Welcome to the Explore! New Mexico blog

Explore! New Mexico searches the state for interesting stories to tell our listeners and readers - and now our blog followers! We are currently producing a series of multi-media podcasts for the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau about interesting events and places to visit. You can view them at our YouTube channel. Be sure to visit our website where you can get even more ideas about where to travel in the Land of Enchantment.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Navajo Code Talkers honored in Las Cruces

On Memorial Day 2011, three Navajo Code Talkers were present at a ceremony in their honor at Veterans Memorial Park in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The occasion was brought about by a donation by Danny Montoya, who purchased bricks for the Walk of Honor for each of the 29 original Navajo Code Talkers. While the only surviving member of the original 29, Chester Nez, was unable to attend due to health problems, the three Code Talkers who did attend - Keith Little, Frank Chee Willetto, and Bill Toledo - are all actively involved in the Navajo Code Talkers Association and Foundation.

If you don't know the story, the Code Talkers were recruited to be communications specialists during World War II. It was essential to be able to develop a code unbreakable by the Japanese and the Marines thought that the Navajo language could serve as the basis of that code. They went to the Navajo reservation and recruited 30 men to go through training. Only 29 were able to make it to training, and thus became the honored original 29 who worked out the code that turned names of common military equipment into Navajo words. Even if the Japanese had been able to translate the words, they would not know what they referred to as they were not literal translations. The code developed by the Navajo Code Talkers helped the United States prevail in World War II.

Only about 50 of the 200+ Code Talkers survive today. Many of them are actively involved in planning a museum that will be located in northern New Mexico to preserve the story of the Code Talkers and the Navajo language.

I'll post more information after I read the book that I purchased yesterday as a donation towards the museum. A slide show of photos from the ceremony will also be posted soon.

- Cheryl Fallstead

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Peñasco Blanco: Observatory

During our visit to Chaco Canyon, we hiked 3-1/2 miles from Pueblo Bonito to Peñasco Blanco, sitting atop the bluff some 300-400 feet above the canyon basin. I had wondered why these villages were sited in such disparate places. Why was Peñasco on top the bluff and Bonito at the base of the cliffs? It wasn’t until I returned to Las Cruces and had time to stick my nose in my reference books that I got an answer. Peñasco was an observatory – of sorts.

Astronomy was important to the Chacoans and many of the pueblos are precisely aligned to some aspect to the solar cycle or the lunar cycle. Astronomy apparently had a major influence on customs, rituals, and ceremonies.

Peñasco Blanco, Spanish for white bluff, is called by the Navajo “tableland tapering to a point house,” an apt description of the great house sited above the confluence of Chaco Wash and Escavada Wash.

That, however, does not tell the story. Peñasco is in perfect alignment with Pueblo Bonito and Una Vida, along a straight line eight miles long. All three were built in the mid to late 800s.

What truly makes Peñasco unique is its alignment to what astronomer’s call the lunar major standstill. I’ve tried to find out what that means, and it gets complicated quickly. The moon does not orbit the earth in the same plane as the earth orbits the sun, a plane called the ecliptic. If it did, we’d have an eclipse every two weeks. Instead, the moon’s orbit is tilted about five degrees above the ecliptic.

The lunar cycle from one major standstill to another is 18.6 years and the cycle was first measured and explained by Hipparchus, the Greek astronomer who lived from 190 to 120 BC, so there’s nothing new about it. It all has to do with very complex celestial mechanics that govern the orbit of one body around another [moon and earth] while under the influence of a third body [the sun].

Here’s the technical definition ... “As the earth travels its annual orbit around the sun, with its rotational axis tilted at about 23.5° from the vertical, the sun’s declination changes from + 23.5° at the summer solstice to -23.5° at the winter solstice. Thus, in the northern hemisphere, the sun is higher in the sky and visible for a longer period of time in June than it is in December. It’s why we have seasons.

“Unlike the sun, the maximum and minimum declination reached by the moon varies. This is because the plane of the moon’s orbit around the earth is inclined those five degrees to the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun, and the direction of this inclination gradually changes over the 18.6-year cycle, alternately working with and against the 23.5° tilt of the earth’s axis.” [Source:Wikipedia]

At the standstill, the moon appears to stand still in the sky for a brief period before changing directions and moving oppositely, either north or south.

Keep in mind this has nothing to do with the phases of the moon. It just means, if you stand facing the north star, how far to the south of it is the moon at its zenith. Sometimes, at an equinox, it appears farther north than you might expect it to be. Other times it’s farther south, just like where the sun peeks over the Organ Mountains in June and December.

I’ve taken time to mention this because we have loads of instruments to measure precise angles and times and computers to do calculations to however many decimal places we desire. The Chacoans had none of this, and yet their calculations were just as precise. It’s built into the architecture of Peñasco Blanco and Pueblo Bonito. Anna Sofaer, director of the Solstice Project Survey [in Kendrick Frazier’s book, People of Chaco] said, “It suggests the Chacoans may have favored these particular angles (lunar standstill) in order to incorporate a geometry of the sun and moon in the internal organization of the buildings.” An illustration in Frazier’s book refers to “inter-building bearings” that correlate to the orientation of individual buildings to the cardinal directions and to the lunar major and minor standstills. There are walls in perfect alignment not only with the cardinal directions and standstill angles but also with other walls in other pueblos. How Chacoans achieved such precision is unknown but marvelous to contemplate.

Observant Chacoan holy men, whom Park Rangers referred to as Sunwatchers, would have noticed the relationship between eclipses of the moon and its standstill cycle. They perhaps used their observations to establish precise dates for major festivals and ceremonials, so vital to the sacred rituals of the society.

What binds a society, then and now, are adherence by individuals to a community-accepted body of behavior and beliefs. We often hear people talk about the decay of our society. What actually does that mean, except individuals no longer choose to conform? It puts the society in flux until a new belief system emerges to unify the community.

Archeologists assume Chacoans used solar and lunar cycles to reinforce societal behavior. For instance, we were told during the full-moon lecture at Pueblo Bonito, at the solstice, the date was set for a ceremonial during which people recommitted to the community, “to do good.” If they failed to hold the ceremony and the people had been “bad,” the sun would continue south and the earth would die. The recommitment assured the sun of the people’s devotion to each other and the world, and it began its return.

What was practiced at Peñasco Blanco was ancient when the great house was new. We were assured by the Ranger, it is still part of today’s puebloan ceremonials, so sacred it cannot be talked about publicly less it offend the sun and it continues south on its journey through time.

Posted by Bur Russo

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cretaceous Fossils: Older than Chaco

There are things in Chaco Canyon older than the stone ruins. The stone from which the pueblos were built was cut from the 400-foot-tall sandstone bluffs remaining where the wash has eroded them.

The sandstone formed from a seabed of 60 to 80 million years ago. Any examination of the sandstone quickly reveals things that look like twisted, corroded rebar. It’s not.

During the Cretaceous a shrimp-like crustacean burred into the sandy seabed, creating a network of tunnels. To keep the tunnels from collapsing from sea wave motions, these crustaceans cemented sand particles to the walls.

As the ocean receded, heavy particles of iron, mercury, and other minerals suspended in the water settled into the and filled the crustaceans’ abandoned tunnels. The particles hardened as the seabed dried. The time and the weight of sediments laying on top compressed the sand into sandstone.

So while the crustacean is long gone, its home remains ... just like the Chacoans.

Posted by Bud Russo

Saturday, May 21, 2011

If Only The Walls Could Talk!

Type I Wall Type II Wall

Type III Wall Type IV Wall

If these walls could talk what would they say? We’ve all heard that before, but a Chaco Culture NHP, I really wanted the walls to have the power of communication.

We toured Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the great houses, with Ranger Adrian Jones, who talked of the history of the pueblo. He pointed out the four types of walls found in the canyon.

The walls at Chaco were first just slabs of sandstone laid in such a way as to reinforce each other. The wall was relatively weak and would support only a single story. It was also as rough on the outside as it was in the center of the core. But construction evolved at Chaco over the 3-1/2 centuries it was occupied. Builders began to face the rough Type I wall with a veneer. With each successive style ... there are four types of walls ... the veneers became smoother, stones fit tighter, and there was increasing artistry in the construction. “Ah,” I thought. “I see.” Only I didn’t.

Ranger Jones told us, after building the walls, the Chacoans plastered them inside and out. That sort of made sense, too. Lighter colored plaster increased reflection from light sources. Plaster made a smoother wall. It gave the building a uniform consistency.

Why, then, would the people have gone to so much trouble to build walls with beautiful veneers if they were only going to plaster over them? Were they just building styles that reflected changing generational ideas of how things were done and have no particular significance, including artistry? What was the purpose of investing so much time and energy in something no one would see? Was it sort of like a woman wearing fancy underwear no one but her ever sees just because it makes her feel good? Was there a self-serving satisfaction the builders derived knowing beneath the plaster lay their remarkable work?

Or ... is there something more going on? Is there meaning in the distinctive patterns, meanings we can not know? Something of which we are unaware and can never fathom just from looking at the walls?

I sat and studied the patterns. I might as well have been watching paint dry for all the good it did me in expanding my understanding. I photographed each style in various pueblos and I look at them now ... each style is represented in the blog from Type I to Type IV, left to right ... and all I see is artistic architecture that I might find anywhere someone is working with sandstone. You be the judge and help me understand the why.

Posted by Bud Russo

Friday, May 20, 2011

First Impressions: Chaco Culture NHP

Chaco: the name evokes ancient mystery. Chaco: home to Americans from approximately 850 A.D. until 1150 A.D. Then ... so the early theories go ... they disappeared. Vanished. Of course, they didn’t. In the face of insurmountable drought, they migrated to land where they could live. They became today’s Acoma and Zuni. Those who traveled south to Paquimé live at today’s Casas Grande in Mexico. The Chacoans didn’t disappear. They are with us today.

But the mysteries surrounding Chaco persist. We came to Chaco May 15 to learn what we could about this fascinating remnant of human history. The Ranger, in his recounting, tells us they who how Chaco came to be and when, but they don’t know why.

