The Tao of Taos


The road up to Taos is indeed a winding thread through mountains and into the more wild areas of New Mexico. The road narrows after a sprint across the human wastelands of those regions far too close to Santa Fe, and the eight lanes winnow down to two, the steep hills on one side, the river on the other so that there is but a few chances to overtake slow traffic and ample time to consider how a simple mistake could end in your adding another roadside memorandum, of which the roads already are marked at regular intervals those places where individuals and entire families were wiped out, such is the Wild West that it continues to swallow whole travelers, pilgrims, and profits.
Route 68 or whatever it was is a scenic drive and the roadside has ample places to stop and take in the view, if not to launch into the river. Also along the way are a number of art galleries – the Bare Foot Gallery, the Scrap Metal Gallery, the Actually This is A Dump not a Gallery but the Shit Dumped Here is Cool. These galleries all seem worth a stop, I imagined that they to a space had some far out character or collective who had escaped the keen of civilization and made camp out here far from anyone. I am not sure if these were actual known establishments, listed in the proper guides and known by the art mavens the world over, or whether they were tree houses and snow forts for adults, again I am imagining some older duffer, “After Woodstock, I just saw the light at the end of the Lincoln Tunnel and never looked back,” my cabbie had told me in Albuquerque and indeed perhaps these shanties and collections of found, modified, and otherwise rusting sculptures were those castles of the visionaries, although I wonder at the lonely life out here in shrub and scrub. However, there is this fine road passing by and I was told that the winter is the slow season, no one goes up to Taos except for the skiers and they don’t usually stop for art breaks and wine and crackers. For all the dudes I have met who say they are ski bums and who act all relaxed in the summer as they talk about winter, in winter these are the least relaxed people I have ever met. They have to be in a constant rush, to get to the slope early in the morning, to find the powder, to make fresh tracks, to get to the other side of the mountain before it is all skied out. On the slopes I met a few of these “bums” and they refused to stop for lunch on a good day, maybe some of them actually had bags to pee in to such was their devotion to a “full day.” Who were these people in the lodge by the fire? At the bar getting blasted? And why is the persona of the ski bum make it sound like this person is not some angst-filled soul, wandering in search of snow, freaking out if they have to work “on a powder day,” rushing to be first in line, like a junky asking about for what trail is good, where the next powder is, if they can get a fix….
I entered Taos at night, having driven up from Albuquerque via Los Alamos via… some route through red rocks, piles of stones, and tall mountain forests that opened up on to shockingly beautiful valleys. The winter air was dry since the region had been experiencing a drought of late, very little snow and that bespoke of a hard and dry summer. I believe I was on route 4 for the journey. I had the option to take a straight shot to Taos via Santa Fe, but I was saving that for the return route, since after seeing Albuquerque I canceled my hotel in Santa Fe to opt for two nights in Taos. I was disinclined to stay in any populated areas if I could help it. Driving away from the urban area, I hit horrible traffic in Strip Mall America for a good hour before I broke out and started to see hope, the open road and more rewarding travel. When I am in a place of KenTacoHuts, Best Wesmotel8terns, and the Geography of Nowhere, I am not traveling, I am driving. And driving makes me angry and claustrophobic, to the extent that I actually start freaking out and thrash about uncontrollably saying things a respectable citizen, a semi-public anonymous figure, one afflicted with Turetts would not be caught saying, as I do if I drive in New Jersey for more than 20 minutes. The road I took turns off from the main road and starts snaking through the hills, creeping about rocks and mesas, past this or that Native Village with this or that collection of poverty and sad huddled into the bad and sour land. As their European-American counterparts, Native Americans also have tones of crap about their houses, the same algorithm dictating poverty to shit ratio. However, these settlements were few, and as I drove became even more infrequent. As the road twisted and turned, there too on the ridge were the houses of the well-to-do, perhaps scientists and those working on the development of military grade fighting borg, sexbots, spidergoats, swine-gene oranges, UFO anal probes or whatever they do today at Los Alamos in order to create the Brave New World Order we are quickly and quietly marching towards. These fine houses blended into the ridges they sat upon, each one more tasteful than the next and were I tossed the keys to any one of them I would not ask twice to move in. What was striking was those moments where the ridge-line houses were juxtaposed with the squalid mansions of the valley-dwellers –those with wheels, and those without. The wilderness is home to the hardscrabble existence, and the retreats, no different than before, if but in a new location and more of them as today there is more people.
1921218_10152340370060649_63841365_oSince the sun was dipping low, and the traffic had placed me behind schedule, I took a turn to head towards Taos a shorter route than my original plan to head further north and then cut east. I headed on the edge of Los Alamos, past a historic bunker that once upon a Cold War time houses guards. The sign said “Visitors Welcome” and also that we may be monitored by drones at any time. The old guard house indeed a quaint relic from a time when a few kids with guns, an MP or two would have guarded our secrets from the outside world. I kept to the main road and passed electrical installations, satellite uplinks, and cliffs of clay coloured rocks marked with holes, some large enough to perhaps be caves, others clefts in the rock. I wondered if this was bat country. My cell service was non-extant so there was no way to use The Googles then. I would just have to imagine the sun dipping low and the sky filling with bats, perhaps also space aliens, if not drones.
