• Why Travel is Necessary

    I was finishing up a post on the Red Rock Ride, and this post/rant injected itself.   

    My travels in the American Southwest have introduced me to people of different faiths, ethnicities, races, and cultures who have a story to tell, and are willing to tell it, if you talk to them.  The beauty in these encounters, for me, has been the raw truth of their experience.  It becomes clear when you talk to people who have not forgotten, that history isn’t written by the vanquished, but by the victors.  Sadly, relevant native voices were absent from my Red Rock Ride tour, but I did hear, ever so briefly, the familiar reference of the aggressive Indian who could not receive change.  I would have like to have heard the Paiute perspective on westward expansion by the pioneers, and their own experiences in the canyons that we visited.  Utah, named for the Ute Indians roughly means in several native languages people of the mountain or people who live up high.  Ironically, the victors backhandedly revere their “brute” neighbors by naming cities, towns and even whole states after them.  Funny that. 

    I recently read an article by Binyavanga Wainaina called, “How to Write About Africa.”  This piece should serve as a benchmark for how we speak and write about other racial and ethnic groups, such as the American Indian, African-Americans, and even whole countries.  You may have noticed that there is a definite institutionalized racism when reading about the American Indian.  I have written before how certain Indian tribal names invoke fear and distrust, even today.  Luckily, education on and off the reservation has helped produce, among others, historians, writers and artists who are using their talents to create a tapestry of a new history that is palatable to the victors, and regarded by their peers.  

    What I find amazing is that the way we think of, speak and write about people who are different from ourselves in the media, in literature and in everyday conversation hasn’t changed much in 200 years.  Throwing off outmoded terms to describe people is not political correctness, but a measure of enlightenment, intelligence, and respect.  Recently, I heard someone refer to an East Asian person as “Oriental.”  I was flummoxed because this person is probably 40 years old, and lives in a major metropolitan area! When I suggested that the term oriental more appropriately refers to objects that relate to or come from the Orient, and to call a person Oriental is offensive, I was met with the political correctness argument, and/or, that his intent was not to offend.  Sigh.  It costs nothing to open your eyes and see the world around you.  Read.  Turn the channel away from those conservative pundits, and talk to people outside of your community.  Watch a foreign film.  (I know you don’t like the sub-titles).  But, most importantly, travel!  Learn about different cultures.  Travel doesn’t require taking a second mortgage on your home, or crossing oceans.  These cultures exist in your own country, sometimes just across town.   Join an international Meetup group if you cannot afford to travel.  Talk to people, no matter who they are.

    In the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri and the countless other senseless killings of young African-American males in past months, to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, to the unrest in the Middle East and around the world we should all reflect:  through what prism do we view these conflicts?  How well-informed are we? Are we just grabbing sound bites that reinforce our own prejudices and notions?  Where do we seek information?  Hear another perspective.  Start a helpful dialogue.

    I have been fortunate to meet so many people from all walks of life, out in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.  I think it is a little easier because I am open to it, being on vacation and all, but I have witnessed others on vacation with no interest in interacting with the native peoples selling their wares on the Pueblo, or even with the locals in the area. Maybe it is because I desire and seek a certain level of truth that you cannot always read about, but must experience through interaction and a reasonable exchange of ideas.  I am not special in this regard.  For me, travel is more about meeting the locals, than it is about seeing a city’s monuments.   In this space, I have tried to share some of my encounters, but they are often difficult to reduce to words.  Upasatti (whom we met in Silver City Vibe) said it well, "There is no how . . . you just be."

    I find it uncomfortable sometimes to speak to others who believe that being respectful, thoughtful, and enlightened exacts too large of a price for them, so instead they reduce these virtues to platitudes, rather than goals to strive for.  From time to time, we all harbor prejudices and jump to conclusions because we are ill-informed, but a sentient person recognizes her weakness and moves closer to truth, rather than away from it.  

    So, travel.  




  • “I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”

    Georgia O'Keefe
  • The final 8 episodes of Br Ba have begun!!

  • Jack Johnson vs. Jim Flynn (An Update to What Happened in this Vegas, Shouldn't Necessarily Stay There!)

