There was some interesting street art on display when I first pulled into Santa Fe. It was a combination of futuristic and Native American themes; a mechanical Mayan god looking out of a scrapyard, a raven-headed boy, an electric Madonna, striped, feathered warriors, a stick figure from a sand-painting holding up two discs. I made my way to the Santa Fe Plaza in the center of town, passing the San Miguel Church, the oldest church in the States, built by the Franciscans in 1610.
Continuing along the old Santa Fe Trail, I passed galleries and sculptures, a Native couple holding pottery, a brave in a tussle with an eagle, a frontiersman on a bench with his rifle, another warrior battling a cougar, two mountain men in a packed canoe. It was the romantic ideal of the Old West, one filled with nothing but heroes and battles that made sense.
Even though the rain had stopped, it was still cold and windy. It felt like I was on the verge of having my first bad day of the trip. A few had been a little sketchy, but up until this point nearly every one had paid off in a big way. It was just another fifty miles to Albuquerque. Not knowing what else to do, I returned to the car and kept driving, getting on the 25 and heading south.
Under a shelf of gray clouds, the wind was blowing so hard that a strong gust would push the car sideways. When I got into town, I saw a sign for the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. That proved to be another lucky break, as it was well-worth checking out. There seemed to be some event going on. The security guard was talking to someone else and didn’t see me walk in. I don’t know if that would have been an issue or not. There were artifacts and old photos, art work that fired the imagination.
One mural depicted two dancers with buffalo bonnets, leading a train of others who wore antlers. This was the Herd Dance. Another showed six men with rattles, standing behind six women in turquoise jewelry. It was the Turtle Rain Dance. In the Eagle Dance, two dancers with feathers over their arms soar above the dry land. There was also a painting of two horses, introduced by the Spanish, and integral to the lives of the Natives, a source of power and pride.
It was late in the day and I had no idea where I’d sleep that night. I went over to check out the Old Town of Albuquerque, which seemed to be something of an outdoor mall that was closing. Gallup was the next town I wanted to hit up, but that was still two hours away. I got back on the 40 and was heading west, when suddenly the last of the daylight faded from the sky and it grew pitch dark. It was cold outside; almost colder than any other place I’d been. I’d probably need to spring for a hotel, but didn’t know where, maybe at a truck stop. Just then I saw a billboard for the Sky City Casino. They had rooms there for less than a hundred. I probably wasn’t going to do any better that night.
The casino is administered by the Pueblo of Acoma. My room was at the end of a long hallway. To get to it, I had to pass by the gaming room, mostly full of slot machines. It was a huge room with a huge bed, the towels rolled up into coils at the headboard. After putting my stuff away, I decided to walk up to the casino. Walking down the yellow hallway, I passed black and white photos of the old days on the reservation.
A woman is standing on clay steps, balancing a pot on her head. In another, dancers in regalia are lined up at a ceremony, adorned with feathers and jewelry. One man stands with a band around his head, sash around his waist, and necklaces around his neck, in front of a wall that is crumbling down. When I turned the corner, there was the casino, with its flashing lights and clanging noises and sirens. The difference between the way things were, and the way they seem to be now.