Passing a few other settlements, the road then merges on to whateverthefuck is the Cities Of Gold. These “Cities of Gold” are a strip of sad-ass casinos perhaps on the same reservation, perhaps more than one. Littered between the Cities of Gold are the closed motels, abandoned gift shops, half-ruined gas stations, and sundry other wreckage I wondered came to be when the Cities of Gold opened and sucked the life out of the surrounding areas. With little time at hand, I was unable to check in to see if these clip joints were as sad and tacky as I had experienced last time I was on a Reservation Casino out near Sioux City or wherever I was. Old people smoking away the final part of their life, spending whatever they had to pass time and get a little excitement into bodies unable to perform those formerly pleasuring pursuits since those bits of their anatomy no longer worked the way they used to. The traffic reappeared. It was amazing how cluttered these lands become. Perhaps with few roads in the state, the population are corralled into but a few arteries. And more than not, these are plugged up beyond belief.
Chugging up the road to Taos, the four lanes narrow to two precarious ones and one may become wedged between the car going 40 MPH, the truck behind you with the engine breaks chugging, and whatever idiot wants to pass you on a turn, so the experience can be somewhat claustrophobic if not down right harrowing. Again, in the dim twilight, there were the many crosses marking the spot where families of kith and kin were lifted into Heaven. Some of these markers seem to be growing in their design and scope since while in New England these are small crosses, in Florida actual road signs bought as memorials, in Texas they carry the names and often date of death, in New Mexico there are additions of solar powered Christmas lights, tinsel, ornaments, additional crosses and other decorations. It is a truly sobering aspect of the drive to know that this or that kink in the road and quite a few straight shots were far more deadly than most may consider and perhaps this was a fitting monument, not to the dead so much as dark houses to the living, markers to keep us true on course and not wrecked on the shoals and protuberances that line the highways and byways of the land.
Taos is indeed grown up and out since the old days and the small quaint section is compact and today a collection of souvenir shops as it perhaps has been since 19-ought-eight or whenever. It doesn’t matter much since the merchandise is of a type and kind that lends itself to the setting, Native pottery, beads, and cowboy whatevers. There are enough places to eat, and a brewery next to the hotel that served fine ale and for a short session I was there some live music.
There is a certain crunch to Taos that some call the Hippy-Doutch-Bag thing, but I did not stay long enough for me to quantify nor qualify. Winter was giving it the perhaps last blast of snow to a landscape everyone swore was covered in snow but had seen but a scant dusting – which like down south portended to a long and dry summer. Some of the guys looked like the musician Jack White while others looked like Jack White and the few females of the area came in one of two versions – crunch and extra crunch with age. I did not meet a single person who was not open to conversation or pleasant in a way that struck me as genuine, but then I was in town but a few hours between spending time in Ski Valley and while the cop cars flew back and forth and actually had some heavy activity at some abandoned house and I could tell that David Lynch-style there was a bit of Blue Velvet in the town, I did not come across it and cannot expand nor provide but one anecdote of blasted and parched hippies or addled-brained numbskulls and their wanton destruction and antics. In the dim quietude of winter, the cray-cray seemed dormant and awaiting the thaw, and it was no wonder since all the bars and establishments closed down before 10PM so that if the question often asked by WPIX (it’s a Gotham thing) “It’s 10PM, do you know where your children are,” would have been answered with ease, at least in these days where night is slowly ebbing to dawn.
I hope to again return to New Mexico, meet more New Mexicans, and perhaps learn more about this strange section of our Great Land I had only seen from the train so many months ago, and that just the southern most end where the slums of Old Mexico and Old Mexicans push up against a border that makes the Berlin Wall appear as but a snow fence or some child’s tape line down the center of their room shared with a sibling. The populated areas are camps of angry whites, angry Cholos, angry hippies, and angry meth-heads, angry Native Americans… angry Native Americans who still call themselves Indians, angry owners of casinos who pretend they benefit this or that tribe, and angry scientists who came to build a huge bomb or rape a space alien and goddamn it they will use that bomb or make extraterrestrial rape if it’s the last thing they ever do. Then, off the beaten trails, the narrow roads, it seems more the landscape those angry people came to find and in doing so lost as they coated it with KenTacoHuts and Carparks. The mountains, washes, and eroding hills are but fine examples of God’s/plate tectonics and erosion by water’s work and those small houses and failed ranches appear quaint in some ways, even with the piles of rusty cars since that is the image we all have bought of the Old West, even the West of this last century of lazy evenings and hard working mornings in a town where far off, ever so, there is always that one dog barking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s