Taos and Santa Fe: Pueblos, Earthships, and Motels

 

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One of the more whimsical Earthships located just outside Taos, NM

 

After a sandy morning we left Great Sand Dune National Park and then had a killer breakfast in Alamosa. Refreshed we drove south to Taos where, just outside the city limits, we stopped to tour an Earthship. No, we were not smoking any Colorado weed. Earthships, unlike Starships, are very much real. First conceptualized by architect Michael Reynolds in the early 1970s, Earthships utilize recycled materials such as tires as well as solar panels and water filtrations systems to create completely off the grid homes. Rain water, for example, is funneled from the roof into a system that uses the resource multiple times. Much of the living space is also below ground which helps regulate the temperature. The model we were allowed to tour was comfortable, cool, and had a very hip southwest feel. It is hard to pin down exactly how much one of these cost but a quick google search found a 1900 square foot home selling for half a million and a much smaller Earthship priced under $200,000.

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Taos was a bit too crowded for our tastes. And overbooked. Regrouping we opted to “plan ahead” which meant that I called a motel in Santa Fe that the three of us stayed at over a decade ago. They only had a few rooms available so we “made reservations.” Knowing then that we had a place to stay we decided to check out the Taos Pueblo where we lingered a bit before taking the very dramatic 70 mile drive south.

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Ruins of the original church built by the Spaniards in 1619 but then destroyed during the Spanish Revolt of 1680. Later rebuilt it was destroyed once more by the United States Army in 1847 which at the time was at war with Mexico.

In Santa Fe we showered, went to bed at a reasonable time, and then spent a wonderful day wandering one of America’s oldest city. At night we chilled in the Plaza and listened to some great music by The Battle of Santiago who describe themselves as a “Canadian Afro-Cuban post rock band.” They had us dancing in our lawn chairs.

 

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Hard to take a bad picture in Santa Fe

 

So now we are rested and one week into our trip. Tomorrow we will be…. I don’t know. And it feels good to say that.

 

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Henna at our temporary home, the Garret Desert Inn in Santa Fe

 

 

Great Sand Dunes National Park

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The clues were as follows: a citronella candle, a few sticks of firewood, a half finished “Polynesian” flavored barbeque bottle, a bottle of bug spray, and a bit of charcoal. All items were found within the campsite’s bear box (a metal box with a trick lock that both frustrates hungry bears and, due to it’s loud creaky noise, is guaranteed to wake up anyone sleeping within a seven campsite radius). We took a pass on the sauce, but the firewood came in handy. What did we do to deserve such generous gifts?

The campsite’s other riddle was easier to solve. To our annoyance, several very large boulders were scattered about like Stonehenge exactly where we hoped to set up our tent. So first we had to move the rocks, then we set up our tent, and then we attempted to stake it all down. But sand makes a very poor foundation and, thus, we had to pick up those same pesky boulders, which by this time where heavier, and use them to keep down the tent.

So back to the clues. After a long day of sand hiking, sand sitting, and sand staring we proceeded to make a fire. Dinner was fine and then, like a plague out of Egypt, the mosquitoes descended upon us. The smart one, Henna, retired to the tent but Corey and I valiantly lit our one citronella candle (thanks Tim and Linnea) which seemed to do nothing but irritate the little buggers. Defeated we joined Henna.

A few hours later came the winds. Powerful winds that blew sand into our tent and at times actually seemed to almost lift the tent a millimeter up. Our poorly grounded rain flap became unbound and flapped like a loud bird. Corey and I had to yell to be heard and twice we courageously ventured outside only to return with sand in our eyes. It was immediately after one of these episodes that we suddenly understood the true nature of the objects. They were not gifts so much as objects left behind in fright.

 

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Kansas City to Dodge City

 

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Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve located in the Flint Hills of Kansas

Man we have never seen fireworks like we did last night. The city of Dodge, Kansas puts on a great show (which we saw seated in lawn chairs while Henna tooled around in the Best Western parking lot on her long board). But starting a couple of hours before sunset and then lasting past midnight the citizens of Dodge launched a non-stop onslaught of professional grade fireworks. OK, we are from Illinois where fireworks are harder to purchase than firearms, but a man from Indiana (home of cheap gas, tobacco, and, yes, fireworks) told me had never seen this type of fireworks in the hands of amateurs. It was insane. And fun to watch.

