Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate


I saw this sign in Santa Fe on Cerrillos Road, near the corner of Cerrillos and St. Francis where all the little prairie dogs hang out. I have no idea what the heck is going on behind the wall.

Yesterday I went for gas, decided I would go for a ride just to get away from the computer and ended up in Taos a little over an hour later.  Turns out it is Fiestas weekend in Taos. Lots of cars moving 5mph. Viva Fiestas! Some clever man with an ax to grind anticipated the slow moving hordes and set up about seven of these signs on either side of the road to inform the drivers of his latest grievance.

I later learned the story behind the signs. Seems Mr. Sign Writer had been pleased when Smith’s added a gas station and charged prices that undercut the local dealers. But, alas, since February the price of gas, according to the signs, has risen from $1.70 to $2.60, so Mr. Sign Writer is displeased. A few of the signs suggested an alternative location where Smith’s could store the gas nozzles.

I leave you with this bumper sticker seen on a car in the Kaune’s parking lot in Santa Fe last week. The guy, and it was a guy, has a New Mexico license plate and still, and yet, he decided it was a great idea to slap this on his car. May he never head south to Albuquerque or, God save him, north through Rio Arriba County on a leisurely drive to Taos.

950,000 Jars of Peanut Butter Buried

Last week 950,000 jars of edible peanut butter were dumped in a landfill in Clovis, NM. That’s a lot of peanut butter. Sunland, which was at the middle of the 2012 outbreak of samonella and is now in bankruptcy court, had an agreement with Cosco to sell Cosco said peanut butter.  The peanut butter was tested and found poison free. Cosco agreed to accept delivery, but then changed its mind, saying some of the jars leaked oil.

So what to do? Donate the perfectly good  2.6 million dollars worth of protein to a food bank? Nah! Better to pay $60,000 to haul the 25 tons of peanut butter to be buried.

The question I have is this: What story will archaeologists conjure about our society when, in 500 years, they uncover the 950,000 jars of peanut butter?  Will religious scholars opine the peanut butter was buried as part of a New Age sacrifice to the gods? Will foodologists rejoice in finally understanding the purpose of the 300,000 jars of congealed fruit infused with sugar found in an earlier dig in Concord?

The mystery for future generations could have been avoided and hungry people fed  if only the trucks had been pointed toward the nearest food bank for distribution.



Don’t Be Thanksgiving Dinner

Lisa Harris and her staff at the one and only Video Library have a few suggestions for your Thanksgiving viewing. Go check them out!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Make some lovely memories. I am grateful for each one of you.



In writing class we talk about writing one vivid memory at a time, those moments that pop up on your memory screen like a photograph or a scene from a movie. At some point along the way I started calling them M&M’s as in, just pick one M&M from the jar, one vivid memory and write that up. Then do it again.

One way to gather those M&M’s is to walk around the world in the moment with eyes wide open. Notice the moments that shine out at you and grab your attention.

For example, Harry the Cat long ago out grew the house he slept in when he was a kitten. I now use it to store the dogs’ stuffed toys: four big dirty ducks, a pig, a bear wearing a Santa hat and a rabbit. At some point each day, Georgia and Sofie get all excited and take turns pulling each one from the house. Then they toss the animals in the air and run around like the silly dogs they are.

Last week I watched as Sofie extracted each toy, stood for a moment and stared at the empty house and then proceeded to cram her seventeen pound body into the small entrance. She literally was curled upside down for a few minutes. After rolling around like a ball all over the kitchen floor, she fell asleep with her head sticking out.

Just a little moment that became a vivid memory that became the M&M I grabbed out of the jar this morning.

Zozobra Burns, Your Troubles Are Toast!

This is Fiesta Week. We in Santa Fe all know the kick off for Fiesta Week is the burning of Zozobra, that 50 foot tall marionette that symbolizes all the gloom and doom in our lives. Since  Friday people have been stuffing his skirt with mementos of their worries–divorce filings, bills, job termination notices, bad report cards and photos of lovers who have done them wrong. On Thursday Zozobra and our worries are toast. Good riddance to bad jujus. I say burn ‘em!

At the moment, though,  Old Man Gloom is eviscerated about two blocks away at the El Museo Cultural Center in the Railyard area. His massive decapitated head sits next to his 40 foot long body. I like the idea  that Zozobra has been neutralized. Burning seems like over kill, but burn he will on Thursday after sunset.

