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.

Jemez River -- Fall Colors



The Jemez River flows out of the Jemez Mountains past Jemez Springs and the ruined Jemez Mission (1622) through the Jemez Pueblo lands on its way to join the Rio Grande. Jemez is the old Pueblo tribal name -- pronounced Hay-messh but spelled as if the Spanish thought it up.  I spend as much time up there as I can — it’s not far from my house and the drive is enjoyable. Every part of our country has some expression of beautiful fall colors but here, in a desert environment, we rely on the cottonwoods for the annual show. There are some aspen groves here and there up in the mountains or the high meadows and a famous and colorful stand of maples over in the Manzano Mountains but the cottonwoods are the big performers. 

We are also pretty liberal with the title “river” around here. I’ve mentioned this before. I’ve been here just two years and my way of looking at it, so far, is if the stream has water in it all year long, and maybe some fish, its a river. If it has water most of the time but might go dry once or twice, it’s a creek. If it is dry most of the year and might have water briefly once in a while after big rains, it’s an arroyo. We seem to have more arroyos than anything else.

The Jemez is a nice little river with some trout but on the day I visited it was running very muddy due to some big rains and muddy runoff from the fire-damaged mountain slopes way upstream. These mountains were created by fire long ago and still struggle with it.



 The canyon is a very historic area. The local Jemez Pueblo Indians have lived here for centuries after a long migration down from the Mesa Verde area where they lived for many generations. The Spanish showed up in the late 1500s and built, or more likely had the Indians build, the massive stone mission church and complex in the middle of Gisewa Pueblo. The mission church and supporting convento buildings date to 1622 but are in ruins now, surrounded by the ruins of the old pueblo. The Spanish brought the true religion, hard labor and disease. The Pueblo revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish out for a while but when they returned in the 1690s the Jemez people were not happy to see them and there was some hard fighting and reprisals. Walatowa, the current pueblo town, sits next to the Jemez River. The tribal visitor center offers a good deal of information and history of the area.  Los Alamos, of Manhattan Project fame, was secretly tucked into the eastern edge of the Jemez Mountains and is still there.


San José de los Jemez Mission

The Jemez Mountains are volcanic in origin. Much of the bare rock is consolidated volcanic ash (tuff). There are numerous hot springs and the remains of one of the largest super volcanoes in North America, the Valles Caldera. There is still a lot of heat down below.

One wouldn’t know about the history or geology of the place just looking at the beautiful fall colors. On some weekends the road is clogged with folks taking pictures. One really must get out of the car to enjoy and experience the colors. Walking among the trees gives a very special perspective. I was there on Halloween day and, in that context, some of the forest was a little bit spooky.








This is a “Bosque” forest…growing up on either side of a stream. The soil is deep on the valley floor and the place is well watered.    




This is artist country. The New Mexico artists, including Georgia O'Keeffe and Gustave Baumann, were inspired by the color and light of northern New Mexico. Rather than me running my mouth, or my keyboard, I’ll just post some pictures. If you are ever in New Mexico I encourage you to visit the Jemez Mountains any time but especially near the end of October.  There is a nice little winery up one of the side canyons.







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Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Spectacular post! Great info and atmosphere. You live in an enthralling landscape, full of wonderful contradiction. Thanks, Ken!... Read More
Friday, 20 November 2015 13:21
Ken Hartke
Thanks, Rosie. New Mexico is called "the Land of Enchantment" but sometimes (half) jokingly "the Land of Entrapment" because it is... Read More
Friday, 20 November 2015 18:04
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In Praise of Old Hotels -- Part 9: Marfa Texas


Bick, you shoulda shot that fella a long time ago. Now he's too rich to kill."

-- Uncle Bawley in 'Giant'


We made our way to west Texas in a roundabout sort of way through the New Mexico mountains, heading toward Marfa. Maybe you have heard of Marfa, Texas, way out west...way out.  Marfa is located 74 miles from  Van Horn and has around 2,000 residents. This part of west Texas is sparsely populated with many miles between towns. As you approach town there isn't much to see other than west Texas desert and a Prada store sitting all alone out on the empty highway. In this part of the world you need a sense of humor to survive. Marfa is a place known for its art and artists, its writers-in-residence program and a theater group.  The Prada store is an example of the off-kilter and experimental creativity of the art scene...a fake Prada store in the middle of nowhere.*

  Marfa has another lasting claim to fame. It was the location for shooting the movie "Giant" released in 1956. It was James Dean's last movie.


