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.

Five Star Food

An update from Jordan, a junior communication studies major:

When I arrived in Taos at the beginning of June, I knew very little about New Mexico or this quaint tourist town.  I was bombarded with facts that first week.  I found out that the highest peak in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak (13,161 feet!!), is located in the Taos ski valley and that we would be hiking it.  I discovered that Taos is an arts Mecca and home to a plethora of nonprofit organizations.  I noticed that the gas at Smith’s grocery store is always at least ten cents cheaper than any other gas station in town.  I learned that residents of Taos are known as Taoseños.  And I learned that while Taoseños are the friendliest bunch you could ever hope to meet in person, they transform into impressively impatient and road-rage-inducingly rude people when driving.  This was all superfluous, background information as far as I was concerned, though.

You see, I come from a family of foodies.  We believe that good food is an essential component of a happy life.  We love ethnic food (or anything tasty).  When travelling, we will try just about anything, especially if it is recommended by the locals.

When my family spent a month travelling in Europe, we gobbled up gelato in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Venice, Lake Como, Cinque Terre and Florence.  We were determined to find “The BEST Gelato In All Of Europe!” forgetting the small complication that we were not going to “all of Europe.”

Although we were beginning to feel sick of the magical frozen goodness that is gelato by the end of the month, we persevered and continued our “research” (Italy did, of course, have the best gelato).

We had a duty to fulfill.  I felt a similar call to duty when I arrived in Taos.  My goal was to find really good food in this picturesque little town.

I honestly thought I’d already completed my quest when I walked out of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory on my second day carrying $20 worth of chocolate.  While I certainly had struck gold (it’s only a three-minute walk from my apartment door … and that’s only the first time you walk there, before you know there’s a yummy chocolate prize waiting for you at the end of the journey), I knew I had to keep looking.

So, I kept my eyes peeled for contenders.  Being gluten-intolerant and a vegetarian, I have to avoid meat and most common grains, like wheat and oats (yes, that means no regular bread, and no, it is not “torture”).  This means my food options are a bit limited, but I still get to eat plenty of delicious food.  Plus, Taos is an extremely friendly town for those on a gluten-free or vegetarian diet.  Thus, the quest continued.

My radar went off when I overheard people saying things like, “Oh, I just love Guadalajara Grill!”  I tried Guadalajara (inexpensive and pretty tasty, but my veggie tacos were drenched with grease).  I tested out several Asian restaurants, including Song’s (great pad thai!) and Dara Thai (not my favorite fried rice in town).  The Old Blinking Light, famous for its margaritas and cool ambience, served great queso, and I loved the nachos, but they were almost too rich.

Decked out in “Best of…” plaques for just about every category you can imagine, tiffany lampshades and rustic wooden furniture, Michaels Kitchen is certainly quaint.  While the vegetarian tacos were pretty tasty, I was a bit disappointed that (compared to other Taos restaurants) their gluten-free and vegetarian options were rather limited.  I went to Taos Diner three times, because they had plenty of options for me.  Also, the cubed home fries were fun to draw ketchup smiles on and the nachos are so good you won’t mind if you get a rude waitress.

Of course, I had to try Graham’s Grill, which won the 2011 “Best in Taos” award in the restaurant category and, luckily for me, offers tons of gluten-free and vegetarian options!  Their vegetarian tamales are gluten-free and, aside from the mushy side of rice, it was one of the best plates of food I have ever had the privilege to enjoy.   While this came very, very close, it did not to win my prestigious Best-Restaurant-Experience-While-I’m-In-Taos-This-June Award.   Interestingly, my two favorite meals both included burgers!

Now, I do not typically eat burgers, since the main ingredients are the two things I cannot eat: bread and meat.  I don’t think I have ever found a gluten-free veggie burger back home in Dallas and I cannot remember the last time I ate a burger since becoming a vegetarian.  Needless to say, it was a very pleasant surprise for me to find that two of my favorite food experiences in Taos involved burgers (admittedly, most of that enjoyment probably came from the fries that accompanied said burgers, but po-tay-to, po-tah-to).  Oh, but how amazing those fries were.

