And slow down I did.
I opened the sun roof on my 4-Runner, turned on the seat heater, cranked the heat up a notch, and took it all in. The forest was draped in white... branches of firs and pines drooping heavily with burdens of snow. As I got closer to the peak, the whiteness of it all began to close in on me. It was breathtakingly beautiful and serene.
When I made it to the peak, there were three cars in the parking lot. I wondered what they were doing here because I didn't see anyone around. As I was exploring the area, a woman drove up and asked where she could find the cross-country ski area. Of course, I didn't know, but I thought how brave she was to be going cross-country skiing by herself on a day like this. But it is this attitude that prevails in New Mexico.....an attitude very different from what you'd find in Oklahoma. In fact, despite the dreary day, I passed many people making their way to the ski resort or to one of the numerous areas where you can pull over to hike or sled or just simply play in the snow.
From Sandia Crest byway, I drove northeast along Highway 14, making my way towards Madrid, the town famous for "Maggie's Diner" in the movie "Wild Hogs". I wasn't sure what to expect, but I had heard this little community was becoming quite an artist colony so I knew I would spend some time there.
Coming into the town, the first thing that struck me was the rusty sculpture tucked in throughout. Whimsical and clever ironworkings were everywhere. An angel, a guitar playing cowboy, an Indian skeleton, a bull skeleton. Each of them had a colorful story to tell, I just knew it. They each seemed to be grinning, knowing their secrets were safe for eternity. You could almost imagine them coming to life when no one else was around - dancing and drinking around a fire under the New Mexico sky.
The shops of Madrid were a kaleidoscope of colors. I knew immediately I wanted to return here when I had more time and more money. Everywhere you look there is something interesting to see and that's before you even enter the shops. I could have spent hours just wandering around this tiny village with my camera. For such a small town, it was packed with people. The narrow street that winds through its heart was lined with cars, but even so, Madrid had a very laid back atmosphere, one that was very gracious. It welcomed you to come in and just enjoy what they had to offer. I can't wait to go back.
Leaving Madrid reluctantly, I continued towards Cerrillos, another tiny historic village a few miles away. I had met a man in Madrid who asked about my travels. He highly recommended that I stop there after I told him I was on a photographic journey. Apparently, there were many interesting things to photograph in Cerrillos. He was right.
When I first turned left off of Highway 14 and headed into Cerrillos I have to admit I was questioning the man's sanity. But I listened to my instinct which told me to keep going. This ancient mining village is officially listed as a "ghost town" despite the fact that it still has many permanent residents living in a variety of adobe homes throughout the town. As I drove up and down the few muddy streets it has, I was overwhelmed with the number of interesting things to photograph. The man was definitely right.
The residents of Cerrillos express their individuality in their surroundings. And because this village is so old, it was brimming with dilapidated, ramshackle structures with peeling paint and decaying foundations. The colors and textures were overwhelming to the senses. I think I shot more photographs here than anywhere else. The Casa Grande Trading Post has a collection of dusty bottles displayed in their window that caught my eye immediately. Some of my best photographs came from this display.
(Just as a side note, photographs from this trip will be posted on my website artbykellithomas.com)
From Cerrillos, I once again traveled north on Highway 14 until I got to a sign that pointed east to Galisteo. Galisteo......I liked the name. Sometimes that is all it takes for me to change direction in my journey. So.....Galisteo it was.
Galisteo is another tiny village with only a few hundred residents. It is a community of artists. Like Cerrillos, individuality was definitely expressed here. As I drove through the town, I came upon a group of mailboxes lined up together.....all vividly hand painted. I love the little surprises you find in life when you get off the beaten path.
Next I thought I would head up from Galisteo into Santa Fe and spend some time there. Yet as I drove, I saw a sign for Lamy. Once again, something inside told me to go a different direction. So I did.
