Remote Beauty - March 27, 2012

"...the snow-covered chollas and chamisas made us feel like we were in a winter fairy-land"

Northern New Mexico’s vast landscape can seem endless—you’ll drive for miles and still see the same scenery: mountains and mesas, junipers and pinon pines…maybe an adobe ranch thrown in just to make you realize there is life form out there. Yet lodged beneath the blue skies and glorious spaciousness lie little towns, secret little towns, and unless you are a local or have to stop for gas or a bathroom, you may never know what you might discover.

There is a speck of a place in northern New Mexico called Ribera that surprised a group of us a few weeks ago. We went to meet a man who is a well-known rancher in the area. It seemed like a nice day trip idea, especially when everything was covered in a silvery layer of snow.

We headed out of Santa Fe on I-25 N, passing Glorieta and then the Pecos wilderness, where we encountered more mesas. The view became very lush and looked like little landscapes from a miniature train garden set. After we passed the last plateau in Rowe, a lone mountain appeared in the distance that had a leveled-off butte, making it seem out of place. My friend told me that was Starvation Peak, a place, legend has it, where 27 Spaniards starved and died after being attacked by Navajo Indians for trying to steal their land. Whether it’s true I don’t know, but I love a story when the persecuted get creative and catch a break, if only for a small moment.

We got to Ribera, our destination, which is about an hour from our art-hungry home called Santa Fe. Ribera sits 20 miles southwest from the nearest town, which is Las Vegas (not the glittery bachelor party spot, this is actually in New Mexico). Las Vegas is a place with a vintage vibe so big it’s like a time warp, (but its charming mineral springs off the side of the road more than make up for the dilapidated, abandoned neighborhoods surrounding it).

The town of Ribera is spread out over one big, wide open space that is perfect for ranchers and artists or for disappearing from society. It attracts the famous, like radio shock-jock Don Imus, who bought some land there and started his nonprofit, “Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer.” Its art edge is found in the El Ancon Sculpture Park, which was created by artist and environmentalist Nicasio Romero. All the locals know each other because there are only about 500 of them. Then there are the “off the gridders” who found the perfect escape from civilization and annoying tourists looking for turquoise.

Our destination was high up a mountain which required horsepower-- thank God we didn’t take the Mini. We got lost about three times, our host had to come rescue us, but it didn’t matter… the snow-covered chollas and chamisas made us feel like we were in a winter fairy-land.

If you get the chance to visit Ribera, make sure you stop off at La Risa and have a breakfast burrito. You won’t regret the wild goose chase it may take finding it. Special thanks to Eddie Rodriguez, our tour guide and host for his shrewd navigational abilities, hospitality and awesome fajitas.