Monday, April 17, 2017

Deep Roots in Santa Fe

Palace of the Governors - Santa Fe, New Mexico
photo by Gregory E. Larson
          Travel across the high plains today isn’t what it used to be in the 19th Century. Satellite radio, iPods, and CD’s kept me entertained while the GPS map and the voice directed me to the destination. Coffee and fast food were within arm’s reach. In one day, I was able to complete a journey that took four months to travel in the 1800s. The latest trip to the Southwest didn’t diminish my focus on history as I pulled off the Interstate highway and drove to one of my favorite destinations.

Deep Roots in Santa Fe

travel memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

          I walked alone down the narrow streets of Santa Fe, along the historical road that once held countless wagon trains, and funneled them to the heart of the enigmatic city. It was good to be back, although just for one evening on my quick journey through New Mexico. Something tugged on my spirit while I absorbed the sights and sounds. My thoughts wandered to all of the people who walked or rode down this street at the end of their long journey across the plains. What were they thinking? Were they relieved to have survived the months-long trek and its dangers of storms, drought, heat, robbers, and native tribes? I can imagine the cool breeze was refreshing to them as they crossed Glorieta Pass, viewed the chimney smoke and smelled the piñon and aspen on their approach to Santa Fe, which was established in 1610 as the northern colonial capital of Spain’s presence in North America.

Oldest House in the U.S. (circa 1646), Santa Fe, New Mexico
watercolor by Gregory E. Larson
          Before I walked past the La Fonda Hotel, I took a short diversion along the narrow Vargas Rd. to see the oldest house in the United States. It was built (circa 1646) on top of pueblo ruins which were estimated to have been part of a native village that existed around the year 1000. The unassuming adobe structure has survived many revisions as well as potential destruction. I walked through the gift shop and down some steps, ducked my head at the doorways and viewed the two small, simple rooms. It was my kind of destination, one that is probably missed by many tourists, even though its roots are deep.
          As I left Vargas Rd. and walked down the street towards the city center, I passed young millennials, old hippies, Native Americans, Hispanics, vagrants, and people from all points along the socio-economic strata. The mixture is hard to describe. You have to see it for yourself: tourists, artists, locals, all passing through a portal of time and space. Time itself is a strange commodity here. Centuries are fleeting but the clock seemed to stop on that late afternoon as I stood in the center of the plaza, where the inscriptions on a monument/obelisk celebrate the Union troop’s 1860s victories over the local native “uprisings.”
Monument in the Santa Fe Plaza
photo by Gregory E. Larson
            The Palace of the Governors, on the north side of the plaza, is the oldest continuously-operating public building in the United States, having been established by the Spanish sometime between 1610 and 1618. The Native Americans have been selling their wares along the sidewalk at the front of the building for centuries.
          Sounds of Harley mufflers punctuated the air while a group of motorcycle riders circled the center of town.
The Palace of the Governors - Santa Fe, New Mexico
photo by Gregory E. Larson
          Unceremoniously, two Native-American men approached the obelisk. They wore everyday jeans and shirts, and carried a large drum. Without hesitation they began to beat the drum and sang a soft chant. I stood near them while the sunlight shafts filtered through the trees, and wondered the significance of their song. Were they giving a memorial to their ancestors? Was this a centuries-long protest next to the monument that celebrated the demise of their older relatives? Was it a prayer for the living or the dead? I didn’t know the answer, but I felt they had tapped another deep root of this special place, and struck a nerve of the spirit of Santa Fe.