21 September 2010

Yellowstone Lite

Autumn is my favorite time of year in New Mexico. The signs are everywhere: the aroma of roasting chili, the excitement of the state fair and balloon fiesta and the colors in the mountains are just some of the signs summer is reaching its end.

This past weekend I drove up to Valles Caldera -- a collapsed super volcanic caldera and the third largest caldera in the US -- just north of Albuquerque.

I guess you could call it Yellowstone Lite.

Whew... that sulfur smell was everywhere. The last eruption occurred about 50,000 years ago. A blip in geological time.

Thanks to the volcanic ash, there is lots of flora. From pine trees to wildflowers, simply gorgeous.

There are lots of hot springs in the area but beware you may also see tell-tale signs that some of them are 'clothes optional' even though it is prohibited.

As you enter the Valle Grande make sure you stop at the visitor's center and take the 45 minute van ride into the caldera grounds. It is only five bucks not to mention you can tell your friends you have driven into the heart of a volcanic caldera. The mound in the background is a lava dome, the youngest outcropping within the caldera.

After the tour of Valles Caldera we headed north on NM 4 to Bandelier National Monument [see previous posts for info on it's inhabitants].

A series of ladders takes you 140 feet up the cliff wall to the alcoves that were inhabited native Americans before the Conquistadores arrived.

It was a beautiful autumn day here in New Mexico.

I am SO not looking forward to the cold gray days of winter.

I'm out.



09 September 2010


Early September signals the return of many traditions in New Mexico like roasting green chilis and the return of Old Man Gloom.

Last September my friend Dale was visiting and I took him up to Santa Fe where we watched the original 'burning man' burn.

We had actually arrived in Santa Fe a little late as we made a stop in Madrid, NM.

Madrid is a very cool little artist community on the east side of the Sandia Mountains. There are all kinds of arts and crafts shops and a restaurant or two. Madrid has a kind of funky/kitschy feel to it.

By the time we got into Santa Fe the plaza had pretty much closed up shop so we missed all the cool booths.

We parked a couple of blocks away from Fort Marcy Park and followed the crowds.

There was not much to be seen once there. The obligatory souvenir booth which had ok t-shirts [wtf - no black T's?? I would think that would be a given]. I saw a cool bobble head of Zozobra for $25 bucks...eh I could do with out it. I ended up not purchasing anything.

Next, the food vendors....err.. only 8 of them?? Kinda disappointing. We had some shredded pork that was ok.

Once on the field we pretty much just waited with everyone else. There were bands playing but nothing else.

What suprised me most were the people having picnics on picnic blankets. It was crowded enough with tens of thousands of people around you with out having to worry about stepping on someones blanket.

Also I was very suprised smoking was allowed on the field. Most curious.

The festivities started around nine pm -- for five bucks it was worth the wait. The light show was pretty cool and the burning it self was pretty awesome.

Pagan type dancers came onto the stage first and da
nced around the giant marionette, followed by dancers with fire sticks. The music was perfectly eerie.

There was something eerie about the whole event. Thousands of people chanting "Burn him, burn him" the whole thing had a pagan feel to it. As I mentioned before, if I were a four year old in the audience it sure would freek me out.

Did I mention the odor of 'ganja' was very apparent...lol.

I would think an event as old as this one, 86 years, would be able to afford 'known' bands. I guess too many peoples pockets are being lined.

Anyway... Zozobra was 'burned'. It was very creepy seeing his head on fire with flames shooting out of his eye sockets and mouth and him moaning and wailing about, ultimately seeing his head fall off in flames.

When all was said and done, it was pretty cool. The crowd then proceded to wander the streets of downtown Santa Fe yelling, "Viva la fiestas!!!"

Eighty-six years ago artist William Shuster, Jr came to Santa Fe to paint and would stay on to help build the arts community in The City Different.

Shuster created the first Zozobra, or 'Old Man Gloom' [now a 40 ft tall marionette, which Guiness has verified is the largest marionette in the world], an effigy of all the gloom and dispair from the past year, to be burned.

Tradition holds that you are supposed to offer your gloom
and dispair in documents or notes to be burned with Zozobra at the Fort Marcy Park grounds near the plaza in Santa Fe.

This was a busy week for the city as it was also the beginning of the year long celebration of Santa Fe's 400th birthday

Yeah, I said 400th birthday. The state capitol, or 'roundhouse' is the oldest continuously occupied government building in the US. Santa Fe is also the highest state capital in the US...but I digress...

As Dale and I approached Fort Marcy Park we had to have some bbq from one of the food vendor
s... mmm even with out the sauce it was good.

Most of the 'events' take place on the plaza, at Fort Marcy Park there isn't really anything to do except wait for the 'burning' to begin. Yeah, there are bands playing live, but if you dont' like the music, all you do is wait...and we did for about two hours... but then.. it started....

About 40,000 people attend the ceremony. Why people would bring blankets and have a picnic on the grounds is beyond me. It's standing room only.

Maybe it's just me... but if I were a 4 year old watching this I'd be pretty skeeeered. This giant standing in front of you moaning and waving his arms around... it gets creepier though... check it out...

There is something eerie about 40,000 people shouting "Burn him, burn him!!!

Definitely one of the more interesting ways to spend an evening.

And so ends another adventure in the Land of the Zia.


If you can't be in Santa Fe this evening you CAN watch Zozobra burn online at KOB.COM at 8:30 pm Mountain Time, 9:30 Central and 10:30 eastern.

I'm out.