I walked up to the Río Grande gorge on the West Rim south of Taos and stood atop the basalt cliffs scanning for bighorn sheep, watching the cloud’s liquid movement in the cielo azul. The tumble of water changed sounds from a fuzzy gush to a bright roar when I looked over the edge at the stilted volcanic canyon walls. After ambling across the fragrant sagebrush mesa to this point Mai intoned in a hushed voice how immense the power of water is in carving this gorge. Her words touched against the silence like water splashing over dry stone.
When we look around Taos we can see the force of human actions at work on this place over time. On this high plateau and mountainous landscape innovations are happening at a high pace due to limitations and constraints on resources. A sense of limits draws our focus to making best use of what we have. Rangeland, water, and fertile soil are highly valued. Everything is precious. Human communities are rightfully cherished. The Taos Land Trust works at finding a sustainable balance of grazing to replenish grasslands and restore soil health. Energy efficient household ecology is cutting edge in Northern New Mexico. Solar power innovations focus on efficient use and improving transmission, storage and designing a better regulatory framework. Rainwater harvesting is being maximized with system improvements like underground cisterns for storage. Broadband internet is coming with fiber optic cables going overhead and underground to facilitate information exchange.
Every time we stepped out of the car the world came alive. When we started down the trail toward the confluence of the Río Pueblo de Taos and Río Grande we were swallowed by the eruption of space and silence. In these great spaces thoughts echo around and the whole time scale from moment to seasons to epochs, from ages to eons, spans the seamless embrace of a single day. We worked up quite an appetite for lunch at La Cueva Café. Delicioso.
Transportation is certainly an outstanding issue since the big open spaces can mean big travel. Putting walking, bicycling and animal power to use helps. A regional solar pioneer told me he blew all his carbon savings from his off the grid solar system, which supplied all of the power needs at his home, through the extra driving his family undertook based on their rural location. Having a strong village life and people living nearby helps. Building a complete local economy is enterprising and efficient. And making the tourist economy value added and non-extractive, while encouraging experiences with a light footprint, promote eco-balance and sustainability.
Driving is a serious act requiring responsibility. When I drive I pay close attention and appreciate what I’m doing because, as David Owen points out in Green Metropolis: “…a gallon of gasoline we burn today represents the transformed remnants of almost a hundred tons of prehistoric plant material—roughly the same quantity of biomass to be found in a forty-acre wheat field, including stems, leaves, and roots.” (68) Driving with care protects people and communities and makes precious fuel last longer. Enjoy staying in one place when possible.
Northern New Mexico’s vertical features thrust upward from the earth, sometimes out in the open, other times enfolded in a spectacular framework of surrounding landscape. So much variety, so much intimate detail, in one broad contrasting vista. Taos country recharged our spirits. It’s an enduring place that makes one look at the world differently. The first question upon getting there is how long can we stay. Upon leaving the last question is when are we going back. Good thing we live in New Mexico. Explore with love and care.