Category Archives: Santa Fe

Not mine, not yours, but ours: Penasco Upper Llano acequias

The house on 17 irrigated acres from the Acequia de San Juan Nepomoseno del Llano. Water rights since 1789 (photograph by Taos Properties).

Forty-four years ago, in 1967, I traveled to New Mexico from Amarillo, Texas.  It was my third and most memorable trip for I dreamed for days about colors and pottery and adobe and silver.  I would lie down, fall asleep and pass into a dream world of silver and blue skies — northern New Mexico.  It was not all pleasant because I became ill from eating different Native American and Mexican foods, but that never deterred me from returning again and again and again.

Aside from digestive and dreaming events, I vividly remember a man plowing his field with horses near Mora, the unpaved streets about the Taos plaza and the narrow strips of farm land that bordered rivers and irrigation ditches.  The narrow strips of irrigated land not only reflected a precise lay of the land by survey crews, but also reflected a community, a meshing of farmers.  What was there about those fertile strips that drew me in?    In later anthropological field trips, I took my students by the Pecos River irrigated plots along State Highway 3 that ran from Interstate 40 to Interstate 25 between Santa Rosa and the Pecos Pueblo.  (Click to see Google map of the Pecos River plots.)

The system of irrigation is called acequia, referring both to the irrigation ditch and the association of members organized around it.

I have never owned land in New Mexico, but if I did I would buy a parcel of land that had water rights to an acequia, a system that stretches back in time to Native American communities before the arrival of the Spanish who adopted the local customs of water rights (riparian rights).  Having land that possesses an acequia, one automatically gains entry into a community that cleans, rebuilds and nourishes the ditches and, further, is granted rights to meet in a democratic association to discuss apportioning water and policies affecting owners that border the irrigation ditch.

Several weeks ago, I came across a piece of property near Penasco that if I could sell my ranchito, I would buy and move my horses and equipment post haste to Penasco Upper Llano.  See the following Google map:  This is the map-image of the Penasco Upper Llano property and other strips of community property.

This particular piece of property with the adobe house pictured above is located in the high country between Taos and Santa Fe and can produce 700 bales of hay a year.  The water rights go back to 1789, the year that the United States inaugurated its first president, George Washington.  The surveyor’s plat looks like this:

Stanley Crawford in his work, Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico (1988), writes of the acequia culture that I admire:

There are few other civic institutions left in this country in which members have as much control over an important aspect of their lives; relatively autonomous, in theory democratic, the thousand acequias form a cultural web of almost microscopic strands and filaments that have held a culture and landscape in place for hundreds of years….

Ditch-cleanings are all very much the same, and in this they often feel more like ritual than work.  The crew varies from year to year: a couple of old men don’t turn up each year, a couple of boys barely able to handle a shovel, fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, take their places; the weather is better or worse than some vague notion of what is usual, mayordomos come and go and some are responsible and fair, others vindictive, punitive, almost military, others are lazy and heedless of the needs of the ditch; and the crew can be a good-natured, hard-working creature, or sullen and complaining and evasive, qualities perhaps dictated by the amount of pride or fear circulating through the hearts of both those in charge and those doing the actual digging….

Buddy Manzanares who, on one of my last perfunctory inspection tours half an hour from the end of the spring digging, calls on me to admire a meticulously dug out and cleaned up tarea [a grave-size chunk of the ditch], with the banks cleaned of grass and squared neatly where they end in the bottom of the smoothly shoveled-out channel….This man knows how to make this small thing, this chore, into more than we commonly imagine, and what can be more important to know in this life, than just that.

Mayordomo, pp. 176, 224, 228-29.

The deep thing about acequia that pulls on me is the ready-made community that circulates around water rights that nourish subsistence crops and the growth of hay.  The isolation of many Texas ranches and the people that tend them and steward their animals is not good; in fact, it diminishes the rancher to a coarse individuality that thins the possibilities of  human endeavors, insinuates a obsessive pecuniary attitude about the land and narrows civic — read unselfish — behavior to the mere casting of a vote once or twice a year.

