On The Trail of Discovery in New Mexico: Hiking Tent Rocks

It's not always easy to age. But here's the thing. It happens to everyone. In this story, discover how writer Carolyn Handler Miller faces the physical and emotional challenges of aging during a hike at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in northern New Mexico.

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Cowboy Boots on Chimney Rock

I learned long ago the correct way to hike the trail to Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch in the Rockies of northern New Mexico. I knew I needed water, a jacket for rain, sunscreen (although in 1971, when I was six, we called it tanning lotion or sun block - and we only used it at the pool), and sensible, rugged shoes. Footwear absolutely needed to be ankle height, if not higher, with strong laces and a traction-optimized tread. Twisting an ankle always loomed as a real threat, and a good, solid lace-up boot would help prevent that. Snakebite, by a prairie rattler or the dreaded diamondback rattler, could not only wreck a vacation, it could take a life.  As a child I had no choice in the matter. When we hiked Chimney Rock, I wore my Red Wing hiking boots, which were perfectly serviceable. 

My love of cowboy boots came from my very first pair of Acme harness boots. I got them as a young boy in Nebraska, and they helped me feel independent, strong, protected, and stylish. I lost track of those boots, and really didn’t have another pair until late into high school, at which time I was too cool to wear them -- city kids just didn’t wear boots. We left ‘wearin’ shit kickers’ to the country boys.  I chuckle when I return to Nebraska now, because with enough distance, I can see that my hometown has and probably had plenty of room for cowboy boots.

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My Kind of Wasteland

by Izaak Diggs


It would be easy to dismiss Barstow as a wasteland: You've got the heat in the summer and the poverty year round. Faded mobile homes and salvagers making monkey shapes as they strip valuable tiles off collapsing houses. To the casual glance it is just a place to fill your gas tank or grab a burger or use a restroom. Just another desert town, just another exit or two along the interstate to somewhere else. Why was I there? Was I following a genuine spark of inspiration or had I lost my mind? All I could do was wring my hands, question my sanity, and take more notes. 

Barstow has always been a hub. Starting in the nineteenth century it served long distance travelers and the mining towns in the region. The desert is a popular place for mines: Men digging holes in the ground, getting a little closer to Hell in the hope of cheating the Devil at poker and getting a monopoly on brimstone. Gamblers with chin beards and suspenders who directed other men into the dark recesses of the earth. They oversaw the creation of towns that thrived for awhile only to die and be reclaimed by the desert after.  Fortunes made and lost; a story told countless times in the history of mankind. The story of Barstow is nearly identical to scores of towns scattered like seeds throughout the Southwest.   

I went down to the desert with nearly every penny I had. I stood on a salt flat, waited for the wind to rise, and tossed all the bills in the air. They were carried in every direction; to fast food restaurants and cheap motels and gas stations. Like those men with chin beards and suspenders I gambled everything I had on a dream, on an idea.  I gambled it on the desert; I gambled it on all the little towns like Barstow and Lone Pine and Tuba, Arizona and Capitan, New Mexico. I rolled the dice that there was a story there lurking like a scorpion in a yucca.

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The Magical Dunes of White Sands

words + photos by Jean Kepler Ross

They say one picture is worth a thousand words. I believe being there is worth a thousand pictures.

For several years, I edited a travel guide about New Mexico and saw many photos of the gorgeous white sand dunes in southern New Mexico known as White Sands. Each photo illustrated the beauty of the dunes - sensuous mounds of sand, blooming yuccas, delicate lavender wild flowers, kids jumping off the dunes into space...it all intrigued me. I traveled in that area a few times but never had a chance to actually visit White Sands until a few weeks ago.

I was visiting a good friend who lives just out of La Luz, near Alamogordo. We watched sunsets from the west-facing portal of her house and, through a notch between mountains, looked out at White Sands in the distance...it beckoned me. I remembered all the photos I had seen and I knew it was the right time to go.

We visited White Sands National Monument late one morning. The monument is part of the worldʼs largest gypsum dune field - 275 square miles in all; about 40% lies within the monument and the rest is home to White Sands Missile Range. Some of the dunes are active and move to the northeast about thirty feet each year, while others move very little. Gypsum is clear and translucent, but scratches on the grains cause light to reflect in a way that makes them appear white.

