all images ©2017 Mark Polott and may not be used without proper permission.
Querencia : a place where one feels safe, a place from which one’s strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home.
For almost half my years I have been visiting New Mexico. Achieving statehood in 1912, it is America’s 5th largest state in area but the 6th least densely populated of the 50 states. The state capital, Santa Fe, lies just under 2000 miles southwest of New York City where I have made my life. Two places could hardly be more different but both resonate deep within me. I am equally comfortable in both environments and the disparate stimuli they both provide helped to make me who I am.
AMARILLO : yellow
Unlike back East, where oranges and reds dominate the fall landscape, yellow is the star of the show in northern New Mexico. Two weeks prior to this extended visit, I visited Santa Fe for 8 days prior to a detour into southern Arizona for a ranch adventure. There was barely a hint of color. On my return, it was a visual explosion.
My house was located in a neighborhood of long steep hills, hidden cul-de-sacs and gravel covered dirt lanes. I wondered about the lives led behind the adobe walled compounds, many hidden by mature trees and set behind rustic wooden gates. Morning runs became extended adventures along routes created on a whim, getting a little lost some days as I would solemnly follow my nose and my muse.
ROJO : red
The attention to detail, both in architecture and landscaping, is a key attribute of New Mexican style. I would pass the same structures daily and new things would catch my eye.
THE THREE SISTERS : squash, corn and beans, the main components of early Native American agriculture.
Embracing local cuisine is one of my requisites for a fulfilling travel experience. We adopt many habits as we age and our informed choice of foods might be as important as the roads we choose to achieve fitness, both mentally and physically. Of course, this statement is coming from a devotee of the “Pizza Fridays” school.
Local farmers’ markets are always an attractive lure to me, both for their culinary bounty and their photographic opportunities. On this journey, I have sampled the local chilies much more than I have in the past. Always ask which is hotter, red or green, or order Christmas, which is both. This way, hopefully there are no surprises…
On the road trip portion of this adventure down to Tucson, we stopped in Hatch, the chile capital of New Mexico. Upon exiting the highway, colorful roadside stands, adorned with the spicy local bounty, added a carnival atmosphere to the otherwise dusty landscape. If you find yourself here, eat at Sparky’s!
TEN OREOS : Arroyo Tenorio is a small, narrow dirt road located in the Historic Eastside between Garcia Street and Old Santa Fe Trail.
I have always been an avid walker. My NYC apartment provides an ideal location to walk the East Village, Gramercy Park, Chelsea, Soho and my transportation hub, Union Square. My “weekend” walks have become almost daily since my retirement. My casita in Santa Fe’s Eastside was a perfect locus for my wanderings, whether it be a morning run or an afternoon passeggiata.
I had trouble remembering the street name of a great short cut to the downtown area. Arroyo de Tenario, a winding, dusty, dirt lane, became Ten Oreos. It became symbolic for me as a representation of the many exotically named, picturesque roads I walked and explored, camera in hand.
THE FACES OF BANDELIER
Bandelier National Monument was the home of Ancestral Pueblo people who built their dwellings into the sides of volcanic stone cliffs. They lived here, in Frijoles Canyon for about 400 years until dispersing around 1550.
These people grew the Three Sisters and hunted deer, rabbit and squirrel.They raised domesticated turkeys and there is evidence that they used dogs for hunting and companionship. Severe draught is believed to have contributed to the demise of this settlement.
About 50 miles northwest of Santa Fe is the small town of Abiquiú. This is where the artist Georgia O’Keefe finally settled after years living and working at nearby Ghost Ranch. We toured her adobe home and explored the area, including a bumpy ride up a dusty dirt road to her “White Place,” the stunning Plaza Blanca. We arrived at the magic hour, only encountering a few visitors, and wandered through the formations and down the arroyo. We followed the setting sun all the way back to Santa Fe, it’s blinding glare often making it a tough ride. I pulled to the side of the pock marked road several times, allowing me to quickly jump out of our car to photograph the dramatic landscape., The shadows slowly crept across the vista. It was very dark as we approached our exit. I missed it.
With the majestic Santa Fe Rail Runner as it’s centerpiece, this area of town is an exciting neighborhood to explore.The short rail line down to Albuquerque has injected new life to Guadelupe Street. Thirty years ago on our first visit, there was not much going on here apart from a few restaurants and some shops. This is now arguably the hippest part of the City Different. The colorful Farmer’s Market that runs along the tracks, became a weekly destination for us. With the smell of roasting chilies filling the air, the Saturday morning people watching was an added bonus to the attractive produce and fresh baked goods. I got to know several of the artisans who displayed their skills under their white tents and was greeted warmly each week. There was an amazing knife maker whose table was always a source of interest. Not only was he originally from Queens, he competed on Forged in Fire and informed us that it is filmed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn! On an old upright, an energetic piano player that I had met at the El Farol Blues Jam entertained the crowd. The Railyard District was a nice walk from our house which allowed for many visits to the incomparable Sage Bake Shop.
