Peregrine flight

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rey de el camino

Your humble author is back, from my annual ride into the remote corners and canyons of the southwest, with tales to tell and a bit of silver in my pocket to spend. Astride my faithful steed Caravan, I have recently returned from my wandering. While some of my destinations this trip were familiar, many were wonderful and new to me.

I wish that I could tell you that I was righting wrongs and tracking down desperadoes but the truth is much less romantic than that, although I must admit that I did business with more than a few of the latter. The truth is that the only real trouble I ran into was more gastric in nature.

I was gone a little over two weeks, long past the viability date of the available underwear and socks. Had a little business to attend to in Palm Springs and had to run a little over my expected tenure.

This is at least my twentieth year going to Santa Fe for the shows in the summer, something I have done for as long as the Blue Heron Gallery has been in existence. I know that the gallery has just hit the twenty year mark for certain, as the company that has always printed my receipt books just sent me a note of congratulations and a discount offer on future printing. Come to think of it I used generic books for a couple years before that. Hmmm?

Used to be there for a good part of three months a year but we lost July and December due to a lack of interest.

I used to be a rich guy, a residential builder, believe it or not, and a quite competent and successful one. Did a few sweet joint ventures with pops and thought I was on easy street when I was still in my thirties. But the universe has its way of throwing a wrench in and mine came when the sharpie from Beverly Hills convinced my dad that he was a friend and swindled the family concern out of about thirteen million large.

Dad was a smart guy and a mathematical genus but he had a major failure, he wasn't able to judge the people who were out to fuck him until it was too late. Put his trust in the wrong people. I tried to tell him every time but a whole lot of good that did any of us. Picked clean as a whistle. Oh well, he's gone now and we all managed to rebuild our lives in some fashion. Survive and move on.

Now I sort of live by the dictum that I never trust anybody that hasn't fallen on their ass once or twice. Any fool can get lucky and win but it takes a little extra grit to get up and dust the dirt off when you've got a mouth full of sand and rocks. And I have to admit that this business is a lot more fun than building ever was.

I started buying and selling art in the mid seventies, for fun. Lots of comic stuff, both over and underground. Was in love with the work of a man that ultimately became a future friend, Rick Griffin. Still am. Unfortunately I had to sell the best stuff to survive but what did Gandalf say about only fools not being able to relieve themselves of their possessions at the proper time? Sorry to paraphrase, don't have  copy of LOTR lying around, shame on me. Think Merry tossed a brooch but my memory is a little fuzzy. Speaking of LOTR, does a current politician remind you of Saruman and if so, which one?

Guess I should start at the beginning... The two day trip to Albuquerque went according to form. First night in Flagstaff, nothing worth mentioning to report. I left early the next day and having a little extra time wandered out to Acoma.

Didn't visit Sky City, reportedly the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent, having been settled in the 13th century, but did explore the nearby plains and visited the Haak'u Museum and talked to a few very nice and genuine members of the pueblo. They gave me permission to take the pictures you see.

Don Perry
Terry Schurmeier
One and a half day setup, caught up with my cronies. Show is a blur, bought a couple decent things and sold some too. Don Perry showed up, about twenty years late I think and hung out in my booth.

People hadn't seen him forever and he was once known as the finest wool restorer in the business. Very nice to see him back out on the road. Don is known far and wide for his jokes and great sense of humor.

Billy Schenck
There were some people missing too, Bob Joyce didn't show up, couple people may have croaked. This isn't exactly the kind of business with much of a retirement plan, most traders die with their boots on.

Mellow show, well attended, little drama, no tears to speak of, promoter did her normal very good job. Had some great meals with my sometimes lawyer and full time duck hunter friend Dain Calvin, including food at Artichoke, Scalo and Farina. Later on in the story we all ate at Geronimo as well.

Mark Winter exhibited what must be the finest collection of serapes and rio grande blankets ever put together. I hope people appreciated the quality of his wares, it was simply astounding.

Tony Abeyta
John Feldman
The morning after the show I had breakfast with and toured the fantastic studio of John Feldman and the Curio Cowboys.

John is a steel guitar player who has had a swing band in the area since 1990.

