An Afternoon Visit to an Empty Church

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church sits along the San Juan River in Northwestern New Mexico, photo by author

The Church

The church was built in 1920 and still stands on a bluff overlooking the beautiful, aqua green-colored San Juan River. It’s a small building, but apparently the congregation has moved away or now attends mass somewhere else. I just happened across this place last Sunday and was struck by the awesome locale of the small church. Not far away is the Navajo Dam and behind that is the man-made Navajo Lake, but if you approach this special place from the south, you would never know that they were there.

The interior of this church captures the afternoon light on a spring day with great grace.

Inside

In the afternoon light, the church interior took on an almost mystical air, as the intense Southwest sun filtered through the small window above the altar and illuminated the sacred space with sunlight. Fortunately, the camera easily captured this event.

 

A vase with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe sits in one of the church windows, photo by author

Our Lady of Guadalupe 

According to Catholic Online the Virgin Mary first appeared to Juan Diego, a 57 year old Aztec man in 1531, near present day Mexico City. Even from the beginning Juan believed in what he saw on the hillside, but the priests at the nearest church were not so convinced. Gradually, over a few weeks, more appearances by the loved Saint along with a miraculous cure convinced the church elders that the Holy Virgin was present in Mexico.

Here she took on the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her likeness, which mysteriously appeared on a Spanish tilma back in 1531, has been reproduced and copied all throughout Mexico and the Southwest USA, numerous times. Many churches of the region, both small and large, bear her name as does this small chapel built in 1920.

Admiration

The front of the San Francisco de Assis Mission in Ranchos de Taos is less familiar than its anterior counterpart, which was made famous by a Georgia O'Keefe painting
The front of the San Francisco de Asis Mission in Ranchos de Taos is less familiar than its posterior counterpart, which was made famous by a Georgia O’Keefe painting. photo by author

The San Francisco de Asis Mission

The San Francisco de Asis Mission is the formal name for the old Spanish mission that takes most of the space in the central plaza of Ranchos de Taos, a small town in northern New Mexico, which is situated right outside Taos. More commonly, the old church is often referred to as the Ranchos de Taos Mission or simply the Ranchos Church. This is one of the few buildings in the world, where the posterior view is better known than the anterior view. The culprit in this case are several early 20th century artists, such as Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe, who made stunning images of the backside, which happens to sit almost adjacent to a major NM state highway. Here is one of the oil paintings of the rear side of the church that Georgia O’Keefe made back in the 30s.

One of several paintings done by Georgia O'keefe in 1929 & 1930 of the Ranchos Church.
One of several paintings done by Georgia O’Keefe in 1929 & 1930 of the Ranchos Church.

Adobe

Adobe is nothing more than mud (with a heavy clay content) mixed with straw. It is common building element used in the third world, but used much less so in a modern industrial society. The ingredients are inexpensive, easy to apply and durable, especially in drier climates. Adobe churches are still found in Northern New Mexico, where every 5 to 7 years, workers gather to apply a new coat of mud and straw to these structures. This old-fashioned type of adobe should not be confused with the numerous cement-coated structures that are painted an earth color in order to resemble a real adobe building. The adobe structures are not limited to churches and can be found all over the region. Original adobe walls are built with mud and straw bricks that are air-dried in the Southwestern desert sun and then covered with a mud and straw stucco mixture. This stucco breaks down after awhile , so it has to be re-applied every six years or so.

My Admiration

My admiration comes in the way that modern builders and craftsmen are able to keep an old building tradition, despite the advances and onslaught of modern civilization.
Admiration

The Most Photographed Church In America

Ranchos de Taos Church as seen from the back parking lot, photo by author
Ranchos de Taos Church as seen from the back parking lot, photo by author

Visiting the Ranchos de Taos Church

Yesterday, I had to travel from Santa Fe to Taos in order to pick up some mail and paperwork from my former place of residence. I rode the bus and since my errand only took a few minutes, I ended up with several hours to kill. I decided I would spend this time at this historic landmark located on the highway that heads back to Santa Fe. Funny thing that as a resident, I seldom went here, but now that I live out of town, I decided to go here, take pictures and make a few sketches of this iconic place of worship.

The front doorway of the Ranchos church decorated with two wreaths, photo by author
The front doorway of the Ranchos church decorated with two wreaths, photo by author

Where Is It?

The church is officially called the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church and it is located in Ranchos de Taos in Taos County of Northern New Mexico. Ranchos de Taos is a small Hispanic community situated just south of Taos at the western edge of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. This structure is in many ways similar to other Spanish missions situated across Northern New Mexico.