Chaco canyon runs southeast to northwest. Water drains from higher elevations to the south into the wash that formed the mile wide canyon, cut through hundreds of feet of sandstone. The Chaco River, as the dry bed is known, when wet, drains into the San Juan and finally the Colorado. The sandstone bluffs are the result of sand bedding ancient shallow seas that covered the central part of what today is North America.

Within the canyon proper are a dozen great houses, immense stone pueblos. They range from Wijiji in the southeast about a dozen miles to Pueblo Peñasco in the northwest but high atop the bluff. This was the center of the universe for these people and it was the focus of power that controlled more than 40,000 square miles and more than 100 other pueblos across the Colorado Plateau and San Juan Basin.

With so many villages and so much land, you’d think Chaco was inhabited by tens of thousands of people. That wasn’t so. Total population ranged closer to 2,000 upwards to maybe 8,000 [and that number is contested]. Pueblo Bonito, the largest great house with over 700 rooms, may have been home to less than 200 people.

As I digest all that I saw and experienced, I will write more. But for now I have more questions than answers. I wonder about these people; who they were, why they chose this place to live and for what purpose. I am convinced something special took place here. Life wasn’t static. Society evolved over 3-1/2 centuries, more than 10 generations. The actual meaning of what when on here is lost in time.

No matter how carefully scientists search, no matter how they analyze and compare data, we will never really know the full story of chaco.

Posted by Bud Russo

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lake Valley Clings To Its Colorful Past

If you’d visited Lake Valley in the 1850s, you would have seen mostly flat, grassy plains, low rounded hills, and the majestic Black Range ensconced on the horizon. You might have thought the valley serene, even idyllic.

Then in 1878, a rancher named McEvers or perhaps a prospector named Lufkin found silver ore. It was however low-grade, not much more than 40 ounces or 2-1/2 pounds of silver for every ton of rock dug. Remember, in those days, there were no electric or steam-driven mining machines. Dug meant pick and shovel, a hand-hammered drill, and maybe some dynamite, which had been invented in 1867.

In 1881, J. Whitaker Wright arrive in Lake Valley with George Daly, an Australian immigrant. The two men, along with George Roberts, formed the Sierra Grande Silver Mining Company. Their efforts to exploit the silver was frustrated because there appeared to be none but the low-grade ore.

Meanwhile, Apaches, led by Nana, decided the ranchers and miners had been in their homeland long enough and began raiding. They burned a rancher’s home and kidnapped his wife and children. George Daly led a group of miners in retaliation. His efforts cost him his life.

It was when they brought Daly’s body back to Lake Valley, the miners found the motherlode at a depth of 40 feet. I am reminded of a scene in Paint Your Wagon, where the vagabond miners are digging a grave for a compadre killed in a wagon accident, only to see gold glittering in the dirt. The response is hilarious if crude. And I wondered if Lake Valley silver was found that way when Daly’s grave was dug.

However, it worked out, miners excavated what became known as the Bridal Chamber and found a vein of silver so pure it was assayed at thousands of ounces per ton. One writer referred to the mine as having walls of pure silver. The Bridal Chamber gave up $2,775,000 in silver, becoming known as the richest silver mine ever found.

Of course, that’s when the trouble began. A rich strike brings more miners to town, sort of like vultures drawn to a corrupting carcass. The quiet town grew to have upwards of 4,000 residents, mostly men. So there were nearly two dozen saloons and a few bordellos. There were also “legitimate” businesses – general stores, hotels, drug store, barber shop, post office, livery, stage line, and assay office. There were also a church, school, and doctor in residence.

In a short time, miners had dug hundreds of shafts looking for more of the elusive silver. To keep cash flowing for mining operations, Wright and Roberts apparently salted areas or convinced naive investors the ore was richer than it was. These promotions made Wright a multimillionaire, while it made paupers out of many investors. By 1882, Robert’s fraudulent promotions threatened the company, and he sold out to Wright. Meanwhile, Wright’s questionable promotions led to a conviction of stock fraud in London in 1902, and he swallowed cyanide, committing suicide in the courtroom.

But I’m ahead of my story. In 1893, President Grover Cleveland changed the standard upon which paper money was based from silver to gold. Not only did silver prices plummet, the change also contributed to the Panic of 1893, a major economic depression that tipped the scales on many Lake Valley businesses. Silver mining was pretty much done by then.

Besides all the mining activities, ranching had remained a major industry in Lake Valley. Cattle in large numbers bring in rustlers in large numbers. Bob Alexander, in his book, Desert Desperadoes, recounts an episode of “door-bustin’ roundups at Lake Valley, Hillsboro, and Kingston.” The roundup was led by Major Albert Fountain and was intent on rooting out and destroying rustlers, led by John Kinney, whose Lake Valley ranch served as headquarters for the outlaws. The gunfights that followed were brutal. One newspaper reported alleged escaped prisoners were shot to pieces.

So went life in Lake Valley, a town in decline. One night in 1895, a man named Abernathy, a disgruntled and perhaps drunk customer of William Cotton’s saloon, set the bar on fire. Tinder dry wood and high winds fanned the flames, which consumed nearly all of Main Street, including the Keller, Miller & Company mercantile. Today, you know exactly where that store stood. Its safe sits in the dirt right where it was after the fire burned itself out.

