Monday, October 31, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY C -- A film festival -- An inevitable error -- The Cowgirl BBQ -- Film folk and a pork belly taco



The Lensic theater adjoins Burro Alley. Styled like the Alhambra, the upper cornices on the structure are ornate with filigree niches and ornamental columns twisted like pretzels with terra-cotta finials flanking the steeple-shaped gable of the roof. A frieze of jolly-looking sea-horses grinning through jaws full of T-Rex teeth gleam white as ivory at the top of the building.

Ann Carson, the famous poet and classicist, was scheduled to speak at the Lensic two days after we left Santa Fe. Over the weekend that Julie and I spent in town, the theater was hosting films from the Santa Fe Independent film festival. (The town has two art-cinemas in addition to the multi-purpose Lensic theater, one of them called the Jean Cocteau Cinema). The movie premiered at the Lensic was called something like "Light all Around and no Land in Sight" – a film about an unhappy young woman enduring an unhappy relationship, apparently, a picture so narcissistically morose that event that even the festival’s local boosters were unable to be enthusiastic about it. 

As a result of the Film Festival, the town was infested with Indie film types, studious looking men and women no longer exactly young but, also, defiantly not yet middle-aged. They strolled down the sidewalks disdainful of the garish displays of turquoise or bronze statues of shaman transforming themselves into eagles or coyotes, not even glancing at the pottery on the shelves or the bolo ties or the hundred dollar Stetson hats or, even, the sandstone slabs of fossilized fish and miniature dinosaurs for sale in the gem and mineral shops. The Indie film people wore black and walked with a snap in their steps as if pursuing a refractory taxi-cab and, most often, you saw them in little non-conformist rabbles arguing about something or making loud, self-important political proclamations while using words like "iteration," a term that I avoid because I am not exactly sure how it should be pronounced.

I was lost and Julie’s patience was exhausted. I took my cell-phone from my pants’ pocket and lifted it to take a picture of the marquee of the Lensic theater and the Spanish renaissance - Moorish facade with its cake frosting of merry, grinning seahorses. The Indie film makers glanced at me, shrugged with dismay, and, then, turned away, not even wanting to watch me in the process of taking a picture with my phone and, then, when I had wandered away, still lost, and gone about a block, some of them took out their phones and also furtively photographed the facade of the theater and the ivory dinosaur-headed seahorses embedded in its cornice.




Here is a mistake that I always make, an inexcusable error, but one that I constantly commit. I am in a city completely unfamiliar to me and I have decided upon a destination within four blocks of the hotel where I am staying, an objective easily reached on foot without any fancy business involving hailing cabs or looking for the Metro. I have a map of the area where the hotel is located, a schematic diagram decorated with the images of landmarks and cafes and bars, a grid of streets and businesses of about twenty square blocks. I look carefully at the map, memorize its principal features, plot the most direct route to the place to which I intend to walk and, then, leaving the downtown diagram on the table with some spare change and a few other brochures, I hurry to the lobby and, then, boldly advance onto the sidewalk and, within one-hundred feet, find myself hopelessly lost. I can no longer recall the map – was I supposed to walk up one block and, then, to the right two blocks or was it down one-block and to the left three blocks or some other combination of directions?

I have done this in Prague and Rome, in Paris and Berlin – I have made this mistake in New York and Chicago and, even, places like Dubuque, Iowa or Clarksville, Mississippi. And, of course, Santa Fe is no exception.

"How far is it?"

"Three blocks," I say.

