Exploring with Brooke!

We went exploring with Brooke, who is an awesome tour guide and storyteller. She and her boyfriend (now husband) were the people we were staying with in Albuquerque. I have known her all my life and she worked with my mother way before I was born. Nearly all of my earliest happy childhood memories that I can remember involve her somehow. She moved to New Mexico around 15 years ago, and the first couple of hours I spent in her company I kept on receiving a funny little jolt when she spoke and I turned to look at her, only to have a completely different vantage point than what I was expecting. I think the last time I saw her I reached her hip.



She drove us in her car to Española, Chimayo and Santa Fe. The drive was beautiful, and incredibly interesting. Brooke knew so much about the area, it’s geology, the history of different groups of people, and told us stories about her own experiences since moving to this part of the US. We visited the Sanctuary at Chimayo, El Sanctuaria de Chimayo, a pilgrimage destination where sick or injured people come to pray and dedicate things like crutches, casts, bandages. In a back room of the church there was a pit in the ground where you could collect some holy dirt for healing.


El Sanctuaria de Chimayo (and Debbie)

In some ways it was a very humbling experience because many of the people visiting looked sad or desperate somehow, while I, as well as the people I love, have been really fortunate in health. We may not have always had money, or good judgment but our health was always something we could rely on. At Chimayo I had a solemn moment where I realized how deeply thankful I was for that.

Then Brooke took us to a little place right next to the church at Chimayo and we ate pesolé. We also bought a lot of chile powder from several different vendors and small shops around Chimayo. Chile peppers from this specific area, Chimayo, have a distinct taste that is different from chili peppers and powder you can get anywhere else. It’s a smokier, somehow deeper flavor that’s not as sweet.


Then we drove to Santa Fe.


I think this is called Camel Rock. View from the road.

She took us to the best taco place I have ever been to, a little place called El Parasol. Best tacos and horchata I have ever had, ever. I sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, recommend this place. If you are ever around Santa Fe, or anywhere near Santa Fe, go pick up some tacos from El Parasol. And I mean pick up only, there is no place to sit there, it’s a counter with some benches. That is how fast and easy it is to get great tacos. (This is a shameless plug for El Parasol, everyone must go there.)

We went to some of the touristy bits of Santa Fe, and I bought more pottery from the lovely lady pictured below, Laverne Loretto Tosa (Jamez). She makes pottery from natural clay in the Jamez Mountains (pictured in the photograph at the top of this post). She explained how she worked the clay in the traditional way, in coils, and how she polished it with a special kind of rock and some water, which gave it a satiny finish. She also explained about the different meanings behind the shapes and symbols she painted on the pots. Everything of hers was gorgeous, and not only was it immediately eye catching, the more I looked at individual pieces, the more I noticed the finer details and how meticulous her work was. It was actually really hard to decide which pieces I wanted to buy and I spent a long time deciding. The two pots I bought from her are now some of the most precious things I own.


Laverne Loretto Tosa and her work, packaging up the pottery I just bought from her. I may have caught her off guard by suddenly asking to take a picture.

Brooke also took us to her favorite chocolate place. I bought several chocolate creations, one that was shaped like a mushroom with some sort of creative caramel inside and looked so delicious that I basically popped it in my mouth as soon as I got it. For the next five minutes Brooke, Debbie and the Chocolatier watched with slightly horrified yet enthralled expressions, as I struggled to overcome what I had just done to myself, and my discovery that the mushroom should have been a two-step process, if not more. Debbie said something like, “Don’t try to eat it all at once! Why did you – ” and then was cut off by my choking fit. She just watched me for a minute. When I could breath again, I said, still recovering, “Sorry, I sort of started choking on my own spit…That was some really powerful caramel. So much drool.” My eyes were watering. Brooke turned to the chocolatier and said drily, “And she has such a pretty face.” He laughed. Debbie laughed. I didn’t laugh, I was trying to figure out if that meant I was surprisingly dumb or surprisingly uncouth.

A little while later, as we were making our way back to the car, I decided to indulge in another chocolate creation because I have no self-control – this one like an ice cream cone only with peanut butter and something hazelnut in it. Debbie saw me going for it and barked, “Don’t eat it all at once!” as I nibbled experimentally. I said, “I won’t,” and promptly shoved the whole thing in my mouth. “You did it again!” Debbie basically yelled at me. She turned to Brooke, “She did it again!” At this point we were on a sidewalk and I casually met some man’s eyes as I tried to chew down the peanut butter and chocolate cone in my mouth, resulting in an uncomfortable exchange. After that I held my hands up in front of my face.