Like all ghost towns, Lake Valley was never totally abandoned. Its life simply ebbed away every so slowly. Mrs. Blanch Nowlin, who became the local dealer for Conoco, lived in her house on Railroad Avenue until 1982. Pedro and Savina Martinez bought the Belle Hotel next door. He lived there until his death in 1994, having been a Lake Valley resident for 90 years.

During World War II, manganese was mined in the town, but that too was mined out and abandoned in the early 1950s.

I thought about this history as I walked the remains of the town. The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for Lake Valley [along with the still remaining Sierra Grande Mining Company]. The BLM restored the 1907 schoolhouse and turned it into a museum. Mrs. Nowlin’s Conoco store was the original school built in 1880. It’s awaiting a new roof and other restoration. I looked in at the chapel, where Episcopal services were held until the 1970s, and examined the remains of the Keil House and Dr. Beal’s House. The Nowlin and Martinez houses are privately owned and undergoing stabilization, efforts to prevent them from collapsing, so they might be opened to visitors.

Bob Denison, resident BLM manager, took me in his ATV to see the Bridal Chamber and other mines still on private property. I saw what’s left of the manganese ore processor. I saw head frames standing above a few of the 430 mine shafts dug throughout the area. One mine, the Last Chance, is home to bats and monitored by the state, watching for white-nose syndrome. Another, Denison told me, is the den of a mountain lion. None of them ever produced silver as rich as the Bridal Chamber, which has mostly collapsed as its timbers have aged.

Time is not kind to the remnants of our history and, unless someone values Lake Valley at lot more than it is now, it too will fade away, leaving behind decaying piles of lumber and melting mounds of ancient adobe. And that will be too bad because at Lake Valley, we can examine our colorful past and know better the roots from which we have grown.

Posted by Bud Russo

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bataan Memorial Death March 2011

This past weekend, March 27, was the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico. The march is a 26-mile marathon and a 15-mile modified hike. This year more than 6,300 people came to honor the veterans who were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines, marched 80 miles north to a prison camp, and later placed in unmarked ships for transport as slave labor in Japan. Their stories are both horrific and heroic; more than half never came home.

We know of the feelings of these men from a poem Frank Hewlett wrote:

We are the battling bastards of Bataan;

No mamas. No papas. No Uncle Sam;

No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces;

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,

And nobody gives a damn.

Nobody gives a damn.

This was my second year at the memorial, mostly because of Cheryl’s earlier efforts. It was through her I met Col. Ben Skardon, one of the survivors. Ben is 93 years old and was among the 15 veterans of Bataan who attended the memorial. And it must be noted, a survivor who doesn’t embody the feelings expressed in Hewlett’s poem

The opening ceremony was at the crack of dawn. The eastern sky was salmon-pink. The Organ Mountains to the west were lighted just enough to show some detail. The military ceremony included a well-sung rendition of our national anthem and the presentation of colors. The surviving veterans were introduced. Then the MC called the role. She first asked three of the survivors to respond and they did with strong, proud voices. They she called the names of the veterans who passed into history since last year’s march. Between the names there was not a sound with the exception of the wind. I hoped others were quiet because they, as I, were gritting their teeth to keep the sobs from following the tears down my cheeks. After the last name was read, the bugler plays Taps.These men are ... and were ... true American heros and there can never be enough said or done on their behalf to honor the sacrifice they made.

And while Frank Hewlett may have thought nobody gave a damn, I can testify every one of the 6,300 people in attendance Sunday morning deeply care and show they do give a damn. Moreover, the survivors have become role models for the young men and women serving in the military. They know the risks they take and I hope they find strength and solace in knowing these veterans.

The survivors sit or stand at the starting line and the runners/hikers stop by to shake their hands and thank them for their service to America. They are greeted by so many, their hands must hurt, but it’s a pain they love to feel.

When the last runner/hiker had passed by, we ... family and friends constituting Ben’s Brigade ... joined the Colonel, who has become a celebrity because he joins in the hike. We marched out into the desert and along the dirt roads for 8-1/2 miles. Last year, Col. Skardon walked me into the ground after three miles. I was determined to stay with him this year and had trained, although not nearly enough. I took point and kept it, feeling like I was guarding the Colonel’s honor, until we reached our destination.

At some point in the future, Col. Skardon, too, will pass into history, and I intend to continue to honor him by hiking in my bright orange shirt with Ben’s picture as a young officer and the name Ben’s Brigade blazoned across my chest. I’ll do it proudly.

By Bud Russo

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Branigan Cultural Center Hosts Archaeology Day

Can you dig it? April 2 is Archaeology Day at the Branigan Cultural Center in Las Cruces. Kids of all ages can learn how to make arrowheads, grind corn, make a rope, weave fabric, coil a clay pot, create paint ... all the while learning about the importance of archaeology to unearthing the past. No charge for getting you hands dirty from 10 am to 2 pm. Archeology Day is sponsored by the Branigan, BLM, CARTA, City of Las Cruces, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Mesilla Valley Weavers Guild, and NMSU. More info at www.las-cruces.org/museums or call (575) 541-2154.