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The Bosque Is For The Birds

words + photos by Laurie Gilberg Vander Velde


“Maybe I will go to the car and get my tripod,” I said to my husband.  We were at the edge of a mostly frozen pond, standing on snowpack, bundled up against the 19 degree cold in the pre-dawn dark.  A glimmer of light was starting to show in the sky.  We had staked out a spot in the line of tripod-wielding photographers with their mega-humongous lenses  We were all waiting for the awakening snow geese and sandhill cranes to perform their morning “fly out.”  We were at Bosque del Apache, a National Wildlife Refuge near San Antonio, New Mexico about an hour south of Albuquerque.  It’s a place known to many serious bird watchers who throng to the area in the winter to watch thousands and thousands -- and thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes come and go.

We are not avid birders, nor am I a zealous photographer.  How could I be?  I love taking pictures and dabble in PhotoShop, but I tote a point-and-shoot camera.  It’s top of the line and somewhat flexible, but it’s still a point-and-shoot, and the SLR crowd look at me with some disdain.  Much as I would love to use a digital SLR and be able to change lenses, my body just can’t schlepp that much weight.  And my husband, despite my batting my eyelids at him, has turned me down flat.  It was hard not to be intimidated by the very serious looking phalanx of expensive equipment lined up on tripods waiting for “the moment.”

Our home is now in Santa Fe, so we made the easy two plus hour drive to the Bosque (means “forest” in Spanish) the night before, aiming to get there in late afternoon in hopes of seeing the “fly in.”  This is the time during the golden hour before the sun sets and the moments after sunset when tens of thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes fly in.  A foot of snow had closed the refuge a couple of days before, but the plows had sort of cleared the roads.  The observation decks were still snow covered.  The big problem was that there were limited areas of open, unfrozen water in the ponds, and the birds want to land on open water where they are safer from predators.  The helpful folks at the visitors’ center can tell you where the birds landed the night before, but the birds don’t file a flight plan, so we can only guess where they might land tonight.

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Traveling Back Through Time in Taos

by Susanna Starr


Although Starr Interiors, the gallery that I’ve had for decades, has been housed in what was once the home of one of the founding artists of Taos, New Mexico, E.I. Couse, only recently have I gotten entranced with the history of the building. I’ve known about it, but it’s always been in the abstract. My deed was signed under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, but the building which was originally constructed as a private home, existed long before that. I’d never given much thought to the previous owners and the part they played in the colorful history of Taos.

Since making a connection with Virginia Couse and her husband, Ernie Levitt, who have the Couse Foundation, I’ve become inspired to do some of my own research into this historic building. They’ve been good enough to provide us with some photos when Virginia’s grandfather and his wife, the first Virginia, lived in the house, from 1906-1909, calling it Las Golondrinas. It was there that her grandfather built his studio by opening up the roof and adding on what looked like a greenhouse to provide him with the northern light he needed to paint by.

He also often painted in the courtyard. This courtyard was beautiful then, as now, and a photograph caoturs Couse sitting in the doorway at his easel with a handsome young model from the Pueblo standing in front of him. In another, we see him sitting in the courtyard on one of the rocking chairs with his wife stretched out on the grass, hollyhocks and Virginia creepers lining the sides of the courtyard.

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Moving Back to the Old Home Town

by Jim Terr 

I had lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico for 23 years before it occurred to me to offer to move back to Las Vegas, New Mexico (the “original” Las Vegas!), 65 miles east, where I was raised, to help care for my mom, aged 92 at the time.

photo by jonnyphoto via flickr.comMy brother had been doing the honors (living with her, in her beautiful red-brick Victorian we were raised in) for a year, and I thought I’d offer to relieve him. My mom couldn’t believe my offer, recalling that a year earlier, when she had asked me if I’d like to move over there, I had responded “I’d rather slit my wrists.” 

My suicidal reluctance had been due to my attitude that Santa Fe was fascinating, culturally alive, hip, filled with beautiful, interesting people and romantic prospects, whereas Las Vegas (population 15,000) was insular, uninteresting, provincial, stagnant. 

