Taos Part II: Spanish and Anglo Influences
In our previous post, we talked about how we learned about the mix of cultures on our tour of Taos and how we explored the Taos Pueblo.
Another stop on the tour was Taos Plaza. When the Spanish came to the area for the second time in the 1700s, they built plazas primarily as a means of defense. Homes were built in large quadrangles surrounded by high walls. At the center of the plaza there was usually a church. The plazas also were places for markets and shops.
The original Taos Plaza dates from the late 1700s. Over the years, there have been numerous fires and many buildings have been lost and rebuilt. The current character of the plaza, which today is primarily made up of shops and restaurants, dates largely from the 1930s. The photo below shows a couple of locals relaxing on a bench with some of the plaza shops in the background.
Another place on our tour where we saw the concept of the plaza was at San Francisco de Asis (Saint Francis of Assisi) Mission Church at Ranchos de Taos Plaza. This mission, which is located a little to the south of Taos, was built in the late 1700s from the same type of adobe as the pueblo. The church has thick walls and massive buttresses at the corners and at the front to support the high walls necessary for the high ceilings inside and to support weight of the bell towers at the front.
Along one side of the church, there remain several of the old structures that used to surround the church. The photo below shows a shop beside the church that today sells religious items and several buildings to the right in disrepair. In the space between, remains of the protective wall can be seen behind the buildings.
As we mentioned in Taos Part I, Anglos started arriving in the area in the early 1800s. One well-known Anglo who came to the southwest during that time was Kit Carson. Christopher "Kit" Carson was born in 1809 the same year as Abe Lincoln and not far from each other in Kentucky. However, they did not meet until Abe was in the White House.
Kit was one of fifteen children in his family and was a cousin to Daniel Boone on his mother's side. When he was still an infant, his family moved to Missouri. His father was killed while felling a tree when Kit was 8 years old. From that time on, Kit's mother had a difficult time handling him, so when he was 14 or 15, she apprenticed him to a saddle maker. Carson hated the work and ran away when he was about 16 to join a group of traders going to Santa Fe. He spent the following winter in Taos.
Kit Carson became a hunter, trapper, and mountain man. In 1842, he was hired by explorer and soldier, John Fremont, to lead three surveying expeditions through the uncharted west. In 1843, Carson married the daughter of a prominent Taos family of Spanish descent and bought a house in Taos. Although Kit loved his family dearly, he spent little time at home (about 9 of the 25 years they lived in the house) because of his work leading expeditions. He later served in the Army during the Mexican-American War, as an Indian agent, and in the Army again during the Civil War.
Although illiterate for much of his life, Kit Carson was fluent in English, French, Spanish, a number of Indian languages including sign language used by mountain men. He was humble, ingenious, resourceful, respectful of all cultures, and loyal to his country - all of which served him well in his many endeavors.
Carson's house in Taos is now a museum. It was not part of the trolley tour, so we stopped in at the Kit Carson Home and Museum one afternoon on our own.
The house had three rooms which was fairly big for the time but not so big when you realize it was home to their large family that included six children and three adopted Navajo children. Most homes in the area were only one or two rooms.
Hollyhocks are one of Margery's favorite garden flowers. She found this large specimen in the courtyard behind the Carson house.
A portrait of Kit Carson is on display in the house.
The photo below shows Margery in the kitchen with a portrait of Carson's third wife, Josefa, over her shoulder.
Carson's first wife was Arapaho and died of complications resulting from childbirth. His second wife was a Cheyenne woman who left him after a short time to follow her tribe's migration.
Carson's house, as well as most of the buildings in the area both old and new, are built in the pueblo style. This style was started by the Indians over 1,000 years ago and was also used by the Spanish.
Today, Pueblo Revival is the predominate architectural style in Taos; and within the town, style is closely regulated. Even trim colors are limited to shades of brown and blue. The Pueblo Indians believe blue wards off evil spirits so their doors or door jams are often painted blue.
Pueblo Revival style can be seen in stores, public buildings, and homes. Of course, the modern buildings are more-durable stucco which has been painted various shades of tan to look like adobe. The photo below is a home we passed numerous times on our way to various locations in town.
And the next photo is a small gallery in town.
Speaking of galleries, Taos has a large art community and over 100 art galleries and museums. There are also numerous craft galleries as well as many smaller studios and shops along back roads, side streets, and operating out of peoples' homes. The art movement was started in 1898 when two young artists from the east named Ernest Blumenshein and Bert Phillips stopped in Taos on their way to Mexico when their wagon broke down north of town. They were captivated by the beauty of the area and decided to stay. Word of Taos spread to other artists; and, the rest, as they say, is history.
Taos is also a magnet for free spirits. It attracted quite a few hippies in the '60s. There are remnants of a couple of communes that can still be seen, and one former commune is now a bed and breakfast. On another, a psychedelic bus called the Road Hog "rusts in peace."
Diametrically opposed to the counter-culture, hippie movement, the nearby town of Angel Fire has the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was built from 1968 to 1971 and was the first major Vietnam memorial in the country.
First Lieutenant David Westphall was among 13 Marines killed in an ambush in Vietnam in 1968. His family, headed by Dr. Victor Westphall, used David's insurance policies to start a foundation to build and maintain the memorial.
As you enter, there is a beautiful garden with flowers and birds flitting about. Paul found the garden in the foreground to the Huey helicopter in the background to be an unusual juxtaposition.
The photo below is the chapel.
There is also a visitor center with photographs and banners from some of the units that served in Vietnam. They also show the HBO movie Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam. The movie gives the history of the war from the soldiers' prospective. We were struck by the fact that war-protest demonstrations translate to those on the field of battle as a demoralizing lack of support. It was a thought-provoking visit, and we came away with a new appreciation for all the sacrifices that have been made.
Since Taos is blessed with abundant sunshine, there is a lot of interest in solar energy. The sculpture at the visitor center in the photo below has solar panels that look somewhat like flowers on a stem.
We saw several houses with solar panels or solar water heaters on the roof. We also saw a couple of houses that were partially underground with large glass panels that were probably some sort of passive solar collector. The domed structure with the glass wall in the photo below was next to the campground.
The house in the next photo was built in the 70s and is made of aluminum cans and cement with bottoms of the cans exposed on the outside walls. The air inside the double row of cans provides insulation. The house is heated by passive solar with a wood stove backup. The electric bill is reportedly only about $50 a month.
During our stay in Taos, we spent time learning about the history of the area. We also enjoyed experiencing a different culture with the heavy Native American and Spanish influences and seeing the distinct style of architecture.
We strolled through a few shops and saw beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry, leather work, pottery, carvings, and art. The shop in the photo below specialized in drums made from hollowed-out sections of logs covered with animal skins. The large, irregularly-shaped object on the floor is one of their bigger drums. Several smaller drums are beside and behind the larger one.
Taos is full of sculptures on street corners, in front of buildings and shops, and at peoples' homes. There are also many murals on the sides of buildings. The town is surrounded by beautiful desert and mountains. No wonder New Mexico is called "The Land of Enchantment."
Fortunately, we had a day at the end of our sightseeing to catch up on laundry, restock a few groceries, and to relax. It was time to prepare for our departure to continue ambling eastward.