So we go out on the street and the directions are all reversed and the landmarks that I have memorized don’t seem to be where they were designated on the map except that I have forgotten the map and how it was organized in any event and can’t draw to mind even the remotest memory of this particular city is organized. So Julie and I walk one way first, toward the Lensic Theater, and, then, up Burro Alley which takes us in the exact wrong direction and, then, we cut back and I am now completely lost, unable to find the Cowgirl BBQ, our dinner destination for this night. And, after walking six blocks, Julie becoming increasingly impatient and the shadows of night lengthening across the adobe facades, I recall that I am carrying a cell-phone – indeed, I have just used it to take a picture of the Lensic Theater – and so I extract the device and make it show me maps and, at last, find the way back to a sort of drainage ditch in the middle of the city, an indentation where water is supposed to run but that is now dry, and walking along this moat filled with poplars and cottonwood trees, we come, at last, to the headquarters for the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival and, next door, the Cowgirl BBQ . Then, looking back in the direction opposite to which we have come, I can see the Hilton on the Plaza exactly one and one-half blocks away, a straight shot from its front door to the front door of the Cowgirl BBQ.




You can ask to be seated indoors or out at the Cowgirl, although in late October, the locals will look at you askance if you desire an outdoor table – the temperature is mid-fifties, comfortable enough for Minnesotans, but a tad bit chilly for New Mexico natives. As the sun sets, Cowgirl staff start fumbling with 25 pound propane cylinders, hitching them to the stalks of stainless steel torches designed to flower with blue-burning gas flames above the tables. The torches seem top-heavy to me and my experience with propane fires and explosions makes me leery of the enterprise. Better to shiver a little in your own skin, than to be burned-up and supplicant for grafts of someone else’s epidermal tissue. The staff members call out to one another, speaking in Spanish, and they wrestle with propane tanks and the vertical torches and, when someone asks us if we want one of those fires set near to our table, I say "no, no, we’re from Minnesota and very comfortable."

The Cowgirl menu features a smaller version of a big mural in the saloon – painted with cartoon-vigor, the picture shows sluttish-looking girls waltzing about a bar with big, moon-eyed bulls. (The artist is called Jamie Van Loon seems influenced by Red Grooms and seems to be Santa Fe’s restaurant decorator par excellence – his work is also featured at the African eatery, the Jambo CafĂ©.) We have margaritas and order some food. For a starter, I have a pork belly taco. Of course, anything made with pork belly is wonderful, sweet, slightly gelatinous fat absorbing the flavors of the New Mexico Hatch chili, seasoned pinto beans, and flecks of a strong-tasting white Queso, more like feta than mozzarella. The pork belly is subtly flavored, like a soft, aromatic bacon and it makes a tremendous taco, slightly too hot for my taste which is, of course, a good thing.

Some Indie film people, four men wearing black pants and black sweaters, come into the restaurant. Each of them has black, over-sized horn-rim glasses. They also seem unconcerned by the chill in the air, a slight breath of mountain exhaled onto us, and elect to sit outside at a booth. When I point them out, Julie decides that she will visit with them. She goes to their table and asks them outright if they are film directors come to Santa Fe to accompany screenings at festival. A couple of the men look aside, embarrassed, but one of them, standing with his cocktail in hand, engages her. He says that he is from Seattle and, so, like us, unimpressed by the slight frost in the air. "Are you a film-maker?" "Of course," he says. "What kind of films?" He pauses and looks at Julie quizzically. Then, he gives an evasive answer. He asks if we have come to town for the Festival. "Oh, no," Julie says. "I am at a professional conference, learning mindfulness." "Mindfulness is good," the man says. They talk for a couple of minutes, blue shoots of flame spraying out of a nearby torch like water from a shower-head.

Julie comes back to the table. "Nice guy," she says.

We walk back to the hotel. Down the street at the Lensic, people are gathering on the sidewalk for the world premiere of an Indie-produced film about unhappy relationships, too morose to be unreservedly recommended. At the end of the street, the cathedral rises like a heap of half-melted caramel.