As I was cleaning up to move out of the place I was living in, my ever-active songwriting mind was generating a beautiful tribute song about Las Vegas, my home town, perhaps as a coping mechanism, a reflection of my deeper excitement about moving back there despite my well-developed bad attitudes about the place.  

Now, a little over six months since moving back to Las Vegas, I am able to see more clearly what a tremendous transition was involved in moving back – and in gradually overcoming the horrible attitudes I had developed about my dear little old home town.

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The secret of Taos blue corn

by Eric Lucas


Hardly anything seems secret about a kernel of blue corn. It’s the size and shape of a baby’s tooth, the indigo color of ocean dusk, not rock-hard but sturdy, like old pine.

Such a seed would be a secret, were it a product of American industrial agriculture—patented, engineered at a molecular level, sold under some trade name like Blue 7X-RR. You would pay a large Midwestern company to have some; you’d use huge machines like science fiction robots to lay it in the ground; pour on it chemicals with carbon-chain formulas as long as Finnish words; autoclave it into foods as artificial as plastic. And you’d get your pants sued off if you attempted to replicate it or reproduce it in any way.

Photo by Manya Kaczkowski, 2010But the handful of blue corn seeds I’m holding represent a gift from, first of all, Robert Mirabal, a Taos Pueblo resident; also a gift from two millennia and the ground on which a billion people live. Corn is the bedrock of civilization in the Western Hemisphere. It built a dozen empires in Mexico and South America; helped create two dozen thriving cities in the desert Southwest about which Spanish explorers marveled so much that their colonizer, Don Juan de Oñate, declared his conquest a “kingdom.” Nuevo Mexico; it’s called New Mexico now, but still part of the kingdom of corn. And the seeds Mirabal has given me are no secret, just gifts from that kingdom’s treasure.


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Discover the Exotic on a Road Trip

by Vera Marie Badertscher


“None of your business,” she said.  The short, curly, white hair bounced as she shook her head, but the brown eyes smiled in her beautiful, tanned and weathered face.  Half Navajo, Suzie (not her real name) has lived in Rio Grand pueblos in New Mexico all her life.  We were sitting in a rambling adobe house near the village where she lives with her husband. Grandchildren and daughters droppied in from time to time as we talked. The smell of cedar wood smoke curled around us, and tin-framed pictures of saints glinted on the walls.

Dancers at San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1942. Ansel Adams via Wikipedia CommonsI travel to find new ways of seeing the world.  Although all humans deal with some basic questions,  various cultures find different answers.  How do we show respect to others? Where did we come from? Who created us? How do we ensure good fortune, food, and shelter? What do we need to know?  The more the answers differ from our own, the more exotic the culture seems.

The curt reply, “None of your business,” came from Suzie, a lively Pueblo elder who fervently believes in the Catholic religion, but just as devotedly follows ancient ways.  People come to her for counsel and healing.  Although Suzie inherited an outgoing personality and sense of humor from her Navajo mother, she got her sense of propriety from living in her father's Pueblo culture  for all of her 80 years.

I visited Suzie's husband Joe (not his real name) while writing a book about Navajo artist, Quincy Tahoma.  Finding this couple turned out to be a grand slam for a biographer. Tahoma, a little older than Joe, had been a mentor to Joe when they both attended Santa Fe Indian School. Joe's father gained fame as one of the first Pueblo painters to sell his work, and, now in his eighties, Joe has returned to painting that he had abandoned after his school days. 

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by Anne Hillerman 


In addition to nearsightedness and a deep sense of curiosity, my Dad and I shared a love of good stories. After his death two years ago, I had the opportunity to travel in his tire tracks. My road trip became a lesson in discovery, geographically and emotionally, showing me aspects of my father I had never seen and beautiful places I’d never visited. Ghosts have a creepy reputation, but my father’s made the perfect traveling companion.

Let’s start at the beginning. My Dad was Tony Hillerman. During his 35 years of writing best-selling mysteries, millions of fans treasured his stories of Navajo detectives solving crimes on the panoramic Navajo Nation. He also inspired me to start The Tony Hillerman Writers’ Conference, where he served as our most popular faculty member for several years. 

