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.

Fun

The Dog House on Route 66 in Albuquerque sells hot dogs, photo by author
The Dog House on Route 66 in Albuquerque sells hot dogs, photo by author

Fun

The hot month of August is a good time to escape  the dog days by getting out of the house and let someone else do the cooking. Most likely, this New Mexico dog house sells a lot of hot dogs during the summer months.

Fun!

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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

Happy Birthday America

A Photographic Tribute To the Good Ole U.S. of A.

Washington D.C. celebrates the Fourth with an impressive fireworks display.
Washington D.C. celebrates the Fourth with an impressive fireworks display.

It’s hotter than hell out here on the banks of the Missouri where the prairie meets the mountains. Thunderheads appear almost every afternoon now, but more often than not they drift on by, dropping their precious moisture elsewhere.

All of these things are sure signs that hot dog and ice cream sales are booming and that a spectacular and awesome fireworks display looms in the near future.

Happy Birthday America. How does it feel to be 239 years old?

More Flags in Wells , Maine
More Flags in Wells , Maine

Ready To Roll

I would like to say that this picture shows how I travelled around the country in recent years, but in reality, this is far from the truth. This partiçular image was made while walking down the street in Portland, Maine back in the days, when I had a studio apartment and an almost, full-time job, which enabled me to keep my friendly place of abode.

ready to roll

Winnipeg

For several years I made a meager living writing content for an American internet company based in California. Since I was able to send in my work via e-mail and receive my pay through Paypal, I was able to travel freely (within my financial needs) as I produced my many short articles and filler pieces.

I knew I was skating on thin ice with this gig, but it was fun, so I continued with it until the inevitable actually happened, the number of writers had far exceeded the number of assignments available.

The end came so quickly that it caught be by complete surprise. I had just turned off my computer and left the Winnipeg Public Library, so I could withdraw my earnings and get a bite to eat. When I returned to the library and turned my computer back on, I found out that all my future assignments had been removed and that I needed to take an evaluation test. This turned out to be a polite way of dismissing me from the company.

I just happened to be in Winnipeg, Canada, when I found out that my services were no longer needed. So the very next day, I began my short journey back to the U.S. and my much longer quest for economic security.

This photo was taken at sunrise on the east side of Winnipeg as I headed back to the U.S.

winnipeg towers

NYC

New York City is a watery place, a geographic reality made visible by this photograph, which was taken from the deck of the Staten Island ferry. The Staten Island ferry has often been called the best free ride in America. I alsways ride it whenever I am in the city. The view of the Hudson River delta and the many islands that dot the bay are priceless, even to a New Yorker……….Wouldn’t this place make a great national park?

The Wall Street Skyline as seen from the deck of the Staten Island Ferry
The Wall Street Skyline as seen from the deck of the Staten Island Ferry

Boston

These pair of lions can be found guarding the stairwell to the second floor in the Boston Public Library. I love the grand old libraries of the Northeastern big cities, and not surprisingly the Boston one is a real doozy.

Having spent endless hours in this and many other similar institutions, leaves me with nothing but good words for the American library. Ben Franklin sure knew what he was doing when he started this system. Not only are they great places for the scholar, but they also tolerate the vagabond and bum, who just wants a warm place and a good magazine to read.

Nice Kitty
Nice Kitty

Portland, Maine

This picture of the Portland harbor with the oil tanker in the background was actually taken in the town of South Portland. This metropolitan area was my home for many years. The ferry rides here aren’t free, but they do take you to some inhabited islands, more reminiscent of Seattle than any other place in the U.S.

Waterfront scene at the Portland Harbor
Waterfront scene at the Portland Harbor

Philadelphia

Philadelphia would be a great place to spend the Fourth. Not only do you have a spectacular fireworks display, but also the Liberty Bell can be found here, plus all that rich history that harkens back to the times when “The City of Brotherly Love” was the nation’s capitol.

Unfortunately, I was here in the spring, so I missed all the fireworks……But I did see Charles Barclay shopping in a local supermarket.

