The day we left Albuquerque, we headed towards the town of Taos–a place known as an “artists’ colony” and as the location of actress Julia Roberts’ ranch. Mostly, it’s a town of stores hoping to sell tourists wind chimes, junk to put in their gardens for decoration (should the garden itself fall short of appeal), and cedar-scented soaps.

Little-known fact: if you say “cedar-scented soaps” ten times, really fast, your lips end up feeling loose and blubbery.

Our main aim in Taos was to visit the pueblo: “Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. The multi-storied adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years.” 

SONY DSCThe Red Willow people still inhabit these buildings and are, as one might guess, open for business.

SONY DSCFortunately, the commerce that takes place in the pueblo feels very intimate and personal, as members of the tribe run shops in their homes, and everything they sell is handmade by that individual.

SONY DSCEach store/home we ducked into felt quiet and cool, and the inhabitant was sitting, usually at work, ready to answer questions and explain both items and culture. To a person, the Red Willow people were impressively without artifice or agenda.

That evening, to the Facebook Nation, I reported a vignette of an interaction that had particularly moved me:

The Pueblo woman sat in a storefront in her home, her hand and voice steady as she painted a piece of pottery. Full of peace, she told us, “My son Jeremy–the one in the picture there–was the easiest of my three kids. All he wanted to do was make pictures out of little dots with his pen and ink. He would make a painting, and I’d hang it in the store, and it would sell the next day. People would come back to buy more of his drawings, his paintings. He never wanted to go to college; he just wanted to make pictures. Now his sister? When I see her coming, I duck under the table. She is all waa-waa-waa. She was on the road that night, heading to the same event. But Jeremy didn’t make it. He was 23.”

We left the store with some of his work in hand.

SONY DSCThat night, we camped in Taos, nestled, as is our way, amongst the RV campers. One last time, I enjoyed a sunset run, this time up and around country roads and residential areas, moving through areas of rundown trailer living to areas of upscale homes, conjuring, as I panted, the lives held within. At one point, as I passed a particularly hard-scrabble estate, I imagined a man named Marty who had lost his job at the gas station some years back and who has never gotten back on his feet; it is only his three pitbulls and the promise of a new tattoo that bring him joy these days.

The next day, we headed towards Colorado, but along the way, we stopped a couple more times in New Mexico. First, we pulled over at the bridge that crosses the Rio Grande gorge. A man with an offensive voice and negligible guitar-playing ability spends his days there, busking, eking out a living–as do a crew of people hawking their wares. So we (but not Paco!) stared at the gorge, and then I bought a chunk of lapis lazuli for a necklace.

SONY DSCOur last stop in New Mexico wasn’t planned. But how does one simply drive past houses like these?

SONY DSCAs we whizzed by, I spluttered, “Wait, what was that? What were those houses? HUH? Was there a sign up for it? Is it something we can stop and see?”

They are called Earthships, and yes, we could stop and–for a small fee–watch a movie about their construction and benefits.

SONY DSCEarthships are billed as “radically sustainable buildings,” for inside the adobe walls are stacks of old tires, rammed full of dirt. As you can see from the photos, the use of empty bottles and aluminum cans plays a prominent role, too, as those cultural discards function as “bricks” to build interior walls that allow light through.

SONY DSCAn un-trumpeted side benefit of living in an Earthship is that one’s house looks like the dwelling place of hobbits.

SONY DSCTo be honest, there’s a vague feeling at the Earthship headquarters of “cult,” but that’s mostly because it’s a group of passion-driven young people who are strongly in favor of choices that reject the mainstream. Cult away, Young Earthshippers. If I ever find the money and drive for it, I would absolutely, unquestionably build an Earthship. In an Earthship, there are no utility bills, and the things have been built all around the world, so they are not location specific. In a northern climate, the exterior walls are covered with cement rather than adobe, but it still provides all the benefits of warmth and sustainability.

SONY DSCWhat recommends Earthships even more is this: Paco–our kid who is not an easy sell–LOVED this place and these homes. He was transported.

SONY DSCI managed to refrain from buying a t-shirt in the gift shop, however.

SONY DSCClever water-use systems within each Earthship home make it smart and easy to grow plants and vegetables. Paco had to get out his little camera and take lots of pictures of this ingenious system, in fact.

DSCN1996Get this: Allegra, who is generally a “yes to everything” kind of person, sat in the car. She was profoundly uninterested. There are so many moments when I can look at one or the other of my kids and think, “Wow. What a weirdo.”

DSCN2008Eventually, we bid the Earthships a fond “Catch you on the flip side, Cool Cats!” before heading into Colorado. As I drove, Byron carried on with his special road-trip project:

DSCN2070Because the car is too bumpy for him to draw in, he decided to try out “blackwork,” which is a style of embroidery that uses–DUH–black thread. He passed hours in the car making up his own designs and picture, and he didn’t even bleed or poke his eye out.

The Universal Laws of Road Tripping use exactly those criteria, in fact, to measure the success of a venture.

Put another way: Byron won the Road Trip.

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Next up: a visit to one of my favorite places I’ve even been in the U.S.–perhaps the world.

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Published by Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

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10 Comments

  1. I think I remember (from an undergrad art history class in Asian art that I took back in the Paleolithic Era) that there are ancient rammed earth houses in China still in evidence today. But don’t quote me on that.

  2. There were no earth ships when my parents “vacationed” us through the southwest in the fifties, just all the scenery and sage brush. I realize now we did not get to Taos, which I now consider a shame. I wonder what interested my brothers? I collected little bits of sage and polished it to a high sheen with a bit of broken glass as my parents drove those miles and miles of highway.

  3. I enjoyed reading every post of your road trip – you have been to very picturesque places. We drove up and down many Tennessee hilly mountains last week but it is not the same as those big mountains in the west. The earthships are attractive to my eyes, ingenious and fun. Y’all are having a great road trip.

  4. I feel like Young Earthshippers should have a special kind of handshake or salute with a name like that. What a trip! You take the most incredible vacations. I am inspired to head south, east, west, even north.

  5. It’s somewhat hard to believe that you didn’t leave the country. So many different cultures out there…Are those earthship house people off the grid? And Byron’s project looks cool. Black and white embroidery, what a lovely idea.

  6. Late at night and no energy for long comments, but had to say that Byron would be on my list of people I’d most like to have dinner with. Along with yourself, of course.
    And here I thought the guy who helped me knit a sweater on late shifts years ago was pretty unusual, but anybody who does blackwork puts him in the shade.

  7. i’ve read about the earthships and i find them intriguing. there’s a place near my hometown that i suspect is an earthship.

    so um…when do we get to see samples of byron’s..um…samplers?

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