Disclaimer: The opinions I express below are merely based on what I felt and saw. They are not meant to be “truths” but rather my personal, sociological observations of my journey in New Mexico.
My road trekking took me into the land of enchantment and the land of Breaking Bad–otherwise known as New Mexico. The show may have exaggerated some aspects of a white drug lord’s problems in the business, but it certainly did not fictionalize the rampant drug problem in New Mexico. While many joked with me prior to my trip to stay away from Albuquerque based on the show, I honestly dismissed this, once again assuming a TV show had sensationalized the persona of this Southwestern state.
I was operating under the false pretense that New Mexico was the land of enchantment like the state motto dictates. That the state was a spiritual, desert epicenter and everywhere you happened to turn, a calming rush of GOD just trickled over your body. Sadly, the rumors are somewhat true. The state (as a whole) is impoverished, desolate, and shows little visible signs of economic growth and opportunity. There is nuclear dumping in Los Alamos and it is one of the worst states plagued with income inequality. New Mexico ranks as #6 in the poorest state in the U.S. I don’t know how else to convey how I felt driving through New Mexico other than hopeless. This feeling permeated every truck stop, every casino, every mobile home, every shanty I encountered. This heaviness was not at all the feelings I was anticipating; I was expecting to feel elated, joyful, optimistic, and most importantly RENEWED.
After escaping Santa Fe’s clash of wealth and druggies, we came to the quiet artist community known as Taos. Even further up the mountain, the temperature dropped and the crack in our car’s windshield seemed to enlarge itself with the brisker air. Taos was still just as impoverished as areas of Santa Fe, but due to the town being pretty spread out over the valley area, it didn’t seem as apparent or noticeable. There seemed to be less drug addicts and homeless folks meandering about and more working class families and wealthy retirees. I was sort of obsessed with the fact that Julia Roberts has a residence in Taos and was curious what drew her there. I’m not a fan per se, but considering that this millionaire celebrity resides there some of the time, I wondered if she has helped the community at all and donated any money. Turns out she has. Check out this article:
While as I might hope or desire for Julia Roberts to just donate her earnings to all of New Mexico, this is not the case. While I might not have initially felt some spiritual vibrancy upon crossing the state line, I did ultimately feel a strong sense of community and an urge to protect and help this place. I wanted to support and buy locally, buy authentic Native goods from Native traders, and partake in local cuisine. You can’t help but be converted to a red/green chili fiend after a few days in New Mexico and I was pretty close to buying a huge chili ristra to show my admiration for the state’s favorite side dish/salsa.
Driving through reservations is unfortunately an unpleasantly jarring excursion because you are confronted with the fact of how Native communities live today (certainly not all). They live in run down mobile homes or dilapidated houses, gutted out cars sitting in front yards with overgrowth, stray dogs roaming about, etc. It’s probably what most abandoned U.S. towns look like that were ravaged by the failing economic (e.g., Detroit, Gary, etc.). As we drove through the dusty, unpaved road, we were led to a parking lot away from the actual tourist attraction of old adobe structures known as Taos Pueblo.
Being a dog lover, I felt overwhelmed with the need to tend to and care for all the stray dogs–mostly lab, German shepherd, and husky mixes. One particularly gentle yellow, medium-sized lab mix was lazily lying in the sun and dirt near some cars. I locked eyes with her and something beckoned me to go to her. I kept a safe distance in the event she got scared or wasn’t friendly, but I spoke softly in a baby voice and was met with a wagging tail. I called her to come to me and she kept wagging feverishly, being a little lazy and not immediately wanting to get up, but getting excited at the attention a strange human was giving her. She slowly rose and meandered over to me, consistently wagging her tail. I scratched her ears and pet her chest area and she collapsed and rolled on her back, insisting on a belly rub. Her teets were large and her belly was thin and pink. My co-pilot slowly approached and gave her some pets and rubs on her dusty coat. She named her “Lady,” and for the remainder of the trip we kept singing that tune from Styx’s “Lady” (of which we only know the word “Lady”). She left and returned with a bowl of channa masala and beans we had been eating the night before and a cup of water. Lady initially refused the masala even though she was so skinny and looked hungry. Once we decided to hand feed her she became to gulp the food down and guzzled the cool water. I know the plan was to go on this tour of the village first, but I wanted to honestly drop everything and care for this dog and take her home. During my journey, I had converted my co-pilot to a dog lover and she felt a spark from Lady and was ready to take on this task. I think she would have made an excellent dog mom.
However, after we returned from the tour of the village and got sidetracked with conversing with a Native shop owner, we returned to our car to find Lady gone. I felt visibly upset and saddened since I was anticipating taking care of this wonderfully tempered dog for the rest of our journey and showering her with love, affection, and food and water. I’m still a little emotional about this animal because there are so many dogs like her wandering, homeless on reservations without families to love them or consistent food. This is partly a result of the lack of spaying and neutering which has exploded the pet population on reservations and due to lack of funding and resources to control it. While some families on the reservation have pets and/or take care of some of the Rez Dogs, there is, of course, no way to feasible care for them all. I wrestled with (and still do) the idea of being an outsider and coming to someone’s community to try to take a piece of that community in my ego-centric belief I could care for this one dog and, if I can, then others can. But these dogs are part of the community in one way or another and the solutions should come from within this community, not from outsiders expressing their opinions on the situation.
While there are some rescues geared towards helping Rez Dogs, they are still overwhelmed by the amount of animals in the area and the best (albeit costly) solution is to help spay and neuter the animals. Stray Hearts, is one such rescue group that our hotel manager had picked up a stray Rez Dog and dropped the pooch off here for placement in a forever home. I hope one day to return to the area to help contribute in some way, but for now, I can simply donate.