Our Marfa destination was El Cosmico, a camping site just outside of Marfa. This is not exactly a normal hotel and it would not be considered old...unless you consider sleeping in a teepee as old. This is more of a "glamping" experience.*


We were booked in at El Cosmico for two nights. The first night in two safari tents and the second night in a teepee. The safari tents were nice; equipped with a queen size bed, side tables and a chair all on a raised wooden floor. There was a hanging pendant light as well as a reading light and a radio. The best part was the heated mattress pad. This was November and it was pretty cold at night -- down in the low 40s -- and the heated bed was great. Very cozy




The place is rustic to say the least. The bath house provides the communal shower and toilet facility. The shower house also includes a claw-foot tub if you are bold enough to try it. There is a kitchen house where campers can cook their own meals. They also have a small store but not much else. Besides the safari tents and the teepees there are a number of vintage (1950ish) trailers. The trailers had cooking facilities and bathrooms.

While it was great fun and very comfortable in the safari tent, I opted to sleep elsewhere and made plans to stay at a local hotel the second night. This was based on a medical complication that I should have planned for and didn' fault, not El Cosmico's. My daughter opted to stay in the teepee the second night.


She had a great experience with the teepee. One really has to stay in a well-constructed teepee at least once to appreciate it. It was much larger and had a cow hide covered wooden floor and a couch/futon as well as the chair and side tables and heated queen bed. There were three tepees and about eight safari tents as well as the six or eight vintage travel trailers. I think I would consider one of the trailers for my next visit.


We were hoping to see a dark night sky and thousands of stars but it was a full moon and we mostly saw the moon. We could walk anywhere at night without a flash light because the moon was so bright. It is known to be a good spot to take pictures of the night sky because there is almost no light pollution and the low humidity cuts down on the haze.*



I already mentioned that I opted to stay at a local hotel the second night in Marfa.  The Hotel Paisano is a historic hotel on the national register, built in 1930 and designed by Henry Trost, a well known southwestern architect.  The hotel was used to house actors during the filming of the Edna Ferber classic "Giant".*When I checked in I mentioned to the desk clerk that I spent the previous night at El Cosmico. He said that they frequently get "refugees" from El Cosmico. My room was next to the room Elizabeth Taylor stayed in during the filming of the movie. Maybe James Dean or Rock Hudson stayed in my room? Maybe it was George Stevens or Dennis Hopper? Who knows? Edna herself?*


The hotel is restored (mostly) and is well maintained. They seem very proud of the hotel and its history. The main lobby is a shrine to west Texas Spanish revival.  All of the public areas are nicely kept and restored. The rooms are quite large for an eighty year old hotel and are well maintained but in need of just a little more restoration. The bathrooms are beautifully preserved from the 1930s.



My room was nice and roomy with some nice period (1930-40) style furniture. It had French doors leading out to the balcony overlooking a large courtyard with a fountain. It was a little too cold to take full advantage of the balcony but in warmer weather it would be great.*


The hotel has a nice and popular restaurant. The food was good and plentiful with a varied menu but the prices were a little high…but where are you gonna go…Van Horn?* 



 Giant posterWe were on a tight schedule -- visiting Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountain National Park and the distances are such that you have to leave early and you get back late. If we had more time there is plenty to do in Marfa. The town is small but it is artsy -- there are several art galleries and art studios. The theater company will often put on performances. You might see a movie being made. Scenes from "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will be Blood" were filmed in Marfa. There is really nothing left to see of the movie set from "Giant" but the area will look familiar if you know the movie.  There also is a local paranormal spectacle called The Marfa Lights, which you can drive out to at night and try to see. So many folks do that they have set up a designated parking lot and viewing area so people won't park on the highway and get run over.  This is west Texas, after all.

    *    *    *




This is my last installment of my In Praise of Old Hotels series until I get back out on the road. It might be a few months but I'll get there.



