Travels With Betty and Sally, Part 2

Touring The Way Out, Far Out West By Car, Golf Cart, Plane, Train and Launch

June 18 - July 14, 1999

By Lewis Nolan


Updated Nov. 19, 1999. Please visit again

Remains of Taos Pueblo Church Shelled by U.S. Army Overlook Indian Cemetery

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Speedy Jumps To Trip Segments

Part 1: Memphis to Oklahoma City, Route 66, Tucumcari, N.M., and Sante Fe
Part 2: Taos, N.M., Williams, Ariz., Grand Canyon, Desert Drive To California
Part 3: Palm Desert and Palm Springs, Calif.
Part 4: Honolulu and Oahu Island, Hawaii
Part 5: Tubac, Ariz., West Texas and Hope, Ark.
Photo Album

Speedy Jumps To Points Of Interest On This Page:

Taos Pueblo
Kit Carson Home and Museum
Williams, Ariz.
Grand Canyon Railway
Grand Canyon Tour
Drive To Palm Desert, Calif.

Monday, June 22, 1999 – To Taos, New Mexico

Feeling much better after a good night’s sleep and a light breakfast at the Comfort
Inn, we drove about 70 miles north to Taos, with Sally’s top down on a pleasant morning.
It was cool enough to warrant light jackets. The morning traffic was light, the air was
clear and the sights were new, making it a honey of a drive. We drove alongside the
upper reaches of the Rio Grande River much of the way. It was 15-to-20 yards wide at
this point, rushing and shallow with many small rapids. We stopped to take photos at a
put-in point used by white water rafters. Jagged hills barren of all but scrub plants
rimmed the river as it plunged down the plateau toward Texas.

Our first stop was at Ranchos de Taos, a small community that is the site of the
beautiful San Francisco de Asis Church. The massive adobe walls and graceful towers
have been painted and photographed by generations of artists. We happened upon a
wedding.

A few miles north is the Taos Pueblo, said to be the most visited Pueblo in
America. It is one of a half-dozen or so pueblos around Santa Fe and has been
continuously occupied for more than 800 years. It is at the base of the 12,282-foot Taos
Mountain, a ski center in the winter. The Pueblo is the center of the cultural, religious and
much of the economic life of the 3,000 members of the Red Willow Tribe who live on the
reservation. The structure consists of about 300 “homes,” the living quarters of families
that go back for centuries. Decisions concerning each home are made by the eldest
member of the family, regardless of sex. A couple of dozen homes have been turned into
retail shops, where Indians sell their hand-crafted jewelry and other crafts; no sales tax is
charged.

About 25 members of the Tribe choose to live in the ancient structure on a full
time basis, most of them elderly Indians interested in keeping the Red Willow traditions
alive. The Pueblo is the only Native American “living community” to be designated both
a National Historic Landmark and a World Heritage site by the United Nations. During
tribal meetings and religious ceremonies, dozens more Red Willow Indians temporarily
move out of their modern reservation housing and into the ancient quarters of their
forefathers (and foremothers). Tribal law governs the Pueblo and surrounding
reservation. No electricity or running water is allowed at the Pueblo as part of
preservation efforts. Lights come from lanterns fired by Butane gas, which also powers
heaters and special refrigerators. Bread is baked in outdoor, wood-fired, clay ovens that
are larger than 50-gallon drums.

Water is hand-drawn from the clear, bubbling Red Willow stream that bisects the
two main sections of the Pueblo. Visitors are asked to refrain from wading in the
Pueblo’s sole source of drinking water, but scroungy looking dogs enter as they please.
Just outside the actual Pueblo and near the tribal government building are spotlessly clean
restrooms for visitors, equipped with running water and electricity. Tourism is an
important source of income for the Red Willow Indians, who like other tribes have built
small casinos on their reservations throughout New Mexico and Oklahoma.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs reported that 166 of the nation’s more than 550
tribes had casinos in 1996, with only 28 tribes losing money from their gambling
ventures. There were 54 tribes that had casino profits worth more than $10,000 per tribal
member. The profits are used for a variety of purposes designed to benefit the tribal
members. (For example, the Choctaw Tribe in Neshoba County, Miss., has invested more
than $18 million in its famed Dancing Rabbit Golf Course. The course was built to attract
more visitors to the tribe’s casino in the East Central part of the state; a second course
recently opened for play and great reviews.)

