Marfa to Carlsbad to Roswell to Albuquerque to Santa Fe

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Once we left Marfa and turned north into New Mexico, the road was completely and totally empty. It was gorgeous and deserted. In two hours, we passed one other car.

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We drove through the Guadalupe Mountains, en route for the Carlsbad Caverns, which are in one of the bleakest, but nonetheless beautiful, landscapes I have ever seen.

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We actually stopped there because I’d been reading about the caverns as a 1950s roadtrip destination. There are all sorts of amazing postcards and descriptions of the underground cafe, where 50s families used to eat their lunches 800ft underground.

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These days, things are more tightly controlled – no crumbs in the caves, no throwing pennies in the pools, no talk above a whisper. Most of the old cafeteria is gone, but there are a few bits and pieces left over, and the caves themselves are spectacularly amazing. Stalactites everywhere!

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The huge size of the Carlsbad Caverns, and the intense quiet, broken only by the sound of dripping water, really does give the sense of the immense passage of time. And it’s cool after the heat in the desert.

After Carlsbad, the road through New Mexico is pretty brutal. The landscape is all oil fields, interspersed with bright green fields where there should be desert, irrigation lines, prisons, military recruitment ads and feed lots, which are definitely among the most depressing places on earth. The feed lots stretch right up to the road and the ground is barren and yellow and even the sky looks totally washed out – not like the blue blue sky in the mountain range some 100km south. On this road, halfway between the border with Texas and Albuquerque, is Roswell, New Mexico, site of the supposed 1947 crash of a UFO, and a subsequent government cover-up. Roswell is a pretty depressing town, but it boasts two things: the only UFO-shaped McDonalds, and a UFO Museum. We skipped the McDonalds, but we did go to the museum.

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And there is one other claim to fame – the UFO Museum allows pets.

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So here are pictures of Lucy visiting her first museum. I have to say that on the whole she wasn’t overly impressed with the experience, although there were cookies at the beginning and end of the tour. For the most part, the museum was pretty scattered, and a bit like a junior high science project housed in a church hall. I watched the X-Files, I wanted to believe, and I really, really wanted to like this museum, but I think I came away more confused than anything else.

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Lucy actually licked this exhibit, which is probably why dogs typically are not allowed in museums.

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Numerous sightings of various things that may be street lamps.

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Lucy posing with the Roswell aliens (which lit up and let out smoke every five minutes or so).

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This was one of the better exhibits – it’s actually a prop from a movie about Roswell.

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They had some good film posters.

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Lucy giving up on the museum.

From Roswell, it’s another couple of hours to Albuquerque. We were only one day in Albuquerque, but we were able to explore a fair bit.

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We saw the gorgeous New Mexico-style art deco Kino Theatre.

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New Mexicans like their dogs – Lucy was allowed in everywhere!

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There’s a big indigenous population in New Mexico, and a lot of pride stretching back to the Pueblo Revolt that took place in 1680. We also went to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre – pictures weren’t allowed, but it was a fascinating place. It struck me as particularly interesting in light of the ridiculous re-working of the CMC, which purports to put Native and women’s histories at the centre, but actually seems to push them even farther to the margins (although admittedly, it just opened and I haven’t seen it yet). At the IPCC the “we” isn’t “an American,” but members of different Pueblos. The simple change of voice makes it so evident how biased most mainstream museums are – it is a totally different experience to read a label that says “we were enslaved by the Spanish” to one that reads “many aboriginal people died during this period.” Of course, this was the Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre, the voice switched back in some of the other museums we visited.

There are also tonnes of stores in New Mexico that sell art from the pueblos and that range from total kitsch to high-end completely out of my imaginable price range. We went to Skip Maisel’s, which probably falls somewhere in between. It’s right downtown on old Route 66, covered in neon lights, and the outside is decorated with murals from the 1930s. I’m sure there’s more history there – the store used to employ 300 craftsmen on site. Lucy was again allowed inside, and for some reason having a dog just makes people talk to you. We got a pretty in-depth history of the store, and we spoke to someone from the Acoma Pueblo, who told us all about how her mother had woken up one day and seen a bright light out of her window – it was the first atomic test just outside Albuquerque. No one had been warned not to look.