Posted by Bud Russo

When "The Stones Speak" We Just Have To Listen

The Stones Speak

Nancy King

Atelier Books, Ltd, 2009

ISBN 978-1-934690-18-5

Ever hear the phrase, “If only the walls could talk”? Usually someone says that when they’re in a room where a prior conversation has taken place and the speaker desires to know what was said.

That’s sort of the idea behind Nancy King’s novel, “The Stones Speak.” King who holds a PhD and has written a number of non-fiction books about drama, language, and storytelling, has produced a spell-binding story about Naomi, a dancer who auditions for a troupe soon to tour Europe. She is selected as the only dancer and gets involved with Eric.

When a man, like Eric, invites an impressional woman, like Naomi, to travel alone with him to Europe, nothing good can come of it. And nothing does. The philanderer abandons the now-pregnant Naomi in Italy and she is forced to return home, humiliated.

So that’s where the story starts and, as it plays out, we slowly find out what happened to Naomi after her return to the U.S. We see her struggles in relationships where she lives in Santa Fe, a woman in her mid-60s, and we finally come to understand her as the story is resolved.

There is enough conflict in the story to keep you turning pages and enough resolution to satisfy anyone desirous of a “they lived happily ever after” ending ... although this one is not saccharin-filled.

If you’re looking for an evening or two, sitting on the patio enjoying our early spring weather, you couldn’t pick a better companion than “The Stones Speak.”

Posted by Bud Russo

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Museum of Art Features "Organized Spontaneous" Sing

On Saturady (Feb 26) a 100-voice choir presented an “organized spontaneous” sing at the Las Cruces Museum of Art. The choir consisted of members from NMSU Choirs’ University Singers, Masterworks Chorus, Mesilla Valley Chorale, New Desert Harmony Singers, and Oñate High School Choir. Interspersed around the exhibit of Michael Naranjo sculptures, they slowly gathered together to perform. Here’s one of the selections ... City Called Heaven ... with Guo Ying as soloist.

Las Cruces is certainly blessed with talent and wonderful music.

Posted by Bud Russo

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book Review: A Good Goodbye

While Explore! New Mexico focuses on the Land of Enchantment and while we travel the state, exploring the people, places, history, and culture of New Mexico, there is one journey we all make ... the journey at the end of life.

New Mexican author Gail Rubin has written a book certain to inform, enlighten, and guide every one of us on this final journal. She has taken on society’s last taboo, producing a readable and practical guidebook with a light touch.

Entitled A Good Goodbye, the book details funeral planning for those who don’t plan to die. Its dozen chapters outline aspects of funerals that create a meaningful memorial, avoid stress at a time of grief, incorporate funeral traditions for major faiths, utilize new trends, and more. The family has that much more comfort in saying goodbye and celebrating the decedent’s life, when many of the decisions are made well in advance of death.

Gail Rubin is an event planner specializing in funerals and memorial services. A breast cancer survivor, she is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling, the cemetery committee for Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, and a member of the Chevra Kaddisha, a volunteer organization that ritually prepares the bodies of Jews for burial. More information is available at www.agoodgoodbye.com.

Book Review: Seven Cities of Mud

As we have traveled New Mexico we have made friends with writers who live in and write about New Mexico. From time to time, we’ll offer you a review and our impressions of their stories. And we’ll encourage you to explore New Mexico through its many authors who bring their own images of our Land of Enchantment to life.

Seven Cities of Mud

By Florence B. Weinberg

Published 2008 by Twilight Times Books

ISBN: 1-933353-46-5

Strong-willed Franciscan Fray Augustin organizes an entrada from Mexico into New Mexico a half century after Coronado, intent of converting Native Americans to Christianity. He recruits two other friars and eight soldiers. The entourage, with servants and livestock, embarks on a journey that carries them as far north as Taos and into the complexities of reconciling European culture with that of the Puebloans. Meanwhile, Poli, a pueblo woman whose husband suspiciously falls to his death soon after their marriage, is confronted by the arrogant, powerful, and cruel Makta, whose only desire is to possess her. Needless to say, the soldiers are there for treasure and complicate the situation. Priests, warriors, and Puebloans are in conflict the moment they are joined. Weinburg weaves a fascinating tale, integrating the history of Spanish conquest in a satisfying, nonintrusive way. Not only did I read a marvelous tale, I learned a bit more about my adopted home state.

Seven Cities of Mud is one of a series of historical novels set in the American Southwest and was a 2008 finalist for the New Mexico Book Awards.

- Book review by Bud Russo

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Happy Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail To You!

Hey! It’s time to hit the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. If you’re a carnivorous gourmand, you just have to dive into this adventure and explore the trail with us.

When the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail was opened in 2009, it had nearly 50 restaurants ... many with more than one location. What that meant was you could try a different burger at nearly 100 different dining venues. We’re told, about 8,000 residents, visitors, and restauranteurs checking out the competition weighed in. I suspect they weighed more on the way out, too!

New Mexicans ... like me ... sorry, but Cheryl’s a vegetarian ... just can’t get enough of a juicy, thick New Mexico beef patty grilled to perfection, then swathed in Cheddar or another favorite cheese, and topped with enough New Mexican green chile to set off the restaurant’s smoke alarm. Just the thought has me salivating so much, my keyboard thinks it’s been hit by a tsunami!

