Category Archives: New Mexico

Somewhat Imaginary places

I never thought much about how movies create an imaginary place out of a real one.   The first time I saw this sort of artificiality I was in Boston, staying in a  BnB in an older part of town.   It was after dark and they were setting up for a shot.   They had watered down the street so it would sparkle in the lights, an effect I have since noted in scores of movies.   Nothing was happening, I didn’t know who the actors were, so I went back to the BnB and forgot about it.

But, I have noticed the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico cropping up in movies, and it is a thrill to see a place I know standing in for somewhere else.  Years ago I was watching “No Country For Old Men” with M when I recognized parts of Vegas (Yes, I know there is another town with the same name, but I have only been to that one once).  Now I have been watching a television series “Longmire” for this reason.   The show is set in a mythical county in Wyoming, but it is quite clearly filmed in and around Vegas.

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The fictional sheriff’s office is right on the plaza, and the fictional sheriff is played by an Australian actor.  He does a convincing job of being a laconic American.

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And then this sign for an imaginary hotel and coffee shop set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado.

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The hotel is catty corner from this alleged pharmacy.   It’s actually a pizza place, and since they weren’t filming that day, they could put their sign out front.

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Across the street from the hotel is the imaginary bank.   (It doesn’t look fortress like enough to really be a bank.  It was probably a store in it’s former life).   But brief glimpses of these places establish the reality of the fiction.

It also makes me think of the gritty crime dramas that they film in the allegedly mean streets of East London.  East London is not imaginary, but one is more likely to find a Starbucks instead of a pub, a banker instead of a crook (maybe they are the same person now).

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They often include a shot of this iconic Spitalfields church.   But this is getting harder and harder to include as the area gets more and more gentrified.   They will have to find another spot to stand in for the area.  But they won’t find it in New Mexico, it has too much sunshine. 😉

 

The Fort

I don’t know why I am drawn to ruins, but there is something about the impermanence of life that has always been appealing (Sic transit gloria Mundi).   Perhaps along with the idea that buried treasure might be nearby.   Fort Union was an important frontier outpost along the Santa Fe Trail.   I have driven by many times and wanted to stop, but M always said “there’s nothing there”.  That was possibly true when he visited as a child many years ago, but I decided that this time I would go and see for myself.   And of course I have this love of ruins and forgotten places.

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And there it is, lovely adobe ruins.   Made from earth, water and sunshine now devolving back into the earth from which they came.

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Of course since this now a National Landmark, archaeologists are trying to stabilize and preserve the buildings from further decay.  To help us remember the past, which was not always pretty.

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The post was entirely adobe, except for this well preserved stone jail.   An adobe jail would hold a prisoner for a few hours, you could escape using only a spoon.

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The walls have melted away, leaving only the chimneys.  And the shapes they have melting into  somehow reminder me of the heads on Easter Island.

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The hearth that warmed the occupants is all that’s left, a ghost in the wall.

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This bit hides a modern sound system.  And it sounds  bugle calls at the appropriate times, so the spirits of the soldiers can answer the call.

The Mound

M’s grandmother and uncle lived in this village at the foot of this landmark along the Santa Fe Trail.  (The directions were: go west until you see the mound, turn left at the mound,  and you’re just 120 miles to Santa Fe).    I love the feeling of coming over the Levy Grade and catching that first view of the mound, it means I’m almost there and I can stop driving soon.

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Much like our local mountain, the aspect changes with the different lighting over the course of the day.

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It looks soft and distant in the morning light.

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You can see the details on a beautiful sunny day.

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Or at least you can see them until they disappear into the shadows.

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A storm is brewing with a mixture of dark and light.

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And after the storm comes a golden sunset.   It’s not hard to see why there are so very many artists living in New Mexico, it’s just so gorgeous.  And I really must get a better camera, because it is even more beautiful than my pictures.

 

Traces

I love northern New Mexico, it is so lonesome an area, full of ghost towns and ghosts.  Before the coming of paved roads and the railroads, pretty much every place was equal, you might as well be in one place as in another.   But the places that offered some geographic advantage grew into cities, like Denver or Albuquerque, connected by main roads and the rest have been left to slowly decay.

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Before there were paved roads there was the Santa Fe Trail,  people would pile as much stuff as they could fit into a wagon like this and set off for a new life in the wild west.   More than 130 years later the wagon ruts are still there, testament to the fragility of the prairie and the number of wagons that made the trek.

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This is the old Colfax County Courthouse.   Built to last, this lovely building has outlived it’s original purpose and now serves as a small museum to the Santa Fe Trail.   They really only started to promote  the existence of the Santa Fe Trail and the history of this area about 10 years ago, so they don’t get a lot of tourists (and there is not much to see and do).  Most people don’t get off the Interstate (motorway) except to get gasoline.   (This is on old highway 85 which ran from Mexico to Canada).

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Why build a livery stable of something as ephemeral as wood?   We will always need horses, of courses.  It’s still here even though the horse is long gone, but they did get rid of the trough.

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It has no sign, but this is the old jail.  There must not have been much call for this with only four cells or perhaps it was very crowded, with the very bad prisoners being sent to the Santa Fe Territorial Prison.

This old hotel is slowly crumbling away.   Part lumber and part adobe, it still exists for now, even though the need for it has passed.   I love these old ruins, as the dinosaur that I am I appreciate those who went before us as I watch their dreams fade away.

