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Thursday, November 13, 2008


After traveling to India, France, Mexico, Zion National Park and Death Valley, I was weary of being far from home. “Why go to the ends of the earth?” I asked myself. “There’s much to see right here.” Accordingly, I set my sights for southern New Mexico.
Originally from Virginia, I’ve lived in Santa Fe since 1967. As a “semi-native,” I had no excuse not to know more about my chosen state. My travel companion, Peter Dechert, is a photographer and also a longtime New Mexico resident. For him, everywhere offers lovely, interesting photo opportunities. In the spring of 2008, we agreed that it would be fun to spend an old-fashioned Fourth of July weekend in Silver City. It’s about five and 1/2 hours south of Santa Fe.
En route we visited the Very Large Array (VLA) south of Socorro on the Plains of San Augustin. The drive to VLA offers big, beautiful cloudscapes in a dazzling blue sky; high desert plateaus and the distant Gallinas Mountains. The terrain’s stark emptiness is amazing: very few cars, vast stretches of unpopulated land, dramatic panoramas in every direction.
The VLA: long before reaching them, one sees the gargantuan radio telescopes. From a distance, they resemble huge insects just landed from outer space. As we drive closer, the “insects” look more like what they are: fantastic dish antennas, 27 in all. Our guidebook states that each weighs 230 tons and measures 82 feet in diameter. Apparently the 27 telescopes move on railroad tracks to focus at the same time on one area of the sky. Enabling a colossal survey of the heavens, radio impulses are transferred to photo images.
The VLA is astonishing and well worth a couple hours to walk around outdoors and also to visit the small but fascinating information center. Inside the center, we view displays explaining how the telescopes collect data from the celestial universe. We learn that their operators comprise scientists from around the globe who perform 50 experiments a month.
Among the exhibits are amazing photos of our galaxy and galaxies beyond, far-flung stars, vortexes, fiery plumes and deep blue “pools” in the sky. Several photos are accompanied by quotes from Carl Sagan. His words remind me of how infinitesimal is our planet Earth, how tiny are we humans, how we and our lives are but a tiny jot in the vast reaches of time.
One of the best exhibits is a paperback copy of War and Peace next to a flashing pulsar device. The caption explains that a single pulse equates to a volume of information equaling the entire novel. Astonishing!
“This is really hard to get my mind around,” I say to Peter. He agrees and suggests that we go back outside for more views of VLA’s “hardware.”
The afternoon is waning. My friend and I enjoy lunch at VLA’s picnic area. Half of the satellite dishes now face east instead of west. The shift took place quietly, without our noticing. Clouds are building toward the horizon and the air feels cool. Sandwiches consumed, we pack up to continue our earthly journey.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Memories of Halloweens Past

Another season without trick or treaters coming to the door... When my two sons, now in their early 30s, were really INTO trick or treating, it usually snowed on October 31st. The weather seemed to know it was Halloween. In the way Santa Fe has of changing seasons without warning, a sunny afternoon sky would grow overcast and moody. The temperature dropped suddenly, wind and rain began, and by the time my costumed offspring and I were ready to trek around the neighborhood, it was snowing in earnest.
Boots, heavy winter parkas, mittens and scarves covered up the Superman, Batman or Ghost get-ups of my children. The houses were far apart, but those folks who shared the Halloween spirit announced it with bright porch lights. We tromped into long driveways and were warmly welcomed. Most were folks we knew, and they invited us in out of the cold. Because there weren’t many young children on our street, the handouts were bountiful. No one wanted to be stuck with a huge supply of Snickers, M&Ms, lollipops and candy kisses, so without even asking, my sons were urged to take second helpings.
It seemed more like Christmas time than late October. Despite the thrill of seemingly endless candy handouts, the boys soon grew weary of battling the snow storm. We all did. Our hands and feet grew numb, and after canvassing just half of mile-long Zia Road, we turned around and headed home.
Other longtime Santa Feans, friends whose children now have children of their own, remember those snowy Halloweens. Was it really as wintery as we remember? The answer is probably “Yes.” With global climate change, however, we may seldom again know the bite of winter in the middle of Autumn. Such is life in the 21st century.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dear Diary Reading for Santa Fe Film Festival

Dear Diaries: I’m looking forward to your debut on September 23, the first day of Autumn. I’m counting on you to help me share that time gone by, those stormy teenage years. I’ll read aloud the highs and lows, angst and joy, the intense hopes and dreams, the family drama. It all started with my decision to at last write a book about growing up adopted.

