Let loose in the wild south-west

Go after life as if it’s something that’s got to be roped in a hurry before it gets away.”
The code of the west/A Cowboy’s guide to life

Wild coyote in search of prairie dog prey.

Wild coyote in search of prairie dog prey.

Legends like Kit Carson and William ‘Billy the Kid’ Bonney may have arrived in New Mexico well before me but you’d swear there are parts of the wild south-west that haven’t changed since the 1800s.

Driving through Nevada across Arizona to Taos in New Mexico, the landscape may look different but there are plenty of reminders of what these American frontiersmen and outlaws would have witnessed. Tumble weeds roll down the road as coyotes roam in search of prairie dogs, scarlet skies light up the landscape at sundown and apart from a few buildings on land where Indian reservations now sit, the Sangre de Cristo mountain range that surround them surely remains unchanged.

Surrounded my mystical mountains.

Surrounded my mystical mountains on the way to Red River.

Taos Box Canyon, a section of the nearby Rio Grande just west of Taos, reveals a different kind of wilderness which today beckons whitewater rafters from around the globe.

The Enchanted Circle enchantedcircle.org from Taos, Questa, Red River, Eagle Nest to Angel’s Fire presents a mystical drive through spectacular territory that at its peak reaches an elevation near on 10,000 feet. It transports you to another place, one that has attracted visitors going back to nomadic times when hunter-gatherers passed through the area some 6000 years ago http://taos.org/art/history.

The dusty mountain town of Taos has captivated artists since 1898 but it wasn’t until the early 1900s when wealthy New York socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan set up house in 1917 inviting creative luminaries such as Carl Jung and DH Lawrence, Thornton Wilder and Greta Garbo that really put it on the map www.collectorsguide.com. Mabel wanted to create a retreat and centre for creativity and that she did. Her legacy to the arts continues to attract artists, writers and actors to the area today.

DSC05642You need to visit to understand why Mabel famously wrote to a friend: “I have no news, nothing happens here but miracles.” Taos sits in a valley surrounded by those mystical mountains that literally hum. No one really knows why but the sound enticed a swathe of hippies in the 1970s to set up havens. Those hippies are now “local” artists and artisans in their own right competing with classic-style indigenous Indian art. Stores that dot the famous Taos Plaza, originally a defence fort, provide a showcase for all art, local and imported www.facebook.com/TaosArtisansCooperativeGallery.

Wherever you go down the main street there’s a museum or shrine dedicated to some of Taos’ most famous residents who as pioneers of their day decided to make the town their home http://wikitravel.org/en/Taos. By 1947, heiress and collector Millicent Rogers had arrived to collect native American arts and crafts, which now make up the core collection at her museum. This legacy has driven up the costs of goods and services, but as one Western movie star who resides in the town revealed it is still one of few places in the United States where you can live well on as little as $6000 a year!


So for such a creative and money-spinning oasis that appears to have cropped up in the middle of nowhere, it is sad to learn that the US state of New Mexico has the highest rate of childhood hunger. A Feeding America annual report released on June 11 highlighted as many as 156,000 or 30.6 per cent of 512,460 children in New Mexico suffer from food insecurity, which refers to the USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active healthy life.

The study also showed an increase in hunger among all New Mexicans with 417,780 people or 20.1 per cent of the population being uncertain about where they will obtain a meal. Add to that the fact New Mexicans have no savings for a rainy day nor can afford to put aside 70 per cent of their annual income for retirement, and you get the sense that a new wave of wild west pioneers may be on the horizon ready to swoop.

Land is still relatively cheap and given the beautiful surrounds the secret will soon be out that maybe it is time for struggling US citizens to revisit this modern-day wild south west to make their fortune.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist who volunteered to merchandise a store in the nearby town of Questa where old-timers with wonderful stories to tell and Hollywood actors with all the gossip on the area would drop in.


Manhattan moments

“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be,
in some sense, kidding.” 
― John Updike

DSC00903The neon lights sure are bright on Broadway. George Benson couldn’t have sung it better, but now when “walkin’ down that street” you’re forced to sidestep all the construction workers.

The city is Shanghai on steroids. The renewal of downtown and uptown west has begun in earnest and the only magic in the air is the death-defying acts pedestrians have to take to avoid scaffolding.

Cars that flowed along the once wide Avenue of Americas from 31st to Union Square are narrowed to a crawl as shiny orange traffic safety cones and barriers cordon off no-go zones. The Department of Transport, better known as DOT, is cleaning up Manhattan’s act to ease congestion, improve safety for deliveries and when it is done it will be sensational but right now the best way to get around is via subway www.mta.info/metrocard, rickshaw www.nycpedicabs.com or the latest transportation option: citi bikes http://citibikenyc.com, officially launched on May 27.

Mayor Bloomberg and his gun control advocacy group may have escaped a ricin attack this past week but nothing is going to stop DOT’s assault on the streets of NYC. My advice if you’re wanting to take in shows on Broadway is to come back next year.

That said if the high-octane buzz of the city that never sleeps is what you’re craving, you’ll certainly get your fix. For everyone else there’s other areas to visit. Be warned though, prices have gone through the roof. The near-depression is over. The locals say it’s now a user-pay system that is not only designed to put a dent in tourists’ purses but also to punish small business thanks to higher operating taxes.

DSC00914Perhaps that is just an excuse to explain the price explosion where anything from Broadway shows to tourist paraphernalia and train rides have seemingly doubled or tripled as wages stagnate.

While some things change
others remain the same

At least there are still bargains in stores. Macy’s off 34th Street, Manhattan Mall, and shops along Broadway all the way to Soho are offloading items at huge discounts. Retail therapy American-style is revived and thriving. When I was last here in September 2008, Lehman’s had just failed. I remember being in a 5th Avenue internet cafe early that morning some six hours after the company announced bankruptcy when a man rushed in screaming down the phone to his broker to dump stock. As he scrambled to log on he yelled even louder “just dump the lot, it’s gonna be a bloodbath out there”.

As I left and walked towards 7th Avenue at West 50th Street to witness Lehman Brothers’ employees, clutching cardboard boxes, being escorted from the premises, I couldn’t have guessed at what was to follow, though the mood in NYC after the collapse was anything but exuberant.

Yet down 5th Avenue where the street campaign for Barack Obama for President was warming up, things felt more positive. I left NYC wondering whether US folks were in the mood to put a black president in power to bring this city and the country back from the financial abyss.

DSC00956So to witness the city thriving as if the crisis never happened is quite an experience. The mood isn’t sombre as I remembered … NYC is moving on at a cracking pace, and most locals put that down to the vision of Mayor Bloomberg, others to President Obama, but one thing that has lightened the mood is the north and south pools and park at Ground Zero.

In 2008 it didn’t feel right for folks to visit. They were still clearing the area and there wasn’t much to see only to feel … an overwhelming sense of sadness.

On my return, the financial district is swarming with visitors, albeit also surrounded by scaffolding. Wall Street is pumping, the infamous Vault restaurant at Trinity Place www.trinityplacenyc.com hasn’t a spare seat in the house and you have to queue for the fitting room in discount designer store Century 21. Monks roam the area for reasons unknown unless they too are just curious to see how things are shaping up.

From the East River to the Hudson and all the villages in between, uptown and downtown, west side and east, New Yorkers are out and about spending up big while their tourist counterparts help things along by unloading their dollars anywhere and everywhere. Summer is here and NYC feels like this is where the action is meant to be.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist who, after spending six weeks in Central America, was beckoned by the bright neon lights of Broadway to take a six-day break.