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Edge of Taos Desert, a Woman's Adventure in Taos

Deanna Keahey  ·  Oct 23, 2010  ·  5 Comments

I'm in Taos again, a cool, artsy, funky little town in northern New Mexico. It's an adobe town in a spectacular setting, lying between high pine-covered mountains, and a broad sage-brush plain.

Rancho de Taos church

The famous church at Rancho de Taos

The tri-cultural history of New Mexico is strong here.

  • At Taos Pueblo, an ancient lifestyle is maintained, in stacked-cube buildings a thousand years old.
  • The church of San Francisco de Asis at Rancho de Taos, a favorite with artists, is a reminder of the Spanish, who first arrived with Coronado in 1540.
  • Kit Carson's house stands near the plaza downtown, now a museum dedicated to this sometimes friend, sometimes foe of the Indians in the 1800s.

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Moving forward in time, Taos always brings me back to one of my favorite books, by a very remarkable woman:  Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality, by Mabel Dodge Luhan.

Edge of Taos Desert

Edge of Taos Desert

In the early 1900s Mabel was a high-society New York city socialite. She was used to Fifth Avenue, wealth and privilege, and she was a patron of the arts and the avant-garde. Technically, she was Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne. Her latest husband, Maurice Sterne, was a painter, and her intention was to turn him into a sculptor.

In 1917, Mabel decided to visit Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place hardly anyone in New York had heard of. Little did she know how this would affect her.

'I want a vacation', I said to myself. 'I've had a horrid time lately. I feel like a Change.'
I got it. My life broke in two right then, and I entered into the second half, a new world that replaced all the ways I had known with others, more strange and terrible and sweet than any I had ever been able to imagine."

Mabel fell in love with New Mexico, and particularly Taos - a tiny little backwater of a place at the time. She decided they should move here, and made it happen.

It's fascinating to read her descriptions of Santa Fe and Taos, and the way people lived in those days - the Indians, Spanish and Anglos all. In the nearly 100 years since it was written, life has changed greatly here, and Mabel has a unique way of viewing and describing things that's most interesting. But no matter how much has changed, every once in awhile, she says something that makes me think "Exactly - I felt that too!"

The sky was a burning, deep blue over us and my heart rose higher and higher until I was thrilling all over. It seemed to me I had never been happy before, just from being in good air and sunshine. Really, it seemed to me, I had never been happy before at all."

Mabel was more than an observer, though. She became involved with one of the men from Taos Pueblo, Tony Luhan, and eventually married him.

She also invited numerous friends from her old New York life to spend time with her in Taos, so they could discover this new world that so captivated her. By bringing artists, writers and photographers to Taos, she changed things for Taos, her visitors, and even us today. A couple of examples.

This is a great book by a fascinating and influential woman - truly an Adventurous Wench! If you're headed to New Mexico, or even thinking about it, this book is highly recommended.

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We've finished our last women's trip to Santa Fe and Taos for the year. I do love visiting New Mexico, and hope to be back there again before long. The big blue skies, fresh crisp air, and remarkable history and culture keep drawing me back - and then there's the delectable food! :-)
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Categories: Adventurous wenches · Reading · Santa Fe
Posted from:   Taos, NM       Photo credit:   Deanna Keahey

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marion Gerard // Nov 17, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    It's fascinating how a place can change a person. As for Taos, it didn't only make Mabel's life more meaningful but it provided a revelation for great artists. Thank you for sharing this with me, it would be great to visit Taos someday.

  • 2 Brandon Veduya // Nov 19, 2010 at 11:07 am

    I finally found a gift idea for my wife's birthday. I bet she will be asking for next year's birthday present in advance... a trip to Taos...haha

  • 3 Bella // Jan 5, 2011 at 6:57 am

    Escape TO reality? not FROM reality? Interesting. I know about igloos but stacked cube buildings? what's inside? hmmm... makes me want to go there and see for myself...

  • 4 Deanna Keahey // Jan 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Interesting, isn't it? In Mabel's case, I think she was escaping from one reality to another that was totally different (and that she never even would have suspected in her previous life). It's a great book!

  • 5 Sarah // May 22, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I am going to buy this book, I am in for so much adventure :). Thanks for the post.

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