How did The Goodbye Baby, my memoir-in-progress, lead to a theatrical production? Last spring, I dug out a lifetime of yearly diaries. In order to understand how my adoption and reunion with birthparents influenced my life, I'd decided to harvest my journals. Of particular interest were teenage years. Once I began reading the diary entries from 1956 to 1960, I realized that many decisions and patterns grew out of adolescent perspectives. The diaries, surprisingly, were entertaining. Some of the recorded experiences, then humiliating, were now funny; other passages were rather poignant. At the same time I was reviewing my own diaries, I came across an article about Sarah Brown's "Cringe Readings," based in Brooklyn. I also discovered that several of my friends were also reading their old journals. We began communal reading and thus the project grew into a six-woman staged reading.*
Am I suffering from writer's block? Have I abandoned The Goodbye Baby? Not really. Diaries ARE a kind of interior memoir. Reading diaries can be healing, especially when shared with fellow diarists. In youth, second chances were abundant. As one gets older, it becomes obvious that achievements dearly hoped for are never going to happen. Enjoying my diaries has provided a cure for the angst of dashed dreams and led to self-acceptance.

As John Updike said, “the need to not look foolish is one of youth’s many burdens; as we get older we are exempted from more and more, and float upward in our heedlessness.”

"DEAR DIARY" is scheduled for Sunday, September 23 at the Film Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. All proceeds benefit the upcoming eighth annual Santa Fe Film Festival.

Monday, July 09, 2007

March 12
The last day of an incredible trip! After a quick breakfast, we check out of the Tierra Blanca Hotel and motor north to the Battle of Sacramento site. Part of the Mexican-American War, this contest resulted in 300 Mexican casualties. Just one American, Samuel Owens died. Apparently this soldier harbored a death wish. He wore white and was an easy mark. We wander about the lonely, desolate terrain, snap photos and board our bus for the final stretch toward home.
Before and after lunch at the Arizona Restaurant, Hal, Luis, Michael and Steve entertain and inform us with lectures. Inez leads us in “The Ballad of El Camino Real,”* to which nearly everyone contributed a line or stanza. By four p.m. we reach the Mexico/America border at Ciudad Juarez, still hours from home. Cars are in gridlock and it takes nearly five hours to pass from Mexico to the U.S. At last, however, we pass inspection, enter El Paso, and wearily check into La Quinta Motel.
Having the background of my Santa Fe Trail research, now I know “the rest of the story,” or do I? The journey to Zacatecas has only strengthened my fascination with Mexico’s Royal Road. There are rumors of a 2008 trip, led by Hal Jackson, along El Camino from Zacatecas to Mexico City. If it does indeed materialize, I’ll be the first to sign up!

San Francisco de Conchos

March 11, 2007
A pleasant surprise: while we slept, our bus was washed and vacuumed, a feat accomplished by Luis. We board quite early this morning. Our first stop is the mining town of Santa Barbara, where one of our group, Dan, looks up his boyhood home. He finds not only the house where he’d been raised but also the swimming hole and ball field of his childhood. New ninos are now playing in the latter. Hal tells us that the silver ore in Santa Barbara is of a lesser quality than elsewhere in Mexico. Nonetheless, it was still a very active mining area.
By noon we cross the Rio Florida and enter the state of Chihuahua. By 1 p.m. we’re eating lunch at a cafe in Ciudad Jimenez: hot flour tortillas wrapped around beans, chicken or beef. Large pitchers of ice cold lemonade accompany the simple repast. Back on the highway, we view extensive areas of pecan groves and listened to talks by Hal and Luis. Hal expounds on Hidalgo and Mexico’s War of Independence. Luis explains the custom of korima, acts of kindness “from the heart.”
We stop at San Francisco de Conchos and walk uphill, by a pen of noisy goats, to the town church. Unfortunately, the keeper of the church key cannot not be found. We settle for a look at the surrounding plains, which are lovely. Back in the bus, we continue north. We pass through a toll booth staffed by school girls, who are apparently working there to obtain funds for their school. At 5:30 p.m., we reach Chihuahua and check into Hotel Tierra Blanca in time for dinner. After the evening meal, Inez and I walk to a massive Wal-Mart type store to buy appreciation gifts for Hal and Luis. After much searching, we settle on business card holder notebooks. Our last night in Mexico is quiet. The hoped-for “grand finale” celebration does not materialize, but by now it is enough to be almost home.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

