Mountainair, Salinas Pueblos, TorC

The last two days have been quite an adventure. We headed down from the Albuquerque area on scenic byways toward the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in central New Mexico. Had no idea what these were, except that Kate recommended a visit. Wow. What unspeakable cruelty and sadness: the conquistadores and Spanish friars basically wiped out a thriving civilization in less than 50 years. These places went from thriving to deserted from 1630 to 1670. No one ever came back.

This will give you a sense of scale--this was a BIG church, which even included 2 kivas.

The best part of the visit for me was the visitor's center--this National Park Service gift shop had the most amazing array of books. Not just your typical nonfiction reference titles, but honest-to-goodness classy fiction. I bought and devoured in less than 24 hours Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. I adore Ms. Cather's writing--so poetic, so visual--and this book was no disappointment. In fact, it pulled together the history of so very many places we've been visiting: Canyon de Chelly, southern Colorado, Shiprock, the northern pueblos/Taos/Santa Fe/ABQ, and the Salinas Pueblos. I highly recommend this book if you're coming to (or have been to) New Mexico.

The 3 parts of the national monument are centered (sort of) around Mountainair, NM--a town that clearly was once quite a happening place, but is, alas, in great decline.

Anyone want to buy this cool little hotel that's on the National Register of Historic Places? We learned that the original ower was quite a folk artist. We loved his fence.

We camped at a lovely little state park up a mountain side: Manzano Mountain State Park. Never did find any manzanos, though. Lots of trails and electric hook up, and lots of Nick's favorite back-up toy: pine cones.

Tonight finds us in Elephant Butte Lake State Park, near Truth or Consequences, NM. We were going to stay near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, but couldn't stomach the only RV park in the area--just a gravel parking lot. Since Friday is supposed to be a high-wind day, we thought we oughta be somewhere we'd enjoy being for a couple of days, so we headed south. What we're missing, we hear, is specatacular birding. (The Crane Festival starts next week.) But, we weren't willing to subject the dog (or us) to the parking lot/gravel vibe.

Before we left the area, however, we did achieve another objective: we had the famous Manny's Buckhorn Tavern green chile cheeseburger. The proprietor was challenged to a "throwdown" by Bobby Flay of Food Network earlier this year, and the tavern won! (That's rather unusual--Chef Flay usually wins.) It was pretty darn good. Not our favorite road food burger (that honor is still held by The Nook in St. Paul, MN--see July post from last year), but really tasty and very unusual. Crispy edges and almost Maid-Rite tasting but formed into a patty (but a patty with holes). Lots of mustard, pickles, and green chile. Too dark in there for the iPhone, so I've linked to another blog for photos and descriptions.

Tonight finds us in another lovely NM state park: Elephant Butte Lake State Park. We followed the Rio Grande down I-25 today--all golden cottonwood lined--and now we're at the lake formed by a dam on that once-fine river. Think we may stay here 2 nights, given the wind warning tomorrow. I still have 2 more books from the National Park bookstore to read ;-) We hear that the name of "T or C" as it's called now before it changed its name to that of the radio game show was "Hot Springs, NM." We tooled around town just a little this afternoon, but didn't find bathhouse row. Given that this is one of our themes this year (Tecopa twice, Hot Springs National Park, and Ojo Caliente), we just have to keep looking.

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