[Credit time: We took the map from the New Mexico Tourism Department's web site. Thanks for the loan.]

Ok. So here’s how the trail works. Restaurant owners can register their burger at the New Mexico Tourism Department web site. Then ... starting at 6 a.m. on March 1 ... think of it, green chile cheeseburgers for breakfast!!! ... you can sign in at the web site ... www.newmexico.org/greenchilecheeseburger ... and vote. Voting is open until 6 p.m. on March 31. But ... here’s the catch ... you can vote only once ... unless you have multiple email addresses. The rule says only one vote will be accepted from a specific email address.

So ... Chomp around until you find the green chile cheeseburger that reminds your taste buds of Anna Pavlova whose rendition of the dying swan in Swan Lake was so tender, it’d make you cry ... or Glen Campbell plunking your heart strings with one of his touching love songs ... or the Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl. Then vote.

There are no prizes. The chef of the best green chile cheeseburger gets nothing but the satisfaction of being King ... or Queen ... on the hill until the next time we wander down the trail.

I have my favorite and I’m voting for what I consider the best green chile cheeseburger in the country. Yeah, I know it’s only New Mexico, but they sure don’t know how to make’em anywhere else but here.

Good huntin’! Good eatin’! Compadres.

Posted by Bud Russo

Monday, January 31, 2011

Mile Markers Are Giving Me a Great Education!

Can't tell you how much I'm learning! Having to research and write 260 Mile Marker radio features this year is quite a challenge, but it's turning into a fascinating education. There are so many interesting people who live ... and have lived ... in New Mexico ... so many stories, some funny, some tragic, some dramatically violent. I'm working on a story about a sheriff who got into a gunfight with drunk cowboys who would not relinquish their guns. The sheriff was killed. One cowboy was killed, two were wounded, the fourth escaped unharmed. One cowboy was gut shot so he couldn't run. The other two got away, but later were captured. All three were executed. The sheriff's deputy became sheriff. Now that was pretty normal for New Mexico in the 1800s. What sets this story apart is ... oops. If I tell you now, will I have to shoot you? Listen to our Mile Markers on KRWG in Las Cruces, KENW in Portales, or KSJE in Farmington ... or catch up on our New Mexico tales at our web site ... explorenewmexico.biz. We post all the Mile Marker stories the week after they've been broadcast. Have fun. I certainly am.

Bud Russo

Doña Ana Poised For Future as Tourist Destination

The wagons churned along the Rio Grande over El Camino Real, advancing only a dozen miles or so each day. Travelers stopped at camps or parajes between Mexico City and Santa Fe. Most of those camps are distant memories, lost in the shifting sands of the desert and the changing course of the river. One of the camps has persisted into the 21st century. We know it as the village of Doña Ana.

On January 15, State Senator Mary Jane Garcia hosted the grand opening of the De La O Visitors Center in Doña Ana, culminating many years’ work of the many descendants who claim the name De La O and creating a focal point for community activities and tourists.

During the festivities, Sen. Garcia asked a show of hands of those who have come from the original De La O family. The senator is cousin to many of the village’s residents. She pointed to one man and asked if he was De La O, to which he concurred. Said the senator, “I’ve known you 20 years and didn’t know you were De La O. Hello, cousin!”

Those attending the grand opening included Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, several Las Cruces City Councillors,

representatives of Doña Ana County government, and other dignitaries. Unlike most other similar events, this one had the festive appeal of a family reunion.

Doña Ana dates to the late 17th century. The village, if if could have been called that at the time, was abandoned throughout most of the 18th century. According to Robert Julyan in his book, “The Place Names of New Mexico,” the governor of Chihuahua created the Doña Ana Bend Colony Grant to alleviate crowding in El Paso. But it was not settled until 1843 when Bernabé Montoya led thirty-three settlers to the site. They named their settlement after the semi-legendary Doña Ana, who may have been Ana Robledo who had fled south during the Pueblo Revolt, or Doña Ana María de Córdoba, whose ranch was nearby.

Whoever the name honored, settlers were determined to remain in their village, to farm and to thrive. El Camino Real ran through the heart of the village. It brought not only travelers and trade but also bandidos. It was also prey to

marauding bands of Apache. But it persisted.

Between 1845 and 1850, a decade before the village of Las Cruces was laid out, villagers built a church. It was about a hundred feet long and twenty feet wide. Its adobe walls were three feet thick and its windows high to prevent Indians and bandits from shooting at people sequestered there. Candles in chandeliers and sconces between the Stations of the Cross dimly lit the church. A single clerestory window above the nave close to the apse let in the early morning light to illuminate the altar during Mass.

During the Civil War, De La O opened a saloon about a hundred yards south of the church. Just north of the saloon, Werthheim opened a general store, and north of that was the residence of the Cavello family.

Those buildings have persisted into the present time, but barely. In the late 1970s, the church was about to be condemned and demolished. The adobe buildings down the street had faired better, perhaps because of their boxy single-story construction. The structures seemed destined to melt into history just as old adobe returns to the earth.