Before Dad died in late October of 2008, my photographer husband Don Strel and I had launched our own book project, “Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn” to show readers who had never been to Indian Country the settings in which the fictional Tribal Officers solved crimes. I gathered quotes from Dad’s books that described places where his detectives pause to comment on the scenery in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Then we hit the road for Baby Rocks, Teec Nos Pos, Toadlena, Church Rock, Kayenta, Tsaile, Tuba City and other breathtaking places Dad loved.

Don and I finished the book with both relief and regret a few months after Dad died. We decided to promote it and honor my father’s memory with talks and slideshows to support public libraries. Little did I know that I would be getting most of the benefit, priceless stories from people in the audience whom my Dad had touched: loyal readers, distant relatives, Indian consultants, long-lost friends, and former co-workers and students from his days at the University of New Mexico.

At the small Placitas, N.M. library, a woman came up to me after my talk. “I have to tell you how I stalked your father,” she said. I was all ears.

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Horseback Riding Off The Grid

by Carolyn Handler Miller

Because of a silver-colored horse named Concho and a notorious outlaw named Billy the Kid, my tether to the digital world got snapped. And, as it turned out, I was grateful. I’ll explain.

It all started about a year ago, when I heard about an intriguing trail riding vacation called the Tunstall Ride. It had a Billy the Kid theme and was based in southern New Mexico, major Kid territory. According to Beth MacQuigg, the ride manager, there would be three days of trail riding and we’d be traveling over some of the same rangeland that the Kid would have ridden over.

Riders would be housed in guest rooms on a private ranch adjacent to the property where the Kid once worked as a ranch hand. Known as the Tunstall Ranch, it was owned by his boss, Englishman John Henry Tunstall. Billy was riding with him one day when Tunstall was gunned down, was the first person to be murdered during the infamous Lincoln County War. 

That bloody conflict aside, the land we’d be riding over was reputed to be some of the Kid’s favorite country. Beth told me that most people would be bringing their own horses, but for those of us who were horseless, like me, rental horses could be provided. As someone who loves horses, trail riding, and Western lore, the Tunstall Ride sounded immensely appealing, and I signed up. I signed my husband up, too. Though Terry doesn’t ride, he could hang out at the ranch and join us for meals and explore the historic sites with us that we’d be visiting without the horses.

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Zen and the Art of Doing Nada

by Ellen Barone

Not too long ago, I was chatting with a guest in the lobby of the Inn on the Alameda, where I love to stay in Santa Fe. Perhaps some of you know her: 30-something, Pilates lean, size zero designer jeans, stylish hair cut, perfectly nice. When conversation turned to travel, as often happens in hotels, she told me that she and her husband had recently returned from an African safari. "Sure, the wildlife was awesome, but what they don't tell you," she said, "is that there's a lot of down time with nothing much to do. Four hours a day, at least," she said, "to entertain yourself with no gym, no Internet, no TV, no cell coverage."

So there I was, in my not-even-close-to-size-zero Patagonia quick-dry travel pants, snuggled in front of a flickering piñon fire, quite prepared to do absolutely nothing for the evening, wondering if I should admit to this kind stranger that my favorite part of any vacation is her dreaded down time.

In fact, I confess, one of my favorite escapes was a month spent doing nada at a friend's no gym, no Internet, no TV, no cell coverage, Mexican beach casita. I like to think of myself as an adventuresome sort, the kind of gal that says yes to rappelling down 9,000-foot mountains, yes to a 2-week camel trek across the Moroccan Sahara, yes to cycling up a rumbling Mount Etna, yes to sailing across the Atlantic, and have in fact done all of the above. But, to my ego's horror, I have come to discover that I am, in all honesty, an A-plus student of doing nothing. I can hang-ten in a hammock, watch butterflies, swing in a porch swing, listen to surf and read 17 books in one month, with the laziest of them.

Raised by Presbyterian parents who measured your worth by achievement, I grew up thinking sloth was a deadly sin. Until a few years ago, like any good addict, I hid my idleness well. I'd take the dogs for a walk in the mountains, just so I could tuck in beside the stream with a good book or my journal; I went to the gym only to go through the motions of a workout. I bicycled to the coffeehouse... not for exercise but for muffins and a mocca; I hired a personal trainer to kick my ass.

