Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

In the Camposanto


Padre Felipe was laid to rest in the Camposanto.
He was a good man – from just over the mountain.
Not far – He knew this place. He was one of us.
Time passes slowly and he was never in a hurry.

We came to this place, our families did, long ago.
How many generations after three hundred years?
We know the names. They, too, are in the Camposanto.
Many still live among us but our numbers are few.

Old family names are remembered there. A few new ones.
The Costa and Lopez people lie quietly together
but they never got along. Nobody remembers why.
There are a lot of stories like that.

Maria Galvez, she was really a Vigil, is all by herself.
She was married three times. She had one daughter
who married and moved to Santa Fe, in 1922, we think.
Roberto was killed in the war – it’s a long, sad story.

The Romeros always had the best sheep in the valley.
The Luceros were weavers – Antonio was the best.
If you needed anything fixed, always go see a Torres.
The best carpenters were always Medinas or Cortes

Amalia Gomez was the best baker when I was growing up.
She only had boys but taught Rosa, her daughter-in-law
(Pepito’s wife) how to bake. That Pepito had a bad
heart attack and couldn’t work much so the baking helped.

Things are a little different now. We travel farther
and we need more things than we used to. We got by
with very little when I was young. There is a WalMart
in Taos and some of us can even get stuff from Amazon.

Young people started moving away twenty years ago,
but now some come back with their own families.
We see new faces and think “Is that maybe a Lucero?
Oh, maybe that is Gilberto’s boy, Devin”.

They all turned out at the Camposanto today.
Young and old were there for Padre Felipe.
He was laid next to Padre Estevan, who rebuilt
the church. That young Father Roy did the service.


                                     *     *     *

The Home Place – 2019

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Rosy Cole
Tapping into the soul of another culture is a particular gift. These are vivid and timeless snapshots, all on a deeply human level... Read More
Sunday, 29 December 2019 17:57
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1 Comment

A Winter's Walk

DSCN0110 (2)

I was on an unintended winter walk
through a quiet streamside forest.
We call it a Bosque in these parts;
that’s the old Spanish name. 
I had nowhere to go and on this day,
no Frosty promises to keep.

This season has a bony feel to it
when nature is falling into sleep.
The lay of the land is discovered.
Muscle and bone are revealed
as the golden leaves fall and curl,
the grasses turn brown and brittle.

Listen, and feel, as you stray off the trail
to the crunch of the grass under your feet.
Deer tracks cross your path, just hours old,
and a large Coyote. The stream pulls them.
It never freezes over – an artery flowing even
in the coldest heart of winter.


DSCN0062 (2)

Nature’s engineering is exposed to those
who stop to look for it. Tree trunks display
their common design. Seed pods open to
the wind as parachutes sail off to a new life.
Grassy seed heads bend but do not break.
I pass by and scatter the seeds.

The canyon walls have specks of white.
We are in December, our coldest month,
and have had a taste of snow. It never lasts.
The sun chases it away in hours, or a day.
It lingers only where the sun can’t find it;
protected by the shade and the cold nights.

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The weather rules this time and place.
There is a change in the air. It seems
something Is always coming or going.
Off in the distance the clouds
trek over the mountain wall as the
winter sun turns frail and sets.

DSCN0125 (3)

     *     *     *

The Home Place – 2019 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
Enjoyed the clarity of the writing, Ken.
Monday, 09 December 2019 23:50
Ken Hartke
Thanks. It's always an amazing transition from the grand show of October to the quiet of early December. I love sharing this place... Read More
Tuesday, 10 December 2019 17:37
1949 Hits


Laying bricks is honest work. Hard, straight forward work.
It is repetitive. You do one thing and then the next and so on.
It can almost rely on muscle memory. Almost like a rosary
or working prayer beads. That’s honest work too.
Thoughtful work. Your mind can be exploring other things.

Brick, mortar, brick, mortar, brick, mortar, repeat…
Or – mortar, mortar, mortar, brick, brick, brick…
Thoughts and ideas come and go. Worries, too.
Some are considered and rejected like misbegotten bricks
too broken or misshaped to fit the allotted place.


I once lived in an old brick house in an old brick city.
Almost everything was laid brick as far as you could see.
Think of all the thoughts and worries sealed up in the mortar
and the brickwork. Plans made or discarded. Acres, no, miles
of bricks and thoughts and worries all laid out in rows.

My brick house was over 100 years old. It was an honest
house built to last. A lot of thought went into that house.
It could easily stand for 100 years more on Main Street.
Built for a German family in 1904. It was solid, no frills.
Modern for its day with a cistern, wood stoves. No fireplace.