There are western ranching communities that transcend these deficiencies, I grant you, but the tendency has been to sell out or buy more land, thus expelling more people from the agrarian way of life.  I have experienced this and have witnessed the deleterious affect upon my family.

I shall not be accused of romanticizing the acequia culture — oh, go ahead and accuse! — because it is a human community and there will be conflict and law suits, but there is an association, a group of men and women meeting about water and how to nourish their livestock, beans, alfalfa, corn, tomatoes, okra, flowers, lawns, chilis, vineyards, peaches, plums, apricots, coastal bermuda, roses, trees, and every other conceivable plant that flourishes from the soil that is watered.  Having an acequia culture forces the lesson about sharing in real, material ways that no desk-bound, box-bound person will ever learn.  The basic premise is:  water is limited, we all need it, how will we share it?  And, how are we going to keep it coming down the ditch?  The answer: let’s talk about it, let’s vote on it, let’s implement our decision.

Like so many other things in life, the ditch is more than a ditch.  The acequia and the water is not mine, not yours, but ours.

Acequia near Vadito, New Mexico, (Vadito II, oil by Eric Andrews, Taos, personal collection of J. Matthews).


Notes, corrections and additions:

The language keyboard for Spanish and diacritical markings frustrates me.  Hence, the Spanish diacritical markings for “Penasco” are missing, although about every 20 times, I can get the tilde above the “n” in Penasco.  If anyone has any suggestions within the WordPress format to easily apply diacritical markings to writing, please comment or drop me an email at  I am intent upon using proper markings, but I am not going to spend ten minutes every time I need a tilde to paste it on.  Can Windows Vista do anything right?  Of course they can, but you have to update your browser every five minutes.  And, then restart.


Filed under Life in Balance, Santa Fe, Taos

Acequia and Rough Creek mill race

Acequia Madre of Santa Fe

Throughout the upper Rio Grande bioregion, from the uplands of the north to the more desertic and mesa lands to the south, watercourses and their tributaries stand apart as the most defining features critical to all forms of life, biotic and human.  For centuries, this region has been homeland to the aboriginal peoples, the Tewa, Tiwa and Keres (Pueblo) Indians, and the descendants of the first European settlers, the hispano mexicanos.  These cultures revere water, treasuring it as the virtual lifeblood of the community….Nestled within the canyons and valley floors, tiny villages and pueblos dot the spectacular, enchanting landscape.  Their earthen ditches, native engineering works known locally as acequias, gently divert the precious waters to extend life into every tract and pocket of arable bottomland….

But these systems have also performed other important roles…social, political, and ecological.  As a social institution the acequia systems have preserved the historic settlements and local cultures spanning four major periods….The great majority of acequia villages are unincorporated.  In these instances the acequia institutions have functioned as the only form of local government below the county level.

As biological systems, the acequias have served other important objectives:  soil and water conservation, aquifer recharge, wildlife and plant habitat preservation, and energy conservation.

Jose A. Rivera, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest, pp. xvii-xviii (1998).

In 2007, I drove up Santa Fe River canyon from downtown to the iron gates of the reservoir that held water for the town, including the Acequia Madre.  The acequia no longer irrigated fields, but the channel held water for occasional diversions to small plots in the neighborhood.  For a distance of about two miles, I traced the acequia back towards the center of Santa Fe.  All along the way, I saw some neighborhoods had gleaned the acequia while others ignored it.  At the end of my search near the junction of the Old Santa Fe Trail, the acequia held little water, but it was visible and grasses sprouted about the narrow canal.  It appeared ready, at attention really, to carry water again.

* * *

I spoke with a vintner at Dixon, New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, who also superintended the annual cleaning of the Dixon acequia.  She told me that local inhabitants still work on keeping their canal clear of brush, even if it does not border their property,  a communal behavior extending back to prehistoric times.

