service station.

The scenery was otherworldly for this boy, raised in the green forests, quaint towns and urban sprawl of New England. Here's an idea of what we felt like:

During the three months I lived in Albuquerque in 1988, I went up the Sandias once, with Andy and Pete, and visited Petroglyph National Monument with Pete and another road trip buddy, John. Those were the only sights we saw. So I was determined to get out of the city on my return trip, and get a better feel for the culture of New Mexico.

A few miles short of the Jemez ruins, we stopped at a camping and cookout area with amazing red sandstone cliffs as a backdrop. We walked around a bit, marveling at the ease with which you could write your name on the rocks. The trails beyond the cliffs were off limits to tourists, as they are sacred to the people of the Pueblo of Jemez.

The road to the ruins...hold on. I need to do this:

OK, thanks for indulging me. On either side of the road to the Jemez ruins we saw glimpses of the pueblo: small adobe houses, a fry bread/burger joint that unfortunately wasn't open; a few dogs lazing in dusty front yards; a school and some businesses; and two men ascending a small hill, one of whom was carrying a small flaming torch.

This sign served as quite a greeting to the ruins, and the Southwest in general. The Jemez site includes a former village, church and convent.

The above photo shows the ruins of a home, which was later used as a Spanish inn, according to a web site run by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. The former mission church, below, must have been an amazingly imposing sight in its time.

(View through a window of the old church to a small ridge on the opposite side of the road.)

I expected the ruins to be larger, but nevertheless I was humbled. I was so out of my element among the remnants of cultures I know nothing about, out there in a desert landscape that just blows my mind. The terrain was familiar from old Westerns, but yet I felt like I was in an alien world. I felt good slowing down from my East Coast pace, the heat sizzling on my skin as we strolled through the ruins.

Directly across the street from the ruins stands the beautiful Mary, Mother of Priests Catholic Church.

Part of the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete, the church was built in 1962. Read more about the history of the church and the congregation here.

On our drive back to Albuquerque, I had to stop at the former Big Chief Service Station on Route 550.

Here again, looking at this sign, and at the abandoned adobe station, I felt like I was on a movie set. There just is nothing that looks like this place in New England, with its hand-painted sign and big skies everywhere.

(The cover art for Pete's first solo album, perhaps?)

(Andy goofing around with Big Chief.)

Over the years of exploring on behalf of this blog, I've learned to check out things from as many angles as possible. I knew I had to take a look at the backside of the backside. Boy am I glad I did.

Isn't he perfect?

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