This was the trolley man’s family. He drove the trolley
up Main Street, many times a day. First horse drawn and
later motorized (Wonder of wonders!) He probably glanced
at his house at each passing – thinking, in German, no doubt,
of the future and the past. His wife. His kids His good fortune.

The family spoke German much of the time at home. On Sunday
they went to the German Evangelical Church and worshipped,
also, in German. The school was four doors down the street
where the kids spoke English. They were a bit rambunctious.
Their initials are still carved on the cellar joists. Ah, immortality!

The old man stayed with the trolley company. He liked doing
some mechanic work when needed. He bought an automobile,
a "machine", and built a sturdy garage for it off the back alley.
His wife made room for it among the sweet peas and the grapes.
It was a good life. He smoked his cigars, had some wine, read books.


My tenure in the house came much later. Even those kids had likely
turned to dust. In all those years there were only three owners.
I moved on so now another young family lives there, with a baby.
Living alone, I can remember on quiet nights, reading in the old parlor,
I would sometimes be aware of a faint hint of the trolley man’s cigar.

The trolley man might still be there - bound up somehow in the
old bricks and mortar. If he's a happy spirit I would not be surprised.
He has a new family. Somethings change but somethings never do.
Some months before I moved away, a city crew was digging in the
street by the house and found relics of the old trolley line.

JC Trolley





     *     *     *


Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
The trolley man’s cigar - wonderful image.
Sunday, 03 November 2019 01:06
Ken Hartke
It caught me by surprise the first time I noticed it. After the trolley man, the house was owned by the state Governor's cook so ... Read More
Tuesday, 05 November 2019 17:36
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Travel Notes: The Great American Desert


The Plains had always been peopled by nomadic groups going back to the Clovis hunters. The Indians still lived out there and seemed to be successful. Vázquez de Coronado and his Conquistadors were probably the first Europeans to fully experience the Great Plains. He and his expedition were on a fool’s errand looking for fabled cities of gold. He and his people marched from Mexico well into eastern Kansas before he gave up and went back. An early explorer, Edwin Thomas with Major Stephen Long’s 1820 expedition, labeled the Great Plains as the Great American Desert in his published account of their trek across this empty space. For years that description stayed in the public perception. Mountain Men and fur trappers would venture out onto the plains and into the mountains but not many others. Long’s expedition concluded that the plains were "unfit for cultivation and of course uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture."  Free Enterprise turned a blind eye toward Long’s and others’ admonitions and in 1821, William Becknell pioneered the Santa Fe Trail from Missouri across the plains and through the mountain passes into Santa Fe, in what was then just becoming independent Mexico. The Santa Fe Trail turned out to be the interstate highway of its day. It became a military road in 1846 when the US Army marched down the Santa Fe Trail to occupy New Mexico during the Mexican-American War. New Mexico (actually named after the Aztec empire, not the country) became part of the United States officially in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. 

While I could not happily live on the Great Plains, I have always been fascinated by the tree-less and seemingly empty expanse. In April 2019, I struck out on my own expedition to follow the Santa Fe Trail across the Great American Desert. This account is just a small part of the story. The full story of the trip is HERE and my description and experience at three historic hotels I stayed at along the way is HERE. (My travel hobby is “collecting” historic hotels.) 

I left home travelling north and east from Bernalillo (founded c. 1620 and reestablished 1694 after the Pueblo Revolt) following the old Royal road from Mexico City to Santa Fe – El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro – and picked up the Santa Fe Trail about forty miles along the way. 

Going east across the plains, my route was mostly on two-lane, black-top roads and I tried to avoid interstate highways as much as possible.  This was the high plains. If you ever wondered what was out there on the horizon as you crossed the plains on the Interstate highway or by train, I can tell you now that there is practically nothing out there. That being said, for a photographer or an artist, it has a stark beauty and a lonesome appeal.

The few hills that one sees at first as the road leads away from the mountains soon change to an incredible flat canvas where the sky takes over as the most prominent feature.

I could not live here but I am struck by the mighty presence of absolutely nothing. There are ranches out on the plains scattered every twenty miles or so and there is occasional traffic on the highway, but one has the notion of being entirely and utterly alone.

On earlier trips across the plains by train I have talked with travelers from Los Angeles and New York and Chicago -- people who have no problem navigating and experiencing city life –- and they have a sense of awe and almost bewilderment at the endless expanse of emptiness stretching to the horizon.

There are several interesting stops along the way. Two of my favorites are the US Cavalry forts that guarded the trail and imposed an illusion of order and control.