* * *

On my great-grandfather’s ranch in San Saba County, Texas, the local inhabitants of Colony and High Valley constructed a grist mill for grinding grain in the late-nineteenth century.  They dug a mill race or channel to divert the water of Rough Creek to the wheel that powered belts to millstones.  My mother often told me she remembered her father coming out of the mill covered in flour, face smothered and sweaty.  As a boy, when I visited my great-grandfather’s ranch, I followed the channel upstream on Rough Creek to where the water diverted.

Today, the mill still stands sans roof, windows and doors; the mill race is visible, though eroded, and no water flows.  On the second story ledge of the mill, a prickly-pear cactus took root in shallow soil, erupting ten or twelve paddles of cacti clearly visible from the ground, its propulsion coming from the prevailing southwesterly wind from High Valley and warmer climes in Mexico that blew seed upwards onto the old mill’s second story.  To this day, picnics and family reunions congregate about the old mill and under the pecan trees nearby.

Although some acequias have fallen into disrepair and the old mill will no longer grind grain, no lament is necessary because these structures symbolize the communal efforts of people to work with the flow of water.  Acequias can be cleaned out and the mill race can be reconstructed to a higher ground so that its flow can be opened to a newly-planted orchard of plum and peach.  The mill race becomes acequia.



Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas, Santa Fe

River lights contentment


River lights by Montana Outdoors, December 13, 2010.

Montana Outdoors is a photography blog and the above photo is one of many excellent shots of nature’s grandeur in winter.  Its author wrote the following in his introduction to his blog that has been published since 2006,

I am privileged to live in western Montana, close to the wilderness and roadless areas that I love so much, and I’m thankful that I am still able to venture up into them and spend much of my time there.

Most of the photos that I post are of scenes that cannot be seen from from roads or highways. There is a very beautiful world out there in the wild country and it is my wish to make it visible, by words and photographs, to those who are interested in enjoying it.

It seems that many folks have all but forgotten that we are part of that natural world and that ultimately it sustains us in both body and spirit. My hope is that we will have the wisdom and the discipline to preserve it for future generations, for once the wilderness has vanished, mankind will soon vanish as well.

Readers, you must go to Montana Outdoors website for it is a beautiful paean to all things, big and small, in the outdoors.

* * *

In concord with Montana and the holiday season, Sam Travers, Christmas in the Old West: A Historical Scrapbook, has a note about Christmas at the Saleesh House in Montana in 1813, from the pen of trader Ross Cox,

Our hunters killed a few mountain sheep, and I brought up a bag of flour, a bag of rice, plenty of tea and coffee, some arrowroot, and fifteen gallons of prime rum.  We spent comparatively happy Christmas and, by the side of a blazing fire in a warm room, forgot the suffering we endured in our dreary progress through the woods.

* * *

From The San Saba News (Texas), December 15, 1883, here is a comment about Christmas and the progress of time,

Christmas is near at hand — two weeks from Tuesday — and each day between now and the great event will drag wearily away to the little folks.  What a pity it is men cannot experience on this day of peace and good-will to all the unalloyed happiness they did as boys.  But then years bring experience and ofttimes misery, and happy is he who can retain even until middle life a touch of boyhood’s pleasures.

The editor of The San Saba News wrote columns upon columns of prose each week for a frontier community far removed from trolley cars and opera houses.  In other news, the little town of San Saba celebrated Christmas by gift giving and church gatherings.  Several advertisements listed gifts men and women might enjoy, such as colognes and mustache cups.

Whether Montana or Texas, people seem to find a way to transcend their discontent by celebration and looking upon light from a river in winter.



The San Saba News from the nineteenth century is found on Chronicling America The Library of Congress link on the sidebar under small town newspapers in Texas.

I had pulled together the San Saba editorial and the Old West scrapbook piece for two separate posts, but when I came across River Lights by Montana Outdoors, I brought them together in one post.  I think we all find a way to get by the holidays, be it “prime rum” or family gatherings.  Since my family is scattered in Texas and Florida, I go to Santa Fe more often than not at Christmas.  This Christmas of 2010 I am not sure where my wife and I will be.  In any case, and this is my point, nature is outside my window and there I can find a measure of contentment — River Lights always beckon.  Always.



