Tales From Taos – Nomads for a Day


Part of our workshop experience in Taos was about roaming around. We spent a morning walking in the early morning light out to the Morada that sits adjacent to the Mabel Dodge Luhan house. These long shadows make their own dance on the pavement as we headed out.


These absolutely gorgeous Morning Glories caught my eye, mimicking the piercing blue New Mexican skies.


The black cross that sits in back of the Morada (that Georgia O'Keefe so famously painted), never ceases to amaze me and move me as a shape against the landscape and sky.


On Tuesday night we were each given a packet with a destination assignment for the next day. Wednesday was Taos Nomad Day and we were to light out and become observers and reporters of the day's journey, the moments and characters we met. It's really quite amazing how just being in an open frame of mind and observation and serendipity, can change and enhance your experience. 

My destination was the Ranchos de Taos Church on the southern edge of town. Last year my destination was the Taos Pueblo and like last year my transportation was the Chile Line bus. It runs north and south all day long, from the Taos Pueblo to the Church. I'm beginning to realize it's where it all really happens. 

The painting above is a very famous one by Georgia O'keefe. Lovely in it's forms and mass, it's always given me the feeling that it existed outside of time or at the very least in the middle of nowhere. But as I crossed the street and saw the real deal, I realized it sits in the middle of reality – a parking lot. Just like Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Giza, their magic is surrounded by the 21st century. Undeterred and open to the day I stopped at the first shop that borders that parking lot.

The Orr's Trading Post has been in this spot, in this building, 168 years longer than the church has been – and it's been there since 1815. A very old adobe, it once had cannons on it's roof to ward off intruders.


The wonderful proprietor of this amazing treasure trove of a shop is none other than Mr. Bill Orr himself. His father ran this trading post before him. He not only collects and trades with many of the northern New Mexico Pueblos and Hopi and Navaho of Arizona, he's quite the artist/craftsman himself. Here he's showing me a "roach" that he had just finished for a Taos Pueblo boy. The roach is worn as a top headdress at many Pow Wow dances and ceremonies. They are made from dyed and natural porqupine, deer, beaver and bear fur. This one is very contemporary in it's coloring and Bill wasn't so sure about it, but I think it's quite stunning.


Bill is one of only 8 people in the US and Canada still making these by hand. And he's got a box of orders to fill from all over the country. It takes him a good solid day to make them, and it's painstaking work.


This is his worktable. He runs a string along the wooden frame and then takes tufts of the dyed fur and hand ties it to the line. Adding layers and layers, and then sews it onto a base. Very beautiful and very inspiring. To think that this kind of tradition is still being done by hand, in small workshops like this brings tears to my eyes. Bill was so friendly and welcoming. We spent an hour and a half chatting about his work, the history of the Pueblo and his amazing native art collection. All part of the assignment that day – be open and inquisitive – my day was off to a good start.


After an amazing lunch of stacked blue corn enchiladas smothered "Christmas Tree" style with red and green chile, I walked around to the front of the beautiful Ranchos de Taos church and sat under the blessedly shady trees for a little drawing (also part of the day's assignment). 


I focused on the upper right tower of the church and just let my eye draw what it saw. It's very hard for me not to editorialize at this point…the inner critic screaming at top of his obnoxious lungs. So I will not give into it and will say that sitting under the shady trees and really looking at the church and drawing and filling in with a little watercolor was one of the most deeply enjoyable parts of my week in Taos. And every time I look a this little painting I'm taken back, straight away, to that hot, solo day in one of my favorite places on earth. Which is truly priceless.


On the way back to the Mabel Dodge Luhan house from my nomadic day, I of course had to stop and admire these screaming pink Hollyhocks. I think of them as the official flower of Taos and Santa Fe. 

Meanwhile, when I got on the bus to head back, I was the only passenger and I began to chat up the bus driver. It turns out he had been a summer driver for Mabel Dodge Luhan and her husband Tony. At this point they must have been pretty elderly, and didn't drive anymore. He regaled me with a couple of stories of keeping Tony's secrets and Mabel's doubting of their veracity. Mabel and Tony are so legendary in Toas, it was great to hear a few first hand stories. All this plus a very drunk Pueblo man, a young hispanic man dressed like a gang member (but very nice and chatty) and 3 teenage girls discussing why it was so stupid that they had to take anger management, just because of that little hitting incident last year at school. I kid you not. All this in the 20 minute bus ride from the south of town to the Plaza, my stop that day. I'm telling you, the bus is where it's at. Characters welcome.


On Saturday, on the way out of town, I stopped for gas and this guy pulled up next to me, riding in the back of a pick up truck. Clearly he'd seen better days when he walked the earth under his own power, but he was still quite imposing amid the junk in the back. I struck up a conversation with the driver and found out that he was just coming back from a garage sale and it turns out that when they put this guy by the garage sale sign, they get a lot more business. I can see why. 

I took away so much from my week in Taos. And being a nomad for a day has opened up a place in me that wants to be more connected to my everyday experience – open to adventure in the little moments and open to who and what's around me. Bears and all.

8 Responses to Tales From Taos – Nomads for a Day

  1. aw, yes!! anger management and bears in back of trucks…..nomads meeting reality!! such a gift that wednesday always is…taking out of the mabel bubble!!

  2. Thanks so much for the virtual Taos visit! I am very curious about the Sas Colby workshop. Do you think she will have it again next year?
    Would love to know of any other good art workshops in that area.

  3. What a treat to revisit Taos with you! I was there in February at Mabel’s House for a Perrella/Bagby workshop and fell in love with the area. We, too, took a trip to the church, though our photos and drawings have piles of snow in them. Taos and Sas – what an unbeatable combination. Reading your blogs, I could almost smell the pinon smoke.
    Erin in Morro Bay

  4. The perfect place for an artist (or anyone else, for that matter) to take refuge and recharge.
    I can smell the pinion and sage now….
    Lovely glance.
    You are the Ultimate Treat for an armchair traveler.

  5. Another great Taos post! I was giddy seeing the Rancho de Taos church in June, just right there in a parking lot! I enjoyed your take on the day, and will definitely take the bus the next time I am in Taos.

    I am putting Sas’ workshop on my bucket list!

  6. Meant to write this the other day, oooops. I had wondered if there wasn’t more to your Taos trip than you told. This completes it beautifully. Thanks. Mom

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