San Pedro del Gallo

March 10
On the bus by 8 a.m., we bid adios to Zacatecas and progress north. As we head to the town of Pasaje, Louann gives a brief lecture about Los Moros y Christianos and the ancient tradition of dramatizing the battle between them. Developed after the Moors were forced out of Spain, around 1492, it is related to the dance of Los Matachines. The Matachines dance was brought by Juan de Onate’s entourage to what would become New Mexico. Today it is performed at Chimayo and Rancho de los Golondrinas. Luis expands on Louann’s talk and passes around a book with colorful photos of the Moros and Christianos reenactment.
Noon: our bus lumbers slowly through the hot, dusty town of Cuencome, one of the earliest Camino Real sites. The streets are little more than paths, so we will not get out. There is nowhere to park, so we see as much as possible from the windows. After many tight squeezes, we cheer when our driver Jesus makes it back to the highway.
Our next stop is Pasaje, a most important presidio on El Camino Real. Established in 1685, the full name of the presidio was La Limpia Concepcion de Pasaje. We disembark, visit the church and stroll around the plaza. Historical records reveal that in 1776, the presidial company included a captain, lieutenant, sergeant and thirty-three soldiers. The latter is the site of very large water cypress. The trunks are so thick that one can imagine that these trees were growing several hundred years ago. This was the warmest day so far and some local folks are strolling about holding umbrellas to ward off the hot sun.
Ten miles north of Pasaje, we pass through another Onate stop, Aguaje de la Vieja. On the side of the road, I see a cluster of bicyclists, all men, peddling by. Though they’re wearing regular clothes and baseball hats, they are every bit as fast as the red-jersey bicycle team I’d noted earlier.
All around are cultivated fields and orchards. We cross the Rio Nazas and the land where Juan de Onate and his men were detained for nine months. The king of Spain called a halt to Onate’s exploration until he could send an inspector, a man named Salazar, to assess supplies, thus the extended and unwelcome layover.
By 5 p.m. we are in San Pedro del Gallo, where we spend a pleasant interlude walking about the attractive plaza and looking into the church. We talk with a teenage girl from Iowa, who is studying in Mexico for a year. She asks us questions pertaining to her term paper on “tourism.” We settle back into the bus, now to cover the long distance between us and the night’s destination, Parral. Time and terrain pass. It is well past dark when we disembark and recheck into the hotel Adriana. Our driver, the tireless Jesus, finds another way to approach the hotel, so we are spared the walk up from a dry riverbed.

La Quemada

March 9
After a sumptuous breakfast at the Hotel Meson de la Merced, we board the bus for the archeological site of La Quemada. The site is far back from the highway and surrounded by acres of saguaro cacti. Looming mysteriously on the horizon, the pre-Columbian courts, stairs, buildings and massive pyramid-like structure are made of weathered stone. They cover a huge area of land next to a lake. Apparently, La Quemada was not a place where people actually lived. Rather, it was a religious or ceremonial center for 200 surrounding settlements.
Along with Claude, Paul and Rose, I climb to the top of the pyramid. Challenging, but worth the magnificent panoramas of surrounding countryside. After this exhilarating experience, I join others in La Quemada’s excellent archeological museum. Exhibits include pottery, a wall display of the maguey plant and its uses, and a presentation of atole, from which are produced many useful fibers.
Returning to Zacatecas after our field trip to La Quemada, we tour the Guadalupe area, peek into the opulent Guadalupe Cathedral. It is the most ornate of the many churches we’ve seen, full of gold and silver artifacts, marble columns, oil paintings and art treasures. The priest who was supposed to know that we were planning to visit cannot be found. Someone else, perhaps a caretaker, comes along and takes us around the cathedral grounds. Alas, he does not have a key to the inner sanctum. Thus our only peek at the church’s interior is through iron gratings. Even that partial view gives an idea of the church’s opulence.
At 3 p.m. we enjoy a late lunch at San Miguel Hotel, run by the same company as El Meson de la Merced, our Zacatecas “home away from home.” At last, we’re free to explore on our own for a few hours. Inez and I pick up our clean clothes at the laundromat where we’d left them a few days earlier. Then we shop. I find two beautiful rebosos, one of red wool, another of rose silk shantung. In a nearby jewelry shop, we buy silver earrings and necklaces. A small boutique carries must-have peasant blouses. In a bookstore, I purchase a map of Mexico and postcards of Zacatecas.
Shopping nearly accomplished, we go to Sanborn’s for coffee and desserts. We browse in Sanborn’s book department, where Inez buys a few Spanish comic books. I am hot and tired by this point, but my tireless roommate is just getting started. Skipping dinner, we walk to the musical performance by marachis. The performance is in the plaza just behind the Meson de la Merced. The tiniest musician was a boy trumpeter, who looks no older than five. Back at the hotel, while Inez is still out dancing, I pack for our journey from Zacatecas north to El Paso. Though we are basically turning around and going back the same way we came, there will be some different sites visited.