Friday, October 28, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY - B (Christoper -- a dinner at the Old Mill -- Albuquerque to Santa Fe - a Casita -- Crypto Jews -- An Adventure in Old Santa Fe)



In many ways, my brother, Christopher, is my opposite. He is optimistic and ebullient in contrast to my pessimism and introversion. He tends toward acceptance of things at face value while I am intrinsically suspicious and skeptical. Christopher enjoys life, can be flamboyant, and makes big gestures, whilst I dismiss most pleasures and tend toward a bitter and penurious obedience to duty. He is generous and his hand is open. My generosity is, often, checked by transactional qualms – how will this gift or offer be received? What is its recompense? All too often, I think, my hand remains clenched.

Christopher’s appealing qualities have made him very successful in his career. For many years, he managed large and valuable hotels, supervised intricate labor and business relationships, and earned enough money so that he could retire at an early age. While I am still working for diminishing returns as a lawyer, Christopher lives on an estate across Puget Sound from Seattle.

A week before we traveled to Santa Fe, Julie and I went out to dinner with Christopher and my mother. Christopher was visiting and planned the outing. He drove down to Austin with my mother and we ate at the Old Mill Restaurant on the Cedar River at the edge of town.

The Old Mill, as the name suggests, was once a grain-milling business powered by the river sluicing under the ungainly building perched next to a small, concrete dam. The dam lies across the stream, a concrete wing dropped onto the Cedar and stretching between the tree-lined banks. Lights from the restaurant illumine the bark and undersides of the leaves of the trees grouped around the river and the water impounded behind the dam. In Autumn, yellow leaves fall into the mill-pond and deck its surface with a glittering gold mosaic. White water unfurls its plume over the apron of the dam. Next to the entry, a mill-stone is displayed like a giant warrior’s immense and perforated shield. Inside the restaurant, Christmas lights outline the bar and the big windows overlooking the stream shimmer with the reflections of diners and wait-staff and there is the low murmur of voices: in a hearth, a companionable fire is burning.

We sat at a table near the entry into the bar. A famous former executive at Hormel Foods sat with his wife and a couple of well-behaved-looking exchange students at a table next to us. Christopher offered to pay for the wine. "I will not buy cheap wine," he said. My mother demurred. The specialty of the house is prime rib and, so, that is what some of us ordered.

Christopher formerly managed the Hilton Hotel on the Plaza in Santa Fe. He was called to that operation after taking a break from employment so that he could superintend a multi-million dollar renovation of that property. Julie mentioned that she was scheduled to attend a conference at that hotel. Christopher was aware of the conference and had hosted it before and, indeed, knew the doctor who managed the program. Julie said that she would like to be upgraded to a Casita, that is, a suite of rooms in the old part of the Hotel. Christopher told us about some of the people who had worked for him at the Hotel, extolled the location and the city and the State of New Mexico, and, then, said that he thought it was unlikely that Julie could rent the Casita suites – "there are only three of them," he said. The Casita suites, Christopher told us, were part of the oldest part of the hotel, dating back almost four-hundred years. "It is part of the Ortiz hacienda," Christopher remarked. He said that the Ortiz family was very ancient and integral to Santa Fe. "The rumor is that they were Jews expelled from Spain who fled to Mexico. From Mexico, they migrated north, always staying a few steps ahead of the Holy Inquisition. They made the long march to Santa Fe and built their hacienda where the hotel now stands. The Casitas are the old wing of the hotel; under the modern stucco, the walls are made of adobe and stone and are six feet thick."

Christopher told us that he enjoyed the hour-long drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. "It is so wonderfully dark out there on the desert," he said. "You see so many stars."




I-25 runs past Albuquerque toward the jagged ramparts of Sandia Mountain. Immense, graceful viaducts sail overhead, carrying traffic on filaments of concrete into the city and away toward the mountains – the north-south freeway runs under those causeways that are white and slender as the throats of swan. The Rio Grande bends through Bernallilo, a high-desert suburb, 15 miles north of Albuquerque and, above the sinuous river, the big mountain rises high into the sunny, vacant-blue of the sky. Posted at 75 miles an hour, the freeway climbs to a barren plateau, stoops down a couple times to cross drive stream beds incised deeply into the land, and, then, gradually rises toward Santa Fe, the small city nestled at the foot of rounded, blue-green mountains. Santa Fe is above 7,000 feet with a low mud-brick profile that is mostly hidden by a forest of aromatic pinon pine.