Artistic pictures from that evening back at Brooke’s house!



We explored a part of Albuquerque called Old Town. As we enjoyed walking around the area and looking at the historical buildings, we came upon a little place called the Rattlesnake Museum, which was more like a dimly lit education center about reptiles. It was very fascinating, and they had over twenty species of snakes, many of them venomous.


Then we wandered into a hat shop where Debbie found the hat of her dreams, which caused me to search around for something of my dreams. If you would like to read more about my hat purchases, please read a post titled Hats on my other blog.


We wandered around Old Town until somehow we split up. I think I wandered off to take a picture. I found my way to an ice cream place and a famous church called San Felipe de Neri, the oldest church in Albuquerque. The building that stands today was built in 1793 and is on the US National Register of Historic Places. Originally, San Felipe de Neri was established in 1706, and the first church was built in 1719 but collapsed after heavy rain in 1792. This building was built the year after and the towers were added in 1861, a parish school was added in 1878 and a convent for the Sisters of Charity was built on the west side of the church in 1881.

Debbie found me again at some point and told me to go down this alleyway where a cool store was. I never got there, I ended up stopping in Gallery 8, and buying the pottery of a Navajo woman, Mabelene Gray, also known as Betty Holtsoy-Gray.  I bought two of her pieces, one painted on red clay and one horse hair on white clay. After a little bit of haggling, I spent $120. I don’t remember how much the pieces were individually.  Because the pieces were large, they mailed them for free to my mother’s house in Massachusetts. Here are pictures of them on the kitchen counter.


There were some really interesting differences in construction that I was fascinated by. Brooke’s boyfriend –now husband– is an architect and when I admired the adobe houses, he talked about a problem in the area with latex paint, and certain paint companies marketing paint as for adobe buildings, meaning latex-free, when really the paint contained latex. Adobe buildings have to be able to breathe, because adobe bricks shrink and swell with changing moisture content. Plastic or latex coatings, such as paint, seal the surface and keep it from expanding with the rest of the brick, which causes portions of the wall to break off. This is not an easy or inexpensive problem to fix either, because it means all of the latex paint must be painstakingly scraped off, along with the first or so layer of stucco cement mixture or adobe coating. Apparently there were some lawsuits as a result of this, which caused unnecessary damage to historical buildings around Albuquerque.

Another thing I was fascinated by were swamp coolers, which I had never heard of before. Most places in the Southwest don’t have air conditioning because it’s simply not economical.  Instead they have swamp coolers, also called evaporative coolers, which rely on water’s ability to grab heat from the air. A swamp cooler consists of a reservoir of water with a fan blowing air over it. The fan lowers the pressure of the air above the water, which makes water molecules from the surface jump up into the air. The moisturized air is much cooler because of water’s large enthalpy of vaporization, which means that it takes a lot of heat energy to change water from a liquid to a gas due to the negative and positive forces of each water molecule, known as hydrogen bonds. Hydrogen bonds bind water molecules to each other, making water droplets. Because it requires so much heat to break these bonds, water molecules floating in the air absorb heat and decrease the temperature of a room at the same time as increasing the humidity.

Often the reservoir and fan set-up can be under the house, to keep it cooler, or in a closet, attached to the ductwork. It can also be outside, although I haven’t really seen that. This way of cooling is called a passive evaporative cooling strategy.

Now, I’m from Boston, where in the summer the humidity is often the same number as the temperature. So if it’s around 100 degrees out, the humidity is also around 100%, which in turn means that the air is already completely saturated with water vapor. This means that everything feels gross and it takes more effort to sit somewhere in the shade and breathe than it should. The air is so heavy and it just kinda sits on top of you, making you sweat, and the sweat doesn’t evaporate. It feels like you’ve been swimming, but actually you haven’t. If, for whatever reason, you feel like boiling water in late July or August in Boston on a day when the humidity is close to 100%, you won’t see steam rising from the boiling water because the air around it is already so moist. It also means that there will be a thunderstorm in the late afternoon.

So to me it was a little counterintuitive that making an area more humid would keep the air cooler. But the climate in the Southwest is different – it’s arid. So when you pump a little humidity into some place out of the sun, it yields fabulous results. Boston is at sea level. If you pump a little humidity into some place, you would get mold. A lot of mold.


The Drive to Albuquerque


We had a seven or six hour drive to complete by the end of the day, so we left Arcosanti and got on the road to Albuquerque. I drove and I’m still not sure if it was six or seven hours exactly but I do know that our journey took at least nine hours.