The Mining Town of Panuco

March 8
The highlight of today is our trip to the mining town of Panuco. Leaving early in the morning, we enjoy a sunlit view of the aqueduct that borders the older section of Zacatecas. We drive by “La Bufa,” the famous hill overlooking the city. We pass El Bracho, a small church dating back to 1549. Hal informs us that this is where Zacatecas really began.
Veering northeast from El Braco and entering an area named Veta Grande, we wind our way uphill to Panuco. On one of the hills, we come to a fortress adorned with a moon and scimitar, apparently a structure used in reenactments of the battle of the Moors and the Christians. This dramatization, presented by townspeople, depicts the Christians’ victory over the Moors. It is staged yearly, from June 24 through 26. We get out briefly to look around. A caretaker is walking about the fortress grounds. He tells us that we’re the first group that’s ever come to the site.
The bus continues on to Panuco. We pile out and gather on the plaza with a local historian named Maria. The Plaza is being remodeled , the surrounding gardens spruced up. Maria tells us that Panuco’s church was the most important in the 17th century. We step inside, gazing upon a St. John’s pendant given by the Vatican, seven crosses representing forms of Christ during Holy Week.
Leaving the village plaza, we see public buildings donated by a philanthropist named Martin de Zavata. His name is everywhere, including the facade of a bright orange public library. Stepping inside, we meet the librarian. I ask him if he has any books by Rodolfo Anaya. No, but he does have an American connection. He opens a desk drawer and pulls out a letter written by my friend Delores Pong, a Santa Fe author.
We hike uphill, passing an elementary school and a small housing development, and finally reach what remains of the hacienda of Cristobal Onate. Cristobal, the father of Juan, was the founder of Zacatecas. There is no record that Juan de Onate was actually born in Panuco, but there is little doubt that he grew up in the hacienda.
The remains of the hacienda, which was built around 1548, and the adjoining mines sprawl over a vast area. For several hours, we explore the rugged terrain. I listen to occasional talks by our three guides Maria, Hal and Luis. Maria is a local historian who speaks only Spanish. I am reminded of my vow to refresh and expand my knowledge of that useful language.
The Panuco site is the first mine that started producing impressive quantities of silver. Cristobal Onate, the landowner, fathered six children - four boys and two girls. After Cristobal died, Juan was raised by a relative, probably an uncle. Juan de Onate grew up to be a miner but early in his adult years, he started expeditions to the north.
Juan de Onate’s allegiance was to Spain: he promised he would not perform any actions against the crown. At the height of his career, he owned 7,000 cattle, oversaw 130 families, and commanded 200 soldiers. By the 1800s, the Onate hacienda was mostly abandoned, with just a couple female relatives living there. The property and its crumbling walls, scene of such power and wealth, is now owned by the government of Mexico. Administered by the education department, the land is now rented out for farm uses, including the storage of animal fodder.
Next to the remains of the Onate family chapel,I stand in the sun, refreshed by a gentle breeze. Further uphill, a herd of bleating goats passes through, their bells tinkling. Alongside, a goat herder prods them along. One of the silver processing pits is the topic of a technical lecture by Hal, who explains the two methods of silver processing. Just one step in the refinement of four tons of silver ore took six weeks and large amounts of water, salt and mercury. The entire process could take four years. Nearby rivers filled the acequias and provided ample water for processing the mine’s vast quantities of silver. Medina, an entrepreneur of the time, brought the newest mining techniques to Panuco from Germany. Panuco’s mines far surpassed others in using “modern” methods.
Leaving Panuco, we drive back to Zacatecas for lunch at the hotel and then an afternoon free to explore the town. There is far too much in Zacatecas to see in just a couple afternoons. Even a week would barely suffice. Deciding to put La Bufa and the mine off for another visit, I opt to see the famous mask collection at Museo Rafael Coronel. The setting is an imposing stone Franciscan monastery, now used to serve art. It contained room after room of masks from all over Mexico, including images of military men, all manner of native tribes, Cristianos and Moors (from the Pastelores commemorations). There is a veritable multitude of devils and demons as well as animal faces. Truly an incredible display!
In the evening, most of our group stroll to the elegant Quinta Real Hotel for dinner. Perched next to the aqueduct, the bright orange buildings are surrounded by beautifully groomed gardens. We enjoy drinks in the bar, which looks out on a bull ring. No bulls there these days. Instead, the bull ring is used for special events such as weddings and receptions. Inez and I each try a different Mexican fish; both are delicious. The Quinta Real’s interior is by far the most elegant on our trip. I imagine coming back in another lifetime to


