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Favorite thing: As well as visiting the two chapels in Chimayó, do make time to explore the various shops and galleries. Several nationally known weavers live and work here, members of the Ortega and Trujillo families, and both have workshops which can be visited. But there are also several other galleries and craft shops, selling a diverse mix of goods. We liked the two on either side of the road through the village, Santuario Drive, just at the point where it rejoins County Road 98. On the right of the road is “Lowlow’s Lowrider Art Place”, selling “Chimayó Holy chile”, reasonably priced jewellery and work by local artists. This intricately decorated car, parked outside, caught our eye, and while photographing it we got chatting to one of the owners who told us that they have been promoting this idea of holy chilli for years via a succession of colourful signs like the one in photo two.
My other photos were taken outside the gallery on the opposite side of the road. We didn’t go inside, but the eclectic assortment of art works and found objects in the front yard kept our cameras busy for a while.
This is my last tip; return to the Intro page
Updated Dec 10, 2011
Favorite thing: Excellent links to local Chimayo businesses and attractions at http://www.chimayoinfo.com/index.html#Top also a very useful interactive Map of Chimayó Area at http://www.chimayoinfo.com/Map.html#Chimayo - both from the Chimayó Association of Businesses http://www.chimayoinfo.com/Contact.html
Written Nov 9, 2009
Favorite thing: Land of Disenchantment By Angela Garcia (April 2006)
Angel Garcia is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Harvard University. She lives in Velarde, New Mexico. Some names in this article have been changed to protect confidentiality.
"Each spring during Holy Week, the state highway between Santa Fe and Taos blossoms with roadside signs warning drivers to "Watch for Walkers." The walkers in question are thousands of religious pilgrims, who, following Hispanic tradition, make their way on foot to El Santuario de Chimayó, a centuries-old adobe church believed to be built on sacred earth with healing powers.
When I was a child in Albuquerque, I watched the pilgrimage on local TV. I listened in awe to exhausted pilgrims who described miraculous recoveries from illness and injury. I wanted to be a pilgrim, too, to walk and kneel with the rest of the faithful, gathering handfuls of the church’s holy dirt in my hands.
My mother, however, was an ambivalent Catholic, and preferred to avoid the Easter rush. We should visit the shrine when it’s quieter, she argued; it will be easier then for God to hear our prayers. Besides, our occasional trips to Chimayó were about more than just visiting El Santuario. They were about my family’s own pilgrimage: the journey north itself, the wonder we felt upon leaving the city for the storied Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
I remember leisurely drives along winding country roads, the windows of our car rolled down to catch the seasonal perfumes of fresh-cut alfalfa or burning firewood. Local apples and apricots beckoned from roadside fruit stands, and we always stopped to buy piñon nuts from the old man who set up shop on the bed of his Chevy pickup truck on the outskirts of Española.
I was around 7 years old when, on one of these drives, I first announced my plans to live in a northern village one day. I suppose I fancied myself a Hispanic version of Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Little House on the Prairie. In the north, I could escape my family’s violence and addiction; I could find a peaceful refuge in an old adobe house, surrounded by an endless landscape where I could safely roam.
Twenty-five years later, I did move to a small northern village, but not for the reasons I’d once had. I came as a doctoral student in anthropology. The place I’d dreamed of as a refuge was experiencing an epidemic of drug addiction, and I wanted to understand it.
Both the Chimayó of my youth and my current home, Velarde, are located in the predominantly Hispanic Española Valley, in north-central New Mexico. They are part of a network of small, tightly knit villages radiating outward from the town of Española. Many residents trace their ancestry directly back to early Spanish settlers. They consider themselves "Spanish" (or "Hispano," or Norteño) and they speak a unique Spanish dialect peppered with archaisms that date back to the original pobladores, or townsfolk. The Native American residents of the San Juan and Santa Clara pueblos, located within the Valley, trace their lineage back even further. Newcomers from Mexico add to the mix, bringing with them a different flavor of Spanish and new businesses that cater to their growing community.
The Rio Grande snakes through the Valley on a north-south axis, lined by tall cottonwoods. On the northeastern edge lie the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos, whose peaks are snow-capped from October through June. The northwest boundary is marked by the Chama River and extends toward the village of Abiquiu, immortalized in the landscape paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe.
