Journey with Jerry - The Piro and the Missions

Took another Journey with Jerry. (See previous Journal entries here and here.)  

San Miguel Mission 

San Miguel Mission  Socorro  NM

The church was locked up tight. We drove around the vast parking lot and I became acutely aware of what’s under the tires - probably a plaza and multi-story pueblo. 

We came to see the interior of Socorro’s San Miguel Mission. Our associate Chan Graham was involved in a renovation in the 1970s and considered it one of his favorite projects. His story is here

A man watering rose bushes in the churchyard told us that since “covida” they keep the church locked up except for services. Mass was at Five. Jerry asked him about the church and grounds and I admired the new expandable hose he was using. But our charm didn’t work. He didn’t have keys and we were a long way from mass. 

The church is celebrated for being on the site of one of the first Missions established by Franciscans in the 1620s on one of the first sites of contact with natives in what would be called the New World. Oñate led explorers and a couple of priests here, or near here, in 1598. In their relief at finding friendly native Piro villagers, the place was later named  ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Help’ or Nuestra Señora de Perpetuo Socorro. 

They weren’t the first Spanish explorers by a long shot. Coronado himself may have been in a small party on his expedition that traveled through here in route to visit the unfortunate Tiguex in 1540. Chamascuro and Espejo expeditions also documented the Piro in 1581 and 1583. Multiple Piro villages sat along both sides of the route to and from Mexico near the northern end of the notorious Journada del Muerto, a near waterless segment of the Camino Real. 

Authoritative sources on all this history include:  

  • Michael Bletzer, who’s written many things about the Piro, including: “The First Province of that Kingdom: Notes on the Colonial History of the Piro Area. New Mexico Historical Review, Volume 88 Number 4 Fall 2013.
  • Paul Harden, who has written extensively about area for the Socorro paper, many available online like this one, courtesy of the Socorro County Historical Society  . 


According to Spanish chroniclers the place name for the area south of Tiguex was Tutahaco. The individual village names in the Piro “kingdom” are probably Spanish versions of the original place names. They are intriguing; Seelocu, Pilabo, Teipana, Senecu or Tzenoque, and Qualcu.  The overwhelming majority of these sites have been partially or totally destroyed through neglect or flooding or both. 

The Pueblo Revolt in 1680 forced long term abandonment of Socorro. According to the church website, a priest buried church silver, including a solid silver communion rail. The silver was never found. Or no one ever admitted to finding it. 

Dublin Ghost

Speeding to the Gate Theater in a taxi at dusk on our first night in Dublin. Admittedly I’ve got jet lag. It will hit me later when I nap during the second act and my head shamefully bobs and weaves in full view of the sold out audience behind me. But now as we zoom along dodging buses and bikes I imagine these are my final seconds before a fiery crash and feel very awake.


It’s in one of these moments that I see a tall woman standing beside an old style street lamp. She’s wearing long black Victorian era dress with big hair under an elaborate black hat and she holds a parasol like a cane. Surprised, I turn my head but she’s gone and now all the street lamps look modern. 


We’re blocks away weaving through traffic and I feel woozy. My head makes a cartoonish rattle when I shake it free of the vision but it’s just my earrings hitting my glasses. By the time we screech to a stop in front of the theater I’ve forgotten.


What I thought I saw must have been a Bloomsday pageant participant. It was the week of the annual commemoration of Joyce’s Ulysses and people dress up for that. 


Not sure how they also disappear and take street lamps with them. 


Vacation from Vegan

I’ll never eat another shepherd’s pie. Certainly not one as memorably delicious as the one I had at Searsons, a pub in Dublin. My trip is over and so is my meaty vacation. I could have stayed vegan while there but I would have missed some legendary meat and fish dishes, not to mention the cheese, yogurt and butter. 

View this photo
The bar man said “good choice!” when I ordered the shepherd’s pie. It was. I sat at the bar of the beautiful old pub and enjoyed a half pint of Guinness. It didn’t take long. It was huge. It must have contained the whole little lamb, ground up and cooked in herbs and nested inside mashed potatoes with some peas and carrots and gravy, then topped with potatoes and cheese and baked brown and drizzled with more gravy and served with chips (fries) and more gravy in a little pitcher. And a lettuce leaf.