Graham’s Grill (or G.G. as I like to fondly think of it), with their oh-so delectable Cajun fries, won me over from the first bite.  I just cannot pile enough accolades on Five Star Burgers, though!  Their regular and sweet potato fries are both scrumptious on their own, but the green chile mayo just makes the meal.

Not being a fan of spicy foods or mayonnaise on my fries, I was rather reluctant to try the mayo when the waitress brought it to our table.  One timid bite later, though, and I am officially an addict!  So, if you’re travelling to Taos, you cannot pass up a meal at Graham’s Grill, and you absolutely must stop at Five Star Burger.  But beware; you may never appreciate plain fries again!

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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,, 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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Internship at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

An update from Mark, a junior majoring in advertising and markets and culture:

During my June term at SMU-in-Taos, I am working as an intern for the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. The Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is a nonprofit organization that helps young adults by providing jobs and training, and creating an appreciation for community responsibility. In Taos, the government recently has made budget cuts to schools and environmental efforts. I would say Rocky Mountain Youth Corps serves as the immune system to the disease of budget cuts in the community.

June is the busiest month for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, so in some ways I am an extra employee to make sure all the work in the office gets done. I am going into my fourth week of work with the Corps, and some of my notable work includes creating the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (Taos) public Facebook page and writing three articles, which will be in the next Rocky Mountain Youth Corps newsletter. I also edit blogs made by Corps members to make sure all spelling and grammar is correct. I have attended all staff meetings and during my last week will get to make a communications proposal during a marketing meeting.

Ariana, my supervisor and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps’ Reporting and Office Manager, gives me work to do Monday through Friday from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. While the main focus of the internship is communications and writing, when the office is in a pinch I have to do many different tasks for the organization. Those tasks include filing, data entry, Excel work, organization, trips to the recycling compound, and even answering the phones and working as the secretary! The most important part of my job is to always have a positive attitude and be willing to do anything and everything Ariana and the rest of the employees ask me. Interns often get stuck with tedious work; but the work truly makes me appreciate all the effort a nonprofit puts in.

Although I am an advertising major and never have taken a communications course, I continue to work well as a communications intern. I would like to give thanks to my communications professor here in Taos, Professor Flournoy. Professor Flournoy is an SMU communications professor who has given me all of the tools to succeed at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. She has provided me with many examples and materials every nonprofit needs for communications. I now know how to conduct an elevator speech, pitch letter, backgrounder, and a crisis communication plan. I am presenting my crisis communication plan in my final week at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.

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My first 5k

An update from Jordan, a junior communication studies major:

Read more from Communication Studies students at SMU-in-Taos.

I am not a runner.  I do not do cardio. Period.  I have never participated in a race, and the farthest I have ever run, for “fun,” is a mere 1.5 miles.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a lazy bum, either.  I rock climb and enjoy somewhat leisurely activities like walking, hiking and biking.  I generally stay active, but I am not well acquainted with aerobic exercise, and I certainly do not run.

So, when I find out that my wellness class will run in the PPC Solar 5k Sun Run, I have mixed feelings. The prospect of running double my longest previous running distance, 3.1 miles (a figure I had to look up), at 6,952 feet (another figure I had to look up), is quite a daunting challenge. The adventurous side of me is all like, “Sweet, something new!  I’ve always wanted to try a race; this is gonna be awesome!”  While the side of me that is more fully aware of the fact that I am not a runner is thinking more along the lines of, “Uh oh…  I am going to die!”  Despite my reservations, I approach race day with eager anticipation and minimal anxiety.

So, I wake up at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, 2011 – D-Day is here.  I put on my carefully selected “race attire,” scarf half a bagel and hop in the car with my friend Alex.