Although the last two-thirds of the climb to Santa Fe would, indeed, be dark, the desert is now burdened by big casinos conveniently hunched over the freeway like predatory sphinxes. There is a casino with caravansarai towers, elaborate gas stations, and restaurants a little north of Bernallilo – this grandiose compound is owned by the San Felipe Pueblo of Tewa-speaking Indians. And, in the next big arroyo beyond the San Felipe casino, the pueblo of Santo Domingo operates a competitor establishment, also within a stone’s throw of the freeway interchange – the pueblo itself is far enough away from the garish casino so as to not be contaminated by its turquoise-decorated ramparts and the lights that undoubtedly turn night to day around that place.


Santa Fe’s population is about 70,000 people and the place seems primarily a resort and retirement community for wealthy older folks from California. Downtown is eerily quiet most of the day. At sundown, well-dressed people appear on the sidewalks among the low-slung adobe buildings – these are visitors seeking out the bars and restaurants in the center of the old city.

I had no difficulty exiting the freeway and making my way through modest tracts of adobe housing to downtown. At the lights, no traffic was waiting. The side-streets were still and, mid-afternoon, most of the businesses seemed to be shuttered for a siesta. At the Hotel, Julie was delighted to find that she had been upgraded to a Casita beyond the hotel’s dim walls and across a small courtyard from the main building. Dagger-like agave plants studded the raked, white gravel between the two wings of the hotel. In the Casita, a bottle of wine was waiting for us and there were fresh-cut flowers and a meat and cheese tray. The rooms were large with an elegant-looking fireplace in one corner. Shuttered windows repelled the brilliant sunlight outside. Near the bed, the wall facing outside had been penetrated to show the massive construction underneath the dry-wall and stucco finish – big, round cobble-stones heaped together were visible under an oblong of glass gripped in a sturdy picture frame. The rocks were dark as if seared by volcanic fires, blunt instruments as sinister as clubs. Presumably, the stones had been piled between adobe brick masonry to fill the wall and make it impregnable if attacked. Santa Fe had been burned to the ground once during the great Pueblo revolt in 1680 and those who directed the construction of these walls, apparently, intended to raise them against all enemies for all time. An ugly, defiant strength was revealed in the place where the glass made the wall into a museum exhibit. At night, in the dense dry darkness, the fingerprints of the laborers who had raised those stone walls shown as a faint phosphorescent traces – whorls like spiral nebulae on the stacked cobbles.

At the Old Mill, Christopher told us to look closely at the Hilton’s key card. As he promised, the card was decorated with a Star of David.



For many years, scholars and genealogists have searched for traces of New Mexico’s crypto-Jews. Until 1919, many of the villages and isolated hamlets north of Santa Fe had not been surveyed or mapped. In that year, cartographers traveled the high desert and canyons of the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains together with their basins to identify the places where people lived in that roadless and uncharted wilderness. It was known that curious folkways existed in some of these remote places. Pueblos on the Rio Grande plateau celebrated strange festivals – at the Taos Pueblo, the Indians performed a ritual battle between Moors and Christians, a masque presumably recalling the war on the Iberian peninsula that concluded just before 1492 with the defeat of the Muslims by the Catholic kingdom of Castille. For many years, historians argued about the origin of the Penitente brotherhood, the confraternity of Jesus the Nazarene that flourished in isolated Spanish-speaking villages in the high mountains or hidden in the canyon country by the Colorado border. Did the elaborate and, sometimes, frightening religious practices of the Penitente Hermanos originate in Gothic Spain or Portugal? When the Hermanos scourged themselves or carried their carved Bultos in processions into the icy mountains on Easter, were these rituals an elaboration of medieval piety in old Spain? Parts of what is now New Mexico are difficult to reach, but have been inhabited for hundreds and hundreds of years – family lineages trace back to the era of the Moor’s last sigh in Alhambra. High mountains and blazing deserts embalmed old traditions – the tiny villages scattered through New Mexico are, perhaps, a kind of time capsule containing many curious and half-forgotten relics.

