Tierra Amarilla: Fragment of the Yellow Earth

A lot of the research trip involved D driving us around the countryside, looking for dots on the map that sounded interesting, then ending up in somewhere completely unexpected. Tierra Amarilla, which we found while looking for Lake Vado campsite, North of Taos, is going to be sticking with me a long time.

All along the main roads of New Mexico there are historical markers which highlight a particular feature, person, or snippet of the past, from vague (and, as it seemed to me) disingenuous descriptions of native american tribe lands ( they were ‘given’ land to inhabit, that sort of thing)  to commemorations of Mexican/Spanish explorers. All of the signs we saw were kept in good condition; indicating that they were read, wanted, noticed. All except this one, located on a gravel island where the road broke in three:

Sign 'explaining' the creation and history of Tierra Amarilla. Note the ending, seemingly deliberately scratched out.

At first, we didn’t bother reading it. We took the turn, heading down into the flat, green valley where the town was located. Immediately there was something that struck us as odd.

In the centre of the town, amongst the school offices, the administrative county court buildings (all well maintained or sparkling brand new) was the punctuation of ruins.

Close up: It was a Parlour - to me, it looked like a Saloon (perhaps this is another name for it?), maybe THE saloon, for the town, for the valley. I couldn't see a replacement anywhere else.

almost opposite, this lovely green-pillared house, also looking abandoned.

A petrol station on the main road out of town

The mural was so well done, fresh looking too..

I was gradually getting used to the preponderance of ruins in New Mexican towns. Poverty and neglect and lack of enforcement of building safety, I assumed, had lead otherwise healthy towns to ignore the odd tumbledown shack on private property. But this? This was like visiting a recent future in which humanity had been wiped out. This is what the world will look like after the end of us. Quietly picturesquely crumbling under the effects of the weather and tree roots.

How long had this restaurant been shut? What caused it to die? It seemed to have been left long before the ravages of the downturn in '08

We found some kind of clue in this:

graffitti from 1967 - we went back to read the town sign...

It was clear there had been a struggle here. Now, having checked Wikipedia, I can quote that:

” The Alianza Federal de Mercedes, led by Reies Tijerina, raided the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in 1967. Attempting to make a citizen’s arrest of the district attorney “to bring attention to the unscrupulous means by which government and Anglo settlers had usurped Hispanic land grant properties”, an armed struggle in the courthouse ensued resulting in Tijerina and his group fleeing to the south with hostages. The National Guard, FBI and New Mexico State Police successfully pursued Tijerina, who was sentenced to less than three years.”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tierra_Amarilla,_New_Mexico )

like the tips of a fingernail scraping to touch the story – there is so much left to try to understand, given the wreckage left behind. How do people manage to live there now, surrounded so vividly by the past? Is there animosity between the hispanic population (the descendants, perhaps, of the original founders) and the ‘Anglos’ (I find this term problematic – as an English speaker who, with countless other English language users of all manner of origins, might otherwise get lumped in as an ‘Anglo’   – but it’s not for me to argue with the anger that underpins its usage here).

“The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”  to neatly wrap this whole experience in that highly overused Faulkner quotation.

The hills above the yellow earth

We drove on out of town, going for that campground. The hairs tingling on the backs of our necks. What we discovered in the lands bordering the town was still more unsettling, intriguing. The rebellious history had left a great emptiness across the fertile plains, and further evidence of suppression, which we were to explore on foot…


1 Comment

Filed under New Mexico

One response to “Tierra Amarilla: Fragment of the Yellow Earth

  1. Trinnney barela

    Grew up in the area, it intrigues me to read about a place in time that really hasnt changed, buildings have gone down only because the younger generation has moved out, and the older generation is gone. The real tragedy in all of this is that the reality of what was and what is now is sooooo very different, Believe me life there was not a bowl of candy, it was harsh, brutal, and very unrealistic, yet simple.

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