 

The Ranchos de Taos Church as painted by Georgia O'Keefe
The Ranchos de Taos Church as painted by Georgia O’Keefe

The Sculptural Properties of Adobe

Adobe is simply a mixture of mud and straw. Together the two materials combine for added strength. The elixir is easy to make and it used worldwide to create amorphous-shaped buildings, especially in dry climates such as the southwestern U.S. Most adobe buildings have to be re-coated every 5 to 7 years and as a result these structures can develop exterior walls that are quite thick and rounded in their appearance. This might help explain why the church at Ranchos de Taos has taken on its unusual appearance that makes the place so endeared by visual artists and curious travelers.

Closeup of the architectural shapes and the adobe material, photo by author
Closeup of the adobe material, photo by author

Approach From The Highway

As you approach the church from NM Highway 68, the first thing you will see is the large buttress form that still resembles the O’Keefe painting. To view the front side of the church that bears the twin bell towers and front entrance, it is necessary to exit the two-lane road and drive through the gravel and dirt parking lot until you reach the opposite end. This view, which is pictured below, looks very different from the part of the building that is adjacent to the highway. Perhaps, this arrangement has occurred because the church was built way back in the late 1700s, when local residents used different pathways to get where they were going.

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The front view of the Rancos de Taos Church, photo by author

 

The Blood of Christ

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The Sangre de Christo Mountains near Taos, New Mexico, photo by author

Winter Sunset Reveals A Colorful History

Back at the end of January I was standing outside my place-to-stay in Arroyo Seco, NM. Immediately the vivid violent panorama of the snow-covered mountains caught my eye, so I rushed indoors, grabbed my point-and-shoot digital camera and snapped off several photos of the towering peaks, just as the sun was setting in the west. The above picture features a mountain range called the Sangre de Christo mountains. For those of you, who do not understand Spanish, Sangre de Christo literally means “Blood of Christ”. The colorful handle was first applied by the Spanish explorers, who visited this part of New Mexico during the 16th century and took special notice of the intense color of the mountains, displayed as the sun set in the west and cast its rays eastward, illuminating the towering summits in the process. This natural phenomena is very similar to the “alpenglow” found in Switzerland.

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Taos town mural of Coronado on his journey along the Rio Grande near the New Mexico town of Taos, photo by author

Coronado On the Upper Rio Grande

Francisco Vásquez De Coronado was a Spanish explorer, who ventured into the southwestern portions of the United States in 1540, 1541 and 1542. His adventures took him to the Colorado River, many Native settlements in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Reportedly, he and his party of explorers traveled as far east and north as Kansas. The above mural can be found in the mountain town of Taos, NM and documents Coronado’s journey north along the Rio Grande, where he encountered many of the Pueblo villages. In 1542 Coronado returned to Mexico, but his footsteps were followed several decades later by other Spanish explorers.

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Another View of the Sangre de Christo, photo by author

The Sangre de Christo Range

The Sangre de Christo Range in the southern Rockies is quite extensive, for it extends from Glorietta Pass near Las Vegas, NM in the south all the way north to the Colorado Springs area, where the mighty Pikes Peak can be found. The above photo was also taken in the Taos area, but features a different group of peaks located slightly to the north.

The Zen of Snowshoeing

Winter Image by Koppdelaney
Winter image by H. Koppdelaney

Zen and Winter Walking

I hope you like this photographic image of the serene beauty of winter. It was not put together by me, but instead the surreal landscape comes from the image bank of Hartwick Koppdelaney, who most graciously allows general non-commercial use of his photographic artwork. Even though the figure in this picture is not wearing snowshoes and the image is a composite of several pictures, the snowy scene accurately conveys the solitude and beauty of snowshoeing.

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Snow-covered road leading into the Wheeler Peak wildernesss in New Mexico, photo by author

Road to A Wilderness Trailhead

Last week on a free day, I grabbed a pair of aluminum frame snowshoes (hardly anybody makes wooden shoes anymore), took a shuttle bus to the Taos Ski Valley and followed this snow-covered road to the Williams Lake trailhead near the Wheeler Peak wilderness in northern New Mexico. Just a walk along the graded route was a joy of discovery, because of the remarkable view of the mountains, which towered just over 13,000 feet. Williams Lake my final destination has an elevation of 11,040 feet and sits in a glacial cirque at the base of these mountains.

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Williams Lake in Northern New Mexico on a sunny January day, photo by author

My Destination

In January, Williams Lake is frozen solid as a rock and covered with several feet of snow. Because of the ring of lofty summits that surround the small body of water, it is a wonderful spot to sit and ponder the mysteries of life. Winter adds a special kind of beauty and peacefulness to place, as does the hike in, which passes through a beautiful spruce forest. Another advantage of winter is the lack of a crowded hiking trail, for the alpine lake is a popular hiking destination, especially in the autumn, when the leaves turn a golden yellow.