From there we went to the Art at the Border: 21st Century Responses. There were two works that really caught my attention: Margarita Cabrera’s John Deere Tractor #790, a replica made from casting an actual model of the 790 model of tractor, which is popular in the border region between Mexico and the US. It touches on issues of migrant labour in the agricultural industry in the US, but is also covered in a tree of life, and made in a way that references Mexican craft practice (and the way those practices have been impacted by tourism).

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I also loved Adrian Esparza’s Superstructure. I included the description below because I’m too lazy to re-type it.

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Then on *everyone’s* recommendation, we went to the Rattlesnake Museum. I think 6 or 7 different people told us to go to this one. And it was pretty fun – it’s partly a throwback to a roadside attraction, with live animals (snakes and a few lizards) that they assure you are comfortable and well cared for, and partly a museum with a few fan displays, and some really informative exhibits. The people who run the museum really just want you to love snakes (which does contrast with the animals in captivity bit). I’d still prefer them to be very far away from me, but I am less scared of them now … sort of.

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Steve Irwin fan club.

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All comic books featuring powerful ladies and female superheroes battling giant snakes. Hmmm….

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New Mexico display.

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Snake skin suits, popular for a while in the 1890s.

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Snake oil, the cure-all (lies, all lies).

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Many, many snake-themed beers. Probably better at curing-all than the snake oil.

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Certificate of bravery!

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Snooty dog. She wasn’t allowed in the museum (for obvious reasons, there were some things in there that really shouldn’t be licked). She did enjoy sunning herself afterwards.

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The next morning we went to Santa Fe. We left early, and the drive was pretty amazing.

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Santa Fe looks like some kind of fairy tale.

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Lucy, reliving some Kentucky memories of her donkey friends at Pleasant Hill.

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We found Kateri Tekakwitha! Tim has written a lot about her in his book, so it was pretty exciting. She was Mohawk, originally from Kahnawake (near Montreal), and was canonized in 2012. She has a following in New Mexico, because she’s been adopted by indigenous Catholics as a patron saint.

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We also saw a great exhibition called Atomic Surplus at the Center for Contemporary Art.

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Jim Sanborn’s diptychs made by laying depleted uranium shells on transparency paper.

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Luca Zannier’s photos of the interiors of European nuclear installations.

There was also a remarkably satisfying video by Vanessa Renwick (who was also in Alien She) showing the demolition (purposeful) of a nuclear cooling tower.

The light in Santa Fe is out of this world. This was just a normal winter day!Image

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We ended our day at the Museum of International Folk Art. The highlight was definitely the diorama room, which was designed by Alexander Girard, so it’s not really surprising that it’s awesome. Actually, he and his wife donated most of the items as well – it’s basically a giant room full of folk art scenarios, mostly from Mexico, but also Japan, England, the US (I’m sure others as well, but that’s what I remember).

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Pueblo public ceremonies.

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Tourists!

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Cock fight and two people caught on the balcony in a moment….

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Santa Fe sunset.

We stayed up in the mountains around Santa Fe, and left early the next morning on an extremely boring and long drive to Flagstaff. Part of it follows the old Route 66, and we stopped at El Rancho, which hangs on to its 1960s glory. The walls are covered in glossies of stars from the 1930s-60s who ate or stayed at the hotel, which was actually built by Cecil B DeMille’s brother.

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From Santa Fe, you drive for 6 hours through desert, and then all of a sudden, there’s a giant hill and you’re in the mountains. It’s so weird! It looks like BC, but then the people we were staying with told us its basically still desert. They get almost no rain at all, and the sun is so fierce that it snows at night and then in the day 60% of the snow vaporizes – it doesn’t even have a chance to melt!

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We only stayed overnight, but Flagstaff is a kind of liberal enclave in the middle of Arizona. I’ve never seen so many coffee shops! The people we stayed with were awesome, and they gave us a tip to check out a laundromat on the highway on the way out of town. Gary, the guy who owns the laundromat, used to be a trucker, and he used to collect stuff – mostly tools or objects made from junk – from Cajuns living in the swamps in Alabama and Louisiana. And when he retired from trucking, he bought a laundromat and hung all the stuff on the walls. It was a bit weird to take pictures while people were doing their laundry, but we snapped a couple. Gary wasn’t there though, which was too bad.

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From Flagstaff we drove steeply downhill – 5000ft in what seemed like minutes (it was terrifying!!), back into the desert….

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