    Loving my African-American History in New Mexico book!  I have learned so much and I'm only half-way done.

    Well, Las Vegas, Nevada is/was truly a copy cat of the true, original Las Vegas.  In addition to being the adult playground for just about every western outlaw, Las Vegas, New Mexico held Marquee prize fights!  Guess who fought there?  Stumped?  The inimitable, Jack Johnson.  Jack Johnson was probably the greatest heavy weight boxer, ever, and he was African American. The fight took place on July 4, 1912, and his opponent was Jim Flynn.  The fight was scheduled for 45 rounds!  I don't know much about prize fighting, but that seems ridiculous compared with today's 15 round maximum.

    Apparently, America couldn't handle a black man being the heavy weight champion, so they pitted several men known as a "White Hope" to unseat him. Remember the James Earl Jones movie?  It was loosely based on Jack Johnson. What's important here is that Jack Johnson trained and lived in the area for a time, and he won the match in the 9th round.  Mr. Johnson was written about extensively in the New Mexican press, and his share of the proceeds was $31,000, today's equivalent of approximately $750,000.  Wow.  Race relations seemed to have been at an even keel in New Mexico during this fight era, but the press wasn't always so kind.  Great history for a town no one knows about! Here's the fight!

  • What Happened in this Vegas, Shouldn't Necessarily Stay There!

    I've been to Las Vegas in Nevada, the Disney for adults, and now I've been to the original.  Me, I prefer the original, Las Vegas, New Mexico.

    Like an oak aged wine, the unmuted notes of an old western town prominently rested on the palate, playfully mingled with 21st century modernity.  The deeper notes presented in Victorian and Queen Ann architecture, that finished with Craftsman, Post-Modern and Contemporary styles of the university that awakened my senses to see more of this unsung, historic town.

    Las Vegas.  Once, I asked someone was Las Vegas worth taking the trip, and was told, "Don't bother."  I didn't.  Even though my ignoring this town didn't settle well, a year later, I was fortunate enough to be passing through.  I found a gem in the high plains!

    Las Vegas is situated east of Santa Fe at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and at the edge of the Great Plains.  The town was likely named for its geography and geology. The original Spanish name, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de las Vegas Grandes, translates to Our Lady of the Sorrows of the Great Meadows.  Thus, the region sits in a large meadow.  In 1835, the Spanish settlers applied for a land grant from Mexico, and with this land cession, a town was born.  

    By the time the United States declared war on Mexico in 1846, the town had swelled to 1,500 people (mostly Spanish settlers).  The Santa Fe Trail was in regular use, and the town boomed.  In 1879, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads steamed into Las Vegas.  By then, Las Vegas had become the largest city between Independence, Missouri, and San Francisco.  For a time, between 1888 and 1979 there were two Las Vegases, East and West.  West encompassed the Old Town and Plaza, and East Las Vegas was the "New Town," where the railroads landed.  East coast influences reflected in attitude, politics, food, and architectural styles.  Apparently resistance fomented into the town's division.  It's probably fair to say that this was the beginning of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry.  Later, the town declined with newer railroad lines, the Great Depression, and the advent of the motorized car.  

    In its heyday, the late 1800's, Las Vegas was the place to be--if you were an outlaw. Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Doc Holliday and his girl, Big Nose Kate, and Wyatt Earp (some say law man, others say outlaw), and other desperadoes and outcasts either passed through, or called it home for a while.  One wonders what was the allure for these rough-shod outlaws?  Maybe New Mexico has always been the Land of Enchantment! What's more, I learned that Las Vegas was rougher, tougher and more notorious than Dodge City!  This is a history that we never learned in school.  Why wasn't this rich history glamorized in Saturday morning Westerns? Or, in the Time-Life western books that my grandfather used to subscribe?  Why did Dodge, Tombstone, Amarillo & Deadwood become so famous?  (I don't know, but I plan to ask people the next time I visit).  Apparently, crime was so bad in Las Vegas that the "Vigilantes" took out an ad in the local newspaper, exhorting outlaws to ride out, or face execution.  The outlaws took heed and broke camp, only to be replaced by cattle rustlers, the comparative white collar criminal of day.  Finally, in the late 1870s, the people of Las Vegas finally got their wish of taking back their community.  It seems to have taken.  I haven't checked crime statistics, but I felt safe there.