Legend held that many Spanish Jews converted to Catholicism to avoid expulsion from Spain. These Sephardic Jews were called Conversos and the authenticity of their devotion to their new religion was often questioned. Some Conversos were thought to retain rabbinical beliefs and practices despite a surface veneer of Catholicism. In the New World, always a few steps ahead of the inquisition, Conversos might let the mask slip – indeed, eight-hundred miles north of Mexico City with its auto-da-fes and inquisitors, Crypto-Jews might emerge from hiding and might, even, dare to practice their religion openly in Santa Fe and environs.

How else to explain the substantial number of Espanols buried in old graveyards under stones carved with six-pointed stars? What about the ancestors with Hebrew first-names – for instance, the Ramirez or Martinez family members called "Adonay"? Isn’t this Adonai – that is, the name of the lesser gods and angels mentioned in the Old Testament? What was the language that an elderly woman recalled her great-grandmother speaking in one of the pueblos high in the mountains on certain holy days? Were those spinning tops sometimes given to children at Christmas Dreidels? Why did some groups of ostensibly Catholic Indians refuse to eat pork? Were the charms posted on the thresholds of pueblo kivas mezzuzahs?

All of these hints and rumors, all of these allegations of faint vestiges of Levitical or Deuteronomic law surfacing in unlikely places, formed an abiding legend. There is always the hope that someone lost on the serpentine forest roads in the Kit Carson National Forest, or some fly fishermen working his way upstream in some nameless canyon tributary to the Rio Chama, will glimpse half-fallen walls on a hilltop and will climb to them to find some huts, a corral for burros, and an adobe church or, perhaps, an intact kiva containing a menorah and, possibly, some fragments of the Torah.




On a family vacation in 1969, my father drove his stationwagon laden with family into old Santa Fe. It was a terrifying place. Although the main streets were paved, all of the side roads were deeply rutted, primitive, and not even gravel – rather, you could look to the side of the asphalt highway into ruinous-looking neighborhoods of tin-roofed adobe shacks lined-up alongside red sand and clay streets, more like badlands than traveled-upon lanes. As we approached the center of Santa Fe, the roads constricted and, at last, became single-lane passageways between badly battered and side-swiped pick-up trucks and decrepit cars. Several times, my father found himself staring down a malignant-looking one-eyed pickup truck full of small dark-skinned men drinking beer and shouting merrily in a language that we didn’t understand. Several times, we were compelled to back-up and, then, the people in the pickups behind us, rosaries dangling from their rear-view mirrors honked and made obscene gestures. The church near the ancient plaza were dark and showed cavernous openings in their squat fortified walls and the old commercial buildings where turquoise jewelry was sold with pots and Navajo rugs seemed shadowy, run-down, broken around the edges. Poor people squatted at street corners and, when we finally reached the center of the madness, the open park in front of the Palace of the Governors, the greenery was all frayed and withered and the palace building itself looked small and inconsequential, rows of impassive Indians seated on benches along the adobe portico guarding the trinkets that they had hauled to town to sell to the tourists. The shapely adobe walls were spattered with a vomit of graffiti and the labyrinth of one-way streets made it impossible to extricate ourselves from the ruinous city. Finally, my father fled down a dirt road and we climbed to a low terrace above the town and, then, road simply ended as a series of low, eroded cliffs. Dogs assaulted us, barking and sniffing at our tires and old women in black shawls watched without expression as my father maneuvered the unwieldy station wagon so that he could withdraw along the broken and rutted way that we had come. Between the houses, the pinon smelled of gin and clothes lines sagged with wet laundry and, as the lights came on unsteadily in the shacks, and the air began to fill with wood-smoke from cookstoves, my father said something like – "this isn’t a clean place," and "we have to get out of here." We had come from visiting relatives in Carlsbad. There is a university in Carlsbad and the city is very modern and there are wide open quadrangles between the bright new laboratories and lecture halls. Carlsbad is a very clean city.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY -- A : A Stylized Landscape -- Mr. Archuleta -- Rustlers at the Ghost Ranch -- A Monstrous Serpent