I knew nothing about Lamy, but I knew I was getting hungry so I hoped to find a place to get something to eat. Driving into Lamy my hopes were diminished as I saw what a small town it was. I pushed on....you never know. Crossing the railroad tracks into town I came upon a train station. Across the street from it was a restaurant! But it was closed. I looked back across the street at the train station and situated next to it was an old train car. It was the "Talladega", the Lamy Station Cafe Dining Car. People were leaving the car, so my hopes were up again that I might find lunch!
Walking around to the back I saw that the railroad tracks were maybe forty feet from the dining car. I've never been on a train, so this was a new experience for me. Walking up the steps I didn't know what to expect. I opened the door, and sure enough, it was a railroad car. Very narrow with seating on either side. There were maybe eight or ten tables in the place. It was cozy and intimate.
Seating me at my table in the far end of the dining car was a tall, thin man in a chef's jacket. Later I would realize this was Chef Michael and this was his domain. Tucked into one corner of the quaint dining car was a man with a guitar, gently playing to the small crowd in the dining car. He had a bucket on the table for collecting tips. There was a couple who seemed to be having a minor disagreement as they ate. She was stunningly beautiful, he was handsome even with his dreadlocks pulled back into a ponytail. They looked very sophisticated to me. Next to this couple was a mother and her young daughter. Apparently they were waiting on the train to arrive. Seated at the table closest to me was an older couple. The older gentleman seemed to be having difficulty with very mundane tasks and his wife patiently encouraged him to try to do what he needed to do, guiding him without him even realizing what she was doing. It was beautiful.
The waitress, in her colorful bracelets and long braids, brought me the menu. What a selection.....the prices were reasonable and the entrees sounded scrumptious. Even though it was only a late lunch, a glass of wine sounded perfect. I chose the Ziti Pasta with Wild Mushrooms, Leeks, Spinach, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Gruyere and Garlic Toast. The waitress brought my wine and as I waited for my food, the older couple left and another man came in and sat in their place. Soon after that, the artist I had seen painting outside the station also came in and took a seat across from me. Drinking my wine, I picked up my camera to review the photographs I had taken so far. I was pleased. The older man sitting next to me struck up a conversation about my trip and soon the artist joined in.
The next hour or so, the three of us sat... chatting about trains, travel, and other miscellaneous topics. We ate our lunches while talking with each other at our separate tables. It was the most enjoyable lunch I'd had in a long time....excellent food, wine, and company. I didn't want it to end, but we all had other things to do. We exchanged information and went our separate ways. Something tells me there will be more to this story....
Charlie, the artist I met, suggested I head towards Los Alamos. He told me it was beautiful countryside and since I'd never been in that part of New Mexico, I followed his advice. Parts of the drive were some of the most stunning landscape I'd ever seen. And despite, getting slightly turned around in Los Alamos, it was well worth the extra time I took to make the journey. The photographs I took revealed an expansive landscape that makes you feel so very tiny in comparison to it all. I didn't want to leave. But I did.....I still had several hours of driving ahead of me and honestly, I was getting sleepy from all the driving I had done in the last 48 hours.
I continued on, traveling through Jemez Mountains. At this point, I was so tired that for the most part, all I did was drive....anxious to get back to Albuquerque and my bed where I could once again look at the photographs I had taken throughout the day. The sun was beginning to tuck away on the horizon so taking more photographs was no longer an option. So I drove, silently reflecting on the day I was wrapping up.
I have a ragged New Mexico road atlas that goes with me on my travels. As I make my way through the Land of Enchantment, using a yellow highlighter, I highlight the different roads I take with the goal of traveling on the same road as little as possible. Since I bought this atlas a few years ago, the yellow marks of my adventures are quickly filling up the cobweb of New Mexico byways on which I have driven. Each mark is a memory of an excursion with my camera....sometimes alone, sometimes with a companion. Each excursion is memorable and precious to me.
My travels in New Mexico always renew me. When life is bogging me down and I feel as if I can't breathe, New Mexico quietly beckons me......come home.....come home....... And although I have never lived there, it feels like home to me. It is there where I am my most creative and spiritual self. It is there, amidst the mountains and desert, that I am at peace. It is there, in the Land of Enchantment, that I can finally.....breathe.......