Generations of artists have been drawn to this landscape, painting the same chapels, the same mountains, the same dramatic, sweeping skies. It is easy to see why: The Valley is pastoral beauty incarnate, particularly when one is whizzing by in the comfort of an SUV, or perched with a camera on a scenic overlook. But beauty is never a simple thing; it can also be a distraction, obscuring the suffering that exists along the margins of what one wants, or is willing, to see.
Since the mid-1990s, the Española Valley has had the highest per capita rate of heroin addiction in the country — higher than New York, Baltimore, or Chicago — with a rate of heroin-related deaths that is over four times the national average. Between 1995 and 1998, there were 85 reported heroin-related deaths in the Valley. There were 41 deaths in 2003 alone, staggering in an area with only about 20,000 residents.
Heroin is extracted from a poppy plant native to Europe and western Asia. These days, opium poppies are primarily grown by impoverished farmers in remote parts of the world. The heroin that comes to the Valley is largely from Mexico, whose poppy production increased dramatically after Mexico’s economic crisis in the 1990s. Traffickers follow the route of the Camino Real, or Royal Road, established by Spanish settlers more than 400 years ago. Today that road, widened and paved, is Interstate 25. It is still celebrated as the means through which northern New Mexico’s Hispano culture emerged, but ironically, it carries the drug that is killing the region’s people.
No one knows for sure when heroin first came to the Española Valley. Some residents remember relatives returning from jobs in distant cities with heroin as early as the 1950s. Others recall Vietnam War veterans who came home with addictions. The drug was firmly established in the Valley by the 1980s, known by residents as the golden age of the tecato — heroin addict in Chicano slang. Locals say heroin users of this period had a strict code of ethics, and didn’t allow their drug use to interfere with family or community responsibilities. If it did, problems were quietly handled at home.
Things began to change, however, in the early 1990s. "Before, everything was in private," says Silviano Maestas, a 52-year-old Valley resident and recovering addict. "It was a small group of guys, not bothering anyone. Pero things changed, no?" Suddenly, Silviano says, heroin use was "al aire libre," out in the open. "People didn’t care no more who saw them, or what they did to get it."
Strung-out addicts wandered the streets, often hitching rides to meet their dealers. Hypodermic needles turned up everywhere, even in the holiest places: in churchyards and cemeteries, and in the acequias, or irrigation ditches. The emergency room at the Española Hospital became a dumping ground for overdose victims — many of them abandoned by companions who feared arrest. Month by month, the death toll mounted.
Heroin use in the Española Valley finally hit the national news in the fall of 1999, when 150 law enforcement agents descended on the village of Chimayó and arrested 31 suspected dealers. The Raid, as it is known in the Valley, was a part of a larger interstate crackdown known as "Operation Tar Pit," named for the unusually pure strain of black tar heroin from Mexico that was causing a high number of overdoses.
Since the Raid, the media have issued an endless string of reports on the Valley’s heroin problem. The national media typically dwell on the irony of drug addiction in such a beautiful place. The local media focus on the most obvious impacts of heroin addiction: the crime and death. Each week, the "Police Blotter" of Rio Arriba County’s local paper adds to the litany of heroin-related sorrows. (That is how I discovered last summer that one of my neighbors had been busted for drugs. And it’s how I learned, one day last fall, that another neighbor had overdosed and died.) The constant media chorus adds to the collective sense that heroin has been here, as Hispanos say, forever.
These days, for the locals, heroin overdoses have become as much a part of the landscape as the juniper-dotted hills. "You get to a point where you kind of expect it," says 44-year-old recovering addict and Española resident Mary Ramírez. "Because you’ve already been through it — over and over." Mary knows; she used heroin for nearly 20 years. In the past five years, she has buried a husband and brother, both overdose victims. Last year, Mary’s eldest daughter overdosed, but survived.
Still, visitors are surprised — and horrified — by the enormity of the problem. "How could this place be a heroin epicenter?" a colleague from back East asks me. She cannot reconcile the Valley’s scenery with the dismaying reality. Journalists from around the country frequently express similar surprise — implying that heroin belongs more to urban ghettos than historic villages of cottonwoods and adobe chapels, as if poverty and addiction cannot exist in a bucolic setting. Perhaps it is precisely because this landscape has been so powerfully represented by generations of American artists — who typically render the land as scenery without people — that visitors are blind to the possibility of such a contradiction.
