Images By: Justin Clifford Rhody
Written By: Ryan Nemeth
Humans have long expressed favorable sentiment for the open road and I must confess that some of the most liberating moments in my life have been experienced while rocketing down the blacktop. Longing for new experience, I packed my bags and moved West from Austin, TX. in 2000. The drive to Santa Fe, NM yielded endless horizons, new colors and piercing light in shades of sky that I did not know existed. I suspect that many traveling the Old Santa Fe Railroad must have had very similar experiences as their train sliced through the desert landscape into a new and foreign reality.
Northern New Mexico is noted for its remarkably intense skies; thus, flatlanders like myself are often left dumbfounded and fumbling through words to describe the sculptural qualities of the land and the pastel colors that ooze up from the earth. As one progresses into the elevation of the high desert, tree lines become minimal and elevated vantage points usher in scenery that is inherently dominated by a persistent sky. The seemingly limitless skyscapes display a kaleidoscope of rich indigo blues during the day and an intricate web of sharp white stars that pulse through the night.
Much like the experience I had when first standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, I could look up to the Northern New Mexico night skies and comprehend the scale of my meager human existence. For more than a century now, artists and writers have traveled to the region to download and interpret the cultural landscape and skyward eccentricities that unfold in this oasis of land and light. Nicolai Fechin, Georgia O’Keefe, Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, and D.H. Lawrence are among a few that have been touched by the magic of Northern New Mexico and I suspect that this inspiration will continue on in perpetuity.
Maybe it is the persistent and inescapable invitation to commune with the sky that makes the solitude of the high desert so transformative and enigmatic. In fact, evidence in the form of ruins suggests that the heavens of Northern New Mexico have always secured a captive audience. Archaeoastronomy was a hallmark of the Pre-Columbian Chaco Culture that inhabited and dominated the area. Thus, Chacoans and the Anasazi cultures aligned their buildings with the sun and stars such that their rhythm and pace of life was in line with the seasons. Although Chaco Canyon was abandoned around 1250 A.D., this imprint of ancient culture remains an accessible portal to our past and a relic of skyward inspiration that has persisted in the Southwestern desert for eons. For those that are looking to experience the magic of Northern New Mexico, I would tell them to start their experience by simply looking up!