Sometimes when people tell you that they know of a book you should read you just nod and say that your list is really long because their suggestion just isn’t your style. This latest book, Blood and Thunder, wasn’t one of these books. I was sitting around telling my friend Chris about immersing myself in a whole bunch of books about The West this summer and he immediately suggested that I read it. Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides was simply fantastic.
I didn’t know anything about Kit Carson. I didn’t know anything about ho he fit in with the Mexican War, New Mexico’s history, and the Navajo Long Walk. He was just a name that was famous in the west not one that had been involved with a huge swath of the southwest becoming American soil.
Furthermore, Sides weaves Carson’s story with that of John C. Frémont, Steven Watts Kearny, the governors of New Mexico, Navajo leaders, and more. All the stories are carefully woven together and create a wonderful picture of New Mexico and Arizona in the mid 1800s.
While I enjoyed The Earth Is Weeping, it wasn’t wasn’t as readable as Blood and Thunder. I started this book just before going to Washington and given some uninterrupted reading time on planes from Montrose to Seattle, I devoured the book and finished it just as my plane landed back in Denver. (I didn’t have any time to read while I was in the Pacific Northwest.)
A sign of an excellent book about history is that it leaves you feeling like you got a pretty complete picture of the topic at hand while also adding to your list of books to read because it raised other ideas and questions that were tangential to the topic. Sides’s Blood and Thunder more than met the standard. In this case, I was quite happy that the next book on my shelf is a biography of Frémont!
I’ve passed through Santa Fe several times but my trip down to the WCWS was the first time that I had time to stop and absorb some of the history in the Plaza. After leaving Santa Fe, I stopped somewhat impulsively at Pecos National Historic Park where I learned more about Pueblo culture of New Mexico and tried to relate it to Chimney Rock.
As I was leaving Pecos, I made a stop in the bookstore and bought Miera y Pacheco: A Renaissance Spaniard in Eighteenth-Century New Mexico since I was pretty sure I would finish Under the Banner of Heaven during the trip (I wasn’t wrong). I’d learned about Miera when I visited the Telluride Historical Museum’s map exhibit last winter and fell in love with his 1778 map of the southwest he complied after the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition.
While the text of Kessel’s text is a little on the dry side I definitely made a list of places that I want to visit next time I’m in Santa Fe. I didn’t realize that in addition to being a cartographer, Miera also made altar screens and other religious objects. (It seems that there’s still a couple in the area.) I also learned a lot more about how Santa Fe was established and how the relationship of New Spain to New Mexico worked.
Not surprisingly, Miera y Pacheco made me want to know more about all the things he was involved in, especially the Dominguez-Escalante expedition (for which Domniguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and their canyons are named). It’s easy to forget that colonial Spanish history really did affect this area and I’m excited to continue to learn more.
Also driven by visiting Pecos (and then a little bit by reading about Miera and his historical context) was needing to know more about the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Pecos Pueblo had a very large mission church before the Revolt but after the “bloodless” return of the Spanish a much smaller mission church was built. Wanting to know more about how that revolt came to be and how it affected the colonization of New Mexico, I ordered a copy of David Robert’s The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove The Spanish Out of the Southwest.
The Pueblo Revolt didn’t contain as much information as I had hoped about the events leading up to the Revolt. It rehashed in a more condensed way the history of the Spanish in New Mexico (which was helpful!) and told the story of how the revolt occurred as well as how the Spanish reconquered New Mexico. Roberts very explicitly states that he isn’t necessarily trying to create a “balanced” tale of how the Spanish and the Puebloans both contributed to the bloodshed in the Revolt which I found refreshing; I find it pretty hard to buy that the blame should be evenly shared in this case.
I’ve purchased another couple of books as a result of my current colonial history obsession and I can’t wait to read them and share them with you!
(Clearly, I’ve released myself from book buying restriction because a) I’ve met some financial goals and b) because they only need to move across the yard next time…)
After leaving Santa Fe, I knew I didn’t need to rush on to Oklahoma City so I started looking for things to visit. One of the things that immediately jumped out to me as I looked at my Gazetteer (yup, even with phones and technology, I travel with the red De Lorme atlases!) was Pecos National Historic Park. It wasn’t located very far off the interstate so I piloted Ruth that a-way.
This was yet another NPS unit that I knew nothing about when I showed up (just like Chimney Rock earlier in the trip). I was really excited to see the trail rules sign as I walked into the visitors center that said that dogs were allowed on the trail!
Pecos National Historic Park documents the Cicuye pueblo and the Spanish missions that came afterwards starting with Coronado in about 1540. (Yes, I typed that right FIFTEEN FORTY.) The mission came to be called Pecos. This was the site of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (oh, don’t you worry, The Pueblo Revolt has ended up on my reading list, you’ll hear about it eventually).
Because of the revolt, the Spanish actually built two mission churches at the site. The first was bigger, its footprint is the rock wall surrounding the ruins of the smaller second church.
I really enjoyed visiting this park. The video at the Visitor’s Center felt a little dated but had a ton of information. I did inquire about how closely this pueblo was tied with Chaco culture and the answer I got was pretty… unsatisfactory? My curiosity was mostly roused after having left Chimney Rock that had both kivas and pit houses. There seemed to be a lot of things labeled as kivas at Pecos and nothing called a pit house so that sort of piqued my interest. Anyone know anything about that?
