Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Day in Northern New Mexico

If you draw an east-west line running through Santa Fe, New Mexico, the territory north of the line is considered northern New Mexico.  It contains mountains and mesas; towns and villages like Los Alamos, Taos, Abiquiu, Espanola, and Ojo Caliente; and thousands of acres of wilderness and national forests.

Courtesy of Google Maps

Last weekend we made a 28-hour foray into northern New Mexico.  Our Saturday began with a beautiful sunrise over the Sandia Mountains (looking east from our back yard):

We drove to Santa Fe for lunch, then headed north along the Rio Grande to Taos, which we had never visited.  About 10 miles west of Taos the Rio Grande has cut a narrow canyon into a wide plain.  Here's an aerial view looking south.  (I found this image on the internet but do not know who made it; I would credit them if I knew.)

The bridge is nearly a quarter-mile long, and is 565 feet above the river.  The Washington Monument would fit under it with ten feet to spare.

From street level it's not very impressive when you're driving or walking over it:

But walk out onto the bridge and look down . . .

or walk along the side of the gorge . . .

and you get a better sense of the scale . . .

BTW, for what it's worth, this bridge has appeared in many movies including Natural Born Killers and Terminator Salvation (neither of which I have any desire to see).

After the photo op stop, we headed across the Carson National Forest on our way to Ojo Caliente as clouds rolled in from the west:

(Yes, that flat-topped mountain in the distance is the Pedernal, which appears in many Georgia O'Keeffe paintings.)


Ojo Caliente (literally "warm eye" but usually meaning "hot springs") is a tiny town built around hot mineral springs that have been known for thousands of years.  Ancestral pueblo tribes built settlements nearby, as ruins and abundant potsherds attest:

In 1868, Antonio Joseph, the first representative to Congress from the New Mexico territory, built the first bath house at this location (still standing and restored), and it became known as a "sanitarium," where people came to be healed by the mineral waters.

A hotel was built in 1916, and we stayed in one of its rooms:

The facility has been updated quite nicely, but I couldn't help but think of some lines from a song by Ian and Sylvia, "National Hotel," and made an image to go along with them:

                                                              All the halls are haunted
                                                              At the National Hotel
                                                              Snorin' and  a-screamin'
                                                              Down the hall the demons wail . . .

But in truth it is a wonderful place:  pools large and small, indoors and outside, filled with steaming mineral waters; sauna and steam rooms; massages and mud baths; yurts for yoga and meditation.  

Besides the old hotel there are now cottages and suites, and a first-class restaurant that serves delicious meals.  The only weird thing was people sitting in the lobby -- or in the restaurant (at breakfast and lunch) -- in bathrobes!  We soaked in the pools for an hour on Saturday afternoon, then had a great dinner and fell into bed.  

Sunday morning the skies were overcast with a mix of light misty rain and snow, but we went for a pre-breakfast hike up onto the mesa above the river and the resort:

After breakfast we spent the morning in the pools, checked out, had lunch, and as the skies cleared we drove 13 miles south towards Espanola to see the "art cave."

The cave we visited is in a gated community, and is owned by a retreat center called "Origin," but we had made arrangements through a local hiking group to get in (and pay a $20/person fee for the privilege).  When you pull into the graveled parking lot, each parking space is indicated by a sign like this one:

The cave is one of twelve carved into sandstone outcroppings throughout New Mexico by the self-taught artist Ra Paulette over a 30-year period.

This cave looks out over the Ojo Caliente river valley and the Jemez Mountains to the southwest.  It is intended for meditation and reflection, and for being appreciated in person, so (as in many of the mission churches in New Mexico) no interior photography is allowed.  All I have are exteriors:

However, there are many images from Paulette's caves available on the internet, and I found one from the inside of the cave we visited:

This image is from an Academy Award nominated short documentary produced by Jeffrey Karoff about Paulette, called "Cave Digger."  You can watch a trailer for the film here.  The caves have also been featured on CBS Sunday Morning.  Here's a link to images from the show.

After exploring the sanctuary/cave, we hiked back down a rocky hill to our car . . .

. . . and drove home.  It was a very relaxing and satisfying trip.

If you would like to see these images in a larger format, you can visit my photography website by clicking here.


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