    Well, I gave you a condensed Anglo-Internet history to say this.  This town is cool!  You can almost close your eyes in that town square and see the way it was when Doc Holliday was challenging men to gunfights in the street.  The Victorian and Italianate architecture is beautiful.  The Old Town looks recently tuck-pointed, and everything was calm, and just, well done.  Granted, I spent about an hour and a half in this town, but I loved it.  It was more lively than Silver, and shops and restaurants were open!  (That's a plus for any traveler).  We stopped at an old drug store and soda shop, that is now the new drug store and ice cream shop.  It was very cute, with lots of Coca Cola memorabilia, and an old pharmacy medicine cabinet with old medicine boxes and bottles, some that I recognized from my childhood.


    When I return to the area this fall, I really want to take some time to see the town, maybe even stay at the Palace Hotel that was just gorgeous, inside and out.  I bought lots o' silver there (not 925, but the silver used by the Diné and the Zuni) in the hotel's lobby.  Everything was on sale and the artistry was beautiful.

    I want to stroll around some of the neighborhoods of Craftsman homes and see the Highlands University Campus, which looks ultra modern in this throw back town.  People seemed friendly enough.  There was just enough going on to get a sense of how people live there. So, if you're looking at a guidebook, and wondering if it's worth the trip, it is.  I believe a New Mexican told me to skip it, so happy I got there!

    Even though the town was in sharp decline, it didn't go bust, like so many other towns after the boom.  While I like ghost towns, I'd much rather visit a living, vibrant one.  With 13,000 people, I know I only scratched the surface.  I love the small town feel and vibe.  

    So, how much do you know about Las Vegas, New Mexico?  If you just Google Las Vegas, you only get that city in the desert.  I am amazed that people think I hopped over to Nevada when I say I went to Las Vegas.  The next reaction is, "humph." They're probably thinking that it's not like the Vegas I know. Perhaps, the good people of Las Vegas, New Mexico like it that way.  Did they coin the phrase, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?"  Do Vegans (not the vegetarians) want their long and rich history known only to the few who want to know it?  I think that what happened here should be told in our children's textbooks, and not left here for a precious few to discover.  

    These histories seem to be limited to those intrepid New Mexico travelers who go off the beaten path to experience an alternative experience.  But now, how many of us can travel so freely to learn our history? So, if you travel to Las Vegas, New Mexico, talk about the history, what you've seen and experienced, and see how long it takes for someone to ask which casino you stayed.  Take a poll, ask if anyone knows where the other Las Vegas is. 

    If anyone can suggest some good historical narratives or books on this area, please share.  I would love to read a full history that includes more than just the stereotypical references to the Indian population in the area.  I would love to read about Indian contributions to the area, female contributions, and the African-American contribution.  I found that much of the Internet history is sort of biased when it refers to Indian bands by tribal their names.  When segments of history are dissected and removed to perpetuate certain stereotypes that play on and reinforce ignorance, it is offensive.  These names are almost used pejoratively.  The names I mean are Comanche and Apache. If we're honest, we might recognize what images are conjured. In some instances, these names and half truths are used to instigate a sense of righteousness that justifies the current power structure.  For example, in one history, I read that the Old Town Square had only two entrances for fortification against Apache attacks.  What are we left with from that statement?  Attacks were so numerous and deadly, that the town had to mobilize and build a fort.  What's the flip side of that history?  We don't know because it wasn't told.  Was this an oversight, or just unimportant?  With all of the Buffalo Soldiers who were sent to fight the Indians and protect the towns' settlers, there wasn't one guy who moved in?  Luckily, I'm reading a book on the Buffalo Soldiers, and I just ordered a book on African Americans in New Mexico, so I may be updating this post with some information that I glean about their contributions to this area.

    I know I'm off on a tangent, and am aware that history is written by the victors, but it's a little off-putting and offensive to still not read the truth.  I was at a memorial where someone talked about the decedent's quest and search for the truth.  In the 21st century, you would think that these truths can be told now.  Apparently not.