Filed under Christmas, Santa Fe

Ristra Thoughts

Pepper ristras adorn roadside markets in New Mexico before the Fall equinox.  Bundles of harvest, early-arriving gifts from Christmas future, ristras symbolize the product of good growth in the high desert country, the earth’s abundance with green and red eruptions.  Unlike other harvest food, the red and green pepper wreaths are hung for celebration as well as convenient spice for stew, meat and vegetables.  When I see ristras, I see New Mexico, the American Southwest and callused hands nurturing soil and weaving garlands, farmers sitting under arbors beside the highway in a hundred places.  Entering winter’s cold after equinox, I know the fruit of the ristra will warm me, warm us, into the day and night on both sides of Christmas with sight and taste for the holiday, table and heart.



I am not getting any kickback from this link The Real Southwest Hatch Chile Pepper Ristras, but it was too good to let pass with this post.  There are probably a number of other links and articles on the web.  I will try to list more ristra links under this post.


Filed under Santa Fe

Santa Fe Farmers’ Market

Over the Labor Day holiday, we took a mini-vacation to Santa Fe, stopping on the way to visit my daughter in Lubbock, Texas.

Roasting Peppers

From the first hour we were in Santa Fe, my wife, Brenda, said that we must go to the Farmers’ Market in the Santa Fe rail yard.  I was glad we went because the Santa Fe plaza was  filled with white-tented craft booths and in the evenings we could not enjoy strolling in the plaza.  There was a pleasant display of crafts, but no opportunity to stroll on the plaza.  Another evening, another trip for that.  So it was off to Farmers’ Market early Saturday morning.

The Farmers’ Market meets all expectations for food and merriment and good all-around fun for a Saturday morning!  I took photographs.  Brenda purchased garlic oil, leeks, dried apple chips, basket, a garlic chain and sage-lavender soap.  We put the leeks in our cooler in the room under ice so that we could have leek soup when we returned to our ranch.  Chili peppers?  Well, we had them at every meal in Santa Fe, from Cafe Pasqual’s to Lumanaria.  Oh, boy, how great it is, a movable feast in Santa Fe.

Here are few more photos of the market.  I’ve read some of my blogger friends lately that have hankered for chili and New Mexico.  So, for you, here are some photos to whet you appetite before you book for travel.

Shallots at Santa Fe Farmers' Market

Santa Fe Farmers' Market Stroll

The Chef at St. Francis Hotel looking for fresh ingredients.

Roasting Peppers

Brenda at Cafe Pasqual's before we went to Farmers' Market. Pasqual's did not open up until 8:00 a.m. We were there early, thinking it opened at 7:30 a.m. We went in and had a fine table because we were early.

This is our table at Cafe Pasqual's. We had arrived early and were one of the first to be seated. We like the sparkling water and often take the bottle home to put fresh plants in so as to conserve the bottle and the energy spent to make it. Geraniums. Yes, geraniums. I have always had them around me. Mother grew them for as long as I can remember.

Chili Peppers, Farmers' Market, Labor Day Weekend, 2010


Filed under Santa Fe

Our Taos Blue Door

On my first visit to Taos Pueblo in 1967, blue doors and window frames reflected color brilliantly against adobe walls.  Still do.  Never outlandish in my opinion, the blue gave an even more mysterious quality to the north and south pueblo complexes.  I read that the Taos blue or Taos green, as it might also be designated, prevented evil and witchcraft from entering the dwelling.  The color surrounded the window or door frame with a protective halo.  It was also a beautiful color by itself, the security notwithstanding.

Blue Front Door, Flying Hat Ranch

When we decided to paint our gray doors, we looked up photographs in our books of the Taos blue and green, settling on the color you see in these photographs.  Brenda painted all three of our doors.  We got the paint from Sherwin Williams in Weatherford, Texas.  She took in a swatch that she had compared with photos in Christine Mather and Sharon Woods, Santa Fe Style, p. 25, lower right-hand photograph.  Sherwin Williams designated the color, Turquish, No. 6939.  She bought a gallon, using a third of the gallon to paint the doors twice.  I am trying to get her to paint the tack room door of the barn.  Course, there are no evil spirits down there.  Not with the horses chasing away bad dreams.

