Taos, New Mexico

Taos is a small town of about 5,700 people in the high desert of northern New Mexico. It’s home to artists, ranchers, naturalists, vagrants and the oldest inhabited indigenous community in the U.S.—the Taos Pueblo, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, a National Historic Landmark and thousand-year-old residence of the Tiwa-speaking Puebloan people.

Not many people have heard of Taos—including many in the surrounding region—but it’s probably better that way. No major highways run near it (driving through a maze of winding roads it’s about four hours south of Denver and two-and-a-halfish hours north of Albuquerque), it has no major economic influence, it’s about 7,000 feet above sea level and it’s surrounded by expansive mountain ranges, including the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the 13,000-foot Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. It’s a miniature somewhere in the middle of a massive and mysterious nowhere.

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Natural Theater, or, the Very Large Array

Yesterday I took a few-hour jaunt out of T or C to the Very Large Array, the, uh, very large radio telescope/observatory roughly fifty miles west of Socoro, New Mexico—notable only because once you’re past Socoro, there’s nothing but mountains, fields, and a gradual elevation climb to 7,000 feet above sea level. Every five or ten minutes I’d see another car on the road, but otherwise, the only signs of life are endless acres of shrubby trees tended by sleepy herds of roaming cattle. But even in its seeming remoteness, the landscape is far from bleak. Instead, it emanates an unfamiliar, palatial sentience. Not merely a backdrop, but a conscious presence. Waterlogged storm clouds combed the sky, washing the roads with fat raindrops. Lightning flashed, occasionally scorching the ground just a few car lengths away. But in the distance, the hot, white light of the desert sun pierced through the gray dimness of the squall, as a broad performance of natural theater. And no better stage than the vast plains that once were the floor Lake San Agustin, an ancient, Pleistocene expanse.

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