We paid $10 each for admission to Taos Publo, plus a $10 camera fee. We also
purchased about $50 in crafts during our visit. Tour guides work for tips.

The rambling Pueblo is five stories high at its highest point and is made of straw-
and-mud adobe. Individual families have responsibility for maintenance of their own
homes in the structure, which requires annual re-mudding over weatherworn spots. We
saw one man patching the second story roof of one home, but he refused us permission to
take photos. The Spaniards introduced doors and windows to the Pueblo Indians in the
early 1600s. Before, all the openings were roof-top holes as a defensive measure. When
the defenders pulled their wood ladders up to the top of the fortress, the only way
invaders could get in was to fight their way up the walls.

Using Indian labor, Spanish missionaries built the Pueblo’s old San Geronimo
Church in 1619. It was destroyed in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when Indians throughout
the region rose up against the Spanish. The church was rebuilt in 1706. But it was again
destroyed in 1847, when the U.S. Army bombarded the structure. There were 150 Indians
killed in retaliation for the murder of a Territorial Governor. Only the bell tower still
stands. The old courtyard has become a cemetery; the gravesites are recycled every
generation or two, with hundreds of deteriorated cross markers stacked up against the bell
tower in a macabre fashion that makes for a great picture. A newer Catholic Mission
church, St. Jerome’s Chapel, was built in 1850. It shares its priest with the Catholic
Church in Taos. Mary, mother of Jesus, is the central figure on the altar. She plays a
larger role than Jesus in the tribal practice of Christianity, we were told, because she is
identified with the Mother Earth concept of their unique religion. Our tour guide further
said that members of the Red Willow Tribe are forbidden from discussing the details of
their religion with outsiders. They also cannot teach their language, called Taos Tiwa, to
persons outside the Tribe. Taos Tiwa is spoken only since it is not set down in writing.
Our tour guide was an outgoing, intelligent young Indian named Juan Concha. He
was about to enter the University of Michigan and planned to try out for a walk-on spot
on the football team. He volunteered that he had been an all-state linebacker; he seemed
to be quite short and small in stature for such a position at a big school But with
enthusiasm, proper strength training and diet, who knows?

He spoke of a “tribal unity” among the Red Willow Indians, mentioning that the
“blood quorum” requires a person to have 50 percent tribal blood to be considered a
member. He said his father is Indian and his mother Hispanic, giving him full tribal
rights. But, he said, if he should marry outside the tribe, any children of that union would
not be considered members of the Tribe. Many of the religious activities are restricted to
tribal members, but there are about a dozen ceremonial dances during the year that the
public may attend. Tribal unity or not, we noticed burglar bars over many of the Pueblo
doors, windows and skylights.

I was surprised to learn that all the Indians we talked to at the Pueblo were very
well spoken. In fact, had we not seen their dark skin and Southwestern style of dress and
ornament, we’d never had known that they were Native Americans. None had the
“Hollywood manner” of Indian-speak, showing once again that stereotypes often conflict
with reality. At one shop named “Morning Rain,” an attractive young Indian woman said
her sister had made a piece of jewelry that caught Betty’s eye. I asked for the sister’s
name, thinking it would be something exotic like “Running Deer.” Her name was
Stephanie.

We had a nice lunch at the Best Western Kachina (name of an Indian doll), an old
but well maintained property in Taos (pronounced to rhyme with “house”). The motel is
approved by AAA and is the site of civic club meetings, usually good signs. On the
recommendation of our Native American waitress, we drove 10 or so miles out of town to
the Rio Grande Gorge, which was the spectacular sight she promised. The narrow, brown
river and its small rapids were perhaps 500 feet below the span. We took photos from the
bridge walkway, which trembled with vibrations from passing trucks and big campers.
The Los Alamos nuclear weapon design facility is nearby, but we weren’t interested in
atomic bombs this day.