The old and new in Philadelphia
The old and new in Philadelphia

Niagara Falls, NY

No journey around the U.S. would be complete without a pretty picture of Niagara Falls. Actually I had to sneak across the border to Canada to take this picture.

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

The Little Pee Dee River

When I visit South Carolina my destination is the Pee Dee region of the state, which is situated in the Northeastern part of the state near the North Carolina state line. This picture was taken on the Little Pee Dee River.

The Little Pee Dee River in South Carolina
The Little Pee Dee River in South Carolina

Des Moines 

I spent several beautiful autumn months in this midwestern capitol city. In fact, this photo was taken from the state capitol building, which sits on a high hill overlooking the city. The stately building has a shiny gold dome and a huge interior foyer, which you can climb by negotiating many series of narrow stairs.

The Des Moines river flows through town and in places is lined with huge, graceful cottonwoods.

The Des Moines Skyline as seen from the state capitol building
The Des Moines Skyline as seen from the state capitol building.

Sioux City, Iowa

Thanks to a few reservations in nearby Nebraska and South Dakota, Sioux City is a bit of Indian Country stuck smack dab in the middle of Iowa’s cornfields. Maybe that’s why this pink house is here…..hopefully not. Anyway, visit Sioux City and you can have Native men ask you for extra cigarettes and spare change. Or you can head across the Missouri River and get a slightly rosier view of Indian life by visiting a powwow or a casino.

I liked Sioux City for its funky street graphics, long lines of freight cars and outdated architecture. It was a great place to have a camera. And of course like almost every declining downtown area, there were those brave, creative souls trying to fix the place up and bring in some new business.

This very pink house was found in Sioux City, Iowa. photo by author
This very pink house was found in Sioux City, Iowa. photo by author

Rapid City, South Dakota

I just spent a day in Rapid City, but I did get this really neat photograph of a grain elevator standing tall in the noon day sun. Then later in the afternoon I took a bus to Billings. I would have stayed longer, but there wasn’t much day labor work available and emergency housing didn’t look very appealing either.

This grain elevator stands next to the train tracks in Rapid City, South Dakota, photo by author
This grain elevator stands next to the train tracks in Rapid City, South Dakota, photo by author

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

On my way to Sioux Falls, I got a ride with a trucker driving an empty hog trailer. He had just dropped his load in Wisconsin and was headed home, when he picked me up. He told me there were lots of construction jobs in Sioux Falls because the man on the TV said so. This was a story I often heard repeated, but when I got to the city, the only work I could find were day labor assignments unloading trucks.

One day a mover showed up outside the labor office, needing help. It was a clandestine offer, but I needed a way out of Sioux Falls, so I rode with the trucker to Rapid City, where we filled one small household with furniture and then parted ways.

The muffler man of Sioux Falls casts a long shadow
The muffler man of Sioux Falls casts a long shadow

Billings, Montana

In Billings you get your first real glimpse of the Rockies. Still, it’s a high plains kind of town, situated about 50 miles north of the Little Bighorn battleground. Off to the northeast is the North Dakota oil patch, which helps drive the local economy. Stir all this together and still you can get a little taste of the Old West here.

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Western skies have inspired poets and writers for many years.
The wild west can still be found in various bits and pieces
The wild west can still be found in various bits and pieces

Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is named after its earlier counterpart in New Mexico. Las Vegas (NM) started out as a stop on the Old Santa Fe Trail, but grew substantially when gold and silver were discovered nearby. In its heyday, Las Vegas (NM) had the reputation of being one of the wildest town in the West, but today it is a quiet Hispanic settlement on the eastern flank of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Perhaps, a 100 years from now, Las Vegas (NV) will be a quiet Hispanic city and some other western place will earn the title of “Sin City”.

This pink flamingo was found painted onto a metal garage door. photo by author
This pink flamingo was found painted onto a metal garage door. photo by author

High Noon in Las Vegas

Albuquerque, NM

This city used to be a very nice place, but today it is sometimes referred to as “Alber-crack-ee”. Still, the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Lab are located here, drawing a lot of professional people to the area.

These pictures were taken along Old Route 66, which is locally known as Central Ave.

Along old Route 66 (Central Ave. in Albuquerque) there still exist a few signs and graphics from the noted highway.
Along old Route 66 (Central Ave. in Albuquerque) there still exist a few signs and graphics from the noted highway.
Also on old route 66 is this modern-day tribute to the old Mother Road.
Also on route 66 is this modern-day tribute to the old Mother Road.

Taos, NM

Taos is an interesting mountain town that has grown a lot in the past years. The traffic through town can be horrendous, especially during ski season, but the town is still worth a visit.

To escape all this madness, just drive west to the Taos Gorge bridge, where you can gaze across stunning landscape, like you see here.

The rim of the  spectacular Rio Grande Gorge had be easily accessed from the bridge near Taos.
The rim of the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge had be easily accessed from the bridge near Taos.

Espanola, NM

Located just north of Santa Fe amidst several Indian pueblos, is Espanola, one of the Hispanic strongholds within New Mexico. On a drive through town the place looks a little rough and tumble, due to the antiquated storefronts in the downtown area. A few are closed down, but many still support active businesses.

These places stand in stark contrast to the big chains found out by Walmart and Lowe’s. For the creative photographer the old storefronts are a visual gold mine, for they harken back to an era, when local businesses dominated small towns like this. Here, I photographed a farm supply business that looks more pioneer than Spanish, but yet this place is open and ready for business.

This farm supply building seems very much out of place in Espanola, NM
This farm supply building seems very much out of place in Espanola, NM

Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico is the oldest and highest state capitol in the U.S. It is also where the Santa Fe trail ended and the Camino Real (Royal Road) into Old Mexico began. Later on, the California Trail became a reality and so the small crossroads grew.

Today, it is a cultural hub for artists, new age entrepreneurs, Ed Abbey fans and well-to-do desert rats. Though this milieu of higher minds is on the decline, their presence is very noticeable. And, if you spend any time here, you are bound to cross paths with the thriving local Hispanic and Southwestern Indian cultures that have lived in the region for many centuries and more.

A tamale stand in Santa Fe, NM
A tamale stand in Santa Fe, NM

Cheap Motels

For me, cheap motels have been a godsend. They offer a nice alternative from camping out or staying at a rescue mission. Having the space to yourself is wonderful, although the down side is that they are still rather expensive are usually require a full time job to pay for the luxury. This particular picture came from a place I stayed at in Billings, for a few weeks.

my feet

Duluth

Duluth is the birthplace of Bob Dylan, though he wasn’t known by that name when he was born here back in the forties. To honor the singing bard, the city has renamed a downtown street, which is now known as Bob Dylan Way.

The first time I saw the Bob Dylan Way, I was pretty well down and out…..so much so that I spent the first night camped out on a park bench, watching the oil freighters come cruising through Duluth’s vertical draw bridge at the wee hours of the morning.

Then I borrowed some money from a distant relative, so I could spend a night in a motel. Finally, I left town and hitchhiked to the Twin Cities. I guess I was living the Bob Dylan Way.

Bob Dylan Way is an important downtown street in Duluth, named after the noted songwriter
Bob Dylan Way is an important downtown street in Duluth, named after the noted songwriter
This drawbridge in Duluth, MN goes up and down like an elevator.
This drawbridge in Duluth, MN goes up and down like an elevator.

The Twin Cities

I did the hostel thing in Minneapolis, at least until I ran out of money and had to head south using a 100 dollar bicycle as my means of transportation. Despite all the high rises downtown near the river, Minneapolis and St. Paul, too, have a lot of wonderful green spaces and natural lakes, where you can go swimming.

the old and the new
The old and the new in downtown Minneapolis.

 Ranchos de Taos, NM

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The San Francisco Mission Church at Ranchos de Taos has been photographed so many times that is sometimes referred to as the most photographed church in America. One more view, slightly altered, can’t hurt.

Fare Thee Well

No Matter What Happens keep on smiling, photo by author
No Matter What Happens…. keep on smiling, photo by author

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.

Road-Into-The-Wilderness
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.

Williams-Lake-in-Winter
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.

Near-Wheeler-Peak
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.