Friday, July 22, 2011

Taos Pueblo

When I was researching things to visit in Taos, Taos Pueblo kept coming up. But it kept coming up with mixed reviews. Some said it was fantastic- you had to go. Others said stay away, the natives did not like you or want you. Wow. I certainly did not want to be where I wasn't wanted. But if it was amazing and special and visitors were encouraged...

Eventually, my curiosity won. Deb, Barry, the girls and I trekked five minutes from our rental to see the Taos Pueblo. After we paid our entrance fee, and to register my camera and Deb's camera, we were allowed into the ancient community. Having read all those reviews, I knew the best way to to see the city was on a guided tour. Otherwise any questions you had would not be answered. (I don't know how true that was, every person we saw was really nice. But the guide had a lot of information, so I dont regret the tour at all)

Taos Pueblo claims to be the oldest continually inhabited community in the USA. Since I have grown up near St.Augustine, Florida, which boasts the same thing, I can't help but wonder how many places claim this and what criteria they use.  Anyway. The native people who live within the walls of the ancient city continue to live the same way their ancestors did. There is no running water or electricity within the walls. (Which explains why most choose to live outside the walls, while still on the reservation)

Our first stop on the tour was San Geronimo Church. Built in 1850, it is one of the youngest buildings in the community. The ceiling is lines with beautiful carved wood, called vigas. The walls are thick adobe, natural yearround insulation. The saints lining the front of the church are much older than the building. They were brought by the original Spanish missionaries. The saints were saved by some of the Pueblo women in the attack and subsequent attack of one of the older church buildings. The women literally covered them with their bodies as the building collapsed around them. The Virgin Mary is the central figure behind the altar, and the Pueblo People change her garments according to the seasons.  I'm telling you all of this, but I was not allowed to take photos inside of the church. All I can show you is the outside.

San Geronimo Church

Our next stop was the cemetary. This was started in 1619, using Indian slave labor as they were forced into Catholocism. (60% practice today- 100% still observe native beliefs as well). The first 2 churches were built here. Natives enter the cemetary on the day of their loved ones funeral, on feast days, and on the anniversary of the loved one's death. Other than that, they do not enter the grounds.

The remains of the last church

The Hlaauma (North House) and Hlaukkwima (South House) are the main two structures in Taos Pueblo. They're believed to be over 1000 years old. Originally, the only way you could enter was through ladders up to holes in the roof. This helped them keep out invaders, wild animals, and preserve indoor temperatures. They're made entirely of adobe. (earth, straw, and water mixed and poured into forms) Once they dry in the sun, they are very durable. Vigas are used their celings.
Hlaauma (North House)

You can see the Sangro De Cristo Mountains in the background. The Blue Lake is there, which has very special religious significance for the Pueble People. Their creation stories center arond this lake.
Red Willow Creek River flows from this lake out of the mountains. It is their sole source of drinking water (so we were asked not to walk in it).
 Everywhere around the Pueblo there were these little adobe ovens. A friend had already warned me that I HAD to buy some of the bread that they bake in these ovens, so I was VERY interested in these. The ovens are called hornos. A cedar fire is built up inside to heat it, then all the ashes are taken out, and loaves are put inside. Atleast 30 loaves can be made from one firing. Let me tell you- that bread is fantastic. So were the cookies and pie we bought. I keep debating a run to the reservation just for more bread!
A horno (adobe oven)
I'm glad we decided to check out the Pueblo. It's something incredibly special to Taos. I can see its cultural influence all over town. The language, art, and architecture owe a lot to the People of the Red Willow (what they call themselves).

inside one of the shops

Kaya watching the Red Willow Creek River

One of the houses just inside the walls

Bella in another shop

Why We're Here

A couple years ago I was watching a show on the HG channel about crazy and unique homes. One of the places they showed was so different than anything I had ever seen before that I had to tell Rick about it. This place, called an "earthship", was one of the strangest and most fascinating things I had ever seen. I had no idea what I started that day. From then on, Rick wanted to learn everything he could about "living off the grid". He spent hours reading books and researching. Soon, we thought we wanted to build one.

What is an earthship? It's the brainchild of an architect named Michael Reynolds. These homes are built using recycled material (tires, bottles, cans), harvest their own water through cisterns on the roof, use solar and thermal heating and cooling, are powered through solar and wind electricity, and have built in greenhouses which allow you to grow your own food while reusing and filtering the water from your sinks and showers.

Now, I am not totally crazy. I wanted to spend at least one night in one before we started this ordeal. So that became part of our plan. Rick would intern at "The Greater World Earthship Community" to learn everything he could about earthships, and we would have to spend some quality time inside one so I knew if I could handle living in one.

Fast forward a few years, and our plans started to fall into place. For the month of July, the Shimer family is in Taos, New Mexico. Five days a week, Rick heads out to work with "the hippies" and learn various aspects of building an earthship. Working alongside interns from Sweden, China, South Africa, India, New Zealand, and the US, he's made tires and cans into garden walls. He's plastered the inside of greenhouses. He's put in the wood framing for interior structures. His work has been filmed for a Swedish documentary. It's all been a huge learning experience.

The first earthship I ever entered... For sale for just $400,000! (LOL) 3/2 "Euro" earthship. Yearly utility bill: $100

"EVE", the latest in Michael Reynold's architectural green building experiments. Yes, those are cans.