March 7
At 8:30 a.m. we check out of the Casablanca, pile into the bus, and head for Zacatecas. The first stop is at Nombre de Dios, a very early town on the Camino Real.
We tour the town briefly. Some of our group, suffering from “churchitis,” cannot bear to tour yet another church. Most of us, however, are curious. This one is a beauty. The interior walls are a vibrant mint green, beautiful in an exotic way. Inez and I agree that these Mexican churches never disappoint. No matter how run down or dull the outside, each one has its own particular beauty inside. Like others along our route, this church has mosaic floors. Unlike others, however, it has a distinctly Moorish feeling. The arches are made of cement blocks. Between the arches are brick-lined domes. Before reboarding the bus, we buy snacks at a tiny general store. I’m lucky enough to purchase the last remaining bag of delicious dried apples, a bargain at ten pesos.
Today’s route is very long, and to avoid another 12 hour day in the bus (of which we’ve had a couple), we bypass Sombrerete and go on to the village of Contreras. Hal informs us that this village was on the original route of El Camino Real. After seeing the church, in which the Pacheco and Galuidan families are recognized, we wander through a section of ruins. Cylindrical watchtowers and an ancient acequia make it easy to imagine Juan Onate and his men passing through on their horses. The cultivated fields around us are dotted with pyramid-shaped grain repositories.
Our bus lumbers southward, pausing at a border town. Because we are passing a state line, from Durango to Zacatecas, and our driver must pay a fee. It is still a long way to the city of our destination. The surrounding countryside, rolling hills dotted with pinons, looks very much like northern New Mexico. A military control point requires us to stop for inspection. The new Mexican administration, Hal informs us, is really clamping down on drugs. Obviously, we do not look like suspicious characters, so we are waved through.
We pass many signs pointing to Fresnillos and Aguascalientes, heading ever southward. In Zacatecas at last! We check into Hotel Meson de Merced, conveniently located in the heart of downtown, freshen up, and then embark on a walking tour with a local guide named Ulysses. He shows us a cathedral dedicated to St. Augustine, baroque on the outside and neoclassical on the inside. We’re shown government buildings dating back to the time when Zacatecas minted coins for three different treasuries. Silver coins were made for China, the Philippines and New Spain. In exchange, Zacatecas received goods such as silk and ivory. We end the day’s tour with time at the Cathedral of Zacatecas, a graceful mix of Spanish and Indian design features.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Discovering Plaza Azul

