A long-time fan of plastic cameras, Argentinean writer and photographer Lorraine Healy is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera. In this article, Healy tries to piece back together a 2002 trip to New Mexico, from before the time she learned to keep good notes when she traveled. (Read the first part here)
In April 2002, I spent a week in the Northwest quadrant of New Mexico. Starting with the gorgeous Santa Fe, I drove in a sort of loop: First the High Road to Taos, then route 64 west to the town of Farmington, a detour to the amazing Chaco Canyon, on to Los Lunas, and I ended up in Albuquerque. This week’s article will be devoted to the second half of the journey, from Chaco Canyon to Albuquerque.
To get to Chaco Canyon, I drove on Route 64 from Taos to the town of Farmington. A winding road through mostly uninhabited land, Route 64 was interesting in the way that all of New Mexico is but I don’t remember stopping anywhere to shoot. Farmington was more of a convenient place to stay the night and depart early down 550 to make it to Chaco Canyon than a real destination. If I recall correctly, it was mostly an oil town. If I had to do it all over again, I think I would rent a small RV and spend a couple of days at Chaco Canyon.
Let me give you the short description of Chaco Canyon, quoting from Wikipedia: “Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park hosting the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest The park is located in northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, in a remote canyon cut by the Chaco Wash. Containing the most sweeping collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico, the park preserves one of the most important pre-Columbian cultural and historical areas in the United States.
Between AD 900 and 1150, Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo Peoples. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes that remained the largest buildings in North America until the 19th century. Many Chacoan buildings may have been aligned to capture the solar and lunar cycles, requiring generations of astronomical observations and centuries of skillfully coordinated construction.
Climate change is thought to have led to the emigration of Chacoans and the eventual abandonment of the canyon, beginning with a fifty-year drought commencing in 1130.”
The primitive dirt road from 550 to the actual ruins is a good 30 miles of bumps. In early April, the ruins were almost deserted, but I could tell that I hadn’t given myself enough time to really see the place, much less photograph it with good light (Sunset? Sunrise?). I climbed tiny paths to get close to the petroglyphs, something I am sure they do not allow the public to do today. It was even shocking then that one could! There were places for overnight parking and camping sites, which is why I suggested that, were I to revisit Chaco today, I would rather rent a small camper or RV and spend the entire day and night there. For those interested in astro photography, it is probably majestic to see the deep night sky here.
It is hard to convey how enormous and utterly quiet the place is. For years, the site baffled archaeologists and scientists who could not fathom where the advanced civilization which had built a systematic, organized, astronomically-aware building complex had vanished to. It is been in recent years that science has realized what Native people from all over the area have known and carried in their oral traditions: most Pueblo cultures in New Mexico and eastern Arizona are direct descendants from the Chaco inhabitants who left the place when environmental stresses forced them to look elsewhere for their survival.
My New Mexico adventure culminated with a couple of days in Albuquerque—a sprawling place that gets the short shrift compared to the elegant and understated Santa Fe. But I love Albuquerque: its Central Avenue became a stretch of Route 66 in 1926, and it is populated with the gaudy remnants of the Mother Road that I happen to love. It was also my very first encounter with any part of Route 66, so it will always have a special place in my heart.
Needless to say, Albuquerque is a lot, lot more than a big town with Route 66 connections: There is a charming downtown area redolent of old Mexico details. It hosts an annual hot-air balloon festival the first week of October (I’ll get there one of these days!). It has great food. It has the University of New Mexico and a fabulous open-air flea market on Sundays! If your plane leaves Albuquerque on Sunday afternoon, as many do, you cannot go wrong with a visit to the sprawling flea market on the grounds of the New Mexico State Fair until it is time to drive back to the airport. The stuff for sale may not be prime antique material, but the people-watching is priceless. And the kiosks of food can keep anyone occupied for a good long while.
It has been many years since I did this trip, and unfortunately, it was the time before I learned that it was a good idea to take notes when I traveled and photographed. I have tried to identify all of my images, trying to make sure I was not making idiotic mistakes. However, there were several I was not able to identify. For that and any mistakes in labels, I apologize profusely. Drop me a note if you can detect a mistake in my captions!
Lorraine Healy (@lorrainehealy) is an Argentinean writer and photographer living in the Pacific Northwest. A long-time fan of plastic cameras and she is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera, available as an eBook from Amazon.com.