Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
Today we doubled back northeast of Santa Fe to to see a Civil War memorial we were curious about. Not only was it located on a pull-out on the wrong side of the interstate as we headed toward Santa Fe yesterday, but we had “taken the time” to enjoy our visit with a new friend (Roger) to its fullest measure and wanted to high tail it to ABQ to enjoy dinner with some old friends. The memorial far exceeded our expectations, and almost this entire post will be devoted to that adventure.
But before we dig in, we would be remiss if we didn’t include a few pictures of the house that our friend John took us to on the way to breakfast. Almost all of the houses in John and Stacey’s neighborhood are of the single story, flat roof, pueblo-style variety. John and Stacey have a great house in this style with a kiva fireplace, wood floors, cool architectural details and these two dogs. Just to state the obvious; Merx and Coppy are the most lovable animals west of the Mississippi. Here they are warming up the guest bed for us:
It seems like the first level is an original post-war pueblo-style structure, but then there is this crazy cantilevered addition.
The house on the corner next door was even better….
and why was the corner house better? Because of the dinosaurs, of course.
These amazing structures are the work of Bart Prince. We highly recommend a detour to his site where you can get a look at the interiors of some of his projects. (you probably need to have Flash installed to see his site). We have noticed that the high desert climate, the clarity of the light and the crispness of the air…it changes people. And in this way, Bart Prince’ architecture hits the bullseye in terms of setting a tone.
Onward. After a great breakfast at the Flying Star (on Route 66!) we went back north of Santa Fe to check out the Civil War memorial site that our book described as:
“Between HWY markers 296 and 295, on the left, is an informal pullout…Behind the pullout you can see a memorial that commemorates the Battle of Glorietta, as well as a skirmish [that happened] here two days before the major battle at Pigeon’s Ranch.”
Normally, we would skip something like this
because the stop would basically result in seeing a plaque that repeats what we read in the book with perhaps a few more details re: dates and casualties. Not that these markers are unimportant, but there is only so much daylight….Anyway, we decided to check it out because Ginny had mentioned that the memorial was some sort of home-made endeavor by the owner of the land.
Well…..it is a total understatement to say that we were not prepared for the genius vision of Al Sanchez.
Background: Alfonso Sanchez is a veteran of WWII and the Korean war. He was a district attorney and at some point decades ago bought this land in Apache Canyon. In 1998, while reading a book on local history, he realized that the “skirmish” before the major Battle of Glorietta Pass (1862) was fought, “smack dab in the middle of my property,” and thus began the endeavor to honor the dead who had fallen and were buried somewhere there. The result is a moving, if somewhat rambling, collection of trails, markers, signs, and paintings depicting the battle and honoring (in general) fallen Americans from all wars.
We had to spend time with the wording of some of the signs to figure out whether his sympathies lay with the Confederate or Union army. But we finally realized that he was putting those ideologies aside and simply honoring the dead who fell and didn’t have a decent burial. (In the end, it is clear that like most New Mexicans he feels that Union had a case worth fighting for.)
We took about nine thousand pictures and will post a fraction here to walk you through this amazing place. But if you are ever heading northbound on hwy 25, this is a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED stop.
Here is the first thing you see.
There was a “museum” down the embankment behind the cross. Inside this open-air structure were a number of amazing paintings. There was also a laminated newspaper article (from 2007) about the artist, Robert Guesnard. Apparently, the itinerant Guesnard showed up at Sanchez’ land with a bike so overladen with packs, bedrolls, and art gear that he was pushing it, not riding it. In fact, he had pushed this bike for over 5,000 miles. He asked if he could camp on the land in exchange for helping with the memorial. In the article Sanchez refers to Guesnard as “a blessing.”
To see all of Guesnard’s paintings (and really, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND!), click here.
After you look at the museum, there is an area further into the canyon where the fighting took place. This area is clearly marked by big signs that say “The Killing Field.”
Sanchez has placed a chunk of concrete to represent every Union soldier positioned along the ridge overlooking the killing Fields.
As you follow the concrete markers along the edge of the canyon and up to the overlook, you get a good sense of how being in the canyon would have been a crappy choice.
Detour to the museum pavilion.
Back to Chivington’s trail. A little further along we came across a marker and a flagstone patio where Guesnard executed one of the battle paintings.
The climb was snowy (and muddy).
More troops. These concrete chunks fringed he trail and were spaced, at most, about every twenty feet. Here they are elbow to elbow.
Here’s Chivington’s point; clearly this presents a tactical advantage:
This is what the Union soldiers saw (but without train tracks… the soldiers used the SFT and military covered wagons):
and this is how Guesnard depicted it:
Check out the bullets flying.