But the community, led by Sen. Garcia, had other plans. Over a decade, Doña Anans, including some at-risk youth, rebuilt the church. They made more than 17,000 adobe bricks to reconstruct one wall which had collapsed and to shore up other parts of the building. Using a design of local artist Jeannie De Lo O Carbajal, who designed the art adorning the I-25 underpass at Highway 320, artisans in Mexico built a new altar patterned on the original which had deteriorated too far to reclaim. They retained the church’s original vigas and corbels and conserved the original French paintings of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The church today is used for special occasions, including baptisms and marriages.

Then restoration work shifted down Camino Real, which for nearly two decades has been called Cristo Rey, to the old saloon and adjacent buildings.

The L-shaped De La O saloon has been restored with two meeting rooms and the mirror-backed bar, just as it might have looked 150 years ago. Its adobe has been painted white and its walls hung with historical scenes of the village of two centuries ago. Behind the building is a brick placita with fountain, stone planters, and shade trees. The community now has a facility for activities, celebrations, and fiestas.

As funds permit, the Werthheim building will be restored as a mercantile museum and the Cavello house will become the site of a farmers’ market.

For those who think Camino Real is nothing more than two ruts in the desert, come to the village of Doña Ana and see what family can do.

If you’d like to see the restored historic buildings and walk along part of the original royal highway, take Exit 9 off I-25 and turn south on Thorpe Road (NM-320). At the modern Catholic church, Our Lady of Purification, turn left onto Dusty Lane, which bends around the church and becomes Cristo Ray Street.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

100 Best New Mexico Books

The list of the 100 best New Mexico books was announced last week in anticipation of the State of New Mexico Centennial in 2012. I was surprised to see that I had only read seven of the books and also surprised that books I had enjoyed ages ago had a New Mexico connection.

Some are on my bookshelf awaiting quiet time to enjoy them. I noted that I have met four of the authors: the late, great Tony Hillerman (I am honored to have briefly met him and equally honored to now be able to call his daughter Anne a friend), Michael McGarrity (who I enjoyed interviewing for a radio show), and fellow Mesilla Valley residents Linda Harris and Denise Chavez. Another connection is that my husband, Brian, is a relative of General Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur and one-time NM governor. Surprisingly, his book is not one that I have read, but of course I've seen the movie! We recently donated some books from Wallace's personal library to the New Mexico History Museum.

Perusing the list has encouraged me to make it a goal to read all 100 of them. Notice that I haven't given myself a time limit! I've put the books I've read in italics so you can see where I'm starting. Bud will also be reading some of them - he has read some I have not and vice versa. I'm not sure he's on board with going for all 100! Then we'll share our thoughts about them from time to time. Please feel free to share your reactions to those you've read - and other New Mexico books you enjoy!

- Posted by Cheryl Fallstead



"Bless Me, Ultima" - Rudolfo Anaya

"A Thief of Time" - Tony Hillerman

"Ben Hur" - Lew Wallace

"Death Comes for the Archbishop" - Willa Cather

"First Blood" - David Morrell

"House Made of Dawn" - N. Scott Momaday

"Lamy of Santa Fe" - Paul Horgan

"Milagro Beanfield War" - John Nichols

"Red Sky at Morning" - Richard Bradford

"The Rounders" - Max Evans


"Alburquerque" - Rudolfo Anaya

"All the Pretty Horses" - Cormac McCarthy

"The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid" - Pat Garrett

"Black Mesa Poems" - Jimmy Santiago Baca

"Black Range Tales" - James A. McKenna

"The Blessing Way" - Tony Hillerman

"Blood and Thunder" - Hampton Sides

"Bloodville" - Don Bullis

"Bluefeather Fellini" - Max Evans

"Brothers of Light, Brothers of Blood" - Marta Weigle

"But Time and Chance" - Fray Angelico Chávez

"The Centuries of Santa Fe" - Paul Horgan

"Ceremony" - Leslie Marmon Silko

"Chaco Banyon: Sheriff of Lordsburg" - Fred Schmidt

"Chaco Canyon" - Robert Hill Lister

"Charlie Carrillio: Tradition & Soul" - Barbe Awalt and Paul Rhetts

"Coronado, Knight of Pueblos and Plains" - Eugene Bolton

"Cuentos" - Rudolfo Anaya

"Curse of the ChupaCabra" - Rudolfo Anaya

"Dance Hall of the Dead" - Tony Hillerman

"The Day It Snowed Tortillas" - Joe Hayes

"Delight Makers" - Aldolph Bandelier

"Ditch Rider" - Judith Van Gieson

"The Education of Little Tree" - Forrest Carter

"Eight Rattles and a Button" - Merle Blinn Brown

"El Gringo: New Mexico & Her People" - Josiah Gregg

"Face of an Angel" - Denise Chavez

"Fire on the Mountain" - Edward Abbey

"Forgotten People" - George I. Sánchez

"Great River" - Paul Horgan

"Hatchet" - Gary Paulsen

"Homesteading on Grasshopper Flats" - Etta Rose Knox

"The House at Otowi Bridge" - Peggy Pond Church

"I Fought with Geronimo" - Jason Betzinez & Wilbur Sturtevant

"An Illustrated History of New Mexico" - Thomas Chavez

"In the Days of Victorio" - Eve Ball

"Jemez Spring" - Rudolfo Anaya

"John Gaw Meem" - Bainbridge Bunting

"Journeys of Faith" - Lee Priestley

"Kiva, Cross, & Crown" - John Kessell

"History of La Mesilla & Her Mesilleros" - Lionel Cajen Frietze

"Land of Poco Tiempo" - Charles Lummis

"Las Cruces" - Linda G. Harris

"The Last Conquistador" - Marc Simmons

"The Leading Facts of New Mexican History" - Ralph Emerson Twitchell

"The Legend of La Llorona" - Rudolfo Anaya

"Lottie Deno" - J. Marvin Hunter

"Maria" - Alice Marriott

"Mayordomo" - Stanley Crawford

"Mimbres Painted Pottery" - J.J. Brody

"The Missions of New Mexico, 1776" - Fray Francisco Dominguez, edited by Adams & Chávez