Close up of Taos Blue front door of Flying Hat Ranch house



Christine Mather and Sharon Woods, Santa Fe Style, New York: Rizzoli, 1986.

Red Door at Taos, Courtesy Gary Thompson, Photographer


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Santa Fe, Taos, Taos Blue Doors

Santa Fe Wine Festival is Coming!

The Santa Fe Wine Festival poster for July 2010

"Blessings from the Vine," S. J. Shaffer, Santa Fe Wine Festival Poster 2010

William Rotsaert: Artist that Painted Santa Fe Wine Festival Poster for 2009

The Santa Fe Wine Festival is July 3-4, 2010, 12 noon to 6 p.m. at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, outside of Santa Fe.  See directions on the two website links below.

Last year, Brenda and I attended the Santa Fe Wine Festival in July 2009.  I’m not for sure if we can attend this year, but we would like to engage the fun and festivities if we could.  In any case, here are some photos from last year’s wine festival to ramp up the mood for wine and food.

El Rancho de las Golondrinas is the location of the wine festival, a living history museum of Spanish colonial New Mexico, translated as, “The ranch of the swallows.”

The website for the Santa Fe Wine Festival is Santa Fe Wine Festival.

Brochure of 2009 Santa Fe Wine Festival. This brochure details the wineries in New Mexico and the associated vendors at the festival.  Quite colorful brochure with more information about William Rotsaert.

Brenda Matthews with Our Wine and Glasses 2009

Wine Festival Thoroughfare 2009

Shade and Wine at the Festival 2009

El Rancho de Las Golondrinas Adobe Buildings

Santa Fe Wine Festival 2009 with Clouds


Filed under Santa Fe

La Bajada Hill, New Mexico, Vintage Postcard

Karen Rivera’s blog, New Mexico Photography, has a keen post on the La Bajada Hill road between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  She has a vintage postcard illustrating the switchbacks on La Bajada in the 1920s.  My father-in-law, Loy Taylor, was a United States Marshall and always kept beaucoup road maps in his car.  Postcards like Karen collects have a wealth of information about old roads, bridges and ways of passage that are now erased or a byway to modern roads.  I always like to see the old highways and the cafes and stores along the wayside.  The interstate highway system has given us speed from one point to another, but it has taken away a lot of local color.

See the link below for Karen’s postcard:

La Bajada Hill, New Mexico, Vintage Postcard.


Filed under Santa Fe

Sage Dancing in New Mexico

A Break on Plaza of Santa Fe, Summer 2009

A break.  This young lady has been pedaling touristas about the plaza in Santa Fe.  Her sign campaigns the La Plazuela in the La Fonda Hotel.  She is resting in front of the Ore House and Ortega’s.

The spring has been front of us for the last few weeks over here in Texas, and now we are turning our attention to the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico, for the summer.  I know that snow has fallen in northern New Mexico this last week from the posts and tweets of Coffeeonthemesa, Taos Sunflower and Stark Raving Zen.  Hold fast!  Change is coming!  There exists in the near future a glorious, desert spring for you.  It’s very hard to replicate anywhere else in the world that ability to go out on the land and gently crush the leaves of sage, inhaling the pungent air it perfumes, spurring memories of ancient things, deep-thinking wellsprings of wisdom and rhythm beats of feet upon the ground–sage dancing.  Only in New Mexico.

The young lady in the photograph rests, barefoot on the Santa Fe plaza, content in her respite from toil.  Sage dancing, me thinks, be in her future.


Filed under Santa Fe


My Kindred at Las Golondrinas July 2009

I write to put down thoughts, images.

I put it down to not lose it, but to save a fragment.

The fragment demands narration, almost imperious.

And, then there is you to hear it yes hear it.

A holy trinity of me, you and the imperious fragment.

My kindred.


Filed under Santa Fe