At dusk at Fort Marcy Park, small fires are lit to surround Old Man Gloom. “Glooms,” played by children dressed in white, surround the base of Zozobra. Then with great fanfare the official Fire Spirit Dancer dressed in red tights and a cape appears at the top of the stage and dramatically swoops down to scare  away the Glooms. The dance between the Fire Spirit Dancer and the Glooms continues for quite some time as excitement builds and the crowd, which can be upwards of 30,000 people, gets all fired up so to speak, and yells, “BURN HIM! BURN HIM!”

And burn he does until he is one big pile of ash. The whole thing is one great big pagan ritual and a little horrific with the moans of distress that freak out me and Georgia the Dog, but with any luck our worries will be burned along with him, and Friday will be a brighter day, at least for us. Zozobra may have a different view of the experience.

I wish you joy and happy days.

PS I just learned about this new Zozobra website where you can record your worry and watch it virtually burn. Take a look here.


Santa Fe is a place short on parking spaces, a place where you say a deep thank you to the

parking fairy every time you successfully find a place within walking distance of

your destination. Because of that, shop owners guard their designated spaces.

The message on their NO PARKING signs may reflect their level of frustration with

the parking issue.

For example, my bank WILL TOW YOU QUICKLY! Seemingly, if you allow your tires to

hit their real estate a trip wire will activate the phone number of the towing

service and your car as well as the remainder of your day is history.

The athletes who run this bicycle store will indeed tow you, but not so quickly. You

may have  time to race to Trader Joe’s for less than 15 items and run through the

express line in time to avoid the dread tow truck.

Now the amicable owner of Mail Call posted this sign in front of his store before he

moved. A certain civility prevails here, and you at least have options.

My favorite is Chico the Dog’s sign. I am pretty sure you will have time to

saunter down to Tia Sophia’s for a load of cheese enchiladas before Chico wakes up.

Even better, bring him back a treat and your car can stay put until midnight.

How to Tell A Santa Fean From A Tourist Part II


If you have no idea what the little white things are pictured above, you are a tourist. If you are a Santa Fean, you have  grabbed all five bags, ripped two of them open and eaten them while standing in line to pay,  because these my friends  are bizcochitos, the official cookie of New Mexico.

Readers offered the following ways to tell a tourist from a Santa Fean:

When it rains, the tourists are the ones running inside the nearest building to escape getting wet while the Santa Feans are crashing into them to feel the rain on their faces, a once in a blue moon event in this never ending drought.

Tourists are the ones giving money to the panhandlers on the Plaza. Santa Feans are the ones rolling their eyes.

Tourists ask which way is Cerrillos Road, pronouncing the “Ls,”  and Santa Feans are the ones responding, “First of all, you pronounce it Cerrillos with a ‘Y.’ Second, what could you possibly need badly enough that you want to get on that road?”

Tourists tell the waiter they will have green chile and red chile on their burrito. A Santa Fean just says Christmas.

Women who wear pretty little heels to walk around town are tourists. Santa Fe women have long ago surrendered the heels in favor of flat shoes that won’t get caught in the bricks or ripped in the gravel. The one exception is a dressy night out when  door to door car service is  mandated.

A tourist will wear a Virgin Mary pendent. A Santa Fean will proudly sport a multi- colored Virgin Mary tattoo from his or her wrist to his or her elbow.

More suggestions?




How to Tell a Santa Fean from a Tourist Part I

If at a stop light when the light turns green, Santa Feans will not attempt a left hand turn before the oncoming cars. Those drivers are from Pittsburgh.

If your refrigerator stops running in Chicago, the owner will call a repair person. A Santa Fean will shake her head and say, “Damn, Mercury must be in retrograde. I hope the milk won’t spoil before  it goes direct.”

If you are  in a grocery checkout line in Santa Fe and you live in Santa Fe, you and the clerk will chat, saying, “Hi, how are you? What a cute dog! Is your mother feeling better today? Ohhhh, what a pretty dress! Are you making salsa with the tomatillos?” The person standing next in line pounding her fist on the counter is from NYC.

If you are walking around Santa Fe in shorts in summer, you are a tourist. If you are a man walking around in shorts in the winter, you are a Santa Fean.

If the host of a party says “dress is casual,” men in Atlanta will wear chino pants, a blue oxford cloth shirt and navy blazer; the women will wear a floral print dress with strappy sandals. In Santa Fe, the men will wear a tee shirt without a logo as will the women.

