It is funny how things happen in Taos. I have found it is best to make vague plans and be open to whatever befalls you. Our first night at Mabel's, we were sitting in the lobby happily filling our gullets with mint-chocolate truffles when a woman walked by. (As my dad would say, "She was hippy-dippy.") I can't remember why now, but we started chatting with her. Her name was Tenney and she had a lovely, friendly way about her. We got to know her background story and how she was a freelance performer and how she used to live down the street from Sarah Jessica Parker. She was a full time resident of Taos and at the very end of the conversation she asked us our plans for the next day. We told her we were going to Ranchos church and then to the gorge, but beyond that we weren't sure. She recommended going to Arroyo Seco, a little town north of Taos that is artsy and has pottery shops and the best ice cream ever. I made a mental note and we bid our adieus.
The next morning we set out for the famous Ranchos church. It was made famous by Georgia O'Keefe who painted the backside of the church (you can see it here). It really is one of the most adorable adobe structures I have ever seen and last time I was in Taos I woke up before dawn (which for me is a rare event) and did a photo study of the sun coming over the church (and a requisite sketch of the backside).
After visiting the church we wandered into a little store near the entrance to the plaza. As I was looking around a man walked in the front door. He clearly knew the owner and they were discussing something. At one point the man asked us where we were headed for the day and I told him we were going to the gorge and maybe Arroyo Seco. He said we should definitely visit Arroyo Seco and that we should do a hike a little north of town to a waterfall. He said you go until the road ends...you think it will never end but it does; pretty vague instructions but I didn't think we would have time.
After leaving the church we made our way over to the gorge. I have a little fear of heights but I forced myself to walk across the bridge and nervously took the video below. I had a fear I would drop my phone.
After the gorge we drove by the Earthships. If you don't know about the Earthships visit my blog post here for more info. As you can see below the structures are made from recycled materials.
Our next stop was Arroyo Seco. I knew it was going to be small but I was surprised the whole town is no more than a half mile long. George decided to go birding while my dad and I perused the shops. Right in the middle of town was a small store called Rottenstone Pottery. I wasn't really interested in buying pottery but something drew me to go inside. As I scanned the room a table with a portfolio open caught my eye. I walked over and looked down to see beautifully rendered etchings of birds. As a printmaker I know how hard the process of etching metal plates is and these were so sensitively drawn. I flipped through the entire portfolio and was truly blown away by the images. I told the man working at the desk how much I loved them and he told me there was a book I could purchase by the artist, Ladislav R. Hanka.
As the man wrapped up the book he told me to be sure to read the text as well as looking at the imagery. Maybe he could tell I was a visual person because normally I might have just looked at the incredible renderings. However this week I finally had time to start reading it and I am blown away at the beauty of the writing. I am only halfway through and I feel like we are kindred spirits and he describes so eloquently the plight of the artist. "In the studio, around me, at one point there lay several hundred plates --etched, burnished sanded, started over. The birds had proven so provocative in their improbable variety that they had consumed me...Why does anybody need to make etchings of thirty warblers?...Transcendant moments of revelation were spelled by hours of frustration." I greatly shortened the passage but I would end up re-typing the whole page if I quoted everything I liked. It is rare you find the work of someone that speaks to your soul... but the combination of printmaking, birds and my museum/taxidermy background made this book the perfect Christmas gift wrapped in wings and wonder.
"Art is created from a driving internal need, a gripping passion; when it is no longer enough to be a hobbyist, enjoying a dalliance, casting a passing glance--when you feel compelled to be at it for hours, mesmerized, battling past your own feeble inadequacies, prepared to redeem yourself before the most severe tribunal of your own self-judgment, willing to meet your own impossible standards." -Ladislav R. Hanka, In Pursuit of Birds
But our adventure did not end in the pottery store. As I paid for the book I casually asked if there was a waterfall north of town somewhere. The man said there was and told me to go look at the list of local hikes in the nearby grocery store. He said it was on private land and you had to stop and pay somewhere...again vague directions. After we ate way too much for lunch we weren't sure what we were going to do. We really wanted the famous ice cream but were too full. I hesitantly suggested maybe we go see the waterfall and work up an appetite. George, of course, was immediately up for it but my dad said he could pass on it. I was the deciding vote and I decided we should have our adventure.
So north we went in our weak little Hyundai rental car down the dirt road north of town without bothering to check for directions at the grocery. We weren't sure where we were going but I eventually noticed a sign saying we had to pay. We backed up to re-read the sign when we saw a man sitting in a truck in a nearby driveway. Sure enough, he was the man who lived there. He didn't speak clearly and could barely hear us as we asked further directions. He just kept waving his arm and pointing in the direction we were headed. So on we went...and on and on and on.
The twisty road turned from dirt to slush and then to serious snow. After twenty minutes or so of driving an SUV came around the bend. We waved and a woman rolled down the window. I asked if there was a waterfall at the end of the road. She said "Yes, just keep going and you will see a gate. But make sure to go this way and not that way! (pointing aimlessly in the air)" and then drove away with a friendly wave.
Every time we went down a big hill George and I had the same unspoken thought..."Will we be able to get out of here?" And then a very steep hill emerged in front of us and our little car could go no further. We hopped out to survey the situation and decided to park the car on the side of the road and walk a bit. As we were getting out of the car a big, bad-ass four-wheel drive truck came around the bend. They saw us and stopped. Two Native American men peered at us and I asked if we were close enough to walk to the waterfall. They said yes and to just go up the hill. Then they gunned it and barely made it up the hill themselves.
I was a little worried about my dad's knees and about how hard a hike this would be. But we eventually made it to a gate and then the road forked. Not knowing for sure which way to go we went left ("go this way, not that way!"). After about half a mile it began to get very rocky. The sun was getting low and I was more and more concerned that perhaps we should turn around. We all felt a growing nervousness but no one wanted to be the one to say it first. But soon the rocks opened up and revealed a tremendous cavern and lo and behold there was a thin trickle of water cascading down to meet the earth in frozen mounds of water.
I was so happy we had made it in one piece. Although it wasn't exactly the waterfall I envisioned, I loved the pitter-patter sound and the serenity of the cave. As I stood breathing in the cold, fresh air I felt deeply present in this place where earth, water and light came together.
We hiked back to the car at a brisk pace. As darkness closed in our little car nervously scaled the inclines and we made it back to civilization. It was fun to look back at the day and see how our fortunes were directed this way and that by the random comments of strangers. The day had definitely delivered unexpected gifts and ice cream never tasted to good.