Albuquerque to Taos : In Search of D H Lawrence in New Mexico

Writer Peter Street goes in search of D H Lawrence in New Mexico, but finds directions to the legendary Kiowa Ranch seriously lacking in his journey from Albuquerque to Taos.

Launching my latest poetry collection, Listening To The Dark, at the Albuquerque Literature Festival; Professor Fred Whitehead (retired), sponsor/promoter, later drove me the one hundred and thirty miles from Albuquerque to Taos, New Mexico.  

There was a beautiful loneliness following white lines after white lines from the huge city of Albuquerque to the tiny town of Taos. Maybe beautiful is stretching it a bit, especially when field after field seemed to be dying of thirst.

Good air conditioning for the drive was essential; so too, at least two bottles of water. OK, fresh water from drinking fountains in accessible motels, shops and petrol stations were so welcoming. That's the good news. The bad news: those places were about thirty, maybe forty miles apart. Not only, but the sun was hitting eighty, rain hadn't fallen for weeks and everywhere was bone dry, so there was a real need to keep hydrated. 

The perfect drive for this trip would have been on a Triumph Thunderbird (Brando in the Wild Ones) but I'm too old for that.  So a huge comfy Chevy with the windows wide open did the job.    

"But beyond the pine trees, ah, there beyond, there was beauty for the spirit to soar in. The circle of pines, with the loose trees rising high and ragged at intervals, this was the barrier, the fence to the foreground. Beyond was only distance, the desert a thousand feet below, and beyond."   

From St Mawr by D H Lawrence

Taos: first  job, finding the D.H. Lawrence ranch. Ok, there were no directions to this famous place, so we went by instinct. Wrong. For a start the place was way up in the hills on the very outskirts of Taos where all we saw were trees, trees and more trees in an area dense with wild flowers and probably a few rattle snakes thrown in for good measure. 

The tiny green sign: "D.H. Lawrence Road" in those wild hills did nothing to help. One hour later after driving round and round through jungle like wildness, we called time. Thinking there had never been 'The Lawrence Ranch:' there were no clues. No history of the man himself. Nothing. 

We later enquired at the accessible Taos Travel Information Office where we were told the famous of all famous places for Literature lovers had been forced to close, due to health and safety concerns. So, anyone who is seriously in need of seeing  'the ranch' needs to contact the University of New Mexico for further info. 

Ok, we should have enquired at the Travel Center first - doh!) so forget instincts: it's too wild and remote. 

Second major stop was the Pueblo Indian Reservation with enough adobe buildings to fill up most cameras, bearing in mind, once on the reservation U.S. laws don't apply. It's $6 entry then $6 for each camera. Yes, once inside there seemed to be a strange atmosphere; but who can blame them after Sterling Price, U.S. Cavalry Officer, charged in, in 1847, shelling the place to pieces, including this most secretive of all the indigenous groups Catholic church: "Son Of Geronimo" still in the same condition the U.S Cavalry had left it while quelling the Taos uprising. 

The Son Of Geronimo recently built Catholic chapel was out of bounds for cameras (there were no signs saying we couldn't take photos). Outside the chapel, Indians went after Professor Whitehead, forcing him to delete photos of their very secretive chapel. The leaders surrounded me, then took my ipad and deleted any photos of the inside of chapel. No explanation was given. Our protests were ignored and we were advised to leave. I've never been thrown out of an Indian Reservation before; saying that, there's not many in Wigan.

The original Lawrence paintings were advertised in a tourist shop in the Taos plaza. Once inside and three dollars handed over, a curtain, almost burlesque, was drawn back - revealing the paintings. I was so disappointed - not with the paintings - but with how everything felt/seemed; like it was all some kind of fairground peep-show. I was hurt to see such a lack of respect, and how it all seemed be a kind of gimmick.

The following day I was taken to see the Jesse James 'outlaw's' house, which had been renovated and was packed with tourists. Seeing this was like having salt rubbed into the wounds - they seemed to have more respect for their outlaws than for the great man himself????

Next stop: Kansas City - yeeeehaaa!

Peter Street, poet and Royal Literature Fund recipient.

"Because, after all, it seemed to her that the hidden fire was alive and burning in this sky, over the desert, in the mountains. She felt a certain latent holiness in the very atmosphere, a young, spring-fire of latent holiness, such as she had never felt in Europe or in the East. “For me,” she said, as she looked away at the mountains in shadow and the pale, warm desert beneath, with wings of shadow upon it: “For me, this place is sacred. It is blessed.”

From St Mawr by D H Lawrence

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