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Dead And Dragged Out On The Throughway: Is this really a better way to go than by air?

by Sallie Bingham

Santa Fe to Tucson in a one-day mad dash

Jack the Pup is riding shotgun on the roommate’s lap as we head west on I-40 at nine AM, planning to reach my sister’s house in Tucson in time for dinner. The first miles across the desert, numbingly familiar by now, yield as this time we’d planned a back roads excursion south, just across the Arizona border. The map shows one of those intriguing dotted lines, a scenic highway, just what we need after hours of rumbling 18-wheelers…

To ready ourselves for adventure, we stop in Gallup at what is now our favorite eatery: Earl’s Family Restaurant. Here in Navajo Country Earl’s is shopping center, family reunion, and good staple New Mexico food: guacamole, burritos and so forth. Outside, Navajo craftspeople jam the sidewalk with their tables; inside, they patrol the aisles, silently holding out pins, bracelets, necklaces, and, in a departure from the usual, a pair of weird lamps, the ceramic bases coated with sand and then painted with iconic motifs. I’m charmed, I must buy at twenty dollars each, then wonder, too late, where in the world I’m going to put them….

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A Potter's Life


My 11-year-old Audi rattles down the dusty dirt track road, across the cattle guard, through the rusted open gate and past the listless cattle that turn an indifferent eye to my arrival. Four miles ago, I’d rolled through the nearest town, White Oaks, a once booming, now bust, ghost town, boasting, at last count, population twenty-three. Preceding that was an hour-long drive across empty two-lane county roads through desert scrubland, a sleepy motel and gas station crossroad, past the vacant plots of a fledgling real estate development, and over the same transcontinental railroad tracks that had once carried East Coast pioneers to the Frontier West.

With the eager anticipation of a great journey to an exotic land, my husband, Hank, and I make this pilgrimage to our friend Ivy Heymann’s pottery studio, and home, at least three or four times a year. In the tradition of rural hospitality, we go to visit over a cup of coffee, to see a valued friend, to add a new piece to our growing collection of Ivy’s pottery, and, if we’re lucky, to learn a thing or two—about art and living.

A waif of a woman with a vivacious spirit and sturdy practicality, Ivy is legendary in these parts. The Georgia O’Keefe of Lincoln County, New Mexico. What she makes is fine porcelain pottery, hand-crafted with the patience and simple elegance of a perfectionist. Who she is, I think, is extraordinary; although, I suspect she’d cringe at this depiction.

Like the colorful mismatched mosaic tile floor in her studio office, the story behind the artist is vivid with the uneven shards of an uncommon life. Arriving to the region in 1975, just out of college, the soft-spoken little blue-eyed blonde from back East proved to be every bit the equal of the cagey miners and ranchers who preceded her. Paying $500 an acre for her 15-acre spread from an obstreperous rancher rumored to have run a handful of buyers off the land to resell it, Ivy set about the business of building – adobe brick by adobe brick – her studio, house, craft and life.

Today, if you visit, you'll find a new building under construction situated a stone’s throw from her studio. “For when I’m 85,” Ivy says as she shows us around the light-filled one-room structure made of recycled foam and cement that’s to be her new home. “No more trekking up the hill from that shack,” she says gesturing to her home across the property. “It was supposed to be temporary, but who knew that temporary would last 30-years.” The new 750-square-foot living space, like the artist herself, is about both form and function, from the south-facing curved wall of windows that showcase the surrounding desert landscape and mountain vistas to the recycled tin roof and efficient galley-style kitchen.

On the drive home, it feels good to imagine Ivy snug and sheltered in her cozy haven, and from the looks of it, well before she’s 85. 

For more information, visit www.whiteoakspottery.com

*Check out my new photo gallery featuring White Oak's Pottery

Travel expert Ellen Barone did what many of us only dream of doing: at the age of 35, she traded a successful academic career for the wild blue yonder and set out to explore the world and herself. In the decade since that intrepid decision, she has turned passion into profession, journeying to more than 60 countries in search of evocative images and life-enriching adventures.

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