Now, unlike me, Alex is a runner.  He ran cross-country in high school and routinely runs distances I would never attempt.  In fact, my one 1.5 mile run (well, jog…) only occurred because he convinced me to go running with him.  All this to explain that he actually has a chance of running competitively in this race.  Whereas my only goals are to finish and hopefully not embarrass myself along the way …

After getting a little lost and freaking out a bit about the time, we finally arrive at KTAO, the race start and finish, at 8:20 a.m.  With 10 minutes to spare before day-of registration ends, Alex hurries off to get registered while I’m thinking, “First hurdle of the day… cleared – Score!”

As Alex waits in the registration line, I pin on my race number, good ‘ol 138, and wander off to find the other SMU students.  The group is excitable, and probably a bit nervous, as we wait for 9 o’clock to roll around.  As 9 a.m. draws closer, the race officials have us gather at the starting line.

I find myself surrounded by people of every kind.  Parents push strollers into position, dogs bark, youngsters goof around, and experienced-looking runners calmly stretch out and sip on specially designed water bottles.  Newbie runners like me stand around awkwardly re-adjusting our race numbers and try not to be intimidated by the über-muscular men wearing 2-inch-long shorts and shiny new Nikes.

Before we start, the race officials read out the runners’ hometowns.  Most are from New Mexico, but some travelled from as far away as California.  The SMU crowd gets excited when Dallas is called out (yes, I whooped).  In the ensuing silence, people begin putting in headphones and doing last-minute stretches.  Realizing that it is almost race time, my nerves finally kick in.  But before I have time to think much more than, “Why am I up front with all the fast people?!” the countdown has started. The announcer calls out, “THREE…” the whole crowd sinks a few inches as everyone assumes an athletic position, knees bending.  “TWO…” we all tense up, fists clench.  “ONE!!!” the whole pack bursts off the starting line like a small explosion – and we’re off!

Trying to keep up, I’m somehow surprised to find myself running down the road, as if I hadn’t previously comprehended that a 5k Sun Run would involve actual running.  I rush down the road, trailing the serious runners I’d been nervously eyeing earlier and feel the adrenaline rush of being surrounded by 130 pairs of feet pounding down the pavement.

I quickly notice a burning in my lungs, which I promptly ignore, telling myself, “Just keep up with that girl in front of you!”  About a quarter of the way into the race, the burning is getting worse and worse, growing to a veritable fire in my airways.

I reluctantly let my focus transition from maintaining my place in the race to acquiring oxygen.

Disappointed by my lack of athleticism, I gradually slow to a trot … and when the screaming in my lungs fails to let up, I downshift to a walk.  I have a stitch developing in my side now and am still feeling like I might die.  So, I’m not too bothered as 10, then 20, and finally 30 runners pass by me.

I am impressed, if not a bit discouraged, to see the race leader on the other side of the road heading back toward the finish line — over halfway finished and he’s still going strong.  I see several other serious competitors heading toward the finish, including Alex.  As a lady pushing a stroller passes me, I begin to pick up my pace a bit (we’re talking about an increase from walking to speed-walking).  I don’t really mind watching so many people pass me, because I realize I am not racing any of these people.  This is a race against myself — a chance to challenge my limits.

Finally, I reach the halfway point.  Water-bearing volunteers hand each of us cups as we pass by.  I gulp down the water and toss my cup into the pile of discarded cups on the side of the road.  As I pass the midpoint and head back toward the finish line, Cindy, another SMU student, catches up with me.  She too is struggling to overcome the thin air, so we walk together and help each other keep a decent pace.

About half a mile from the finish, I feel my lungs revive a bit.  So, knowing that I can do better, I start jogging.

I see a runner a little ways in front of me and decided to try to pass her, telling myself, “C’mon, just a little farther — you can do this!”  Once I passed her though, the next runner didn’t look too far off, so I push myself a bit more and pass him as well.  I keep pushing myself, “Just a little bit farther!” and I keep passing other runners.