Recent Comments
Former Member
Sorry to see this series end; it has filled me with envy at times but I've enjoyed every story. If compiled into a booklet it wou... Read More
Friday, 23 October 2015 00:29
Ken Hartke
I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'll be on the road again before the year is out. I've got itchy feet and always wanted to see the Grand... Read More
Friday, 23 October 2015 04:50
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In Praise of Old Hotels — Part 8: Faunbrook Inn


James Baldwin was a local millionaire in the 1860s who had the need for a fine home so he built himself a very impressive place in West Chester. The home later belonged to GOP Congressman Smedley Darlington (what a name) who was also, of course, a wealthy oilman. The house is now the Faunbrook Inn. It's not exactly a hotel -- it is clearly a house -- but the Inn is very impressive. The house is constructed in a Federal-Italianate style with three floors and a large wrap-around porch with ornamental ironwork. There is a large parlor, library, dining room and sitting room/bar on the first floor and very nice bedrooms on the second and third floors.

The rooms are spacious and furnished with antiques. Each guest room had a private bath. The house was extremely quiet considering that it was 150 years old. Apart from the sound of someone using the stairs you could not hear anything from the rest of the house...not even water running or toilets flushing. People seemed comfortable congregating in the library. The porch was also very inviting since the weather was mild and the first floor windows and doors were open. There were large windows in the parlor that converted into doors so people could drift in and out as they pleased.. We were there as part of a wedding group so there was about a dozen people mingling throughout the Inn.



The breakfasts were excellent - French Toast strata with apples, berries and cream, apple-flavored sausage, scrambled eggs, juice and coffee...that was day 1. Day 2 was just as good and included an extra sample of the local "Scrapple" which is apparently a Pennsylvania thing -- sort of a sausage made up of butchering leftovers that tasted like bland sausage mixed with sawdust. Must be an acquired taste. The group managed to polish it all off.  I was so busy eating I forgot to ask if this was the standard breakfast or something special for the wedding guests. It seemed like it was a normal breakfast based on how it was served.


The wedding took place at the Inn in the garden on a brick patio next to the porch. The garden has a natural look to it but sort of a faded glory feel as if it was there when the inn was built.

What to do in the Brandywine Valley? -- Go to Baldwin's Book Barn

The thing to see close by is Baldwin's Book Barn -- a five story barn built in 1822 by the Darlington family (remember Smedley?) that was converted into a book store 75 years ago by William Baldwin (must be the son of the guy that built the Inn). It's only a short distance south of the Faunbrook Inn. A person could spend a weekend just roaming around in the stacks. Books are arranged by categories, more or less, and then shelved by author, more or less. The special first editions and rare books are on the first floor. Apparently they sell books by the foot. You can purchase refurbished leather-bound books at $300 per foot for your executive library...if you have one.  We spent about an hour wandering around. I like Joseph Conrad and got a couple of his novels while there.

Recent Comments
Former Member
Didn't you discover the Brandywine River Museum while you were there? Fascinating place and beautiful. Three generations of Wyeth... Read More
Sunday, 11 October 2015 21:35
Ken Hartke
Charlie -- we were sort of house bound with the wedding party so we didn't get out much. We encountered a hurricane as we were on ... Read More
Monday, 12 October 2015 00:24
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In Praise of Old Hotels -- Part 7: Route 66


There is nothing quite like it -- an east-west highway running 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles...or actually Santa Monica.  America's own Silk Road connects the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean and laces together a bazillion points along the way. The iconic highway existed in a variety of different local configurations for over fifty years until it was finally replaced by the interstate highway system. Now we follow I-44 from Chicago to Oklahoma City and then pick up I-40 west from there....but the old Route 66 is still out there.


If you want to find it today, look for the "Historic Route 66" signs and the relics of once thriving roadside businesses, like Lucille's road house gas station and tourist court near Hydro, Oklahoma. Lucille's is one of the many places that have been at least partially preserved along the old highway. Some places are tourist icons while others are living on in a second or third life long after the highway surrendered to the interstate. Some are crumbling ruins.