Back in Taos, we parked for $5 in the heart of town. A brochure from the Taos
Museum Association describes the town as having “more artists per capita than Paris and
more non-profit cultural institutions than cities 10 times its size.” The seven museums in
the association offer a combination ticket for $20, good at all museums for a year and
fully transferable. That’s a great deal, which I intend to tell my friends about at the
National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis when we get back home.
We were a bit tired from walking around the Pueblo, and with the day getting on
we decided to visit only one Taos museum, the Kit Carson Home and Museum. This had
special meaning to me since I went through the 7th, 8th and 9th grades at Kit Carson
Junior High School in Sacramento, Calif. I think I startled the museum’s cashier when I
probably became the first visitor to ever sing to her the entire first verse of the school
fight song, “On Kit Carson, on Kit Carson, on to victory. We’re behind you, stand beside
you, through eternity. Rah, rah, rah, rah. . .”

Kit Carson was born in 1809 and was one of the adventurers who opened up
California with scientific and mapping expedition leader John C. Fremont. He first
arrived in Taos in 1826 and was in and out of the town for the rest of his life. He became
a mountain man and trapper and served the U.S. government as a scout, an Indian agent,
an Army brigadier general in the Civil War and later an Indian fighter.

Carson purchased a four-room, adobe house in Taos in 1843 as a wedding present for his bride, Maria
Josoefa Jaramillo (his third wife, the others were Indian). It was their home until they
both died in 1868. Artifacts and exhibits illustrate Carson’s life and also depict the importance of the
Native American and Hispanic cultures in the history of northern New Mexico. His
fellow Masons salvaged the adobe structure after his death as a tribute to this remarkable
man, whose name was once a household word. The structure, with walls 30 inches thick,
was eventually re-opened as a Museum. There is also a town park in Taos named in
Carson’s honor. Unfortunately, it looks as though the memory of Carson has faded, as the
museum seems to get few visitors and is in rather shabby condition. Far better known
today are former Taos residents of more recent vintage - Georgia O’Keeffe, photographer
Ansel Adams and novelist D. H. Lawrence.

We poked around a few of the dozens and dozens of artsy-craftsy shops and
galleries around Taos. Betty bought a hotpepper Christmas tree ornament. With my heel
spurs flaring up and late afternoon shadows starting to lengthen, we collected Sally and
drove top-down back to Santa Fe. We enjoyed a surprisingly good dinner at an
Applebee’s Restaurant near our motel. We were served by a forgetful but nice young
woman from New Orleans; she had followed her boyfriend to Santa Fe and was clearly
homesick for the softer accents and gentler manners of the South. The cheapest gas we
could find was $1.11 a gallon at a convenience store/gas station, where Betty saw a
Hispanic man buy a bunch of New Mexico Lottery tickets only to give one to a surprised
clerk. Our thought was that it was at once a generous but foolish act. It is no wonder so
many Mexican Americans live near the poverty line if that’s how they spend their money.

Betty Nolan at South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

Tuesday, June 22, 1999 – To Williams, Arizona

After our customary, cold-but-free breakfast at the motel, we departed Santa Fe at
8:45 a.m., heading south on I-25 and then west on I-40. With speed limits of 70 and 75,
we zipped around and through Albuquerque in minutes. It took an hour or two for me to
get through town back in the Route 66 days when speed limits slowed traffic to a crawl.
My memory is that just about every business in town then fronted the route.
But this trip three decades later, we arrived at Williams, Ariz., just off I-40
about 30 miles west of Flagstaff after a fast passage of six hours. The change in scenery
as we neared Williams was dramatic. We went from fairly lush, prairie-like land around
Santa Fe, to the big sky country of western New Mexico with reddish mesas and huge
rock formations, to the dry desert of north central Arizona, and then to the mountains
around Flagstaff and Williams that are covered with graceful pine trees. The appearance
of pine trees in the rocky soil of the mountains reminded me of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains of Northern California. Temperatures were pleasant once we got above 7,000
feet.

