On the Trail of Santa Fe

New Mexico: A Guide to the Colorful State Project Administration.

for the American Guide Series by the Writers' Program of the Works
Hastings House

New Mexico: A New Guide to the Colorful State

by Lance Chilton and Katherine Chilton and Polly E. Arango and James Dudley and Nancy Neary and Patricia Stelzner
University of New Mexico Press, 640 pp., $17.50 (paper)

Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range

by William deBuys
University of New Mexico Press, 394 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Mercedes Reales: Hispanic Land Grants of the Upper Rio Grande Region

by Victor Westphall
University of New Mexico Press, 356 pp., $24.95

Four Leagues of Pecos: A Legal History of the Pecos Grant, 1800–1933

by G. Emlen Hall
University of New Mexico Press, 367 pp., $14.95 (paper)

New Mexico: A Bicentennial History

by Marc Simmons
Norton/American Association for State and Local History, 207 pp., $14.95

Along the Santa Fe Trail

essay by Marc Simmons, photographs by Joan Myers
University of New Mexico Press, 183 pp., $19.95 (paper)

Haunted Highways: The Ghost Towns of New Mexico

by Ralph Looney
University of New Mexico Press, 220 pp., $9.95 (paper)

Four Fighters of Lincoln County

by Robert M. Utley
University of New Mexico Press, 116 pp., $19.95


“How did you come to settle in New Mexico?” It is one of the most frequent ice-breaking questions in Santa Fe circles. It takes for granted that nearly everyone who lives here comes from somewhere else; and in Santa Fe, where there’s very little business and hardly any industry, it’s likely to produce a great many different, not to say freaky, answers. My wife and I, native New Yorkers, first looked on New Mexico with the eyes of prospective inhabitants in 1968, when after nearly twenty years of teaching at Cornell I found that university pointedly reluctant to go any way toward meeting an offer I had received from UCLA. Given a free summer to arrange a transfer from the East Coast to the West, we took a leisurely survey of what wasn’t yet known as the Sunbelt.

Still in the grip of Eastern parochialism, we were sure we wouldn’t settle permanently in California (had we known that part of the world better, we might not have been so uppity); we were leery of racial complications in the deep South; and committed by past history to a climate with seasons. New Mexico appealed because of its Spanish and Indian heritage—it seemed less Amurrican. It appealed because of its poverty; in those days it could be thought of as the Vermont of the Southwest. It appealed as an oasis-and-desert terrain, the most sparsely populated of any of the contiguous forty-eight. It possessed a high, sharp atmosphere that seemed to make every dawn a mental challenge; one got the same sense from its marginal ecology. For rootless or at least uprooted people like ourselves, it was a good place for quiet cultivation of the self. It was a place that one could live in but also leave, and we planned to do a good deal of moving around. The countryside was hard, bleached, and beautiful. We settled into it, and have not been seriously tempted to move since.

Some elements are deliberately missing from the above account. We did not come to New Mexico to experience the dark community of blood that Mabel Dodge and her friend Lorenzo sought in the society of Indians; we did not respond to the feeling many people seem to have that this is “holy ground.” Upstate New York is supposed to be holy ground too; we didn’t recognize it there, and don’t here. We didn’t come to study the archaeology of the region (which is rich and interesting), or to write about the Penitentes, or to live a primitive life, or to improve our health (which was and is perfectly all right), or to Get Away From It All. We were not, and still are not, much impressed with Santa Fe as an art center; much of the stuff purveyed here would be right at home on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. We came here, in the words of the quiet man, to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles. As for what that…

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