"My Penitente Land" - Fray Angelico Chavez

"New Mexico: A Pageant of Three Peoples" - Erna Fergusson

"New Mexico Biographical Dictionary, 1540-2000" - Don Bullis

"New Mexico Style" - Nancy Hunter Warren

"New Mexico Tinwork" - Lane Coulter

"No Life for a Lady" - Agnes Morley Cleaveland

"Nobody's Horses" - Don Hoglund

"Origins of New Mexico Families" - Fray Angelico Chavez

"People of the Valley" - Frank Waters

"The Place Names of New Mexico" - Robert Julyan

"Popular Arts of Spanish New Mexico" - E. Boyd

"Pueblo Nations" - Joe Sando

"Riders to Cibola" - Norman Zollinger

"Rio Grande Fall" - Rudolfo Anaya

"River of Traps" - William duBoys & Alex Harris

"Roadside Geology of New Mexico" - Halka Chronic

"Sabino's Map" - Donald Usner "Saints of the Pueblos" - Charles M. Carrillo

"Santa Fe Design" - Elmo Baca

"Santa Fe on Foot" - Elaine Pinkerton Coleman

"Santa Fe Style" - Christine Mather "Santos & Saints" - Thomas J. Steele, S.J

"Scavengers" - Steven Havill

"Shaman Winter" - Rudolfo Anaya

"Slash Ranch Hounds" - Dub Evans

"Stolen Gods" - Jake Page

"Tularosa" - Michael McGarrity

"Villages of Hispanic New Mexico" - Nancy Hunter Warren

"Visions Underground" - Lois Manno

"When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away" - Ramon Gutierrez

"The Whole Damned World" - Martha Shipman Andrews

"Wind Leaves No Shadow" - Ruth Laughlin

"Winter in Taos" - Mabel Dodge Luhan

"The Wolf Path" - Judith Van Gieson

"The Woman at Otowi Crossing" - Frank Waters

"Works on Paper" - Georgia O'Keeffe & Barbara Haskell "Zia Summer" - Rudolfo Anaya

"Zuni Pottery" - Marian Rodee

Monday, January 24, 2011

Want to be on TV? Go to Sparky's!

Perhaps the phrase “If you build it, they will come” applies to restaurants as well as baseball fields. Josie and Teako Nunn have spent the last three years building their business, Sparky’s Burgers, Barbecue, and Espresso, in Hatch, New Mexico. The delicious food and fun atmosphere have brought it to the attention of a number of media outlets. It was recently mentioned in Sunset magazine with a larger article coming this fall, and featured in segments on KRWG-TV Newsmakers, Explore! New Mexico’s radio show, and Spicy RV, along with rave reviews in newspapers and on lots of travel and food websites.

Recently, they were contacted by the producers of an upcoming Discovery Channel show, “Road Eats.” A film crew will descend upon the funky eatery on Wednesday, February 2, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. to film the staff and diners. This is a day the restaurant is usually closed, so Sparky’s fans are encouraged to take time to come enjoy a meal that day and perhaps be able to see themselves on the Discovery Channel show when it is aired.

Sparky’s has received attention lately not only for its delicious smoked barbecue ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and green chile cheeseburgers (a must in the chile capital of the world!), but even international news coverage for the oversized statues that grace the building’s grounds - and the roof. Visitors pose with Colonel Sanders, who sits on a bench, or Ronald McDonald, and snap photos of the A & W Root Beer family that is perched on the roof. A giant rooster sits across the street pointing the way to the barbecue joint, which also features a wide variety of coffee drinks and shakes, with fun names like “Stellar Madness” and “Hot Chocolate Rocket.”

Sparky’s was recently expanded to allow room for more patrons to dine and to add a stage. The Nunns wanted to offer live music to make the atmosphere even more festive and engaging, so now on Sundays they have bands playing while folks enjoy their barbecue and coffee. Music is performed Sundays from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the Sparky’s Green Chile Room.

“It’s been fun doing this. Sparky’s started as a hobby and we even thought we could run the restaurant part-time, but it has turned into a full-time adventure,” says Josie Nunn.

Regular restaurant hours are Monday, Thursday, and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, they stay open until 7:30 p.m. They are closed Tuesday and Wednesday, except when Discovery Channel comes calling. The restaurant is located at 115 Franklin Street in Hatch. For more information on Sparky’s Burgers, Barbecue and Espresso, check their website at www.sparkysburgers.com.

- Posted by Cheryl Fallstead