Our motel, the Quality Inn Mountain Ranch, is in a beautiful setting, high in the
snow-capped San Francisco Mountains. The area is flush with pine trees and small
meadows. The motel has resort amenities, including horseback riding, tennis, an astro-
turf putting green and a little western village of building facades. Among the guests are a
group of motorcycle enthusiasts with rental Harleys and a support van and a busload of
Italian tourists, most of whom were young adults.

We drove seven miles into Williams with Sally’s top down to scope out the Grand
Canyon Railway and confirm our reservations for the next day’s excursion train ride.
Williams is a picturesque, old Western town that seems to be coping better than
Tucumcari with the demise of Route 66 and relocation of traffic from the town’s main
drag to I-40. That evening we learned local residents think our motel’s restaurant is the
place to go for special occasions. We had the best dinner I’ve ever had in a roadside
motel. It was superb, by any standard. The staff was efficient and friendly and the prices
were moderate.

Wednesday, June 23, 1999 – To The Grand Canyon

Cooked-to-order breakfast was included in the price of our motel room, so we
enjoyed a hot meal before reporting to the restored and gussied up railroad depot at
Williams. We had paid nearly $250 for tickets on the first-class train (includes air-
conditioned cars, reclining seats and snacks) and bus tour of the South Rim of the Grand
Canyon. The Grand Canyon Railway is plainly the best thing going for Williams now
that the Interstate Highway goes around the town.

Vintage, restored cars are pulled by turn-of-the-century, steam locomotives and
modern diesel engines. We had the diesel going up and the steam coming back. The car
we were on had been freshly carpeted; a tray of snacks and soft drinks was out for most
of the ride. The Williams Depot, which dates to 1908 and will soon be an occasional
Amtrak stop, is adjacent to a pricey, modern Fray Marcus Hotel that is often fully booked
months in advance. This day the company ran two trains, the first class one with five or
six cars and the regular one with 10 or so cars. On this day of 80-degree-plus temps, the
air conditioning of the first class train was most welcome. Each train carried several
hundred passengers. At an average of $100 per person, the day’s gross must have
exceeded $50,000 – plus proceeds from sales of on-board drinks as well as souvenirs and
railroad memorabilia from the depot shop.

We had thought the train route would go along the Grand Canyon. However, the
65-mile-ride, which takes about 2 ½ hours each way, only offers one tiny glimpse of the
Canyon itself. The rest of the route is through pine forests, high desert plains and a few
small canyons. A similar excursion we took on the White River Railroad in the Ozarks
Mountains the previous fall was far more scenic.

However, the Grand Canyon Railway provided a relaxing, fun ride, complete with
strolling cowboy singers and a Wild West holdup. There was a memorable line from a
rough-looking character playing the role of Marshall. He brought a big laugh when he
asked an obviously thrilled, little boy if the train robbers had stolen his missing front
teeth. The best thing about the train ride was that it let us avoid the horrendous traffic and
parking difficulties for those who drive their own autos (paying $20 per vehicle for the
privilege) into the National Park. But the Grand Canyon Railway is expensive and I’m
not sure I’d recommend it to anybody but hardcore train buffs or well-heeled couples.

We had 3 ½ hours at the Park itself. We sprung for a guided coach tour,
something we rarely do when we travel. It was definitely worth the $14 per person fee
because only tour buses, bicycles and walkers are allowed on the interior roads alongside
the South Rim. We had only two stops, at popular overlooks on the east rim and on the
west rim. But we could see for many miles from each vantage point and we probably
didn’t miss much that can be viewed from a distance. The views were predictably
spectacular. No camera angle can show the sheer magnitude of the canyon. The beauty of
the Grand Canyon’s colored walls must be seen to be fully appreciated. Likewise with the
fantastic rock formations left by eons of erosion from the plunging Colorado River a mile
below.