What really blew us away was the dedication to this vision. Of all the museums we’d visited, this was by far the most moving. Part of the impact was because the whole thing was so un-self-conscious and humble:
and too, this sweeping gesture was so full of respect for the sacrifices on both sides. It was about the Civil War –the bloody awfulness of it– but beyond the historical account lay something else. Perhaps a need to connect the past to the present; a montage working against forgetting the sacrifices others have made whether by choice or conscription – from Jesus to Martin Luther King; from the soldiers of the War of 1812 to the untold thousands yet to die in the Middle East. We read about these events; we watch in real time as missiles rip through the night; it is delivered as ‘shock and awe’… and we make judgements as to whether or not these actions, ordered by our government, reflect who we are and what we believe.
The genius of this memorial, though, is that it doesn’t really express a personal opinion at all. It doesn’t even come across as gung-ho American. It simply asks us to be present to something that wasn’t one event but instead, an outcome. The dead were the result of an unimaginable number of smaller historical exploits/ideas/follies/decisions and, ultimately, abstractions that led to a cataclysmic event on March 26, 1862 in which two groups of people were determined to annihilate each other. It is a crazy melange, but Al Sanchez, you touched our hearts and we are still processing the experience.
We left rather speechless. We did a U-turn and looked for an exit to get off of HWY 25 to pick up a more faithful trace of the final leg of the SFT. We were giddy about the morning adventure, muddy, and starving.
Just before exiting the HWY, we spied this home-made billboard:
Oy. They need a lesson from Al Sanchez about roadside monuments.
But immediately following this sighting was this!
Thank the lord! Good as Booty may be, we needed some lunch. This place was amazing; in the middle of nowhere we found excellent local, organic, home made food, sweet people, and a place to re-charge the two camera batteries drained at the memorial.
And just to give you an idea of how perfect it was (aside from flawless food)
Why doesn’t every cafe have table shims?
We met a crazy/cute kid on the way into the cafe. He was jabbing small mushy, rotting pumpkins (an autumn display way past its prime) with a stick. We made a zombie-brain joke and he roared something in return. Here’s Oliver and his older brother Gilman.
We noticed that Oliver had great taste in boots:
BTW. There have been more roadside shrines from Clayton, NM to Santa Fe than the entire stretch from Madison to Dodge City. This is the first time we saw a Star of David, however.
At this point we were about 6 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza:
We were running late AGAIN! It was 4:00 and we wanted to visit museums in Santa Fe. Even with this do-over, we still needed more time. And then we saw this enormous, bronze statue:
What was this place? We drove around the building to the parking lot and found this:
Lucky for us, someone was in the bus. Turns out that we were at the Center for Museum Resources, the cultural advocacy hub of New Mexico. We met Jamie Brytowski who is the statewide outreach coordinator. She took us through the mobile museums (very cool) and introduced us to a couple of her colleagues. They gave us some CD’s of oral histories and trails songs that have to do with travel in New Mexico. Honestly– could this day get any better?!
Jamie also told us that if we were interested in routes of trade and migration, we should visit a museum way out in the desert… the El Camino Real International Heritage Center.
We thanked them and got into Santa Fe just before 5pm. Damn! Where does the time go? We begged the guard at the courthouse to let us in to see a couple of WPA murals about the SFT by William Henderson. These two faced each other in the lobby of the main entrance. Check it out:
Seeing these William Penhallow Henderson murals at the end of the line provided a poetic conclusion to our trek which began in Independance, MO with the SFT mural by Thomas Hart Benton at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library/Museum. Here’s the Benton from Day 1:
These works each reflected a sense of place that we found fascinating; Henderson’s slightly surreal impressionistic use of color, composition, and scale as subject matter is so prevalent in the southwest vernacular. The wide open landscape and the dwarfed, isolated wagon are (literally and figuratively) miles away from Benton’s Regionalist depiction of the encroaching commercial interests and industrialization of the East into the landscape of the frontier.
Benton = Bodies dominating landscape.
Henderson = Landscape dwarfing bodies.
In reality, both depictions hold true and in the overlapping area of the venn diagram would be our experience of the west; both romantic and cynical. New Mexico is rough land and water is of primary concern whether you are a small rancher or a hotelier. Big cities are a burden on the environment and grassroots communities need to be vigilant lest commercial interests with power and connections will (and do) take more than their fair share of resources. There is a lot of poverty here and the connection between that and the fact that NM is home to Alamogordo, nuclear waste burial sites and missile testing is no mistake. On the other hand, this country is vast, beautiful and full of people who are aware of their unique, multi-cultural (and international) history and are generous enough to “take the time.”
Tomorrow we will visit the El Camino Real museum and try to make it all the way to Tucson, AZ. We will miss you, beautiful New Mexico…