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Invisible pueblos

—Evan Belknap

Two friends and I were on the road last month. But this time, strangely, we had six kids in tow from all over the country, and one from Italy. We built an itinerary for them that started at the Chispa Latin Music Festival in Albuquerque, then wound through the Navajo Nation, across Second Mesa on the Hopi Nation, down through Winslow for some swimming, back through Gallup for the flea market, into the aspens of McGaffey in the Zuni Mountains, and finally, to our Cottonwood Gulch Basecamp outside of Thoreau for a week.

On our second road loop with them, we started in Placitas to visit with mosaic artist Laura Robbins, then headed to the Truchas Mountains for some camping and hiking. Later, we toured museums in Santa Fe and soaked in the San Antonio hot springs in the Jemez. We camped out every night, met local artists, learned how to play instruments, sang songs around the campfire, painted, wrote, stormed a little, and stared at the stars. The goal was to see the Southwest through the lens of Art and Music, and our interpretation of that goal blew these city kids away.

All our kids flew home about eight days ago, and, being suddenly only responsible for myself, and still here in the Southwest, I feel like I’m seeing New Mexico for the first time—again. What a fascinating place, with its pueblos and mountains and wildernesses.

I had an epiphany in Hopi: as we drove up onto Second Mesa. There were various trailers around, a couple houses, a dog, hogans, one restaurant under a tarp on the side of the road, and I thought ‘Where is the town?’ We arrived at our destination—a local artist’s house to which we had been invited—and I asked our host, “Where is everything?” And he said, “You drove past four different pueblos just getting here. You were looking with your city eyes.”

Then he nodded to the distance and said: “There are two pueblos that have both have been around since people inhabited Chaco Canyon.”

I stared at the horizon for a good while. And then, like being able to see one of Gary Priester’s stereograms for the first time, tan-sandstone-walled buildings started to appear before my eyes, there on the tops of each little mesa. And the more I looked, the more appeared—three-storied castles and kivas with dirt roads that all blended perfectly with the landscape, made from the rocks they stood on. Crazy, I thought, that in this backyard of mine, that I thought I knew so well, here were hilltops and valleys filled with people I had never seen. Turns out I know very little about this place.

A new fascination had been sparked. A couple days ago, I drove past To’hajiilee, Santa Ana, Acoma, Cochiti, Pojoaque, Nambe, Cuyamungue, and I lingered over each name, wondering what people were up to during the heat of the day, where the good place to eat was, what friends I could make if I spent a few weeks in any one of those places, what new things would materialize in front of my eyes if I were to take the time.

 

 
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