From Hopi Point we could see the river. From Mather Point we could see the
Phantom Ranch, where mule riders and intrepid hikers can spend the night in cabins if
they make reservations a year in advance. Also at Mather Point, we had another view of
the river and were lucky enough to see, with the aid of binoculars, a raft navigating the
rapids far below. At the Grand Canyon Village, where about 2,400 persons work and live
year round, we had additional views of the canyon from the paved walking trail along the
rim. I must say that after a while the canyon views start looking very much alike.
The driver of our tour bus had been working at the canyon for 27 years and he
shared a lot of insight and experience with us. Oddly, two couples in adjacent seats to our
front and side were from Memphis. Among the things we learned from our driver was
that an average of one injured or exhausted/dehydrated hiker is evacuated every day by
helicopter at a cost to the evacuee of $2,000. A fit walker can make the walk down to the
canyon’s floor in about two hours; the return takes four hours. However, quite a few unfit
people get into trouble when they try to make the round trip in a day. The temperature at
the bottom is about 30 degrees hotter than at the top, often climbing above 110 degrees
on warm summer days. In contrast, the water temp of the Colorado River stays at 48
degrees year round, making for bracing rides on the rafting excursions. The floor of the
canyon is at 2,400 feet elevation, nearly a mile below the South Rim, at 7,498 feet.
We also learned that an average of 10 persons per day is treated for squirrel bites.
The canyon’s squirrel population has evidently learned that humans feeding them will
drop all the food if bitten. Park personnel try to capture the rogue squirrels and relocate
them, but their efforts have yet to reduce the explosion of bites. There is plenty of remote
land for nasty squirrels and hikers in search of solitude, with the park encompassing more
than 1 million acres. The canyon itself is more than 200 miles long and is 10 miles across
in most places. The park is about the size of Delaware and attracts more than 5 million
visitors a year. It is a priority stop for tour buses carting groups of Japanese and other
foreign visitors across the country.

The flood of visitors to the Grand Canyon chokes traffic and overwhelms Park
facilities during the summer months. We were turned away from the restaurant at the
grand old lodge that is a showplace of the Village and ended up having to endure a mob
scene at a poorly managed, self-serve sandwich shop. We paid $3.55 for skimpy
sandwiches of sliced turkey after a very long wait in line. The Village offers only 907
rooms, 4 restaurants, 2 cafeterias and 3 snack shops, a number that seems grossly
inadequate given the millions of day trippers and overnight visitors who have nowhere
else to go. Many of the food service personnel are seasonal and don’t expect to see the
same customer twice, and the service shows it.

Dinner back at the Quality Inn Mountain Ranch was again excellent.

Thursday, June 24, 1999 - To Palm Desert, Calif.

Following an early, hot breakfast, we departed Williams, Ariz., and drove east to
Flagstaff, over the same 30 miles we had driven two days previously. It was a beautiful
morning and we enjoyed the pleasant coolness as we connected with Interstate 19 and
headed to the hot temperatures of the low desert. The closer we got to Phoenix, the hotter
it became and we knew it was only going to get even hotter as we headed South and
West. We stopped for gas near Flagstaff and were astonished to find that the station’s
convenience store sold liquor, which we were told is a fairly common business
combination in Arizona. I can’t imagine how the industry lobbying groups convinced the
state Legislature that mixing alcohol with gasoline is a good idea.

The interstate highway speed limit in Arizona – and most of New Mexico – is 75
miles per hour. So we made really good time. I followed the advice of some nice ladies
working at the Arizona Welcome Center and dropped straight down to Phoenix on I-10
rather than continuing on I-40 and taking one of two possible routes. One would have had
us cutting across the desert on a little traveled highway in the Mojave Desert. The other
would have taken us into LA on I-40, making us backtrack on I-10 to Palm Desert. By
following their directions, we took the splendid U.S. 101 multi-lane expressway around
the northwest perimeter of Phoenix and Sun City. It was the most scenic bypass we’ve
seen, decorated with miles of flower and desert shrub plantings on the median strip and
along both sides of the road. We easily connected with westbound I-10, saving us a lot of
time and aggravation with the heavy traffic of sprawling, busy Phoenix.