At one point during our drive, I took an exit that told us it would lead to “The Meteor Crater” which sounded cool, so I followed the signs. I had been under the impression that it was not that far away but the signs took us on this long winding road that went on for a far greater distance than I had anticipated. We passed many signs about the crater, including one that advertised a Meteor Crater radio station, which I promptly tuned into. We started getting all these facts about the crater. One fact was during the 60s and 70s, NASA astronauts trained in the crater to prepare for the Apollo missions to the moon. In 1964, a small plane crashed into the edge of the crater. In 1984, the crater was the destination of the protagonists in Starman, a film starring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen and Charles Martin Smith. More information about the place here.

The land changed and became really flat, and after a while, in the distance, this oddly shaped jagged mountain shape emerged.  Since I was driving I don’t have many pictures of this but we drove right up the hill of the crater to a parking lot and then tried to get into the Visitor’s Center building where we found out there was an eighteen-dollar admission fee. We personally felt like this was rather exorbitant for a natural landmark that was much farther out of our way than anticipated. So we left. But here is a picture from the parking lot.


You can see Humphrey’s Peak among the Kachina Peaks Wilderness in the Coconino National Forest, the highest natural point in Arizona, sort of north west from the parking lot.

Here is an actual image of the Meteor Crater, which I am borrowing from Caravantomidnight.com.

The Meteor Crater

Borrowed from the article “Lucky Strike,” at caravantomidnight.com


After getting back on the road and driving for a couple of hours, we were near Holbrook (AZ) driving along Route 66. I spotted this place from the high way and we pulled over to look at it.


We had an awesome talk with the man who worked there, Brian Moody (Navajo), and I bought some beautiful jewelry. Brian gave us a lot of advice when he learned we were from way out of state and were driving around the southwest. We told him we were driving to Albuquerque and he said, “Oh yeah, that’s a nice city to drive into at night.” He talked about the people who came into his shop and specifically one guy who came in by chance one day and then drove back four hours the next day to get a specific skull he had seen on display. He then tried to entice us with a fox skull that I had been looking at.

Along the six or seven hour drive we passed signs for Horsethief Basin, Bloody Basin, Horse’s Head Basin, which caused a great deal of speculation about how these basins came to be named, if these incidents were related to each other, if it had to be a repeated offence in a basin for the basin to be named after it, if the basins were connected by waterways. If it was all about the same horse. Another sign read “Crown King Bumble Bee” which we really enjoyed saying over and over again. Even days after, a short silence would precede one of us saying, “You know what? Crown King…. Bumble Bee…” and we would nod and gaze off into space in different directions.


We stopped for dinner in Gallup, after finding a place on Debbie’s phone that was precisely three minutes away from our spot zooming along the highway. We pulled into Garcia’s Sunset Grill Restaurant and when we walked in, a guy who I can only assume was Mr. Garcia spoke in Spanish to us. When we looked at him in confusion he said, “Can I help you? Are you lost?” And I said, “We’re not lost, we’re hungry,” And he replied, “Oh, then you’ve come to the right place!” with a smile and handed us two menus entirely in Spanish. We had a delicious meal while watching these giant slow moving trains of stacked shipping containers amble by across the street. Our meal came with rice putting, and when I told Mr. Garcia that it was the best rice pudding I’d ever had, he smiled and said it was his great grandmother’s recipe.


View from the parking lot of Garcia’s Sunset Grill Restaurant in Gallup

We had told the people we were staying with, old family friends, that we would be arriving around 10:30 pm, hoping that we could maybe get there around 10 and that it wouldn’t be too late. However, that ended up being completely wrong because we had forgotten about the time change between Arizona and New Mexico, even though at some point when I was at the wheel and trying to keep Debbie awake, I had monologued deeply on this whole mental riff about traveling through time and space and state lines, traveling into the future. I managed to entertain myself with this for a while before realizing that Debbie was already asleep in the passenger seat next to me and probably had not just been keeping her head angled that way to stare intently out the window as I had assumed for at least twenty minutes.

We ended up arriving around 11:30 at night, which was considerably later than we had anticipated and pretty damn inconvenient for our hosts on a weeknight. They claimed it was completely fine, but that’s just because they are really awesome people who probably don’t always say what they are thinking out loud.

Consequently, when Brian Moody had said that Albuquerque was a great city to drive into at night, we didn’t really know what he was talking about yet but it is beautiful. You sort of crest a really gradual hill and then suddenly thousands of lights fold out in front of you. As you get closer and closer, the city expands until it stretched out on the dark horizon in either direction but you still haven’t actually reached the city yet, you’re still driving on a lone highway towards it. It was sort of breathtaking.


Blurry photo of Albuquerque at night.



Arcosanti is an experimental town near Meyer, Arizona, built into and on top of a mesa.

It was built by Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri, starting in 1970, around the concept of “arcology” – architecture and ecology, creating architectural design principles for very densely populated, ecologically low-impact human habitats. The term itself was coined by Paolo Soleri and at least to my mind, the ideas around it appear prominently in science fiction. Which is very funny because Arcosanti itself looks like something out of a George Lukas film. Here is a link to Arcosanti.org.


While Arcosanti is not completely self-sufficient, it comes pretty close. Below are pictures of the forge where the bronze bells Arcosanti is known for are made, and also where a friend of Debbie’s works.

Bronze, or metal, and ceramic art, both functional and decorative, is sprinkled around the poured and painted concrete of Arcosanti. The large dome ceilings and circular windows and doorways are sort of majestic and fill spaces with light and fresh air.

Arcosanti is known as an architects’ retreat.  We stayed overnight in one of the rooms with a loft, which you can see in a picture above.  Breakfast was complimentary and the homemade yogurt was delicious. I think dinner would have been complimentary too, if we had been there in time the night before.

While we were walking around with Debbie’s friend, Ali, suddenly – I couldn’t tell if something like a very small rock hit my face or just my sunglasses, which gave off a huge crack, startling everyone. It was very discombobulating. The frame holding the left lens broke and I could feel the jagged edge against my cheek.  I was looking around wildly, clutching my sunglasses, asking, “What happened, what was that? Did you see a rock?” Debbie was also turning all around, but Ali just nodded sagely, squinting off into the distance, (sunglass-less), and said, “Yup, Arcosanti kills sunglasses.”

This immediately had our attention.

We were like, “what?”

And she said, “Everyone’s sunglasses break here.”

“Like it’s haunted?”

“You mean, at this spot?”

“Um, not only at this spot. And I don’t know. Maybe.”

I stared at her solemnly for a moment.

“Have your sunglasses been broken here?”

She was thoughtful for a second, then said, “ I actually lost mine a while ago,” then she went on to say that she knew a bunch of people whose sunglasses had mysteriously broken or disappeared at Arcosanti, one person who had three successive pairs of sunglasses bite the dust.

It was strangely ironic that these sunglasses I’d had for four years spontaneously decided to die on me when I was in the Southwest, a place where I might need them a lot. I continued to use my broken sunglasses anyway, just carefully.



This place was beautiful, and the crowd of architects and artists at Arcosanti who lived and worked there were also very interesting and kind. It was a really welcoming community.  Here are two last photos of the kind of random art we would find walking around Arcosanti.


Me, in the sunglasses shortly before they were mysteriously injured

Day 2 Continued, The Heard Museum

After leaving the Desert Botanical Garden, we found a Japanese market with deliciously refrigerated rice balls and tasty bottled teas.  I had two rice balls, one with tunafish and one with pickled kelp. It was very refreshing.


The Heard Museum, Phoenix AZ

Then we went to the Heard Museum. The Heard Museum is not a history museum, it is a living museum featuring both artifacts and contemporary art. The overall mission is to educate the public about the living cultures and native peoples of the Southwest.

The Heard Museum is a great resource and has a mix of educational, historical exhibits and galleries of current artists.


The Day Mother Shook (2011) – Oliver Enjady, Mescalero Apache b. 1952

This was one of the most striking paintings I saw. It depicts the first atom bomb testing on July 16th, 1945, upwind of Apache lands.

The plaque next to the painting reads, The Mescalero Reservation is downwind of the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was tested in 1945. The artist states, “the elders believe the bomb has given cancer to the earth and to women from Mescalero, where there is a high incidence of the pathology. I think Manifest Destiny is still happening.” Enjady lost his mother to caner.

Seeing this painting made me think about the ways in which we can passively take part in ethnic cleansing.

The Heard Museum was another place I didn’t feel like I was able to spend enough time in to truly absorb everything it offered. It was an incredibly interesting and worthwhile experience nonetheless. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone in Phoenix to visit the museum and the Desert Botanical Garden to learn about and experience the area. I feel like I could go back to both places and find something new I hadn’t noticed or paid enough attention to before.



After the museum closed on us, literally – we were the last ones out, we hit the road to drive to Arcosanti, where we would be spending the night.