Band started as Wayne's Western Band but Wayne took off somewhere along the way.

John's grandpa was a trader of sorts in these parts and the studio is decorated with a great collection of his early blankets as well as John's great collection of artwork and posters.

John is an encyclopedia of music, a preservationist and historian, not to mention great player and very good guy.

He and the band have just recorded a nifty album of songs by the great Fred Rose (1897-1954), an early writer and producer who partnered with Roy Acuff and was a major influence on many including Chet Atkins.

The album is not yet released, titled Rose of Old Pawnee, it features 18 songs and the 13 piece band has a great female vocalist, Jordan Ripley. I listened to a few cuts. Fantastic.

We talked a lot about Bob Wills and early swing, flakey fiddlers and problematic drummers. Guy is brilliant and should definitely write a book. Did I mention that he is also an ordained rabbi?

We had a nice breakfast at the Pueblo Cultural Center near the old Indian School, which he said was especially hated by the natives, who due to many documented abuses, took great and understandable pleasure in eventually razing it to the ground once they acquired ownership.

As long time Blast readers know, I take a side trip between the Albuquerque and Santa Fe shows every year. Last year was Jemez and Bandolier, year before that was Magdalena and the VLA, forget the year before that, feel free to look back and tell me. Mora maybe.

Michael Eros
Anyway this year I asked around for a cool destination. I told Michael Eros about my desire to forsake humanity and embrace the solace of nature and solitude and he suggested the Salinas Pueblos.

Michael is a long time dealer who does extra work on many film productions, you have probably seen him on Breaking Bad. He took a while to get to know and I am glad I did, I like him a lot.

I had never heard of these particular pueblos and it turns out that most New Mexicans never had either. Perfect.

The Salinas or Salt Pueblos are some of the most southern of New Mexico. Populated by various Tiwa and Tompiro tribes back to about the thirteenth century, these pueblo indians mined the dry lakes of the region and traded the vital commodity of salt with a variety of tribes, including indians of the plains region.

Eventually the Spaniards showed up looking for Cibola's treasure. Failing to find any gold they proceeded to their plan b, converting the natives to their favorite Mediterranean religion, a task that eventually led to the famous Pueblo uprising of 1680. More on that later.

I drove south from Albuquerque and ended up going through a procession of small towns known as the Rio Communities. I have always loved these sorts of little places, since I was a kid in Las Cruces, traveling around to places like Mesilla and Anthony. Stopped at a liquor store and bought a bunch of water for the hot day ahead.

The first Salt Pueblo I encountered was Abó. A group of students from UNM was feverishly working to stabilize some of the adobe work on the outbuildings. Very peaceful place and quite green on account of it being the monsoon season, Zapatos Creek flowed nearby. Abó was abandoned in 1678 for a variety of reasons including disease, drought and Apache raids.

I pretty much had the place to myself. When I first moved to New Mexico around 1963 the place was full of similar old buildings and pueblos.

Sadly what was once quaint is now in many places turned to rust and covered with graffiti. Beyond the point of recovery. Went to some two bit towns like Encino that looked liked they had been punched in the mouth.

It is always nice to find a few places yet to be destroyed.

Gran Quivira
I got in the car and drove for at least another hour or so south to the next pueblo, Gran Quivira.  I love being in the wide open, free from the phone or internet, it allows me to sort out my thoughts and rediscover myself somehow. Recharges my being.

This place was once huge, the biggest of the lot. The main pueblo, called Las Humanas, reportedly housed over two thousand inhabitants and included at least seven ceremonial kivas.

I drove on to the quaint city of Mountainair, the site of the famous and now closed Shaffer Hotel, which in its day must have been really grand. Currently unoccupied and for sale.

I took a wrong turn and ended up going east, saw some great old pueblos that I wanted to shoot. Unfortunately they are on posted, private land. I retraced my steps and headed for the last salt pueblo, Quarai, the punta de aqua.

Quarai is lovely, the remnants of the Spanish church built in 1659 look very european with their high walls and buttresses.

I encountered a lovely group of sisters from Kansas City who let me take their picture and even said a blessing for my brother. Can't hurt, right?

The Salt Pueblos are remote and unspoiled. Total travel time to and fro was about six hours. A very worthwhile trip.