I pass them, not because I want to do better than each of the runners I pass, but because I know I am not yet doing my best.  I know I can run a little bit faster — a little bit farther. So, I keep pushing myself a bit more.

I continue to pass the runners that I can, ignoring the pain in my chest, until finally I am in the home stretch.  So glad to nearly be done, I smile as the announcer calls out my number, “Here comes 138!”  Finally, I cross the finish line!

After 35 grueling minutes, I am done!  I make a beeline for the water cooler, grab a drink and stumble over to where the faster SMU students who already finished are lounging around.  I breathe a shaky sigh of relief and high-five my friends.  Collapsing, spread-eagle in the middle of the rock-covered parking lot, I close my eyes, smile up at the sun and think, “I did it … my first 5k.”

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The magic of Taos

An update from Victoria, an international studies major:

Photo by Sarah Jacobs, photography student, SMU-in-Taos

It feels like just yesterday I checked in at the dining hall at Fort Burgwin and unpacked my belongings. Now I have less than two weeks left at my internship, and the countdown to the “real world” begins as I finish up my last six hours as an undergraduate here in Taos.

This is my third time to take classes at SMU-in-Taos, but my first experience during June term. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my fellow classmates out here as they are all very focused and dedicated to their work, whether it is art, photography, biology, research, poetry, or interning with various nonprofit organizations and businesses around Taos. The lighting, landscape, and overall beauty of this place never cease to amaze me. There is, without a doubt, something magical about Taos. Every time I visit Taos, I cannot help but agree with D.H. Lawrence, who described it as “one of the chosen spots on earth.”

Photo by Sarah Jacobs, photography student, SMU-in-Taos

Monday through Thursday, I intern at the Taos Center for the Arts (TCA). The TCA inspires creativity and intellect throughout the population of Taos by providing a central location dedicated to community involvement and cultural development. The TCA hosts a variety of visual, performing, and media arts events that are internationally and locally recognized. So far, my work has involved communications and social media networking, writing newspaper articles and press releases, and assisting in basic office duties. After spending the day at my internship, I rush back to campus, eat dinner, and head to my class, which focuses on working with nonprofit organizations and communications.

I wish I had more time to write, but both my internship and class keep me extremely busy. I will post more entries as more exciting news and events come up. Until then, VAYA CON DIOS.

Read more from Communication Studies students at SMU-in-Taos.

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Hard at work in Taos

An update from Nina Flournoy, senior lecturer in communication studies:

Victoria and Mark at work on the remudding project at the historic Taos church, San Francisco de Asis.

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An eventful Saturday

An update from Mark, a junior majoring in advertising and markets and culture:

After a wild night of karaoke at Applebee’s the night before, my classmates and I drove to the most photographed church in the United States: San Francisco de Asis.

The church was made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe for her paintings and photos of the site. The San Francisco de Asis Church is made of adobe. The inside is beautiful, and the art inside truly represents a classic Spanish Catholic church.

Each year the adobe structure has to be re-mudded to keep the foundation of the church strong. After a hard day of work re-mudding, I felt like I had somewhat mastered the art of mudding and could work in adobe construction! I also met the inspirational Hispanic artist Lydia Garcia, who has paintings in the Smithsonian!

After a great day at the church and an amazing free green-chile lunch, my friend Matt and I drove up to the Taos Ski Valley to hike up to Lake Williams. After the hike we ate at the infamous Taos Outback Pizza. The pizza joint is not the classiest place, but the pizza is great and you can draw on the fence outside!

Finally, a group of us met at the John Dunn Bridge for swimming in the Rio Grande and relaxing in the hot springs nearby. Then we camped out at the top of the gorge above the John Dunn Bridge. With a bright moon and many stars, the campsite offered an unbelievable view of the Rio Grande River – and in the distance, downtown Taos. Saturday was an eventful day full of activity and fun times with friends.

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