…guess I need to go visit Chaco Canyon…
After I finished up in Los Alamos, I made the short drive down to Santa Fe. It was really hot so it was clear that this was going to need to be a dog friendly adventure (aren’t they all?) but fortunately Santa Fe was super welcoming. I’m always a bit hesitant about walking into shops with Sprocket but honestly? no one has complained yet. (He usually just lays down and goes to sleep.)
I’ve passed through Santa Fe before but I’d never just wandered around the Plaza. The park in the middle was really pretty and I loved the old architecture. Unfortunately, I’m not super excited about either turquoise jewelry (or really any jewelry) or Native American art so most of the shops didn’t really strike my fancy.
We wandered up to the area around the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral but I was afraid to go inside with Sprocket. (Yes, I appreciated the irony even in the moment.)
Next we explored a side street sort of randomly. I didn’t particularly have a game plan for this adventure so we were just wandering! Fortunately, it took me to the oldest church structure in the USA and the oldest house in the US!
While I was looking for a place to eat lunch with a patio and some good New Mexican food, I stumbled across 109 East Palace, the Santa Fe base of the Manhattan Project where arrivals visited before heading up “The Hill” to Los Alamos.
It took a little deciding but I finally sat down for lunch at La Casa Sena. Sprocket and I were treated excellently, I greatly enjoyed my jalapeño-cucumber margarita and my lunch was fantastic. It was nice to sit in the cool patio and enjoy my book!
I was really drained after lunch. I’m not sure if it was the heat, the driving, or just the residual school year catching up with me but when we headed up into the mountains near town to find a camping spot, I promptly climbed in the back of the Jeep about 4:30pm and fell asleep. I managed to rouse myself about 8pm to take Sprocket for a walk and went back to sleep for the night. I guess I needed a vacation or something, ha!
After I left Chimney Rock, I headed south through Chama where we stopped to stretch our legs and then continued south towards Los Alamos. I’d never been to the Atomic City but it seemed as good a time as any to check it out.
I started at the Los Alamos History Museum first thing the next morning. I knew a little bit about Los Alamos but only in the vague sort of way where I remembered that it was important from AP US History and what I gleaned from Elizabeth Church’s excellent novel The Atomic Weight of Love.
I certainly knew nothing about the history of the Los Alamos Ranch School and my New Mexican history in general is pretty shaky. I was pretty shocked by the pretty impressive list of alumni and other attendees.
Even though I knew a little bit more about the development of the bomb, it was really interesting to learn more about Oppenheimer and the rest of the scientists as well as how the social order worked in the early days. The museum gives an excellent concise but powerful picture of Los Alamos’s role in ending the war and the development of the atom bomb.
After I finished with the history museum, I headed down to the Bradbury Science Museum. Affiliated with Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Bradbury is free but honestly, I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as the history museum. The displays felt really busy which made reading them and following the story difficult. It was loud and I really just couldn’t focus so I decided it was time to move on.
Among the serious things I learned at the history museum I also learned this fun fact: Oppenheimer, called “Oppie” by peers, made a mean martini. I made sure to get a photo with him.
Albuquerque, New Mexico is famous for its balloon festival but it is also home to the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. Admission to the museum is $4 but on the 1st Friday of the month (except October) and on Sundays from 9am to 1pm (except during the balloon festival) it’s free!
After our antler hunting adventures, it was time to press on north towards Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The open spaces of New Mexico are so appealing and I snapped lots of photos along the way!
We parked alongside the road and checked out the lava at El Malpais National Monument. I would love to come back to this area and drive the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway and do some hiking and caving in the National Monument.
Then just north of where we stopped is an area called “The Narrows” and the scenery got spectacular.
Oh New Mexico. You deserve more of my attention. Someday.
I’ve always struggled with coming to an understanding of Four Corners archaeology. Although I really enjoyed the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding and visiting Mesa Verde, I’ve never been able to read something in a discplined enough fashion to understand how Chaco, Aztec Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Hovenweep, and Mesa Verde all hung together as cultures in the region.
When I downloaded House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest, Craig Childs’ writing transported me to a place where evidence of this vanished civilization was visible all across this high plateau landscape I’ve been wandering over the last couple of years. Childs focus on the Four Corners civilization was driven by his attachment to the Southwest. Aside from my intimate ties to the Pacific Northwest, I identified with his statement that “The impulse that commands me to go is balanced by another that commands me to stay, the two working together to send me into quick but returning orbits around certain places: the Mogollon Rim of Arizona, the low desert south of there, the high desert north, and the castle perimeter of the Rocky Mountains beyond. I am constantly in motion among these landscapes, yet my life rarely ranges any farther, tethered by history and experiences to the Southwest.”
I finally learned about how culture had developed in Chaco Canyon before spreading to Aztec Ruins, Solomon, and Mesa Verde. I learned how the Hopi, the Acoma, and the Zuni fit into the ancient Aztec history. I learned that the Navajo are completely unrelated to the Aztecs yet are responsible for the common name “Anazasi” meaning “enemy ancestor.”
As he moved from Chaco, north to the San Juan River and again into the Canyonlands before drifting south to Kayenta and Black Mesa, I found myself drawn in to a deeper history of these places I am beginning to know. When the book continued further and further south to the Mogollon and even to Northern Mexico, it enriched my understanding of what it means to wander and embrace these places.
I completely recommend House of Rain as a great introduction to the history of people in the Southwest from the twelfth century to the early fifteenth century, especially for people who love to put their feet to the ground as they learn.
After we left Wagontongue Mountain, we headed further into New Mexico for some more antler hunting. Team 3Up had quite a bit of luck!
One afternoon, I dropped F off on the top of Mangas Mountain after visiting the lookout: