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.

Ranchos Church Front View 800px
The front view of the Rancos de Taos Church, photo by author

 

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Night Train

daybreak
daybreak from a train window

This past weekend I was in New York city for the first time in over 20 years. The main function was a family event that took place on Saturday afternoon, so I didn’t get much time to explore the city until about 5 PM, when all my people hopped on a charter bus back to PA, while I got a chance to wander around the city for a few hours until my train pulled out of Penn Station at 3 A.M. As it turned out it was a most fascinating few hours. NYC is like that; a great place no matter what the time of day (or night).

First stop was the Whitney Museum, where the “Abstract Paintings of Georgia O’Keefe” were enjoying their last weekend, before they got taken down. As a result the place was mobbed, and I had less than a hour to enjoy the exhibit, but as far as I was concerned there was not much else to see. That’s because the museum curators had taken down the permanent collection and were preparing to display the Biennial in February. Actually, this was a blessing in disguise for I got to spend the whole time wondering through the multitude of people who had packed the third floor in a sometimes successful effort to find an unobstructed glimpses at one of  the many wonderful abstractions of Ms. O’Keefe.

sunrise from a train
sunrise from a train leaving NYC

Her abstract really is quite unique, for it is nothing short of visual poetry. And this exhibition had a few of her real classics. Included were some of the small intense watercolors she made while teaching art in West Texas (one of the most visually unique places in the country), some botanical abstracts, the tiny black sphere on a large black plane piece, clouds, desert doors and more. To round out the show, there were even a few of Stieglitz’s photographs with Georgia as the au natural model. No wonder the place was jammed; it was a very intelligent show.

From the Whitney I headed downtown wandered around the East Village for a cold half hour in search of the former art scene that once graced this part of town and found little. Instead New Yorker pizza and a warm place to sit pulled me inside. Then back into the cold again and across Houston Street to Soho. Did not get as far as all the Soho galleries, but instead found a nice book store with a coffee bar, definitely a sign of the times, if there ever was one.

night train 2
smoke from a power plant viewed from the Amtrak train

Then it was back on the subway and up to 23th street, where I stopped by my bed and breakfast to pick up my luggage and then on to Penn Station, where I had a reserved seat on the 3:10 to Boston. Since I had a few hours to kill, I swung  by Grand Central just to take a peak at what a real train station looked like. After checking out the classic late 19th century architecture I arrived at the modern and low ceilinged Penn Station and hunkered down for the lengthy wait.

The scene at Penn Station was definitely unique, for the cold weather had forced quite a few homeless into the large labyrinth of walkways, fast food joints and waiting areas. The city police were not in  a mood to force loiterers back out onto the street, so they just dealt with the troublemakers of which there were only a few. Because I was a ticketed Amtrak rider, I got to sit in a special lounge and wait for my train to leave, an event which kept getting postponed.

Finally, at 6:30 the Boston Special pulled out of Penn Station with only several dozen passengers to fill the long line of cars. Free food and drinks were offered to all to compensate for the long delay, so I had a beer and hot dog for breakfast, as I got to watch the horizon turn red above the Long Island Sound. The sunrise actually made the wait worthwhile, as it created a surreal world of solid black shadows, shimmering lights and an indigo and crimson sunrise. My amazing little point-and-shoot digital handled the dark exterior scene as well as can be expected. (you can view the results above) It was a perfect complement to the O’Keefe show.

Buon Anno, Everett Autumn

day view
view from a train window