You can't stay at Lucille's anymore but in Tucumcari, NM you can stay at the Blue Swallow Motel, one of many Mother Road era motels that still exist in this town at the junction of old Route 66 and US Highway 54. I understand that the place may be under new management since I was there but I'm sure the old owners were very careful in selecting a buyer when they finally decided to sell. They practically tucked you in at night so I'm sure they were picky about new owners. It looks like room reservations can now be made online at their website, which is a change from the former owners


The Blue Swallow Court opened in 1941 on Route 66 as it passed through Tucumcari. It has been modernized ...a little, but mostly it is much the way it was back in the 1940s and 1950s. Rooms are small but big enough. Décor is 1950s including the vintage television. The telephone is a 1940s era Bakelite rotary phone.


Each room has a garage where you could park your Hudson or Studebaker back in the day. Today, there are murals painted on the interior walls of the garages and the doors are often kept open to show them off. Mine was a scene from the movie "Easy Rider" but there were others including some from "Cars".  Outside you can sit and relax in the lawn chairs on your porch or maybe even the glider.  When I stayed I spent about an hour chatting with the owner out on the porch chairs. The two guys in the room next door came out and talked for a while. They were from Denmark and were on a cross-country trip on rented Harleys. They said there is a regular travel business catering to Europeans for one-way Harley trips along old Route 66.  They picked them up in Chicago and would turn them in in Los Angeles and fly back home from there. If I had a dollar for every lost Brit or European I've met on Route 66 I'd probably have enough to buy a good supper at the Pow-Wow restaurant. Europeans seem to be in love with Route 66, even more than the Americans who race by on the Interstate.

Under the former owners,  an added perk was a free breakfast if you checked out and were on your way at 7 AM. The free breakfast wasn't at the, it was down the road a little at the Pow Wow Restaurant and Lounge. The 7 AM exit was to allow the owners to get the rooms ready for the next guests...this is really a "mom and pop" operation. They managed the place and did much of the renovation on their own. They had a friend do the murals.

Tucumcari is a struggling place but probably the biggest town between Amarillo and Albuquerque. It has quite a collection of Mother Road era motels and tourist shops.



If you can't get in at the Blue Swallow (and it is difficult at times), try The Safari Inn across the street. The Safari is  a retro Route 66 motel that dates back only to the 1950s. The Safari does a pretty good job of recreating the 1950-1960 era but with some nice upgrades where it counts.  The rooms are nice and feature some of the nostalgic stuff from the 1960s.   They have a nice patio lounge area with retro furniture where the weary traveler can sit out in the evening and unwind with a six-pack from up the street.  This is not a fancy place.  There are a few vintage cars parked around that make it feel  very 1960-ish.


If you don't want to unwrap your food or eat off of a tray, most motel owners will recommend places including the Pow-Wow Restaurant down at the western end of the Route 66 strip. I've eaten there several times and it is an okay place and a good spot to get your first (or last) New Mexico food, depending on your highway direction. The Pow Wow has a shuttle van so you can call them to come get you so you don't have to climb back in the car. The last time I was there I had two loaded chicken tostados and a cold beer. They will sell you a six-pack to take back to your patio or the lawn chairs at the motel. When I went back to the motel in the shuttle I met a couple from Bristol, England. They were driving old Route 66 and then heading up to the motorcycle rally at Sturgis in South Dakota.  We sat out in the motel's patio area and relaxed and talked for a while before heading off to bed.

I'm sure there were many places like the Blue Swallow or the Safari Inn tucked away in small towns all along Route 66. Now, in the age of the interstate you have to look for them.

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Recent Comments
Former Member
Ah, Ken, what you're doing to me. The first time I drove the venerable 66 across the country at age 17 -- that trip was from Phill... Read More
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 01:42
Stephen Evans
I remember the show, but that's as close as I got, I think. Read More
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 04:52
Ken Hartke
You still see a few folks driving those Corvettes and similar classic cars along the old highway. There must be a whole industry t... Read More
Thursday, 01 October 2015 15:26
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Latest Comments

Ken Hartke Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
Thanks, Rosy, -- glad you liked it.
Ken Hartke I Promise
20 May 2018
I am so looking forward to your return -- I love your writing and wish you well. From my youth I've...
Stephen Evans I Promise
20 May 2018
Sometimes when I am dealing with deep anxiety I find that work (by which I mean writing), and the f...
Rosy Cole Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
I just love this, Ken. As appealing to the senses as a painting. Thanks :-)

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