Whatever the reason, there has been little inquiry into why heroin has become epidemic here.
This is the question that motivates my research. Since I came to the Valley in the spring of 2004, I’ve asked everyone I meet why they think heroin is such a problem. I’ve interviewed drug counselors, health care providers, religious leaders and land activists. I’ve talked to over 40 heroin addicts, many of whom I met at the region’s drug detoxification clinic, when I worked the graveyard shift as a detox attendant.
The nights at the clinic were long and filled with sounds — prayers and cries and the shuffle of slippered feet. These were the sounds of my childhood, too, the sounds that reverberate in my memory and in my writing, along with the question: Why?
Why heroin? Why here? Ask any Hispano, addict or not, and you are bound to get an earful."
See https://www.hcn.org/issues/319/16202 for the rest (the other half) of this article
Updated Aug 22, 2009
Favorite thing: Chimayó is within the Santa Cruz (de la Cañada) land grant established on July 1st, 1695. Land grants in New Mexico were given by the king of Spain in the 1500s and 1600s to encourage people to travel to the new world and establish claims for Spain. The Santa Cruz land grant consisted of 44 thousand acres and was established as a communal grant for 15 families.
Unfortunately, despite the protection guaranteed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Guadalupe_Hidalgo) most of the Santa Cruz land grant has been expropriated by the U.S. Government.
According to documents in the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives (Surveyor General Case File 245 in the Spanish Archives of New Mexico - SANM I microfilm roll number 30) The Santa Cruz land grant was formally confirmed by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Court of Private Land Claims in his decision of December 11, 1900 and its boundaries were described as: "The part and portion of said grant and tract of land, which is hereby confirmed to and in favor of the said petitioners last mentioned in the manner herein stated, is described as follows: …to the brow of the elevation first North of the Santa Cruz River; thence in an Easterly-direction along the brow of said last named elevation to a point due North of the junction of the Quemado River with the Santa Cruz River; thence due South through said junction of said rivers to the brow of the elevation next South of the Santa Cruz River; thence Westerly along said last mentioned brow to the East boundary of the lands of the Santa Clara pueblo as surveyed and patented by the United States; thence North along said East boundary of said Pueblo lands so patented to the North East corner thereof; thence West along the North boundary of the said patented lands of said Santa Clara Pueblo to the Rio Grande del Norte River; thence Northward along the East bank of said Rio Grande del Norte River to the place of beginning.”
(see map http://elibrary.unm.edu/oanm/NmU/mss29bc_images/nmu1%23mss29bc_img0679.png)
Fondest memory: bar·ran·ca n. pl. bar·ran·cas also bar·ran·cos Southwestern U.S.
(1.) A deep ravine or gorge. (2.) A bluff. [Spanish, probably of Iberian origin.]
Also: Zanja (gully), Manga (mountain spur) and Ceja (ridge)
"An arroyo is a nearly vertically walled, flat floored stream channel that forms in fine, cohesive, easily eroded material. Arroyos can cut as deeply as 20 meters (65 feet) into the valley floor, are often wider than 50 meters (165 feet), and can be hundreds of kilometers long. Arroyos exist throughout the western United States, but are most common in arid and semi-arid climates in the Southwest. The rapid widening and deepening of arroyos have both changed the physical environment and been a costly nuisance in the west since settlement began in the mid 1800's."
The Arroyo Problem in the Southwestern United States. Brandon J. Vogt
U.S. Geological Survey http://geochange.er.usgs.gov/sw/impacts/geology/arroyos/
Written May 6, 2008
Favorite thing: (1) "Sons of the Conquistadors" (1941 government documentary) - includes Hermenegildo and Epifanio Jaramillo in their home, which is now the Restaurante de Chimayó (www.ranchodechimayo.com)
(2)"Monster" (1979) raw low (no) budget sci-fi but features Chimayó locations and residents - also the interior of Santuario and John Carradine (see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079573/) - also released as "Monstroid, It Came from the Lake", "Kuoleman järvi" (Finland), "Monster, the Legend That Became a Terror", "The Toxic Horror" and "Toxic Monster"
(3) "Spoken Word" (scheduled for release in 2009) see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1212443/ and Variety 4/6/08 (http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117983585.html?categoryid=13&cs=1).
