Wednesday, 22 October 2014

New Mexico: Churches and earth ships

The adobe church at Ranchos de Taos is one of the most photographed and painted buildings in the US.  At least, that's what the sign outside says.  The big blocky rear end of the church is the most common subject, for the abstract geometry of light and shade.  But it also backs right onto a parking lot for an adjacent very good and very popular New Mexican restaurant, so you have to ignore all the pickup trucks.  I drew the front instead, with the traditional double bell towers and huge bulging walls.

The church in Chamayo on the Taos high road is a smaller, charming building and a major pilgrimage site.  The soil in the chapel cures all ills - so much so that they have to truck in new dirt as the original gets depleted (fortunately the effect is contagious and transfers from the old soil to the new).  Sadly, our main pilgrimage site in Chimayo, Leona's tamale restaurant next door to the church, was closed that day.  It must have been punishment for some sin we committed.

And lastly, a secular church for the environmentally conscious - an earth ship, part of a growing community of these near Taos.  Despite the new-agey name, earth ships are well thought-out super-efficient houses.  The main structure has tires packed with dirt and covered in a mound on the north side, with large windows on the south.  Sun shines in in the winter and warms the big thermal mass of dirt and tires keeping the house warm, while the higher summer sun stays out allowing the mound to keep the building cool.  Power is generated by solar cells and wind, while rain is collected from the roofs.  The community in the high desert is completely off-grid, with no need for electrical wires, water pipes or heating.  The adobe-style building allows all kinds of funky shapes, highlighted by bottles that are embedded in the walls to provide coloured daylight throughout the building.  In other parts of the region, we saw earth ships in everything from high-end neighbourhoods to otherwise derelict trailer parks.

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