Monday, September 15, 2014

Visiting with Denise Chavez at the Casa Camino Real

Casa Camino Real
Tornillo Street, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Part of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail

Casa Camino Real, located in an adobe building dating back to the 1800s, is a bookstore. It is also the latest home to the Border Book Festival, which is a vibrant part of the Las Cruces multicultural community. From their web page: [The annual Border Book Festival has] brought over 8,000 writers, filmmakers, storytellers and multi-genre artists to audiences of all ages and backgrounds to share their, talent, stories and art. At the core of all our work is the belief that Art does indeed Heal Lives.

We visited the Casa a few weeks ago. It's not like just going to a bookstore, although the book, art, and music selection is both exciting and esoteric. Going to the Casa is an unforgettable experience. 

Our visit was a party for our senses. The rooms were filled with color, art, and textiles. There were good smells coming from the kitchen and some bouncy, nostalgic music was playing. 

Of course, the most colorful part of any visit to the Casa is meeting with Denise Chavez. She is an author, playwright, actor, teacher, a community and cultural advocate, and more. That description just begins to tell about Denise; to have a conversation with her is hypnotic, exciting, thought-provoking, and always memorable. You can read a brief interview with her here, another here, and a biography with lists of her works here

I had just finished reading her book Taco Testimony; Meditations on Food, Family, and Culture. Although I felt rather shy about doing so, it was a great honor to sit down with Denise in the living room of the Casa and discuss her book, her memories about growing up in Las Cruces, and her thoughts about the intertwined cultures to be found here in the Borderlands. Read a little more about Taco Testimony here.  For a real treat, watch and listen to this video as Denise talks about her book at the previous location of the Border Book Festival headquarters in the old Frietze grocery store in the nearby town of Mesilla.

When we left with our arms full of books, some in English and some in Spanish, some that we had bought and some that were gifts, we believed we were ready to read whole novels in Spanish.  Why? Because that hypnotic Denise had told us that we could do so, and we believed her. 


The Casa Camino Real is located at 314 South Tornillo St., Las Cruces, NM 88001. The phone number is 575-523-3988. Call for the bookstore hours (mostly open on weekends). 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Retracing the Bike Adventure, Part 2: John Brown Canyon and into Moab

See Part 1 of this adventure here

I thought that this rock formation in the canyon looked a lot like the now-fallen Old Man of the Mountain in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

After our lunch at the Gateway Canyons Resort in Gateway, Colorado, we started up John Brown Canyon. I had heard so much about this part of the mountain biking trip, and everything I heard was true. It was grueling, it was all uphill, and it was exhausting. And this was taking the ride in the comfy passenger seat of our Prius, and I didn't even have to drive!

This was the view at the top, or what I thought was the top of the road. As Beez pointed out, though, the road just never stopped going up, up, and up some more. 

Dinosaur tracks from an unmarked trail off to the side

This is the little car that could.

This shot is to give you the sense of the immense drop-off on the side of the road. I couldn't get my foot to go out any closer to the edge. 

I hope that this shot gives a better idea of the drop at this point. 
Looking down toward Monument Valley, Utah.

I have no photos for the next part of the journey, but it is certainly engraved in my memory. The road finally started going down but, if anything, it was far worse than going up. Picture a very narrow and twisty dirt road, covered with slippery gravel and broken rocks, with our Toyota inching along through the blind curves. To our right the road was overhung by those red cliffs that break off in car- and house-sized chunks. On the left side of the car, the cliffs fell off for what looked (to me) like thousands of feet. I couldn't see the bottom.

By the time I was thinking that perhaps we should turn back, there was no longer any place to turn around. I wondered what would happen if we went over the edge and later read about a hiker in the canyon who found a smashed truck and the body of a man who had been missing for 26 years (that story can be seen here). 

We eventually found ourselves winding through fantastically-shaped red rocks on the outskirts of Moab. Moab was the end-point of the big bike ride, and I shared some of the mixed feelings of regret and relief the bike riders must have felt at the end of their grueling journey. The 215 miles of trails they had traveled were amazingly beautiful and crushingly challenging for them. I have a huge appreciation for their accomplishment!

We spent a relaxing evening in town, had breakfast at the Moab Diner ("the best green chile in Utah", and it was!), then headed out on the road for home.

Good-bye to Moab

The last of the red cliffs of Utah

Approaching New Mexico, and a new landscape appears

Another blurry photo taken on the fly