The waitress wrapped what I couldn’t finish in an elaborate set of inverted bowls and about twenty layers of plastic. She also gave me a container of gravy to go. I ate that shepherd’s pie for another entire day. Generous shepherd, that he was.

Other meaty temptations are the breakfast sausage rolls and other like baked pastry deliciousness - perfect savory bites of meat and minces that smell even better than bacon because they are like the best of bacon together with fresh baked buttery pastry. They are obviously handmade, each a little different. They sit poised in a special heated case, shiny and beckoning, like jewelry only not at all expensive.

The woman at the Dublin hotel coffee shop smiled and said “good choice!” when I ordered the sausage roll. It was. I had been eyeing a cold vegan wrap. 




New phone, new clothes, new shoes, new luggage. Over-prepared and under-packed. Studied up on Becket and Beckett, Roman Britain and prehistoric Ireland. But nothing really prepares you for travel and isn’t that sort of the point? By changing your location you expose yourself to happenstance and happy accidents. 

I didn’t overpack. But I took too many of the wrong things. I reasoned that I would change into the type of person who likes to shop while traveling. I didn’t. I remember now how a friend had to urge me to purchase every cool thing I ever bought in Italy. Without a push I won’t try anything on. I’ll listlessly flip through hangers sighing and looking out the window at buskers and street food.

Except for shoes.  Trying them on doesn’t involve strange dressing rooms and near nakedness. Alas, shoes don’t pack well. Four pairs is too many. You can only wear one pair at a time and invariably it will be the wrong pair. 

The wool sweaters and scarves are irresistible in Ireland. They don’t pack into carry on very well either. Four sweaters is too many. You can only wear so many on hot days and may end up tying them around both your neck and waist. Or arranging them artfully on your suitcase. No one does this gracefully. Regardless of the quality of the cashmere, piling on sweaters will transform your silhouette into that of a person who has too many cats at home.  Or a wool fetish. Or both. 


Like Enya

...Haunting, emotive, multitrack.

My journal observations have returned to mundane entries about how I weeded around the new trees and aired the woolens. A few weeks ago I described a symphony rehearsal I happened upon in Canterbury Cathedral and how I met an archaeologist with a theory about a Saxon king’s burial.

But most of my travel journal is full of petty complaints and observations. Such as:

The plumbing is weird and different everywhere. I had to call a concierge to a room in Port Rush to show me how to open the sink drain. (It had a spring mechanism.) At a aged place in Dublin I tended a temperamental toilet and never did figure out the shower. (After the host’s painstakingly long description of the process I was embarrassed to ask him to repeat it.)

There are too many coins and they’re too hard to see. The prettiest money is Northern Ireland’s ten pound note with hares and horses and flowers.

None of my new credit cards had a tap and pay feature so clerks had to come get my signature every time. Between that and the impossible coinage, I held up every line I was in.

The free television stations are about the same quality except there are no evangelicals, no pharmaceutical advertising, no advertising about lawsuits. Home shopping is ubiquitous.

The smoke alarms are touchy. In a sticky hotel room on the Wexford coast with paper thin walls my alarm went off. I don’t know why. It was exactly midnight.  I could hear my fellow guests cursing over the alarm’s screeching. I stood on a chair and pulled it from the ceiling. I was ready to heave it off the room’s balcony but it stopped and I placed it warily on the floor. After a time the concerned mumbling diminished and I fell into a fitful sleep. I dreamed I was hiding a small angry animal in the room.

Back to grocery lists and watering the garden.





Salinas National Monument

On another day journey with Jerry at year's end we loaded lunch into the old two-wheel civic sleigh and headed out from Albuquerque through Tijeras Canyon and then south toward the first, northernmost of three mission sites in Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.

Quarai Mission Church doorway
As usual we over-prepared. Both of us being veterans of remote New Mexico travel we know to bring water and food. There was hot cider in the thermos, tea in cups, water, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, avocado and vegan cheese on bread, apple slices in lemon juice and cinnamon, and some incredibly sweet little cookies that Jerry insisted on eating to the near exclusion of the rest of it.

JerryWiddison at Quarai
We set ourselves up on a sunny picnic table next to the visitor center at Quarai which was closed "for lunch" when we arrived.   I wondered where the Park person might go to eat before seeing several lively looking restaurants in Mountainair. No doubt they rely on visitors to this and the other Park properties for much of their business. 