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Dodge, by the way, is a pretty laid back kind of quirky little town. All within a few blocks is the nicely restored Front Street (which sells the typical Western touristy things) and Boot Hill. The latter was once an informal paupers cemetery where frozen to death buffalo hunters, gun fight victims, and “dancing girls” often were buried without a coffin. The skeletons have long since been interred elsewhere and now is a recreated cemetery/mini town that features frequent gun fights and a nightly variety show.

Other things to do in Kansas include visiting the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Made possible by the Nature Conservancy, the preserve consists of the largest remaining strand of never plowed over native tallgrass prairie. Keeping the system in check are prescribed fires and a bison herd.

 

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A Texas horned lizard

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Springfield to KC

 

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Henna begins the hike up Monks Mound in Cahokia Mounds (just north of St. Louis on Interstate 55). The Cahokia settlement was a pre-Columbian city estimated, in the 13th century, to be larger than then London. As of 2017, admission is free.

 

It’s raining south of Kansas City. Yesterday, not too far from here, we met a couple outside a gas station. They saw our plates and wanted to talk about the Cubs. He, a friendly fellow dressed in overalls, told us several stories about him and his relatives catching the Cubs nearly a decade ago when they played the Royals in inter-league play. His pick up truck had a Cubs border around the license plate. And he also has a signed Ron Santo rookie card. Nice people.

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Born outside Cork, Ireland in 1837, Marry Harris “Mother” Jones endured the Civil War, the Chicago Fire, and the death of her husband and four children to yellow fever. A champion of miner rights she was once called the “most dangerous woman in America.” She died in 1930 and was buried along side many of the victims of a late 19th century labor strike/massacre.

Near the end of our conversation, with dark clouds forming above, a crazy looking man with a Scooby Doo inflection in his voice (like the cranky caretaker when he pretends to be a ghost) asked us which way the clouds were heading. The man then kind of chortled when I said had no idea and then, kind of like a prophecy, he warned the fourth may be ruined. I guess maybe he was right.

I have to admit I was a little skeptical when Corey first broached her “no plan” idea for this summer. But yesterday, with no commitments in our future, we stopped several times at places we might have otherwise driven by. And thank you Tom, the Bird Man of Edison Park, for recommending we check out the Mother Jones Monument and Cahokia Mounds. The latter was truly awesome and should be considered on par to Mesa Verde.

 

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What to do when your local high school closes? How about repurposing the building as one giant, permanent flea market. That’s what they did in Livingston, Illinois and it makes for a pretty cool stop.

 

The rain here does not seem willing to move on. But we are. Will catch you up when we get there (wherever that may be).

 

#takingitasitcomes

Yep, our taking it as it comes summer road trip as officially begun. We know one thing, well actually two things for certain. One, we are heading west to the mountains, and two Henna has decided it will be through Kansas.  Yes, Kansas.  After that, anything goes. We will make it up Day by day, with probably the weather guiding us as it looks like it is pretty hot everywhere but the coast.  Yesterday we got a cleansing send off as we pushed through an awesome rain storm, which ended with the most amazing double rainbow.  That’s always a positive sign.  Corey

Talking Politics in Texas

From Galveston we drove to San Antonio where I was lucky enough to be able to write a review for Splash Magazines. This entailed us staying at a luxury hotel and dining at a very hip restaurant. So dedicated where we to the story that we even had breakfast in bed. Almost as much fun as camping.

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Along the San Antonio River Walk

We also made time to check out the River Walk which is located one story below street level like some sort of subterranean mirror image of the above downtown. At night it is lit up with Christmas lights and people crowd the cafes to sip coffee or cocktails. Strolling along the river bank it was easy to think we were in Europe. Then we walked into a gift shop that sold toilet paper with the President’s image on it and we knew exactly where we were.

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Street art in Austin. Works for us.

Next day we drove to Austin where we saw a pickup truck with a bumper sticker that read “Not my President.” We were confused about the owner’s politics (sticker could have referenced either the current or future President). Other stickers, like one for the Human Rights Campaign and several for Hillary, were less confusing. Digging the progressive vibe we checked out the shops on South Congress Street. Later we went to the Texas Capitol and were greeted by the Confederate Soldiers Monument which celebrates the Texans who “died for state rights guaranteed under the constitution.” This is followed by a lot of propaganda on how the brutal north suppressed the noble southern wish for sovereignty. There is no mention anywhere about slavery. Must have been an oversight.

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Wanting to fit in we sponsored a bill limiting a woman’s access to birth control.

Politics aside, the capitol is impressive and the people working there, as is true with almost everyone we met in Texas, are friendly. One attraction that caught my eye was an exhibit celebrating the fifty-two African Americans who served in the Texas legislature immediately following the Civil War. After Reconstruction, however, it took until 1966 before an African American was elected to the Texas Senate. No reason is given for this extended absence, but my guess are the usual culprits of ignorance and racism. That and a healthy dose of voter suppression. Something to consider as states across the country are currently attempting to limit early voting and enact stringent voter identification laws.

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Deep in the heart of Texas exists the amazing Buc-ee travel marts. Like Wall Drug only without the robotic dinosaurs.

After Austin we headed north to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Housed in a former book depository (yes, that book depository), the exhibits first focus on the Kennedy presidency before delving into his assassination. It is very tastefully done and left us with many “what ifs?” like “what if his motorcade sped up as it approached the expressway?” Leaving Dallas we continued to think deep thoughts and I thought of how big our country really is. Sometimes I think that the amazing thing is not that Americans are so divided but that we ever come together at all. But then a national tragedy occurs and suddenly people feel a kinship to people who vote and think differently than ourselves. What if more people were able to drive instead of fly across America? What if that led to more open conversations? What if indeed.

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Looking down at Dealey Plaza from book depository

 

 

Galveston, Texas

Seawall Blvd. wraps along the Gulf side of Galveston. On one side is water, a sliver of sand at low tide, and the rocks which make up a tentative barrier against the sea. All the hotels are on the other side and in between are four lanes of highway. There are precious few ways to safely cross the street so we ended up driving across the street. As far as beach towns go we were not that impressed. The next morning though we found the quaint downtown and the quiet state park where we spent most of the day hanging out at the beach. Sometimes it takes a little while to get to know a place.

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Hanging out at Galveston State Park. Campsites on the beach as well as on the bay are available.

First founded as a “pirate kingdom” in the early 19th century, Galveston evolved into a very important and rich port city that was then nearly wiped out by a hurricane in 1900. The worst natural disaster in U.S. history, somewhere between 6,000-8,000 people were killed. Galveston was rebuilt and fortified in part by an influx of immigrants including approximately 10,000 Eastern European Jews. Over the past few decades Galveston has experienced many hurricanes with Ike the most recent uninvited guest.

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Sacred Heart Church, Galveston

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The Star Drug Store first opened in 1906 and has survived several hurricanes and one fire. A counter top place with a few tables, they serve excellent food as well as classic fountain drinks. Hennacornoelidays approved.

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Pleasure Pier is one of several piers jutting into the gulf.

 

Greetings from Abbeville, LA

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Avery Island: home of Tabasco sauce and the Jungle Gardens

Greetings from Abbeville, LA where we just celebrated New Year’s Eve in a very comfortable and relaxing rental. It was a bit touch and go to begin with as our GPS first delivered us to the wrong house. We stumbled about looking for a key before Corey went into the backyard and fun a whole mess of bullet casings. Time to go. The next place looked promising (and was in fact the right home) but we were a bit confused by the police cruiser parked out back. I wondered if 1) I stumbled into a crime scene and 2) if I had a good alibi. Again I could not find the key so I knocked on the door. Nothing. Then I tried to turn the knob and was surprised when the door opened. Now I wondered if maybe there was a napping police officer inside. Trying my best not to get shot, I yelled “tourist from Chicago! Just looking for the home I rented!” Complete silence and I thought about stepping into the house before I heard a dog barking from inside. I ran back to the car and cursed all home rentals. Eventually the mystery was solved (the rental was actually toward the rear of the property). Later we met the our two hosts and found them to be incredibly kind and spirited. He probably would have shot to wound not kill me.

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Jungle Gardens include many Asian plants and artifacts including this thousand year old Buddha.

Abbeville, by the way, is the home base for Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup which is supposedly a staple of southern cooking. A Steen’s recipe book was placed in our kitchen. Flipping through I came to a chapter titled, “Why Pure Cane Syrup Is Necessary In The Diet.” From this chapter I read, “Most mothers are natural worriers about whether they are providing the proper diet for their offspring. Their worries could be put to rest, however, with a daily serving of pure cane syrup…” It goes on to describe how children in Southern Louisiana often snack after school on “syrup sandwiches.” And, of course, “for countless healthy individuals, ‘syrup sopping,’ is the only kind of desert worth mentioning” which consists of “pouring a good quantity of syrup into your plate after the meal is finished and sopping it up with hot, crusty French bread.”  There was a bottle of the stuff in our kitchen so I drizzled a bit on some bread. Not bad. Not bad at all.

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New Years Eve was also the last night of Hanukah. Over the last week we lit candles at Christmas Eve dinner, hotels in southern Illinois and Mississippi and, of course, the Big Easy.

Postcards from New Orleans

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Lafayette Cemetery, New Orleans

In between lots of tea and one more Urgent Care stop (and Henna’s cold is just now really starting to clear up), we had ourselves a good time in the Big Easy. To us the city is equal parts Pirates of the Caribbean, Europe, and the American South. It is also rickety trolley cars well past their prime, Spanish moss hanging from the Cyprus trees, and hipsters congregating in the Lower Garden. It will not take a Voodoo spell to bring us back here.

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We were lucky to have met photographer David G. Spielman whose photos in the immediate aftermath of Katrina chronicle a very desperate time in New Orleans

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Located just outside the French Quarter in one of the oldest African American communities is Louis Armstrong Park (formerly Congo Park). Into the mid 19th Century slaves met her every Sunday to trade goods, stories, and express themselves in music and dance.

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La Bamba: Champaign, Il

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Burrito as big as Henna’s head

After a wonderful Christmas down south in Hegewisch, we are headed further south to the Big Easy. Henna does have a bad cold but the kind folks at Effingham’s Urgent Care assured us she probably will start feeling better soon. So with a menorah in the back seat and candles to burn, we are ready to begin a new adventure. First stop off the interstate was La Bamba.

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Ramiro Aguas, co-founder of La Bamba

Always open well after last call and featuring “burritos as big as your head,” La Bamba has been a fixture in Champaign since 1987. Begun by two brothers, Ramiro and Antonio Aguas, La Bamba now has eight locations spread out over four states. Amazingly, the restaurants do not use freezers or fryers which results in a very fresh product. Henna and Corey are big fans of their veggie burritos. I like their tortas. The burritos, by the way, are available in several sizes including one that is definitely bigger than even my head.

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The winter sky over the flat Illinois farm land

The days are a lot shorter in winter and hotels frown upon starting camp fires so we end up watching a bit more television than we do in the summer (which, if you ask me, involves way too much Food Network; I mean come on, how many times can anyone watch a future groom and bride fight over their wedding cake. And honestly, if you cannot compromise over a cake I’m not sure you should even get married). We also order a lot more pizza. Tonight’s pizzeria  told me that they were running low on dough so they were only making medium size pizza which would then be  delivered to us in about two hours. Our options were a bit limited so we added a salad and it was all delivered ninety minutes later without napkins or forks. The pizza, although cold, was actually pretty good. And when the ladies were not looking I switched the channel to watch some football.