Comm Studies in Taos

Communication Studies students in Meadows School of the Arts are taking on communications internships at various nonprofit organizations in Taos, N.M., during summer 2011. Students work with national and regional organizations, addressing issues such as at-risk youth, the environment, housing and the arts.

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Fun-filled field-trippin’ Friday

An update from Jordan, a junior communication studies major:

Last Friday, Professor Flournoy, took our class – Victoria, Mark and me – on a field trip.  Around 1 p.m., we all met up in downtown Taos.  Victoria, Professor Flournoy and her little entourage (her 17-year-old twin daughters, Emma and Louise, and their friends, Christine and Theo) piled into Professor Flournoy’s mini-van, while Mark and I loaded up my slightly smaller, and I suspect quieter, Corolla.

We proceeded to drive about 15 minutes to the Taos Pueblo.  The Taos Pueblo is a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  These adobe structures, from which the design of all other buildings in Taos is derived, have been continuously inhabited for the past 1,000 years!

So, we parked our cars, put away our cameras (they will confiscate cameras unless you pay a special fee), silenced our phones (they’ll confiscate those, too), paid our entrance fees and walked into the pueblo.

Meandering down the dirt street, I had a realization of being surrounded by an area steeped in history.  We passed the cemetery, full of little mounds, wooden crosses and colorful flowers.  We also strolled passed the brown adobe, stained glass-dotted walls of San Geronimo chapel (90% of the Pueblo Indians are Catholic) and entered a large clearing.   With the sacred river on our right, the massive multitiered adobe dwellings on our left, a priceless, unobstructed view of the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains straight in front of us and the stunningly blue open sky above, I enjoyed a little moment of wonder.

Around 2:20 p.m. the Pueblo Indians began gathering in front of the chapel for the San Juan Corn Dance.  Those participating in the ritual, mostly women and a few men, gathered quickly, all dressed in colorful, traditional clothing.  They arranged themselves into lines and began chanting in a language I could not understand.  The men beat on drums while the women began dancing to the slow methodic tempo and rhythmically shaking small bunches of bright orange flowers.

After five or ten minutes, they finished blessing the church and moved on to a store, then a home… the crowd of tourists constantly trailing behind at a respectful distance.  The inhabitants led us further and further into a crowd of adobe homes.  With the sun beating down on us and bugs buzzing past, many of the tourists began impatiently shifting feet, readjusting their shiny Ray-Bans and brushing off imaginary fleas.  Our class left after about half an hour of curiously observing the traditional dance.

On the way out, we wandered into the chapel, which was so dark that we could barely make out ornate decorations and the handful of people crowding into a couple of pews.  We did not linger in the place of worship and were soon on our way back to the cars.  Near the parking lot, we asked if we could take a picture with the Pueblo in the background.  The very nice men working at the parking lot told us that we were not really supposed to be taking pictures, but that they would take one for us really quick before anyone could see (thank you, men who shall remain nameless!).  So, as you can see, we snagged a couple contraband photos.

After the Pueblo, we dropped Mark and Victoria back off at their cars and I hopped in Professor Flournoy’s van to go see The Rio Grande Gorge.   It took about 10 minutes to drive to the small parking lot next to the Gorge.  The lot is always full of vendors selling their wares on small folding tables or straight from the backs of vans and trucks.  We passed lots of jewelry, lemonade and a man displaying artistic chain mail.  After perusing the trinkets, we reached the Gorge Bridge.  This massive bridge, which has a two-lane highway running over it, spans the Rio Grande River.

Standing in the middle of the bridge, looking out over the wide-open plains, to where the mountains reach up toward the flawless sky, it is impossible to deny the majestic beauty of this place.  The Gorge, is well… gorge-ous!

While Professor Flournoy, who is afraid of heights, steadied herself, I leaned over the graffiti-scarred railing mesmerized by the murky river winding 650 feet below us.  I came out of my reverie to Professor Flournoy explaining that the Gorge is a very popular place for suffering souls to “end it all.”  Shocked to find out that Taos is such a suicide-plagued town, I tried to understand how anyone standing in such a beautiful and awe-inspiring place could bring him or herself to jump off the bridge.  Unable to fathom the pain that could bring one to such a decision, I tried to merely enjoy the view a bit more, before following Professor Flournoy and her entourage off the bridge.

As we were exiting the bridge, we encountered what looked like pure fun in spastic mural form, but what turned out to be a school bus decked out in primary colors and sunflowers.  The side of the bus was emblazoned with the words “The Bus Stop Ice Cream and Coffee Shop” in white paint and advertising an impressive assortment of frozen goodies.  Emma, Louise, Christine and Theo all rushed over to inquire about ice cream prices.

The very-friendly bohemian woman who was running the “Bus Stop” promptly offered them a great deal on ice cream and homemade chocolate chip cookie dough brownies, both of which the kids quickly accepted.  While the kids finished their ice cream, I had someone snap a picture of me with the bus (it was really, really cool… I like hippie stuff) and we prepared to head out.

From the Gorge, we headed over to the Earthships, which are also nearby.  The Earthships, a project of Mike Reynolds, are sustainable buildings made from recycled materials like tires, beer bottles and coke cans.  The small community of “biotectures” is off-the grid, functioning on things like solar power and clever engineering.  All of the buildings are also very artistic!  Check out my pictures and their website, Earthship.org, to see the amazing structures and learn more about how these incredible homes are built.  I would love to live in a house that was so environmentally-conscious and beautiful to boot!

We took our time gawking at the incredible Earthships and then we were on the road again.  This time we all headed back to our respective casitas to shower and get ready for dinner.  At 6:30 p.m.  Professor Flournoy (minus the entourage this time) met Victoria, Mark and I at the Old Blinking Light for our class dinner.

We enjoyed a laid-back evening of decadent Mexican food at the good ol’ OBL.  Sitting in the invitingly Southwestern, yet modern dinning room, which is full of splashes of colors (I want those turquoise leather chairs in my dining room!), we shared a bowl of queso and our opinions on a myriad of topics.  We discussed everything from our visit to the Taos Pueblo to our internships, from the poverty issues in Taos to the affluence at SMU.  As our humongous plates of food arrived, we talked about what we had enjoyed most about our time in Taos so far and what could be improved for next year.  All in all we had a great time swapping stories, both happy and sad, and bonding as a class.

Driving home a few hours later, I was feeling exceedingly full of good food and good company.  I watched the sun setting splendidly over the mountains, which I will sorely miss, and wondered aloud if I could have asked for a more fun field-trippin’ Friday.

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