I drove back north to my destination in El Dorado, going back through the quiet green countryside past quaint and ancient land grant towns, Torreon, Manzano, Chilili.

Many of the towns would not allow picture taking or through traffic. Took back roads all the way back to my friend Steve's place in El Dorado where I was staying with for a couple days between shows. Lovely drive. Steve has a great pad, furnished from a lifetime of collecting.

We both love the Byrds and Gene Clark and we listened to a lot of great music together. We both played soccer and Steve was a coach for many years. Both play guitar. Good buddy, lot in common.

Steve and I went to Harry's Roadhouse for grub, ran into New York dealer and jazz guitar player Ross Traut, who may actually have his own seat there. I had a steak salad and homemade coconut cream pie.

Next day we went to the Folk Art Museum and watched a group of tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling monastery in India create the beginnings of an Amitahba sand painting.

The trip maintained its tibetan theme when the same group led an invocation at the opening of the ethnographic show.


Keeping up with the dominant old pueblo ruin motif later that day Steve took me out to Pecos. After photographing the fantastic ruins he took me to a remote canyon where he artifact hunts and showed me what he says is an old cycad fossil in the riverbed.

A fat toad crouched in the arroyo nearby.

Steve loves arrow points and artifacts, showed me how to identify an old can by the lead ring, explained that the most common provisions of the 19th century were condensed milk, sardines and tobacco.

He showed me examples of each and also found some intact bottles. Finally we came upon an old Gallegos family cemetery stuck up in the hills.

Afterwards I took some shots of the Pecos River and some petroglyphs we encountered on the rock walls nearby. As always, these pics are just a smattering, I have a lot to process and consider.

Unfortunately some of the greatest ruins, places like San Cristobal Pueblos, are now located on private land. Talk about cultural patrimony...

Something I don't quite get how these great cultural treasures can now be owned by the likes of Forrest Fenn and Vidal Sassoon. Come the revolution...

The Pueblos are interesting. Although the natives repelled the invading Spaniards in a simultaneous joint attack in the rebellion of 1680 they eventually ended up banding together with them later in order to fight what they considered a more dangerous threat, marauding Navajo, Kiowa, Ute, Apache and Comanches.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. They ended up coexisting reasonably well with the Spaniards and were one of the few native peoples in all of America that were able to live in their original lands.

We spent the afternoon exploring the region. Went to Villanueva and its namesake park, the place where Onate and the explorers first entered the region. Met a fifth generation store owner, place opened in 1912.

Steve explained the strategic importance of Galisteo Pass in the Civil War. In 1862, Santa Fe was controlled at the time by Confederate forces under Sibley, rebels who had made the unfortunate mistake of leaving their eighty wagon supply train unguarded on their rear flank. The Union soldiers under Major Chivington swung around and vanquished their foes in the Battle of Glorieta.

We visited the old town of San Miguel, which was the place where the Mexicans demanded their tax payments during the time of their dominion.

Old Church, Lamy
Drove to Lamy, the funky little place where the rail line sits, the Santa Fe spur a later afterthought.

Cañoncito Church

Finally we stopped to take pictures of the Cañoncito Church. I prodded Steve to take the road to the south and to see where it went. County Rd. 34. I am awful glad we had gasoline. What we thought would be a short spin on the passage ended up taking us the whole length of the 141 square mile Cañon Blanco Ranch, a glorious spread near the ancient places of Cow Springs and Ojo de la vaca.

The Cañon Blanco was put together over a period of twenty years by an El Paso REIT billionaire who bought out eighty neighboring ranches. Both sides of the road were pristine, dotted with windmills and ruins. Birds flew along side with us and accompanied us on our drive. A ferruginous hawk sat on a power pole in the distance.

The ranch is named for its twenty mile long canyon whose walls reach three hundred feet in the air. Remarkable place. We didn't know where it would end. Drove what seemed forever. I looked up the particulars when we got back to my hosts. Ojo de la vaca was etymologically intriguing. Could it have come from the old Mexican colloquialism con ojos de vaca cagona, the buggy eyes of a shitting cow?

