September 18, 2021
Hang on, folks, because this one’s gonna be a long one…
Part 1, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
Saturday was another day that started kinda early. I had purchased a timed admission ticket in advance to get into the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center at 9am, and the adjacent restaurant opened for breakfast at 8am. So I had to get up and pack everything up and check out of the hotel in time to get to breakfast in time. Fortunately, the hotel I was in was only about 1/4 mile from the cultural center.
I’m gonna talk about food for a while now, before I talk about the cultural center museum itself. If you’ve been reading this blog series, you know I’ve been trying to get some New Mexican food every day. Well, this day was special, because the restaurant that’s adjacent to the cultural center is run by a world-renowned native chef Ray Naranjo. If you’ve never heard of him, google his name and you’ll find dozens of articles and interviews, he’s like the pueblo Jacques Pépin.
The menu at Indian Pueblo Kitchen (formerly called Pueblo Harvest) uses as many native and local ingredients as possible, and when I read it over while planning this road trip, I was in hog heaven. My original plan for the day was to have breakfast there, then walk through the museum for a couple hours, then watch the monthly dance performance in the courtyard from 11 to 12, and then go back to the Indian Pueblo Kitchen for lunch. It didn’t work out that way, but that’s how excited I was for this place.
Anyhow, on arriving, the waitress immediately asked if I wanted some coffee, and I was hesitant, because I wanted to know whether they had espresso drinks. It turns out they do, so I ordered a small cappuccino. On the menu it was labeled a “tall” size, not “small”. I thought, “Hmm, they use the Starbucks measurement system for drinks, but I guess that’s because everyone who’s here is a tourist who probably also drinks Starbucks.” Still, I was surprised, when the cappuccino that arrived was actually in a Starbucks cup. Maybe I shouldn’t have been. I guess they have a mini-Starbucks hidden away in the kitchen somewhere.
For my breakfast I chose “superfoods griddle cakes with sausage”. The “superfoods” part was listed as “blue corn, quinoa, amaranth, currants, piñon, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, triple berries, and pure maple syrup.” But I’d swear mine had some chocolate chips in it, too. Regardless, it was three thick pancakes, very hearty considering the seeds and nuts inside. The sausage was two pieces of sausage made from ground turkey and – of course! – diced green chiles, plus breakfast sausage spices. It was all very filling.
Anyhow, a few minutes after 9am, I did get my electronic ticket scanned and went into the museum. I’d been here years and years before, but didn’t remember any of it.
The main permanent exhibit had a ton of information about the pre-history and history of New Mexico’s pueblos. Not surprising, they’ve done a good job of telling balanced stories of conflicts with Europeans and other Native American groups. I especially liked that it wasn’t all just history, but also had a lot of focus on art.
After finishing the main exhibit, I viewed a couple of temporary exhibits, one of which was called “HERitage: Pueblo Women Paving Cultural Pathways.” It had sections on about 20 different women from various pueblos from the past century or so. These women lived a variety of lifestyles as artists, scientists, doctors, politicians, and storytellers. Since so much Native history we see in museums is centered around men, it’s great to see an exhibit about modern Native women.
The other temporary exhibit was called “Radon Daughter” and it was all art from an artist named DeHaven Solimon Chaffins. I loved the colors and style of her art. Her subjects have a lot to do with growing up next to a uranium mine.
By then it was time for the dancing to start. When I first read about the dance performances, I thought it was performances from four different tribes, but I was wrong. It was actually performances by one group called simply “Pueblo Dance Group” whose members come from several different pueblos (Acoma, Laguna, Jemez, Ohkay Owingeh, Zuni, Santa Clara, and Hopi, according to the brochure). The leader of the group said normally they have more dancers, with a total count of around 20 members. But due to a variety of events, there were only four dancers and about six guys drumming and singing today. The standout was the dancer playing the role of “hunter” who was a boy who just turned 9 this week. That kid was good!
Anyhow, at noon when the dancing was finished, my original plan was to go back to the restaurant and have some more pueblo-inspired food. But there was a 35 minute wait for a table, and frankly I was still full from the huge breakfast I had. So instead of waiting, I said goodbye to Albuquerque and headed north. But not before picking up a pueblo cookie and peach pie from the baked goods counter.
Part 2, La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs
After an hour or so on the road, plus a stop for lunch, I arrived at the parking area and trail head for La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs.
OK, hold on a second. I didn’t talk about lunch, but maybe I should have, because it was yet another New Mexican food experience. I found a place in the northern reaches of the Albuquerque sprawl that good good marks – at least on Yelp – for and ordered the chicken enchilada plate. The waitress asked if I wanted red or green, and I said “Christmas!” And she said the meal came with two sides, so I ordered beans and – of course – posole!
By the way, I still don’t know what the proper spelling of the word is. Everywhere I’ve seen in New Mexico, they spell it posole. But in Mexico it’s spelled pozole. In Denver, it’s spelled both ways, roughly 50/50.
Anyhow, the waitress delivered my plate of food, warned me that it was hot, and then she looked at it really weird, like she was afraid she brought out the wrong thing. “I’ve never seen them make it like that before,” she told me. “I can take it back if you want.”
I think she assumed I was a regular who was going to get upset, but couldn’t be farther from the truth. The way the kitchen prepared the dish, instead of three rolled enchiladas, they made them stacked style. And then they smothered the stack in queso sauce, with red chile on one side and green chile on the other. It was delicious, but way too much food. I had to get a box to take about half of it with me for leftovers.
Now back to rock art. This particular petroglyph hike was a bit unusual in a few ways. First, it’s on BLM land, which means it’s way more wild west than most. There’s a trail head, but the whole area is a network of social trails, without any indication of anything being “official”. That’s why descriptions of the train range from 0.8 miles to 2.0 miles in length. I pulled up the trail that’s in AllTrails, and planned to do the loop it recommended, but once I got there I realized it was very stupid. If you follow the trail as defined in the AllTrails map, you’d spend half your time on top of the mesa where you can’t see any of the rock art, and the other half of your time circling back on an old road that’s also too far away to see any of the rock art.
As with the petroglyphs along the escarpment west of Albuquerque, this group is also carved into an escarpment of black rock. For all I know, it could be lava from the same volcanoes, but I kinda doubt it.
The second way this group is a bit unusual is that there are a ton of flute player figures, and also a lot of duck figures. The flute player, known to many in the American southwest by the Hopi name Kokopelli, is the hunchbacked creature who, well, is always playing a flute. Nobody knows for sure why this figure was so popular. He’s seen in rock art ranging over hundreds of miles that was created over several hundreds of years. Was it meant to represent a single person? Or a caste or class or group of people – traders from the south carrying a bag of trade goods over their shoulder? Some say he’s actually an anthropomorphic insect. All I know is there are lot of carvings of him on this particular cliffside.
Anyhow, after scrambling over lava boulders to see the main group of petroglyphs here, I headed back to the car and onward to my AirBnB.
Supper was pizza. The pizza was good – shrimp and green chiles – and the service was terrible. But later I did enjoy the “pueblo cookie” from the Indian Pueblo Kitchen for dessert.