Tuesday March 6
Our first day in Durango begins with a walking tour led by a local guide. Everywhere we go, men are painting, planting and watering gardens, cleaning and sweeping. The lovely Plaza de Armas is bustling with preparations for Easter. A gazebo-like structure, the 1950s-built El Kiosco de Cantera Rosa, is adorned with names of famous musicians. The musicians circle the bottom of the rotunda style roof, including Arturo Lucero, Silvestre Revellas, Ricardo Castro and Francisco Fournier. Our guide tells us that musical presentations are given every afternoon. Young men and women promenade around the plaza, girls going one direction, boys another.
Our guide walks us to the magnificent Catedral Basilica Menor. We spend time outside as exterior details are pointed out and explained. In the arch over the main door is a carved Mexican eagle. The front is also graced with statues of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Stepping inside, we admire the beautiful carved wooden altar and the boxy straight-backed seats on three sides behind the altar. The latter are for attending priests. To one side of the nave looms a statue of San Juan, a martyred priest who would not divulge the secrets of the Queen of Spain. On either side of the church proper are extremely wide aisles. They are spacious enough for large processions.
We linger a bit, then step out into the midday sunshine. Luis points out a “Palace of the Roses” on one side of the plaza and the “Palace of Tears” on the facing side. In the former, ladies viewed parades and other public events from the balconies. The latter, a magnificent stone edifice, now houses a MacDonald’s. At least there are no golden arches in sight.
Leaving Plaza de Armas, we encounter a crowd of people sitting in folding chairs under canopies. All eyes are on the podium. The governor of Durango, a handsome man who looks to be in his thirties, is presenting a gift to the city, a mobile air quality monitoring device. TV cameras and journalists are documenting the event.
School children and their teachers are in the audience, each school represented by a different uniform. One class wears red sweaters, white shirts and gray pants. A group of younger children are wearing navy blue warmup suits. The girls carry the same backpacks popular in the U.S. - “Hello Kitty,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “Nemo.” These are second graders, their teacher tells me.
As we leave the political gathering, our guide informs us that this plaza was founded by the Jesuits 400 years earlier and that in 1767, the Jesuits were expelled. Next stop is the Palacio Municipal, where we admire the graceful arches and central plaza. The building is filled with dramatic, colorful historical murals including one of Benito Juarez with Abraham Lincoln. More sightseeing and then a pleasant afternoon stroll back to Hotel Casablanca.
The city tour planned for this evening falls through. The appointed bus never comes to pick us up. Louann, Inez, Joan and I decide to walk to a seafood place that Hal tried and liked on a previous Mexico trip. We find the restaurant several blocks from the hotel, but it’s closed. By now it’s dark and slightly cold. In our quest to find another eatery in the neighborhood, we check with some neighboring businesses. Amazingly, a Mexican family notices our plight. The driver, who must be Papa, says that they also are going out to dinner. They know a place nearby and invite us to pile into their car and go with them.
It is a tight squeeze, but we four Americanos stack ourselves in the back seat and went with our Mexican “rescuers.” The destination (and ours) is Plaza Azul, a delightful seafood restaurant with high ceilings, a yellow 1928 Ford in one corner, a Western movie playing silently on an overhead TV, and a bar resplendent with colored lights. Our server brought miniature coat racks to put at the corners of our table for our jackets, and we enjoyed a dinner of cerveza and various seafood dishes. The helpful family, who refused to take a single peso for chauffeuring us, sat at a nearby booth. I like to think that our obvious enjoyment of Playa Azul was a sort of payment for their good deed.