Las Vegas, NM

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Once upon a time, Las Vegas ( Spanish for ‘the springs’) was a prosperous destination place.  Fred Harvey had built a resort hotel, and trains brought tourists.   The Plaza hotel, which is on the plaza, was rather swanky at one time.   Management have just re-swanked it and apparently the movie ‘John Carpenter’s “Vampires”‘ was made right here.

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That movie could have played at the curiously named ‘Serf’ theater.

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It’s been years since Las Vegas was prosperous, so there is lots of lovely decay to photograph.   Back when I was in college, I remember one of my professors * used to come to Las Vegas every weekend to photograph things.  (I saw that he later published a book of photographs of concentration camps, but I would rather see his Las Vegas.)

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Like this lovely old bank that sits catty-corner to the Plaza Hotel, across the plaza.

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This building is a remnant of the railroad tourist boom.   Fred Harvey did a lively trade in flogging Navajo art and rugs to the tourists.  Some of it was tourist quality and some of it was museum quality.   The core holdings of the Heard Museum in Phoenix came from the Fred Harvey collection.

There is a group of investors who bought the old railroad hotel and are attempting to modernize it and make Las Vegas a destination resort again.   Perhaps it will actually happen, perhaps it will stay the same.

  • The first time I ever went to Las Vegas was for a class assignment from this professor.   It was to visit the State Mental Hospital.

More NM

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Here are more random shots of New Mexico.    I was standing on the porch looking over at Santa Clara Mesa.   Somewhere over there is the original village.   When the railroad came, they picked up the town and moved it by the tracks.

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I was still standing on the porch, looking north.  That large pine tree is in Grandma’s yard.

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Bits of the village, I remember when the cafe was open briefly (18 years ago), but mostly it has always been closed.

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An elk crossing, but no elk were using it at the time.

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The lonesome road into town.

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Uncle Si’s truck.  He bought it new in 1930 and never sold it, even when he bought the new one in 1952.

Raton

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Raton (named for the Spanish word for rat) is the first town (village?) that you come to in New Mexico after going over the pass.   Miss P and I stopped in on our way south and they were having a little music/street festival. And I love to go to local festivals so we gave it a quick cruise.  (Miss P does not like them unless she gets something to eat, or finds something to eat on the ground.)

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I don’t think people wear much tie-dye anymore, but it was available.

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Marchiando’s store is still there after 102 years.

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The beautiful stone building must have been a hotel at one time.

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It was built to last.  And it lasted longer than the need.

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Some folks going for an old time wagon ride.

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The movie house was having a cowboy poetry reading.   Not quite as obnoxious as a poetry slam, cowboy poems are often funny or sentimental versions of a cowboy’s life.

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And before the railroad came, Raton was part of the Santa Fe Trail.   Until they put in the modern highway, the road was a series of switchbacks up to the summit at 7800+ feet.   Must have been fun (not).

New Mexico

Once again when I was in town for the 105th annual celebration, I was struck by the incredible beauty of northern New Mexico.   New Mexico is crawling with artists, most of whom can’t make a living at it (and a fortunate few who make a fabulous living).

But then I thought, ‘How can you live here and not be an artist?’   This time I stayed in a little old adobe house (because Miss P had to come along).   I could see this old truck and the landmark out the back door.  I was fascinated by the way the light changed.   Of course in the harsh light of mid-day things look flat and unimpressive, but in the light of the evening, everything looks magical.

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And the quality of light changes quickly, you have to grab it as soon as you see it.

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This last shot is a rare sunrise view. (It’s rare because I don’t do sunrise as a rule!)    And of course besides these pictures, there were the views I saw when I was driving around, although it is usually quite possible to just stop in the middle of the street ;-), there’s not much traffic.   (And I possibly need a new camera.)

Cowboys

Who is more iconic a cowboy than John Wayne?   He played  American football in college until an injury ended his sports career, so he became an actor.   He played a variety of roles, but is perhaps most famous for his cowboy movies.

There was a diner across the street from the university that I went to, I vaguely (it has been a number of years since I was college student, a large number) remember it being open early and late, so of course we sometimes went there for giant cinnamon buns and hamburgers.  And I just lived down the street.  As this place has survived and thrived for such a long time it has made it to the status of local landmark, and icon of eating.   Instead of just being on the corner it has taken over half the block, and with this expansion the owner has filled the empty walls with art and Navajo rugs.   Of course there are lots of typical southwestern art, but the single most repeated image is John Wayne.

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John Wayne will help you to find the high chairs and drinking fountain.

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He’s watching you.

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And he’s got a gun!

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He’s so iconic as to be recognizable from just a few details.

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As in this portrait made entirely of nails.

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And don’t forget, he and this camera have their eye on you!

 

Indians

I went to a small pow-wow at the Institute for American Indian Art, a boarding school in Santa Fe.  Pow-wows range from gigantic, like March Pow-Wow in Denver, to the small and personal, like this one.   KODAK Digital Still Camera

This guys are fully decked out in Plains regalia.   It is possible that they are from a Plains tribe, most of the local Indians are from one of the nearby Pueblos.

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This little guy is dressed in Plains regalia.

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Miss Navajo (unlike most beauty pageants, to be named Miss Navajo one needs to be able to kill and dress a sheep) had on her traditional outfit, but her son did not.

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This detail of a dance outfit shows the mixture of tradition and modern.

I was in a store when the movie Pocahontas came out.   Some little girl was pestering her mother for a Halloween costume so that she could look just like an Indian.   Except when there is pow-wow, we just dress like everybody else.   But at the big pow-wows you have to have a outfit to be able to dance.   Sometimes they call for a certain style of dance, so only people in that outfit can dance, when it’s intertribal anyone can join in.