by wjw on October 4, 2007

The Symposium in the Jemez was most enjoyable. We got two nights at a guest house, free meals, and free trips to the hot springs in exchange for a couple hours’ pleasant conversation in front of an audience.
Let’s just say that we didn’t hate it.
The Jemez Mountains (pronounced HAY-mez) are named after the Jemez Indians (pronounced HAY-mesh), who inhabited the area when the Spanish arrived. The mountains are composed of basalt and tufa, the results of a lengthy history of volcanic eruptions in the area, particularly the two huge eruptions at Valle Grande, one of which is said to be the largest in geologic history.
Human settlement in the area is long but narrow, clustered along the banks of the Jemez River and confined by bluffs and cliffs on either side. Natural hot springs, the remains of the area’s volcanism, line the river. Some have been turned into commercial operations, and others are free to the public, albeit after a hike.
I have a degree of nostalgia for trips taken to the Spence Hot Springs years ago, which involved crossing the river on a fallen log, and hiking up a steep slope to plonk down in a hot spring with a spectacular view of the valley. Possibly one of my champagne corks is still there somewhere.
We followed a storm up to Jemez Springs, which left the air fresh and lovely, and which left the road inundated by rivers pouring down off the cliffs. The road had been resurfaced recently, but at no point in its history had the mechanisms known as “culverts” ever been employed. The Jemez is in Sandoval County, home of Rio Rancho, “America’s fastest-growing community,” which apparently reserves the highway funds for itself.

Nevertheless we managed not to be swept downstream, thanks in large part to the four-wheel-drive Subaru.
We climbed ever upward through cliffs colored a brilliant, unlikely color of red, one which those unfamiliar with the Southwest would believe is natural. Along the way we passed a cliff with a sign on it, “For Sale By Owner.” Once at the Springs, we settled into our lodgings at the Casa Blanca guest house, and drank the complimentary bottle of wine our hosts had left for us. Jane Lindskold and her husband Jim Moore were our neighbors, in a small cottage close to the river.

We all met with our wrangler Kathleen Weigner for dinner, along with other members of the Friends of the Library, and had a pleasant meal at the Laughing Lizard restaurant— which is for sale, by the way, if you’ve ever wanted to run an eatery in a remote location on the edge of a mountain.

Much of the evening was spent on the porch, watching the willows droop and listening to the rushing of the waters.
Next day Kathy had a fierce headache, and I decided she needed a massage. So we took off for one of the two bath houses in town, this one appropriately named the Bath House. (The other is Giggling Springs) We each had been given certificates good for a half-hour soak, so that’s how we started.
The Bath House is a 19th-century bath house. It’s got that lived-in look. We each got our own long tub with two huge fire-hydrant-sized taps. The hot water came in at 180 degrees F, so it needed to be mixed with cold to make it so you didn’t didn’t die. The sulphur smell was considerable. I very much appreciated the fact that the tub was long enough for me to stretch out in. I stretched out and thought of nothing in particular for half an hour.
While Kathy was having a half-hour massage, I ate lunch and rehydrated at the deli next door, and returned to be told that Kathy’d decided to remain in the hands of the masseur for another half hour. This was getting close to the time of my official appearance, so I left the car keys with the spa manager and hiked back to Casa Blanca, where I hitched a ride to the Symposium with Stephen Donaldson and his wife Jennifer.
The Symposium went on for two hours, followed by a signing. Kathleen Weigner moderated. It was a refreshing change to be asked questions by a moderator who had prepared by actually reading my books. This is kind of a rare thing. Sometimes I go through hour-long interviews where I discover, usually toward the start, that my interviewer hasn’t read a single word I’ve written. (Some are better at faking it than others.)
After the Symposium we looked outside and saw a spectacular rainbow stretching over the red-rock cliffs. It was impossible to photograph the whole thing without including power lines and a fence, and I’m too lazy today to Photoshop those away, so you’re stuck with a partial.
Then there was another communal dinner, this time at an Italian place, and a lengthy discussion back at the Casa Blanca.
Next morning I headed north of town to check out the Soda Dam, a natural mineral formation created when a mineral-heavy hot spring pours into the cold Jemez river, and the other notable landmark Battleship Rock. Battleship Rock resisted my efforts to take a good picture of it, but part of the Soda Dam is shown above. Then we were back at the deli, sampling the blue corn blueberry pancakes that had been recommended to us, when Jane and Jim walked by. Kathy and I had planned on using our gift certificate to Giggling Springs, but J&J had decided to visit the Jemez Monument, a large pueblo that had been abandoned about the time of the Pueblo Revolt, in 1680. Since Jim’s an archaeologist who’s worked Northern New Mexico for a long time, we decided to feed our brains instead of relaxing our muscles.
The only part of the pueblo that has been excavated is the huge stone mission church and attendant buildings that the Spaniards compelled the Jemez to build. During the Pueblo Revolt the Jemez killed their priest and several converts and built a more defensible pueblo atop a nearby mesa. During the reconquest of 1692, Spanish soldiers stormed the pueblo and took several hundred prisoners. After a few more revolts, the Jemez and the Spanish decided to get along. Sort of. Except for the taxes and the religious and political repression, of course.
The museum is run by the Jemez tribe and features their worldview, a refreshing choice.
Afterwards we headed home, winding down the roads that were now clear of racing water. We stopped briefly in Bernalillo, where Pat and Scott were kind enough to load us with pumpkins and tomatoes from their gardens. I’ve been enjoying the tomatoes all week, and I think the pumpkins will become Chef Francoise’s Soup when I have enough time to put it together.
I was pleased to discover that the Symposium was funded by Intel. After all the money I’ve given Intel over the years, I’m very pleased to be spending their funds.
We still have gift certificates for Giggling Springs, so we’ll probably be back sometime soon.

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