    So, my deliberate exclusion of the native Indian from the brief history was a choice not to fan the flame of iniquity, especially, and in light of the new Lone Ranger film that so dishonors the Indian on so many levels.  Indians were integral to the fabric of the Southwest, especially New Mexico. So, I choose to leave it at that.  For now.  

    The wild west is fun, right?  It's fun to imagine this lawless time in America.  I suppose it's all relative, right? In a hundred years, people will be reading about the gangs of this century and wonder how people survived such violent surroundings.   I wonder what ever happened to those Time-Life Old West books that I so avidly read and re-read?  Well, now I can say that I've been to the Old West, and stood in the lobby of Vegas' most famous hotel. I'm sure if those walls could talk.... they would say, "What happens in Vegas..."



  • Silver City or 28 Days Later?

    After a 6-1/2 hour drive from Santa Fe to Silver City, I was beat.  I thought I had stumbled into a ghost town and fully expected zombies to be lurking.  

  • Silver City

    I am a few days behind, in fact, I already left Silver City and New Mexico. Unfortunately, I've already returned from my glorious vacation.  Well, this cute little town made me feel the old West.  It looks like what you'd imagine in some old spaghetti western.  The high sidewalks reminded me of the boardwalks that once kept boots out of the hot sand.  The main drag's buildings stand across a wide avenue in a defiant stance that conjures images of a Mexican stand off.  Or, I could easily imagine a duel in front of the Palace Hotel instead of the low riders zooming past. 

    The shops and most restaurants were closed when I arrived, as it was Monday and Memorial Day.  It was like a ghost town, but it was awesome to just walk around and enjoy the silence.  The sun was warm, and the air was dry.  I did not know what an impact this sleepy town would have, but I felt at peace there.  I met some interesting and insightful people just walking down it's desolate streets. 

    Silver, as the locals call it, has an interesting vibe.  There is an activist spirit that is infused in every day speech that I don't find where I live.  It's more than social consciousness; it's deeper and more passionate.  It seemed real.  I think it may have roots in the harshness of the earth that one here confronts daily.  You are almost forced to stand for something in this part of New Mexico.

    The ride to Silver from Santa Fe was so intense.  It's a long ride, six hours to be exact.  I didn't appreciate the beauty driving to Silver, but on the way back to Northern New Mexico, I found the drive to be gorgeous, and the desert allure that first drew me to this state flashed like neon.  At first glance, as you whizz by at 75  or 80 mph, the straight open road appears to just rip through flat valleys.  But, once you glance to your right or left, the vast valleys expose jagged, majestic black mountain vistas.  The terrain just off the four lane highway is dry, dusty and  monochromatic. The drought-ravaged earth reveals the scorch of the sun as dust devils spring and dance in the distance.  The transportation signs reminding us that you can be consumed by a dust storm or enveloped by floods appear every few miles.  My favorite is, "Dust storms may exist."  (And so may the Easter bunny!  What does this mean?  Don't get me wrong, I found these signs necessary, but somewhat amusing having been in a dust storm in Arizona, where these warnings were few and far between).  If you are the uninitiated, you might believe you are in a place that is ripe for disaster at any moment, but not even the robust wind currents and wind gusts that moved my car into the next lane did not make me waiver!  I pressed on for the new experience---that stark desert had once again enchanted.  I digress.

    When nature is challenges you, and is in your face like the high desert, you have to rethink your priorities.  I was perpetually thirsty, but knew that a bottled drink was a 7-11 away.  We all take these modern conveniences for granted, and expect them to be there.  Always. But here, I could reflect and appreciate the realities of the environmental catastrophe that awaits my eastern city, and many other places, if we don't recognize the effects of our footprint on the environment.  It's no anomaly that the east coast has been plagued with catastrophic tropical storms, hurricanes and blizzards.  It's neither commonplace that the tornadoes of the Midwest are ripping through and leveling towns on an almost weekly basis.  Nor is it acceptable that drought occurs in an already water-starved climate.   The drought is as palpable as the poverty in the small hamlets that dot either side of I-25.  What was encouraging was that I did not witness despair.  Even when I visited Zuni Pueblo last year, one of the poorest pueblos in New Mexico, despair was not in the forefront of its people's psyche.  There is beauty in the cleansing ritual of the desert--the scorching sun, and the dry, dry air. 