If you are visiting Santa Fe and mindlessly reading a map as you cross Canyon Road without looking out for traffic, let me say in all seriousness, don’t. The passenger in the car coming straight at you is saying to the driver, “Five points for the man in the chino pants.”

Now, your turn. Write me. How can you tell a Santa Fean from a tourist?

Forrest Fenn Yet Again


The Chest! photograph by Forrest Fenn


Today I bring you a harmonic conversion of several prior posts. 

I have told you about descansos, those road side memorials so prevalent in New Mexico that are placed where someone has died: crosses decorated with flowers, teddy bears, photographs, Christmas decorations. By law in New Mexico it is illegal to knowingly or willfully deface or destroy “a memorial placed alongside a public road or right of way to memorialize the death of one or more persons.” Descansos may be removed by the state under certain circumstances, but it would be a rare occurrence. Descansos are sacred here. In New Mexico even when roads are under repair, the descansos are treated with great respect by construction crews. 

Enter Forrest Fenn’s treasure. Forrest is the man who has gained national publicity of late for (allegedly) burying an antique bronze chest (allegedly) chock full of gold and jewels and treasures (allegedly) valued at $2 million. In his book The Thrill of the Chase, Forrest offers clues to where he buried the box. Collected Works bookstore in Santa Fe is the only place you can purchase the book, and they have sold a whole lot of copies. 

In early March I told you about a woman from Texas who, in searching for the treasure, got lost and spent a freezing night lost in the mountains north of Santa Fe. 

In today’s episode, the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game warden discovered a man digging with a hand tool under one of those sacred descansos. When they spotted him he had reached about 18″ under a 12″ by 12″ concrete base supporting an iron cross on state land along the upper Pecos River.

When asked what he was up to the guy volunteered that he was in search of…drum roll..Forrest Fenn’s treasure chest. The guy was told to restore the spot, and he did. He will now be charged under state law which makes it a misdemeanor to “excavate, injure, destroy or remove any cultural resources or artifacts” on State Game Commission land.

We have not been told the guy’s name or place of origin but my hunch is he is not from around these here parts. First we know you do not mess around with a descanso. Second most of us know by now that even if you find the treasure, if you find it on state or federal land you are not allowed to keep it.

So dear readers, in addition to the clues to the location of the (alleged) treasure box offered by Forrest in his book, I offer you these clues: Do not go wandering out looking for treasure without telling someone where you are and be sure to bring warm clothes. Do not dig on federal or state land. Above all else never ever ever touch a descanso.

Stay tuned…



Deluxe 1950 Plymouth Turtle Back Business Sedan

A very long time ago, I lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There was not too much going on in Carlisle at that time despite the fact the town was home to the Army War College, Dickinson College and Dickinson School of Law. The natives pretty much chose to keep life simple. Growing white asparagus was the highlight, with one notable exception: The Carlisle Auto Fair.

Every year the muddy Carlisle Fairgrounds was over taken by miles of muddy men selling hubcaps for Oldsmobiles made in 1954-1962, tires for Fords from the 1960s, Corvette hood ornaments, Tbird steering wheels, you name it. Quite the subculture. My Pittsburgh brother, a corporate lawyer, was into restoring vintage cars as a hobby. Once a year he would trade in his dress shoes for boots and drive on over to Carlisle to peruse the hubcaps. I went with him.

“Not original paint on that Ford,” he would whisper to me with a hint of distain.

“How much for that trim?” he’d ask a guy in dirty jeans smoking a cigarette hovering over odd shaped pieces of steel. On hearing the answer my brother would shake his head and say, “Nahhhhh, you’re kidding me! That’s way too much.” Then after about 15 minutes of faux haggling Brother would walk away holding some curvy chrome item purchased at the price they both had in mind at the beginning of negotiations.

One year we were walking around when we spotted a group of tough looking dudes all in black sitting up on the hill. They spotted us first. “How much for the woman?” one guy asked my brother. I pretty much put my feet into 5th gear. Brother had spent a lot of money that day and might want to off set costs.

I thought of all this today when I took my car to the New Old Santa Fe Trail Garage for a new brake light. Ranger and Joe have been praying over my car, that would be the same car, for 15 years. After Joe quickly popped in the new light, I looked over at the garage and saw a very shiny black vintage car.

“Was that car made in about 1950?” I asked. Joe about fell to the ground. He knows I do not know how to add windshield wiper fluid.

“YES! I restored it. It’s a 1950 Plymouth Business Sedan, Turtle Back Deluxe model. Very rare.”

So here you go Brother, complete with dice and cherries: