National Treasures

Not every day of my Santa Fe stay was as reflective as the daytrip to Tsankawi/Bandelier/Los Alamos/Dog Park. That’s the beauty of the Sojourn. Every day was new—unpredictable, unknown, uncharted. My third day was a more normal tourist day—wandering around the town square, shopping Native jewelry, the NM Historical Museum (to see an exhibit on NM involvement with the Japanese internment), Mountain Trails Art Gallery (to see Harry’s artwork), the Basilica, the Loretto Spiral Staircase. The Basilica and the Loretto Spiral Staircase my new friend Marianna had told me about.  I bought a turquoise and silver ring from a Native vendor on the plaza. She was part of the Jemez Pueblo, beyond Valles Caldera west of Los Alamos. Each of these pueblos, or communities, are known for their handiwork—the pottery can be very distinctive. I walked around on a Sunday, so the Basilica was closed to the public but the Loretto Spiral located in the chapel by the same name was open. It was crowded with tourists, but well worth seeing. The chapel is on the Old Santa Fe Trail which runs on the east side of the Plaza. I kept crisscrossing the Santa Fe and Pecos trails that I knew of from old TV westerns. Every kid who grew up in the 50s and 60s grew up with cowboy westerns. Many were filmed in this area. The modern-day Longmire series is also filmed in the area! And I’m a big Longmire fan.

I was scheduled to move on to the last leg of my Sojourn—headed home. I thought I’d follow the Santa Fe trail as long as I could as I looped around the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains with Las Vegas, NM as one of the stops along the way. Little did I know what a random stop would do for my trip the next day.

I had a pretty good routine put together to pack up. I had a bin of foodstuffs and a foldable ice chest. Then I had two ski bags of clothing and gear. And finally, two clothes containers—a large rolling hard sided suitcase and a smaller buffalo plaid overnight bag that also served as my personal care bag—makeup, shampoo, conditioner, hair color (yep, this color is out of a bottle) an assortment of vitamins and melatonin to help me sleep. I always put my sheepskin slippers on the top and I just add a few clothes if I needed to stay overnight. Then I had my backpack that my entire life travels in, sometimes a bag of extra shoes and/or boots and finally a woven basket that has brochures, a pinecone I had found, candy, water bottle, insulated coffee cup/wine glass, chips, gloves and whatever else I can’t remember to put anywhere else. It takes me at least six trips to load my truck. Oh. And my purse that I carry out of habit, not need.

People have asked me if I put weight in the back of my truck—like bags of sand or salt to keep it from slipping and sliding in the ice and snow. I laugh. It is so loaded down with all my stuff I didn’t need to add to the load. Plus I would not have had any place to put extra bags of weight.

I took the road towards the Santa Fe Town Square and caught the Old Santa Fe Trail at the Southeast corner. I turned right and began following the trail out of town, imagining myself in a covered wagon, or on horseback, big cowboy hat on, spurs that jingle jangle jingled, and maybe a guitar slung over my back.

I didn’t get ten minutes out of town—Google Maps say it was 2.3 miles—and I saw the most extraordinary pueblo adobe building. It seemed too big to be a home, but I had been to the Martinez Hacienda in Taos, and that thing was sprawling.

I had seen a sign about museums, so I figured it must be one. I took a hard right into the parking lot. A man was getting into his car so I stopped to talk. I was in for an hour and a half visit I will never forget!

James Mason was done gathering some papers so he could go home and work remotely. I caught him before he could escape. The building was the regional headquarters for the National Park Service! James Mason was a civil engineer (I should have warned him I have an affinity for engineers) who worked in the Vanishing Treasures department. His job was to help maintain and save archeological and historical artifacts and finds for as long as possible in the most non-invasive way possible. He was a fountain of information and I was a thirsty traveler! Plus he gave me some history on the building (built during the depression by the CCC), took me on a tour of the building—it was closed due to remodeling and Covid– and let me see the pottery that had been purchased by the original park service inhabitants from local pueblos. There I saw huge Jemez, Martinez and other pots. I mean amazingly big. While I was touring about, I thought of buying one as a souvenir—my price range would buy me a signature pot about the size of five thimbles. These pots were like five-gallon bucket size!! They were national treasures! And as James reminded me, they belonged to me, as National Parks belong to all people.

James rifled through the reception area for brochures. I left with forty brochures, everything from a map of every national park or monument in the states, to the Pecos Pueblo just down the road. I could have talked even longer, but I had miles to go, and I had gone less than three miles!! James warned me if I moved to Santa Fe I would end up working with him, and you never know. He came out of retirement and has worked all over the west, even up to Pompey’s Pillar on the Yellowstone River, about 35 miles from my home. Pompey’s Pillar is the only physical evidence that Lewis and Clark made their historic expedition. James was looking at the effects of freeze thaw and changing climate on the rock. As a side note, he expressed grave concern about the changing climate and the effects on prehistoric cliff homes, drawings on rocks and the elements affecting it all. We also had a chance to talk about the Japanese Internment camps as they are getting National Park status. James grew up in the Bay Area of California so knew the history better than most, and we had a lively discussion about all the camps I had been to. And I had one more in route which had just gotten National Park Status—Amache, outside of Granada, Colorado.

My day still had almost 300 miles to go in order to get to my next overnight spot—La Junta, Colorado.

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