Well-fortified, we set out to explore the Quarai ruins with the guidebook. It was a very fair day and there were quite a few others, including several German speakers marveling at the place.

We spent too much time in the visitor center, which was open when we finished the walk. We stared at the scale model of the pueblo, itself an antique, and flipped through books and maps. Jerry will often find himself or his work mentioned in an index or bibliography - such is his vitae.

It was a bit late too late in the day to travel to the most distant of the ruin sites, Gran Quivera. So we left that for another picnic and spent more time at Abo instead. There were quite a few visitors there too, it being the least remote of the three places.

Abo Mission Ruins

 The warmth of the day belied its short length. We wanted to return to Albuquerque before dark and just made it, stopping again only to wait for a long freight train to cross 47. We'll go again soon.  I'll also chronicle other Journeys with Jerry here in future.


Turkeys, Turnips and Trout

How was the Ozark vacation?
Picture “Winter’s Bone” with Flooding.

You’d be wrong. People are proud to be from the Ozarks. It's a place of great natural beauty. It’s got big trees, big springs and it’s thick with wildlife. It’s full of remote rolling roads, cattle pastures, creeks and old mills. For someone who inhabits the high-desert, it’s a fabulous break from moisturizing.

It was the annual family deer hunt. Twelve days. The new baby boy grew a lot in that time.  I sang to him my made-up tunes that, like him, I can’t get out of my head now, a week later. I brought back more frozen venison than the TSA guy had ever seen before. And a new word.

A guy had a huge frozen ham with him last week. That weighed a ton. Frozen solid.

A real thooster huh?


The two year old caught her first trout - and then another and another. We ate them at the restaurant above the huge spring that feeds the trout ponds and creek at The Trout Ranch at Rockbridge, Missouri.  The epic flooding that week had damaged that old mill and others.

Aldo Leopold’s son did ground-breaking work on game management near here - reestablishing the population of native turkeys. There are a lot of turkeys in the Ozarks but I didn’t see any. The wild ones are around. The domestic ones are in big thooster barns.

The local turkey farm is run by family. But it is a turkey factory. So it’s a factory family farm. A family runs the farm for a corporation under contract. The line between factory farms and family farms is blurry. Really blurry.

We tried not to talk politics but things came up. Like the straightforward view of how it’s generally easier to trust the corporation that pays you than the government that taxes you. People align with who they believe gives, not who takes. Trust who pays, not who taxes.

Years of misinformation and fear spread by television is taking a toll on general civics. But I kept that to myself.

The 4,000 acre Caney Mountain Conservation Area is where Leopold did his work. The Ozark hills stretch as far as you can see in any direction from view spots up there. They plant food plots for the deer and turkeys. Among them, turnips. Gorgeous fields of beautiful turnip greens and perfect firm round roots peeking from under them. You can smell their freshness driving slow up the narrow road. I grabbed several for dinner - Poached turnips! (Braised in butter, actually. With greens cooked in bacon grease.)

Best Christmas present: big Bald Eagle Christmas day. The woods are also thick with bright red Cardinals,  blue Jays, yellow finches, falcons and everything else. Bird feeders were always full outside the cozy sun room with an old fashioned rocker for baby rocking and remotes for the cable TV and gas fireplace. But that was later in the week.

At church on Christmas Eve the preacher took the children aside and told them red stripes in candy canes represent the blood of Christ. Our two-year old turned from him and farted, a real loud thooster. Then she smiled and ate the candy.

About the longest night of the year I spent alone and terrified deep in the woods. The charming tiny log cabin in a hollow by a pond is always reserved for me - the aunt - in part because no one else wants to brave the outhouse. Who can blame them? The pack rats that shred the toilet paper for their nests and watch you when you sit down on that dark hole. But they never really scared me. Neither did multiple mammals that danced and squealed in the eaves above the bouncy loft bed. Ear plugs.

But when the weather boomeranged from balmy to biting and storm “Goliath” hit I was huddled in bed like the kid from Poltergeist, watching looming trees out the window and counting seconds between lightening and thunder. The storm got closer and closer until wind shook the cabin and inches of rain hit that tiny tin roof all at once.  It moved off more quickly than it arrived. I waited, wide awake, for dawn then packed up and moved to the big house. They called it Goliath. I call it Thooster.