Distance desiccates – it crushes the roundness out of things and makes them seem flat, geometric outlines against the pale blue sky. In northern New Mexico, it is arid. The foreground is also flattened, a cardboard-colored mummy, llano the hue of unfired clay stretching into the distance where there is a black butte. The butte is square-cut, a dark casket rimmed with the tiny, wiry hairs of pinon. Next to the butte, shadowy canyons open to the sunlight, their jaws wrinkled with yellow and beige badlands. Squashed by the blaze of the sun, a mountain, or a range of mountains, rises like a low-pitched roof beyond the butte and gorges. The sierra is turquoise, the color of water refined to gemstone.

This is merely generic. The spirit of a place lives in its particularity.



The man standing at the gate at the Budget rental car lot has brown skin and wears glasses that glint in the bright sunlight. The tag on his vest tells us that he is named Lewis Archuleta. He stands beside the spine of sharp spikes guarding the driveway into the lot – Do Not Back-Up: Will Cause Severe Tire Damage, a sign warns.

Mr. Archuleta inspects the rental contract for the white KIA sportage that I am driving. (The vehicle displays a Colorado license – a shame, Julie says, too bad it’s not a New Mexico plate.) Mr. Archuleta is cheerful this early afternoon. "Where are you folks from?" he asks. "Minnesota," we say. "I’ve been to Minnesota only for an hour. When I was in the air force, we flew to Minnesota but I was stationed at a base in Wisconsin."

We agree that Wisconsin is a lovely state.

Sun-Harbor, the name for the Albuquerque airport, is built upon a plateau southeast of the city. Great ramps of terrain drop down toward the modest skyscrapers of the city. To the north, the flank of Sandia mountain rises like a brooding thunderhead.

The name "Archuleta" is common in New Mexico. It is a Castilian version of a Basque toponym: aretxloeta – that is, "oak hollow." I know two stories about people named Archuleta.

When he was a little boy, Jesus Archuleta lived at Abiquiu north of Santa Fe. With his brother, he was sent to recapture some burros that had wandered away from the village. The burros had crossed a stream that the two boys knew marked the edge of the Spanish village. Beyond the stream, the terrain was forbidden to them and said to be dangerous. The little boys could see the burros in an arroyo above the creek and so they crossed and ran uphill to catch the burros. Some Jicarillo Apaches appeared from a ravine in the hillside and Jesus was captured by them. (His brother was more fleet of foot and he outran the Indians, returning to Abiquiu to sound the alarm.)

The Apaches moved quickly across the barren landscape and Jesus fell, ripping open his knee. The wound became infected and he could not walk any longer. His captors left the little boy under a tree by the side of the trail. A day later, a Ute Indian came along. He examined the child’s wounded leg and used a sharp flint to split open the tight skin sealing the poison within the swollen knee. The boy recovered and the Ute took him into the mountains as his slave.

Four or five years later, the Utes were buying rations from soldiers at a fort in Colorado. Jesus Archuleta, who was then ten or eleven years old, was sent down to the fort as a pack-animal. As the soldiers were weighing him down with provisions, someone recognized that the boy was not an Indian and so he was rescued. Jesus Archuleta returned to his village in Abiquiu and became the patriarch of a large family. These events are said to have happened in the 1840's.

Two of Jesus Archuleta’s grandsons built a rough jacal (a fortified cabin) in a box-canyon hidden in the hills northeast of Abiquiu. The canyon, although very beautiful, had a sinister reputation – witches had frequented the area in the preceding century and duels between cattle men and sheep herders had resulted in the several murders under the withered-looking cliffs. The dead men killed in those frays were left unburied and, at night, their ghosts wandered the rugged hillsides, moaning and pleading for help. A vast demon rattle-snake was alleged to live in a cave nearby and there was a spectral flying cow that floated like a balloon over the heads of men and women doomed to die by this weird apparition. Since people were afraid to venture into the canyon where the Archuleta brothers lived, the boys could keep stolen horses and cattle hidden among the maze of rocky gorges without fear of detection. And, it was rumored that they sometimes waylaid and killed travelers or invited them to their sinister jacal for a meal and rest a place from which no one emerged alive. People in Abiquiu said that the Archuleta brothers beheaded their victims and left their corpses strewn around the canyons and that, in the darkness, the ghosts of murdered men stalked around the ravines and ridgetops looking for their missing skulls.

One day, the younger Archuleta brother returned from Santa Fe with an olla of gold and silver coins, money that he had received from the sale of rustled cattle. His brother coveted the money and, so, the younger man buried the treasure on a hillside under a dead pinon shaped like an octopus sprawling across the slope. The older brother, named Juan Ignacio or Nacho, demanded his share of the gold and silver. When the younger brother resisted, Nacho killed him with an axe. Nacho dragged his dead brother’s wife and little girl from her room in the jacal. He said that he would feed the child to the monster rattle-snake that lived in one of the canyons above the cabin unless she told him where the coins were hidden. But, then, Nacho got drunk and, when the sun set, his brother’s wife and child fled, making their way to the Indian pueblo near Abiquiu.

Later, Nacho Archuleta was lynched for cattle-rustling. His brother’s wife and child nervously returned to the box canyon where the lonely jacal was decaying in the shadow of its old poplar tree. A range fire had destroyed the forest near the canyon rim and there had been landslides and flashfloods in the ravines so that the octopus-shaped dead pinon could no longer be found. All of the landmarks were smudged and indistinct. The pot of gold could not be found.

The jacal built by the Archuleta brothers sits on a knoll about 100 feet from the cottage that Georgia O’Keefe occupied at Ghost Ranch fifty years later. When I was at the retreat in the canyon, the young woman at the check-in desk handed me a map with various attractions on the property highlighted in bright pink magic marker. One of the places that I was urged to visit was "Ghost Cabin" – "it’s always open," the girl said. After hiking to the Chimney Rock, a stack of stone pointing skyward above the box canyon, I walked down to the Ghost Cabin. It is an elegant adobe structure with small dark and cool rooms. The place is furnished with antiques and there are candle-holders haloed by silver on the wall. A few placards explain that the Archuleta brothers were notorious robbers and rustlers in the Abiquiu area in the 1890's. There is no mention of the lost treasure or the flying cow or the monster rattlesnake. A note pinned to the wall explains that the poplar tree in front of the adobe house is called the "hanging tree" – supposedly, the Archuleta brothers were lynched from the branches of that tree. In late October, the tree had lost its leaves and, so, was bare and a little sorrowful-looking. My suspicion is that the story about the lynching is just as mythical as the tale involving the olla stuffed with gold.

I wanted to peep through the windows of the O’Keefe cabin but had been warned at the check-in desk that the place was rented. Artists can stay in the small adobe cottage, perhaps, in the hope that some of the inspiration that Georgia O’Keefe felt in this place might remain to enthuse them. I approached the cottage – its windows were open because the day had become warm and the bright sun flared all around me and, when the breeze stirred, a curtain patterned with the Indian sign for rain in the mountains (yellow step patterns with zigzags) billowed out over the window-sill.