(Note: This is one of a series about our recent trip to the southwest.)
An ancient Pueblo community exists a mile outside of Taos much as it has for the past thousand years.
The buildings are made of adobe, which is nothing more than mud and straw formed by hand into crude bricks and dried in the sun. Walls are typically 18 inches thick and the small rooms formed inside are basically box-ish caves. Cool in hot weather and warm in cold, a couple of hundred square feet of living space serve as sleeping quarters, larder and kitchen. Heat used to be provided by an open fire in the corner with a ventilation hole in the ceiling but the tribe made a huge step forward a few years ago and allowed propane heaters. Electricity has not arrived.
Meanwhile, according to the National Association of Home Builders, the average home size in the U.S. is 2,700 square feet, up from 1,400 square feet in 1970 and 983 in 1950. A couple hundred miles north in Aspen, there’s a house of 55,000 square feet put up by a Saudi Prince. Heat in these McMansions is provided by furnaces and cooling by energy-sucking air conditioners. Ever-bigger appliances take up more and more space and energy. How can one live without a pizza oven?
Water for the Pueblo is provided by Rio Pueblo, a meandering mountain stream that splits the village in two. The origin of the river is Blue Lake, located as the crow flies about 10 miles into and 4,000 feet up the Sangre De Christo (Blood of Christ) Mountains. The inhabitants believe that their souls originate in and return to the waters of the lake. Once a year, the entire village makes a pilgrimage on foot to its shore to honor their ancestors and perform ancient, sacred rituals.
The river, lake and 48,000-acre watershed were taken away from them in 1906 by the Theodore Roosevelt administration and turned into Carson National Forest. Under control of the U.S. Forest Service, tourists visited the lake, desecrating and polluting its waters. After decades of effort to get their holy land back, in 1970 President Richard Nixon signed a bi-partisan bill into law returning the land to the Native Americans.
(It’s an ill-wind that blow someone no good).
Today the water is crystal clear and drinkable.
A few miles downstream the waters from the Rio Pueblo join the Rio Grande. Further south the river forms the border between Texas and Mexico and becomes one of the top 20 most polluted rivers in the U.S. With NAFTA, a lot of U.S. businesses moved to Mexico, where environmental regulations are lax, and began dumping toxic waste into the waterway. A lot of nasty crap also finds its way into the waters from the U.S. side. Never mind drinking the water, especially in the Laredo area, it’s advised not to swim in it. Recently, a boy died from infections he received while taking a dip in the waters.
At 6,200 feet above sea level, yearly rainfall is a mere 12 inches. While it was hot when we visited in the day in early July, below freezing temperatures are recorded about 185 days a year. The low and high temperatures often vary as much as 35 degrees as the sun quickly heats the land in the thin air and the land cools quickly at night. On a scale of one to seven, the area rates a one (least windiest) for developing wind energy.
It’s a high, dry, inhospitable and still place.
Back at the motel with the air conditioner turned to high, I mixed a wet gin and tonic with lots of ice. I turned on the television and was greeted by a series of presidential political ads.