CANYON ROAD AND THE SANTA FE RIVER
Now an internationally known art district, Canyon Road started as a dirt path along the river to the mountains. Originally for farmers and their burros, now the hilly street is populated by art lovers, tourists, beautiful people and curious strollers from around the world. Santa Fe’s first resident artist, Carlos Vierra arrived in 1904. In 1915, Gerald Cassidy pursued painting in a house on the corner of Canyon Road and Acequia Madre, being the first serious artist on the street. Our house was just a few blocks away, up a hill. This is known as the Historic Arts District of the Eastside. I spent countless hours wandering this neighborhood, camera in hand, soaking in the creative vibe, visiting the numerous art galleries and absorbing the details that make this area unique. My morning runs took me past sheltered adobe compounds, dog walkers, cagey wild rabbits and solitary working men armed with leaf blowers and gardening tools. I lengthened my stride along a picturesque stretch of the Santa Fe River that led downtown where I would hook back along the river for my cool down. I usually stretched on the bridge at Paseo de Peralta before the walk back up lower Canyon Road to the Garcia Street hill and home. This quickly became my hood. I was spoiled. It was perfect and it was all mine for six weeks.
THE HIGH ROAD TO TAOS
Taos, “the place of red willows,” is an historic town, longtime art colony, and a great day trip from Santa Fe. The scenic route to get there, known as the High Road, takes longer than the direct route along the Rio Grande, but is well worth the time. A series of small, beautiful hamlets along the way make for some stop and go, but the views and historic landmarks make it an exciting 56 mile drive. Thirty years ago I got my first speeding ticket from the tribal police as I crossed the section through the Nambé Reservation. I was careful this time.
After winding through Chimayo and Cordova, we pulled over to admire the snow capped Truchas Peaks. San José de Gracia Church, completed in 1776, is a National Historic Landmark in the photogenic town of Las Trampas. It was eerily quiet. We kept climbing through steep, forested mountain passes and then we felt the rapid descent, eventually parking in the historic plaza in Taos, a short block from the house of Kit Carson.
For six weeks we tried to live like locals. We cooked at home. We did our laundry. We hung out in our yard. We took long walks…
What made this daily “grind” spectacular was where we were located. Our little house on Garcia Street was as close to heaven as any rental could be. Surrounded by beauty, even a simple walk in the neighborhood was exhilarating. From the top of my hill I could see the Jemez and Sangre de Christo Mountains
Our compound was a private oasis. Early on in our stay, I spent my late afternoons in our backyard, watching the Deuce on HBO. Ironic, since I got away from NYC and then made time to watch it on my laptop. Such is the dilemma of retirement. You have time to do all that you hoped for, and then do nothing because you can. But through our garden door and down the narrow cobble stone path out to Garcia Street, the visual explosion began immediately.
EL CIELO: the sky
En mi cielo al crepúsculo ere como una nube y color y forma son como yo los quieros. Eres mia, eres mia, mujer de labios dulces, y viven en tu vida mis infinitos sueños. –Pablo Neruda
In my sky at twilight you are like a cloud
and your form and colour are the way I love them.
You are mine, mine, woman with sweet lips
and in your life my infinite dreams live.
LA NOCHE: the night
Atar tu corazón por la noche al mío, amor,
y ambos vencerán la oscuridad
como dos tambores que golpean en el bosque
contra la pared pesada de hojas mojadas. -Pablo Neruda
Tie your heart at night to mine, love,
and both will defeat the darkness
like twin drums beating in the forest
against the heavy wall of wet leaves.
One of the wonders of the West is the frequent access to 360° views of the sky. This can often be a liberating and exhilarating experience that might unexpectedly grab you and stop you in your tracks. I cherish these moments, with or without my camera. Sadly, in todays cell phone society, too many experiences are photographed but not really looked at. Try to stop and smell the roses…
As I sit in my recliner back home in New York City, possibly the only item that I truly missed, I have a vision of the snake that eats his own tail. Sometimes, the end leads to a new beginning. I need the help of time to evaluate this experience after only tasting it for a few months. I was never one to make hasty decisions or accept snap judgements as a sure footed path to a desired end. After the lengthy task of editing down my files to 700 images for copyright, I have only re-visited the locations. But the emotions of this life changing few months will surely make their own appearances when they are ready and likely unexpected. Undoubtedly, so will random memories of the autumn that I have spent in the Land of Enchantment.
Time will tell if there is a house in New Mexico that will someday become a home. Living on Garcia Street was aspirational at the very least. I strangely feel as if my life’s path has somehow led me to where I had someday hoped to be. Circumstances dropped me here, surrounded by the history, colors and the textures of a life envisioned. I can only hope that you come away from this photographic journey with some sense of the magic of this wonderfully simple, complex place.