South to Durango

March 5
As we head further south into tierra adentro, it seems that our departures are becoming earlier. We board the bus by 7:45 a.m. and leave for Durango. We pass through the town of “Matamoris” (literally “kill the Moors”), then enter an area of rolling hills. To our west loom the distant Sierra Madre mountain range. Standing at the front of the bus like the professor he is, Hal takes the microphone and delivers background information for what we’ll be seeing today. In 1776, he tells us, Pedro Rivera described Parral as a city in which citizens are “Espanoles, mestizos and mulatos.” Religious orders -- Franciscan, Augustinians and Jesuits -- competed for the souls of these citizens.
We pause briefly at the mining town of San Miguel de Ocampo. Hal continues his discourse, stressing the importance of support for the mining activity. It took twenty people, including farmers, cooks, and blacksmiths, for each one miner. Many of the Indian workers were migrants, traveling from one job to the next. Much of the commerce along El Camino Real was generated by mining and accompanying enterprises.
This is indeed “Pancho Villa territory.” The bus pulls up to the Pancho Villa Museum, where we disembark and spend a couple hours perusing a fascinating collection of photos and artifacts. The former reveal a Pancho Villa who was loved and respected, not just the outlaw I’ve always imagined. My favorite shots include: a 1921 picture of Villa garbed entirely in white; a 1971 photo of Villa with wife Dona Luz and their son Jose Miguel Salcido Romero, a dinner table shot of Villa with Zapata and another politico named Gutierrez. One wall boasts grim photographs of Villa’s cadaver.
One room is devoted to Fiero, Villa’s thuggish second-in-command. He looks like a monster in his scowling photographs. Hal’s story about Fiero confirms my impression. While under Villa’s command, Fiero told 150 imprisoned men that they could earn their freedom if they could run across the plaza and climb a high wall. He let the prisoners out of their cells and as they ran across the plaza toward the wall, he shot them. Of the 150, only two lived. It was no surprise, therefore, that when when Fiero was drowning in a marsh, no one would answer his cries for help -- even though he was surrounded by his own men. They stood around watching him die.
Back in our “motor coach,” we travel east to Cerro Gordo, site of an early presidio. , As were most of Mexico’s 16th and 17th century presidios, it was established because of its proximity to water. In the 1820s, Cerro Gordo was ravaged by Comanches. We get out and stroll. Inez, Luis and I go to the local post office to buy stamps for post cards to America. This is apparently quite an odd request, and the post mistress can only give us enough stamps for four cards, several denominations having to be pieced together.
That done, we went to the Cerro Gordo church. It is hot outside and the church’s cool interior, its alcoves adorned with statues of saints, provides welcome relief. Outside the church, as we head back toward our to our vehicle, we meet a sad Mexican cowboy who’d been living in Kansas with his wife and three children. He’s divorced, he tells us, and had to come to Mexico to find work. He misses his kids, worries about them, and hopes he’ll see them again someday.
We’re headed south, getting close to the Tropic of Cancer. Luis expounds on the Mayan calendar and tells us about a cult for the historic “Revolt of the Warriors.” There are many Mexican customs related to the calendar, he says, and every spring there is a vast, celebratory camping out of those who honor the warrior cult.
We draw near the mines of Casco, a place where Onate stayed for nine months. Next to the road is a cienega that, according to Hal, Onate surely passed in his travels on El Camino Real. Suddenly we are in the mountains. Giant cacti are blooming on either side of the bus. The Nazas River heralds a fertile stretch of greening trees, verdant fields and bushes of yellow blossoming flowers.
Because of so many miles to cover, lunch is overlooked today. We make do with Hal’s daily provisions, granola bars and small cans of fruit juice. Progress is steady but slow. It does not help that we get behind a funeral procession just south of the Nazas River. At 5:30 p.m. the sun is down and a gorgeous sunset begins to fill the sky. We travel deep valleys, wind around curves on a narrow road, catching glimpses of city lights. Like a mirage, they appear and disappear. It is very late when finally reach Durango and check into Hotel Casablanca.

Feasting in San Bartolome

Sunday, March 4
We leave after breakfast for La Mina Prieta and Valle de Allende (formerly San Bartolome), an important agricultural settlement in late 16th century New Spain. This is fertile countryside, watered by the Rio Florida, the Rio Parral and other rivers. We pass sprawling pecan orchards. Hal explains that Valle de Allende provided sustenance for mine workers -- corn, chile, meat from goats and cows. Honey was harvested from ants! In Coronado,we enter another of the dozens of churches along the Royal Road. This one is filled with paintings of the life of Christ. The Franciscans held much power during early mining days. They converted many of the Indians who worked the mines, teaching them 100 words each.
In Villa de Allende, a town that was definitely one of Onate’s temporary locations, we meet Rita Soto, a woman Hal met during an American/Mexican cultural exchange. She graciously welcomes us into her rambling hacienda. George has located his relatives, who’ve come to Rita’s house for the reunion. We have free time to wander about the town before lunch. Temporarily separated from the rest of the group, Inez, Polly and I wander up and down Mina Street. Finally we find a corridor that opens out into a large park. To the left is what appears to be a community center. Two big rooms open out to a patio. A party, our welcome fiesta, is underway, and we are the guests of honor.
Mariachis play enthusiastically. Women of the town have prepared a sumptuous buffet, spread out on long tables next to the musicians. We partake of vegetables, burritos and casseroles. The most surprising and tasty offering is a combination of baked cactus and cheese. The music is so loud that talk is impossible. The meal finished, some of our group take to the dance floor. After the party, Hal leads us down a dirt road to a river where the conquistadores actually passed through. It’s amazing to think that we’re standing on ground traveled centuries earlier by Onate and his men!
We return to Parral in late afternoon with time enough to walk around the city. Inez and I go to Morelos Restaurant, a few blocks from our hotel. My chile rellanos are delicious. We sit with Jim and Nancy Huff, who tell us about their multiple RV trips to Copper Canyon. On the walk back to Hotel Adriana, we stop at a bookstore and an ice cream shop.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Camino Real - Pancho Villa Territory!