Now, why are the girls and I here? Well... We're just lucky, I guess. Since we're all off for the summer, we could all come together. I can't imagine the girls being away from their dad for a month. So we decided to spend a month in a new climate and landscape, having as much fun as we can. I also had to spend some time in an earthship, so we did that, too.

I am so glad we rented an earthship. It's one thing to read about something, and look at pictures, and even walk through one. It's another thing to prepare a meal, have a shower, and go to bed in one. We got to experince firsthand how the hotwater was heated, how to get the stove going, how the AC powered fridge worked (just as well as a DC, actually), how it would feel to have flowers and plants growing in my living room and kitchen- and bedroom.

I got up in the morning and spent time on the comfy loveseat in the greenhouse, staring into the front yard. It was incredibly peaceful. I could easily imagine my own home, with my own plants growing, looking out into my own beautiful frontyard. (The one I was viewing left a little to be desired...)

What didn't surprise me was how like a traditional home it felt. I could flick a switch and have light. Turn on the faucet for water. Plop on the couch and watch tv. You weren't sacrificing comfort for sustainable living.

What surprised me the most were the spontaneous design elements that were part of the house. The absence of straight lines. Beautiful shells that were part of the curved (spa like) bathtub. The way the polished adobe floor had little tiles accenting corners and changes in height. A fascinating mermaid pictured in stain glass in the bathroom door. Skylights in every room. Glass bottles letting varicolored light into the hall. 

It's official. I am ready to take up the next part of the journey that will lead us to living in our own earthship in Florida.

The greenhouse in our rented earthship. The plants here are watered by "greywater" from sinks and tubs.

The living space. I loved everything about it- especially the banana tree!

Yes, the front yard needed work. In ours, this will have plants that are watered by "blackwater"

I plan to start sketching my own backsplash...the sky is the limit.

I love the shells in the "wave" on the tub

Our bedroom planter, including a little cubby and built in shelf.

Kaya enjoys the hammock in the greenhouse entry

An Unusual 4th of July

Have you heard anything about the wildfires in New Mexico? When we arrived, they were less than 5% contained and the mountains had a slight haze of smoke around them. Given the flammable situation, I had a feeling 4th of July might be a little different this year. And it was. There were no road side stands selling fireworks, no large public displays being announced. So we had to figure out some other way to celebrate Independence Day. After all, the whole reason Deb and Barry were in New Mexico that first week was to fulfill Kaya's "request" that Grandma and Papa be there for the 4th. It wouldn't be the 4th without them.

Deb had checked the chamber of commerce sites before flying out, and had a list of parades and festivities. We spent the morning of the 4th calling the numbers from her list and trying to decide what to do. (Around cookie baking time with Grandma- what would the 4th be without specially decorated cookies?)  We decided to kick things off with a short trip to Taos Plaza while Rick checked in with the "hippies".

My first impression of the plaza was not that great. (later posts will show I like it a lot more now) It was full of really cheesy really touristy shops- and the festival supposedly going on was nothing more than some vendors with more touristy stuff. BUT we did stumble into an exciting toy store just off the plaze. The giant duck outside got our attention. We wandered in (after a photo op) and I was about to leave, when we noticed the outside.

This place has a playground! There are playhouses, a jungle gym, things to ride around on- and a great photo op. Kaya was her usual monkey self. She had her shoes off and was in the climbing "thing" in 2 seconds flat. Bella got her shoes off and was ready to start climbing- until panic set in and she ran back to me. Unfortunately for her, the ground was blistering. This only raised her panic.

Lucky Bella, her mommy is speedy! I got her shoes back on her and she was on her way to other area of the play area in no time flat.

Papa had to be the Papa Elf

Explaining the problem with her hot feet

Is everywhere in Taos breathtaking???

We finished up at the Plaza in time to meet Rick at home and head up to Taos Ski Valley for a parade.Taos Ski Valley is a little town in the mountains north of town. Thank goodness Rick was driving- the winding road to higher elevations (over 9500 ft) would have freaked me out- but the view was breathtaking.

We got to town just in time to catch the parade. It was a really cute local celebration, with lots of school groups in interesting costumes. My favorite was the kids all in homemade sea costumes shooting ice water from coolers using squirtguns. Kaya ran around trying to get wet- I tried to stay out of his way.

Once the parade was over, we wandered over to the ski lifts. Kaya was dying to go up, so up we all went. Some of us were less enthusiastic than others *cough* Rick & Deb *cough*. But everyone seemed to enjoy the view as we climbed to over 10,000 feet- as long as no one made any sudden movements. (heehee) We had to get off at the top, so we walked around for a little while and took some pictures. Then we had to take the lift back down. I was shocked by the people riding the lift without the lap bars in place- they looked like they were sitting in an old rocking chair.
We took 2 lifts, Rick Bella and I were together.

Those peaks were around 13,000 ft

Safe on the ground again, Kaya immediately wanted to head back up. Papa was all for it- the rest of us weren't up to the challenge. So we found a little spot for refreshments and waited for the adventurers to come back to us. Once everyone was together again, we made our way back down the mountain to find dinner.

We ended up eating at Orlando's New Mexican Restaurant- which has become one our local favorites. I don't think I've ever had Frito Pie before- and it was awesome! Rick liked the logo so much he bought a t-shirt. It's a "Day of the Dead" style skeleton dressed up in eclectic Mexican attire holding a plate of food on a black shirt.