Winter-Clouds
Cloud formations above the Sangre de Christo mountains, photo by author

Clouds From the Bottomside

Since the walk out was just about all downhill, I had a much better chance to take in the stunning mountain landscape. As sunset quickly approached, the overhead clouds took on strange shapes, accented by the sun that was located low in the western sky. The high ridge line of the ring of mountains, which circled Williams Lake, made me feel very small as I continued my descent back to civilization.

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High mountains near Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, photo by author

Reflections On the Walk Out

Overall, I felt very fortunate to be able to access such a place by public transportation. I don’t own a car, so traveling to Nature’s most spectacular locales is often not a viable option. Furthermore I enjoyed my view of the sky as day slowly faded away and turned into night. By the time I made it back to the base of the ski resort (located some 1700 feet below the lake) the sun had set and the first evening stars were visible in the night sky.

Take A Deep Breath

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Zion Canyon at sunset in Zion National Park as seen from Angels Landing looking south. from Wikipedia, photo by Diliff

Not The Tragedy That I First Thought It Was

Yesterday, I had a moment of sad regrets that left my mind racing and me pounding the table with my fist. No…… noboby died, I didn’t lose my job nor did I get evicted and be forced to move into a homeless shelter. The cold hard truth is that my laptop computer died.

Immediately, I started thinking how I could replace the invaluable electronic device with a new updated model complete with all the latest bells and whistles. In fact, this has been a move that I have been contemplating for quite some time. Only lack of funds and an old outdated Gateway that refused to die kept me using by old faithful friend.

Rider by H. Koppdelaney
Rider by H. Koppdelaney

Things Look Different This Morning

Today, the urge to buy a new internet device is not so much an overwhelming event, as it was yesterday. I had originally planned to make the purchase next month after I move. This morning that  still seems like a good idea. The damage to the computer is not fatal and my hard drive is probably OK. I have power to the laptop, but  the screen is black. Other more impressing problems like doing my laundry and going grocery shopping have arisen and taken the place of the computer with the black screen.

Chance Upon A Good Read

After my computer went down, I was lost as what to do, especially since there is limited TV reception out here in the wilds of Northern New Mexico. By chance I came upon a good read, titled The Snow Lion’s Turquoise Mane. The collection of very short stories is subtitled, Wisdom Tales from Tibet, and the text is written by Surya Das, a well known Buddhist teacher, who is referred to by the Dalai Lama, as the “American Lama” . So I guess I can say, all is not lost.

A Tale of Two Cities

66 Diner on Old Route 66 in Albuquerque
66 Diner on Old Route 66 in Albuquerque

Albuquerque

Albuquerque is the southernmost of the two cities and with a population of nearly half-a-million, it is the largest city in New Mexico. The University of New Mexico is located here along with Sandia Labs, Kirtland Air Force Base and Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute. The city is noted for its location on the original Camino Real (Royal Road) that ran all the way into Mexico and old Route 66, which passed through the city on its East-to-West path. Even today, some of the Art Deco highway architecture can still found within the city limits. Currently the new NM Railrunner passes through the city on route from Santa Fe to the southernmost point.

Poster of ongoing art show on display on the exterior of the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe.

Santa Fe

About 50 miles to the north of Albuquerque at an elevation of 5,000 feet, sits the state  capitol of New Mexico, Santa Fe. Once this frontier outpost was the western terminus of the Santa Fe Trail start began in Independence, Missouri and crossed the Kansas prairie to northern New Mexico. Once trade routes were established with the US, merchants here were able to do business with both the US and Mexico and as a result the town flourished. Much of that heritage can be seen today among the numerous trading posts, restaurants, stores and inns that abound in this high altitude city of only 70,000 residents. Despite its small size, Santa Fe is a busy business hub that sees much commerce and trade.

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A bold image of the roadrunner marks the NM Railrunner train.

The Rail Runner 

Linking Santa Fe and Albuquerque by cheap rail has done many things for both cities. The rail cost between 300 and 400 million dollars and was first opened in 2006 with a run between Albuquerque and Belem to the south. In 2008 the train began servicing Santa Fe, so nowadays almost 300,000 one way passes are used every month. Price of a roundtrip same-day ticket are just under $10 dollars, while a one way is only a little bit less.

The railrunner has a been boon to tourism because of the ease of access between the two cities. Also it has created work commuters, who can ride the rails and save fuel and wear and tear on the vehicles. The number of daily riders has risen each year, yet the rail still falls 10 million short on being self-sufficient every year. Considering the rail line between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is less than five-years old, the overall outlook of the rail service is bright and encouraging for other places that might want to consider setting up rail connections between closely located cities. It should be noted that this is not a high-speed service as maximum speed is somewhere around highway speed.

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