    I found beauty in the positive attitudes of the people I met.  From my waiter at Shevek Restaurant (a slow food and green restaurant) to Upasatti, a spiritual brother whose quest to be present in the moment gave me much food for thought.  Just be.  Just do it.  Be mindful.  The anti-nuke activist turned solar electrician had a lot to share in a span of 10 minutes, about herself, the earth, Silver and its politics.  In Silver, there was beauty in the free exercise of one's right to protest and fight for one's own ideals.  On May 25th there was a protest of over 1,000,000  people worldwide and over 100 people in Silver that received no major media coverage.  Why? Presumably because they took on chemical giant, Monsanto over genetically modified food and the requirement for GMO labeling.  Even if you Google it, there is little information.  The Occupy movement is is not dead in New Mexico.  The activist spirit is strong in Silver in contrast to a more spiritual vibe in Santa Fe. 

    Under the artsy veneer in Silver you find a strong activist spirit present.  The people I met were ready to engage in real conversations about real and pressing issues.  Even though I missed the big blues festival by a day, and most everything was closed the day I arrived, this near ghost town left me wanting to look beneath the covers of this sleepy enclave in southwest corner of New Mexico.

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  • I'm Here and Loving it!

    Okay, Las Cuates, not so good this time.  I don't know if they closed the one I usually go to, but my GPS brought me to the one on Lomas...ok, but no cigar!  It is freaking hot here, but I love it! The car thermometer registered 94 degrees!  

    Ok, a word to the wise, if you travel to the high desert, drink plenty of water.  I am parched and congested.  I now understand dry mouth.  But what did I do?  I had two glasses of Cava at my favorite tapas restaurant, La Boca in Santa Fe.  This place is wonderful.  So many interesting and delicious tapas.  I've tasted the real thing in Spain, and this is very close!  I was taken care of by Tristan at the bar, who was very personable and attentive.  I chatted with a couple of people at the bar, which made the whole dining alone dinner experience bearable.  

    After dinner, I walked around the square and heard three female mariachis singing beautiful old traditional songs.  I did't last long last night...jet lag and the high desert has exhausted me this trip.  When you travel to nearly 7200 feet from sea level, you feel it.  Stay hydrated!  (I also find it helpful to use saline solution in my nostrils and sesame oil).  As I walked around Santa Fe, I could feel my mouth and lips drying out, and a slight shortness of breath.  After I returned to my room, I crashed.  My advice, don't consume alcohol and get rest!

    For a travel day, it was uneventful and lovely toward the end.  I didn't take any pictures, but just to give you a sense of what I had for dinner...I enjoye a roasted beet salad with summer greens, goat cheese sprinkled with pepitas, and a slightly spicy drizzle, gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic), and a beautiful rosado Cava.  Mmm.  I love la Boca!

  • Preparing for New Mexico

    Hi All,  

    I'm heading to the ABQ!  I really wanted to do the Breaking Bad tour, but maybe next time!  How many of you were mildly annoyed by the mid-season break, and now we find out that it won't resume until August!  That show is great and it's so cool how it's supporting character, New Mexico, is so understated.  It subtly enchants us as it does in real life.  

    I'm planning a pretty active trip. Las Cruces. Silver City, Santa Fe, Deming, Chacon, and of course a few hours in the ABQ to sample good food from Las Cuates.  I know some people don't like it because it is a a semi-chain restaurant, but their Chile Relleno has been delicious every time I've tried it.  I'm open to suggestions for your favorite New Mexican fare.   I'll eat more locally as I go, bit now it's tradition to start my NM adventure at Las Cuates.  

    I'm going to ride into the Gila with an Apache interpreter, ride with friends, hike, shop, cafe sit and hang out with the locals.    I'll attempt to do an audio diary, and if I can, will blog and post photos from my IPad.  Check back, and please do comment!  

    The focus is sharing travel stories, but we can talk about our personal journeys through life.  You don't always have to buy a ticket to travel.  So if you can't do your own travel, travel vicariously through me!  I promise it will be fun!

    Until the next post from the ABQ.  Ciao!