On the road to Arcosanti

Terrorizing the Local Wildlife

Day 2

We stayed in an AirBNB and the next morning drove around trying to find a panaderia for some breakfast. I don’t know why I was so wild for a panaderia but I woke up fantasizing about all the tasty bread creations only to be found at a panaderia.

Then, we went back to the Desert Botanical Garden. It was an incredibly interesting and extensive place, and we had only gotten there in the evening the day before, which severely limited what we were able to see. We hadn’t been able to go on any of the trails or explore the different “regions” of planted areas, so we tried to capitalize on our second opportunity and see everything. The previous evening the place had seemed sort of magical and enchanting as the colors and air changed with dusk and eventually night. Also, my camera had died prematurely before we were officially kicked out at nine pm, so I felt like my first experience of this awesome place had been disorganized and cut short. Luckily it had also been free, though.

In the daylight, the Desert Botanical Garden was an even more enthralling place. It’s a large pocket of seemingly undeveloped land in the middle of Phoenix and when you’re there, you forget you’re in the middle of a city. It’s in a shallow valley and the surrounding hills are part of the conserved desert land. The diversity and layers of the desert sort of unfold as you walk down pathways, revealing beautiful and striking plants (and sometimes animals) that change visually with your perspective. There was nothing to overlook, even trees that you had been walking beside for sometime would actually be a unique kind of tree, that’s bark contained photosynthesizing cells so it could make food for itself even in a draught. That tree, by the way, is the Palo Verde Tree, native to the Sonoran Desert. Phoenix was built right in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, which has many unique and legendary animals and plant species. I had seen palo verde trees in many places since arriving in Phoenix but only really noticed them once we were in the Desert Botanical Garden.

This is a ground squirrel. It looks like a baby prairie dog, which is what some people, who shall remain unnamed, claimed it was. But we saw an informative plaque and also spoke to a person who worked at the DBG.

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There were also many lizards.

Here are more pictures I took while hiking around the Desert Botanical Garden.

Eventually, sadly, we had to leave the Desert Botanical Garden or die. It was already over 100 degrees (F) as it neared the middle of the day, and we started to notice, walking around this vast place, that we ran into fewer and fewer people as the day approached noon. Meaning that we saw no one past 10:30 am. The evening before, the more landscaped part of the gardens had been crowded with families and people chasing quail, but in the middle of the day this place was (literally) deserted. For a very excellent reason, we were finding out. We ran out of water and had to drag ourselves back through the winding trails of the desert towards civilization – the parking lot and gift shop/fancy restaurant/bathrooms and lockers. While recovering in the gift shop, Debbie bought a little cactus, I bought a Desert Botanical Garden water bottle, and we both bought prickly pear cactus licorice. We were completely and utterly taken in by the vast array of cactus-flavored gourmet food and candy, and each ended up coming away with respectable amounts of overpriced sugar.





Flying to Phoenix, AZ, from Boston, MA

Day 1

My awesome friend, Debbie, and I flew into Phoenix, Arizona, around 9:30 am. This means that our flight from Boston, Massachusetts, left around the ungodly hour of 6 am, and much of our flight was spent in a perpetual sunrise due to our flying west, away from the sun as it was rising. I don’t know if it was the combination of suddenly being in a desert, closer to the equator, or the sun finally catching up with us, but for the first hour after leaving the airport in Phoenix everything was blindingly bright and I kept catching myself blinking at the air around me in my sunglasses in confusion and bemusement.

On the plane, we met a couple who recommended we eat at two places, Chicken N’ Waffles and a burger place (that I don’t remember the name of). We immediately found Chicken N’ Waffles at the airport and got a bacon and scrambled egg waffle sandwich thing. Then we got our rental car and drove around Phoenix.

We stumbled upon a ceramics museum on the Arizona State University campus, where I took the picture of the gold heart, and ended up talking to a really nice guy who worked their, Cole. There were quite a few really impressive pieces of art in a relatively small place and we spent much longer than we meant to, talking to Cole about ASU and ceramics. The place is actually called the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center, click on the link to learn more.

At some point we realized it was Tuesday and a place we were planning to visit the next day, our first official full day, was free in the afternoons on Tuesdays. So we went to the Desert Botanical Garden, an awesome place right in the middle of Phoenix.

There were quail families running around in the dusk and tons of birds. It was an incredibly cool place that we immediately knew we were not going to get enough time at, so as we were being kicked out and my camera died, we made plans to go again the next day. I will write more about the Desert Botanical Garden in the next blog post.