Saturday, March 3
By 8:30 a.m., all 40 of us are in the bus. Today’s destination is Parral. First we must get out of the city, no small feat in the morning traffic. Chihuahua goes on and on. We pass a park that was formerly the city limits. Luis points out “the House of Tears” on one corner. Apparently, the family’s son gambled the house away one ill-fated evening. In the morning his sisters and widowed mother awoke to find that they no longer had a place to live. They spent the rest of their days in bitter mourning.
We come to Chihuahua’s beautiful stone aqueduct, where we get out and take pictures. Our meandering over at last, we cross the city limit and head south to Parral. The road descends into rolling hills. We wind through many curvas peligrosas. On either side, cattle are grazing. Stone walls mark the cultivated fields and climb the hills, often dividing a hill in half. A team of cyclists in red jerseys speed by. Hal says that we’ll soon be coming to the main towns of Spanish colonization. We stop at Satevo and walk to a Jesuit church, white on the outside and quite plain inside.
When we’re back on the bus, Hal tells us about Adolph Wislizenus, a scientist-doctor who accompanied Albert Speyer from Missouri into Mexico. Two wagons of the caravan held rifles to be delivered to the governor of Chihuahua. Along with other Americans, Wislizenus managed to get arrested and sent to Cusihuiriachic in the fall of 1846. Rather than being thrown into jail, however, “the Wiz” and others were under a kind of house arrest that allowed exploration of the area. Thus resulted the diaries of Wislizenus. On March 3, 1847 -- exactly 160 years ago --”the Wiz” was allowed to return to Chihuahua. I am struck by the fact that my older son was born on this day 36 years ago.
Mexico’s vastness is dramatized by today’s trip, which seems never-ending. Hal once again points out the stone walls that crisscross miles and miles of the surrounding terrain. George Lopez offers the theory that the walls simply mark property lines. Hal is not content with that explanation. The question is never settled. Hal points out a reservoir tower in the distance. This is a favorite recreation area for Mexicans, he says. In the past, it was an area where Juan Onate stopped.
Onate had to answer to the King of Spain. An inspector named Salazar, functionary of the crown, was sent to check up on Onate. To satisfy the king, there had to be a full accounting of men, supplies, everything. Onate’s supplies were much diminished by climate and wear, but he had to make a show of still possessing everything with which he’d started out. This resulted in something of a cat and mouse game. Sometimes Onate evaded Salazar. Another time, he tarried at Minos de los Todos Santos Mines in order to borrow and otherwise acquire supplies to make up for those he’d lost. After a month of such gathering, he was able to meet Salazar with a “show” of being fully supplied.
Late in the afternoon, our driver Jesus takes us into Parral. This is “Pancho Villa territory.” We see the street corner where Pancho Villa was shot and drive by the building where his funeral was held. Luis tells us that Pancho Villa was so hated that after his death and burial, some men dug him up and chopped off his head! After some meandering, Jesus locates our home for the next two nights, Hotel Ardriana. Because the streets are narrow, we must park in a dry river bed and trek up an embankment in order to check in. Fortunately, our bags will be transported by porters. Inez and I have a third floor room with nice hardwood floors and a good view of the city. Our entire group has dinner at one long table in the hotel’s special events room. We are serenaded by three musicians singing classic “corridas.” They accompany themselves with guitars and an accordion. Two wear white sombreros; one wears white. Our own George Sandoval, a talented musician himself, joins them in a few numbers.
Luis tells us that many of the songs are based on mazurkas and polkas brought from Europe. The songs tell stories, including many about Pancho Villa. For example, “The Abandoned Tomb” describes Pancho Villa’s mausoleum containing nothing but dry, rattling leaves.