(4) "A Good and Perfect Gift: A Christmas Story" (1987) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384975/
(5) Late for Dinner (1991) [a very limited amount of which was shot in Chimayó]
(6) Rio Arriba: Tragedy and Hope (2000) Documentary about "the drug epidemic in northern NM" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0385992/)
Fondest memory: See also December 8, 1986 Time Magazine article about Robert Redford's 'The Milagro Beanfield War' being "forced to move the shooting from Chimayo, a community 20 miles north of Santa Fe, to nearby Truchas, after property owners objected to the presence of a movie crew in their quiet, residential area" (which started after Redford's location scout took a photograph without permission through a window of a home on the Plaza del Cerro (incidentally the most intact Spanish Colonial plaza in NM) and caught the 80 year old resident of the house naked in her bath).
Written May 1, 2008
Favorite thing: In the early 19th Century, nineteen families lived in what was then called El Potrero (Sp. pasture) de Chimayó. The land where the Santuario now stands belonged to Don Fernando Abeyta, one of the first members of Los Hermanos de la Fraternidad Piadosa de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno (the Penitentes) in the area. Also, he was probably devoted to the Christ of Esquipulas, a pilgrimage site in Guatemala where the clay is ascribed healing power. A nephew of Don Fernando's was christened Juan de Esquipulas in 1805.
Fernando Abeyta built a small chapel to the Christ of Esquipulas on the present site around 1810. On November 15, 1813, he wrote to Father Sebastián Álvarez, the parish priest of Santa Cruz de la Cañada, asking him to write to the Episcopal See of Durango for permission to build a bigger church in which the people of El Potrero could worship Jesus as he appeared at Esquipulas and could hear Mass. The next day, Fr. Álvarez wrote the letter, mentioning that cures were reported and many pilgrims were arriving. On February 8, 1814, Francisco Fernández Valentín, Vicar General of the Diocese of Durango, wrote back with permission. By 1816 the chapel was replaced by the present church.
Abeyta's daughter, Carmen Abeyta de Chaves, inherited the property and kept it despite an attempt to force her to give it to the Church; a major source of her income was donations from pilgrims. Her daughter, María de los Ángeles Chaves, inherited it in turn and was the owner as of 1915. In 1929, when the owners were in financial trouble, members of the newly formed Spanish Colonial Arts Society (including the architect John Gaw Meem) bought the property and then donated it to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Fondest memory: ...distinctly Norteño Hispanic Culture - which stems from Nuño de Guzman’s conquest of Sinaloa (1527), Cristobal Oñate’s foundation of Zacatecas (1546), Francisco Ibarra’s establishment of Nueva Vizcaya (1570), Luis Carabajal’s settlement of Nuevo Leon (1585), and Juan de Oñate’s entrada into New Mexico in 1598. These are the founding fathers of El Norte, a region as old as any Spanish-speaking country in Latin America. The explorers, conquerors, and settlers of El Norte were a diverse group often led by Iberians but mostly composed of some criollos (Spanish born in the Americas), many more mestizos (mixed-race but Hispanicized), allied Indians from Central Mexico (Tlaxcalans, Otomis, and Mexicas), and Africans. Norteños, unlike the criollos and mestizos of Central Mexico, did not strongly identify with surrounding indigenous societies or cast nostalgic back glances at vanished Toltec, Aztec, or Mayan glories. Instead in El Norte, a creolized mestizo culture evolved which reproduced and maintained much of the style and tradition of Medieval Spain during the Reconquista (1085-1492). The knightly élan of charros and vaqueros maintained the equestrian and cattle ranching traditions of Extremadura and Andalucía. The martial lifestyle of the Norteños duplicated the military frontier in Castile. Fortified villages and haciendas throughout El Norte created another land of castles (Castilla) mirroring society in the Iberian Peninsula. The corrido music and costuming of Norteños directly evolved out of Spanish traditions, as did the religiosity of Norteños devoted as it was to Marian figures, called throughout El Norte, Conquistadoras.
Written Apr 24, 2008