Eventually we found ourselves in the Galisteo basin and doubled back home. I was seriously worn out after a couple days of some very intense trucking.

St. James Matamoros - The Moor slayer -  courtesy - Doug Morse Gallery
Set up and did the show in Santa Fe. Underwhelming but decent, will help pay the bills. Got sick eating some goat stew at a dive. Went to the History Museum and not only saw a great show on New Mexican conversos and the inquisition, Fractured Faithsalso a dynamite show on New Mexico Low Rider culture replete with some remarkable amateur photography.

After the show I decided to go south and travel to some more out of the way locales, including the funky town of Carrizoza. Place seemed to be full of galleries and hipsters. Damn it, you millennials, get off my lawn.

My next destination was White Sands and I called and made a reservation for a hotel in Alamogordo.

I don't think I had been there since 1966. My late stepfather Don Fisher worked there when I was a kid, designing early drones and rockets like the Firebee and Aerobee for Ryan Aeronautical.

It was midday when I got to the National Monument and I stayed through sunset, intending to return in the early hours for sunrise.

Las Cruces was about the last place our family's lives were normal. Don't know why we moved to El Paso but when we did the wheels came off the truck.

Now southern New Mexico is like a big militarized zone. Lots of cops and agents, with a definite lack of humor. And tools like this guy.

When I was a kid it was different. Everybody got along, we fished for crawdads in the sump, buttering up a hook with a piece of bacon and spending a lot of time catching horned toads.

I remember going to a poor friend's house with a dirt floor. We had glass on the parapets of our old adobe. Everybody spoke spanish and english. Everybody got along. Now its the DMZ, with dogs crawling all over your car looking for headstash.

Unfortunately when I returned the next morning the dour ranger informed me that the Monument was closed until around 10:30 for a missile test and I Knew I couldn't wait. Never did catch the bleached earless white lizard. Next time. I'm looking forward to checking out these shots and see what I have caught in my creel.

Lone figure and dunes

I drove to Phoenix and had lunch with Sue and Steve, then plowed forward to Blythe. It was 117 degrees in the former, and even hotter in Blythe.

The lady at the Super 8 said that it was the hottest place in the world this week, 125 degrees and I felt every gram of that high mercury.

She said that when it hit eighty in those parts the locals went and got their sweaters. Drove over 650 miles yesterday. My back is killing me. Need flexoril and whiskey.

Woke up this morning and there was a bus load of White Mountain Apache firefighters assembled in front of the hotel, ready to go fight the Blue Cut fire. I showed them an old apache basket in my collection that was purportedly to be from the peyote revival and the ghost dance movement known as daagodigha. They said that the cross and circle iconography may have actually been borrowed from Zuni.

Drove to Palm Springs and picked up a painting, continued to Fallbrook, stopped and unloaded the van at the shop. Picked up the cats at the kennel. Leslie was stuck in Vegas because the I15 was shut down southbound on account of the fire. Now I'm home. Put a lot of miles on, both on the car and the body. A good, long trip with lots of new places to discover and explore.

Hola y adios.

Gage Rest Stop © Robert Sommers 2016


Ken Seals said...

Great account and excellent photos, Robert!

Emergefit said...

Nice! It's all I got man. Nice...

Anonymous said...

Nice story and nice photo's.


Anonymous said...

Unbelievable your best work yet, I felt like I took the trip with you, thank you for sharing your journey

Anonymous said...

Great photos ! Glad I was part of the adventure. Already thinking about a good outing for next time.

Anonymous said...

Captivating Robert. I love the indian stone work. The stark beauty of those places...it's like another world compared to socal. I've always been struck by how blue the sky looks against the landscape in New Mexico.Thanks for sharing your journey.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back my friend to the show that never ends, we are so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside.
Thought we lost you in the monsoon, good read thank you.
Hope you will drop in to the Mission store way down 4 minutes south.
Single store Deliguy.

Unknown said...

Great shots! I just got back from NM. Really enjoyed my time in the Ruidoso, Alamogordo, Lincoln County areas. It was my second trip. Six years ago I was in Taos and Santa Fe shooting up a storm. If I could I would go every year. Fabulous state! Here is a link to some of my pix.
All the best,
Tim Hull
Yakima, WA