Fort Union – New Mexico

A few miles east of Las Vegas, in New Mexico, was at Fort Union – an important military post and supply depot on the Santa Fe Trail. At one time there were 4,000 people residing at the fort working in a military capacity or as outfitters and suppliers for the Santa Fe traders. The officers’ families were also in residence.

Fort Union is a grim and ghostly ruin today. Built of mud-brick adobe, it has slowly given way to the elements. There were actually three forts here. The first was a temporary outpost. During the Civil War a second earthen fort was built in the starburst shape equipped with artillery that never saw defensive action. There was a significant Civil War battle fought about thirty miles west at Glorieta Pass where the Santa Fe Trail begins to descend toward the town of Santa Fe. What exists here now is the haunting relic of the third and largest fort, built after the Civil War.

When I visited it was even more ghostly due to the fog and April snow showers. It was cold and miserable, and I imagine the soldiers stationed there were pretty miserable at times. The fort kept two crews working in the nearby mountains just cutting firewood for heat and cooking fires.


The Santa Fe Trail wagon ruts are still visible at Fort Union. Unlike the popular idea of single file wagon trains, the freight wagons usually went four or five abreast, so the ruts are spread out over a wider area.

Fort Union exists today as a National Monument with two park rangers on duty. The weather was miserable, and they were not very busy when I visited, so I had the place to myself. The fort is huge and was complete with warehouses and repair shops. There were enlisted men’s barracks, officers’ quarters, a large hospital, and (of course) a jail.

I could spend much more time at Fort Union. It is a photographer’s dream and seeing it like this in a spectral fog only made it more enticing.  I’m sure I’ll be back on a more pleasant day.

I was really just starting out on my trip. I crossed into Colorado at Raton Pass near Trinidad and continued on along the base of the Rockies to the old coal-mining town of Walsenburg where I spent the night at the La Plaza Inn, sort of a cowboy/workingman’s hotel from 1907.  The next day I was truly on the plains. I eventually reached the Arkansas River and followed it and the trail eastward.

Fort Larned

I hurried on my way through the Arkansas River towns and stopped at Fort Larned, another old cavalry fort about halfway across Kansas. This was a military post established to protect the middle portion of the Santa Fe Trail. Instead of adobe, Fort Larned was built of local sandstone and survives very nicely today - probably one of the best original examples of a US Cavalry fort.

One easily gets a feel for what military life was like in the mid-1800s at Fort Larned. Not much happened so it was a bit tedious with the usual daily tasks. Kansas in the summer is hot and humid and cold and windswept in the winter. The freight wagons came and went. There were no real “hostile” Indians by this time and the fort didn’t have a wall or even visible defenses. Unlike the much larger Fort Union, this was a trail-side outpost and waystation.

The Officers’ quarters were reasonably pleasant, and many had their families living with them. 


Life in the barracks was not as grand and the enlisted soldiers had plenty of tasks to keep them occupied. There was a hospital and repair shops and livestock that needed to be tended.


The fort was decommissioned in the late 1800s and became a cattle ranch for a while before coming under the authority of the National Parks as a historic site. Being made of sandstone, the fort’s buildings provided a ready tablet for early visitors to carve their names or messages in stone. Once the fort closed it was too tempting. People wanted to leave their names to show that they were there. I guess we are always seeking immortality. Some examples show some real dedication to the effort.



There’s even a cryptic reference to Kaiser Wilhelm in a couple examples. The fort closed before WW-I so it must have been a visitor (or a spy?).

I took a lot of pictures and spent enough time at Fort Larned that I was running far behind schedule. The rest of my day's trip across Kansas is something of a blur. I stayed in Marion, Kansas, at the 1886 Elgin Hotel – an amazingly restored three-story stone structure that offered a great stay. I slept soundly in the Dwight Eisenhower Suite.  

The next morning, I continued on my way to Columbia, Missouri, and eventually spent most of a week in St.Louis with friends and relatives.


The trip home was fairly uneventful. I was getting a bit tired of Kansas, so I made few stops and was glad to get back into New Mexico to see a few hills again. I spent my last night of the trip in Cimarron, New Mexico, at the St. James Hotel (1872) and stayed in Jesse James’ favorite room. With twenty-six murders or killings in or around the St. James, the place was the epicenter for the Wild West. Almost everyone from Buffalo Bill to Zane Gray spent time in the St. James and it seems some never left. One room is sealed off -- the spirit wants to be alone.

*     *     *


Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
It feels as though that wind is still driving you through this fascinating whirlwind tour of New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. For ... Read More
Sunday, 26 May 2019 15:42
Ken Hartke
I'm glad you enjoyed it and I enjoy taking people along on these journeys. When I reached over twenty pages I realized that my nar... Read More
Sunday, 26 May 2019 23:19
1643 Hits

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