It was a boring, bleak drive across the desert to California on I-10. There are very
few places to stop and a motorist without water is asking for trouble.

Because of the short cut and the 75-mph speed limit, we made it to Palm Desert,
Calif., in 6 ½ hours, nearly 3 hours less than I had planned. We paid $1.33 a gallon for
regular gas in the hot, desert town of Blythe, Calif., noting a significant worsening of gas
prices and road conditions as we entered the Golden State. There was no tourist Welcome
Center at the border, a shocker for this former California resident. It was hot, ugly desert
all the way to the Coachella Valley, home to the irrigation-dependent towns of Indio,
Indian Wells, Palm Desert and Palm Springs. One town seamlessly flows into another.

There are more than 100 golf courses in the Valley. Their lush, green fairways
belie the fact that so far this year there has been only one-tenth of an inch of rain. We
arrived at Palm Desert at 3 p.m., with the temperature 104 degrees. A dry, hot wind took
some of the edge off the heat. We saw lots of Mexican Americans, part of the service
industry that tends to the needs of the wealthy retirees and tourism-dependent businesses
that are the heart, soul and wallet of the area. Palm Springs and its newer environs of
Palm Desert and Indian Wells have long been the playground of the rich and famous
from Hollywood. They are drawn by the stark beauty of the surrounding desert, the easy
drive from LA, the dry climate (Casey’s occasional sinus problems disappeared when he
moved here last year) and the opportunity to play golf and tennis year round. The
concentration of so much fashion-conscious wealth has attracted many of the trendiest
and most expensive names in retailing.

Casey met us at a gas station just off I-10. He was driving his new Mustang
convertible, which is white with tan top and interior, just like Sally. Our two look-a-like
cars paraded to his apartment at the Desert Oasis complex, which has about 500 units in a
campus of two-story, stucco buildings. Amenities include three swimming pools, hot
tubs, well-equipped exercise facility, handball court, tennis and code-entry security gates.
The sprinklers run several times a day to keep the manicured grass and plantings green.
Hummingbirds constantly hover about bushes covered with sweet smelling flowers and a
large Roadrunner is a regular visitor on patrol for lizards.

It was great to see Casey and his first place of his own. His two-bedroom
apartment on the ground floor is nicely furnished and tastefully decorated. He had a new
vacuum cleaner, bought I’m sure in preparation for our visit and the knowledge that his
mother would put it to good use. We were pleased to see that his home was in good order,
complete with our framed photo on the refrigerator. Maybe it was still there after we left.
Betty and I went to a nearby Lucky Supermarket, where we bought filet of sole
and other food for our first homecooked meal since leaving Memphis. It was fun eating
our own food again, especially with Casey. He was briefly with us in Memphis three
weeks ago to attend the U.S. Women’s Open Golf Tournament at Old Waverly Golf Club
in West Point, Miss. We were pleased to see how Casey has matured since being on his
own and the obvious care and pride he takes in having nice surroundings.

We saw first hand that he works awfully hard, arriving at his office in a
construction trailer before 6 a.m. most days. He is rarely home before 7 p.m. during the
week and often takes his office laptop computer home to get in another hour or two of
project management duties. He also works part of most weekends as well. His project –
construction of the $43-million, 15,000-seat stadium tennis facility called the Indian
Wells Garden of Champions – is progressing nicely. Casey is getting much satisfaction
from being part of such a large project and working with a small team of civil engineers
for Clark Sports. Clark Sports is the sports venue arm of Clark Construction, based in
Bethesda, Md., where Casey worked for a year before his transfer here last fall. The fact
that the facility’s owner is IMG, the huge sports management company, and that the
facility will be the site of some of the most important and widely televised tennis
tournaments in the world, adds a certain pizzazz to the work.

My swim and workout in the complex’s nice facilities took some of the creakiness
out of muscles and joints stiffened by the long drive from Williams, Ariz.


Continue Trip With Part 3: Palm Desert and Palm Springs, Calif.

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