My nephew shot a young buck that had been previously shot with an arrow through the head. A scar ran down his back and the arrow was sticking out of the roof of his mouth. It had missed his brain and he’d lived like that long enough for the wound along his back to heal. Ouch.

There is a thing called “noodling.” I thought they were kidding but it’s a kind of fishing where they make feeding nests for cat fish in shallow ledges along the banks of lakes then swim under the ledges and grab whatever they can grab … or whatever grabs them. Thooster catfish will latch onto your arm. Noodling is nuts.

There seemed to be more lights visible from the big house at night and I suggested more people might have moved into the county. I was corrected: it’s the same people, just more fear.

Other things I learned on my winter vacation.  You can’t tell a bacon eater not to eat bacon. Similarly, you can’t tell a coffee drinker they won’t know the difference when it’s “half-decaf” in the pot.  Yes I’ll know the difference. I’ll have a thooster headache that’s hard to miss.

Turtleback Mountain Diary Vol.1 Dam Walking

I dreamed Governor Susana Martinez was on a broomstick flying above all the little people on Elephant Butte Dam. 

The Albuquerque Journal was at the Elephant Butte Dam Walk and so was I. Their thoroughly unsnarky and factual account begs amendment.

Dam walk dam
The weather was wonderful which is a big reason there are a lot of people in this part of Sierra County, if you can call 7,500 a lot.  Turn out for the event was tremendous. Possibly all 7,500 people were there. Paranoia Security meant restricting access to the dam after 9/11 and restricting access to anything makes it more desirable. 

Volunteers did a great job but there were shuttle buses involved.  The first shuttle for non-VIPs was from parking to the restaurant and recreation area for ceremonies, including a stirring rendition of all thirty three verses of Oh Fair New Mexico. The second was a shuttle to the dam itself.  Again, for all but VIPs and invalids, there was a long disorganized wait.  A meaner crowd might have mutinied. But this is New Mexico and mostly everyone was relaxed. Many, including those for whom the buses invoked painful childhood memories of bullying, walked to the dam.

It was one shuttle too many for at least a couple of impatient yankees disappointed they didn't get to see the Governor  - not that she was expected, but whatever.  They didn't want to walk or wait and didn't make it to the dam.  Instead they drove to the overlook to burn one and watch people, like tiny ants, moving back and forth across the top of the giant structure. Dam walk balloons


Train Brain

Some are worried about the fate of high speed rail with the new R's in Congress.  Light rail is unpopular with R's as well, like in Tampa, Florida where a route in Hillsborough County is being cussed and discussed. 

I love Portland's light rail for cheap, simple, clean and pretty-fast travel.  People say they'll "take Max" like it's one of their cars they've named (like, say, "Sven" the Volvo and "Sensei" the Subaru).

Max comes in four different colors which is nice for the number challenged like me. I liked the Blue line that runs to Hillsboro and also took the Red to the airport. Max2 The lines intersect at two main stations but they don't make other colors, like purple.  

I was also on Amtrak to LA and enjoyed the sleeper amenities - like the sleeping.  The roomette and the dining service was good and the view of the moonlit desert out the cozy private window was incomparable. 

Senator John McCain is evidently not a fan of the train.  From wiki:

Before a congressional hearing, Gunn answered a demand by leading Amtrak critic Arizona Senator John McCain to eliminate all operating subsidies by asking the Senator if he would also demand the same of the commuter airlines, upon which the citizens of Arizona are dependent. McCain, usually not at a loss for words when debating Amtrak funding, did not reply. Packs a punch





Pub Dogs and Castle Cats

The canine species is welcome and commonly seen on trains and in places of business in the UK.  This terrier guy was enjoying the crowd and treats at a London pub.   Without exception, the dogs I saw were well-behaved and cleaned-up after. 

I watched a cat in a jewel-studded collar go after a dog in Tenby that had apparently gotten too close to her territory along a castle wall.

On hearing of it, Big now insists he wants to go pub hopping and Domina has reopened a spirited debate regarding pecking order in the household. 

Dog pub