The Flute at Sunrise–Chaco Canyon

JUNE 16-18, 2023
(Just a few spaces left–register soon!)
On the mesa at Chaco. You. Native American flute plays as birds sing the day awake. First rays of sunrise warmly greet you.
If you’ve been to Chaco Canyon New Mexico before, you most likely want to return.  If you’ve never been to this profound World Heritage site, this is your opportunity for a wonderful immersive experience.  Chaco is vast, silent and filled with the voices of the Ancestors in ancient Pueblo sites, rock art known as petroglyphs and phenomenal archeoastronomy reflected in its buildings.  Then there are the stars at night! 
In fact, this will be New Moon when the night sky will especially display her sparkling glory.  We will be in the Canyon close to Summer Solstice, when special features of the ancient buildings receive the first rays of light in a remarkable display of architecture and the natural world.
Cultural resource guide for  the group will be respected elder and artist Bea Duran of Tesuque Pueblo.  Bea considers Chaco to be ancestral heartland and homeland and her humor and goodwill radiates a warm welcome to all.

Bea Duran of Tesuque Pueblo

Prior to the two night camping trip, the group will meet  with Ehren Kee Natay, a local Indigenous multi-media artist and recognized member of the Dine Nation with Kewa Pueblo, Irish and German ancestry. Deeply connected to his ancestral traditions, Ehren will share his understanding of historical and contemporary Indigenous culture, dispelling myths along the way.
His creative work has shown internationally and can be found at two New Mexico Heritage Museums. His current work further infuses his musical craft in Native American flute and drumming with visual aesthetics via live-performance. In his words, “I have a prayer, a spirit, a breath that is inside me.  It tells me to create. It cannot be silenced.  It can only be quiet by creating.”  

It is this spirit and breath that can be found in Chaco Canyon. I hope you will join us in this journey of discovery.

Doug Conwell, Earth Walks

For more details, cost and registration information contact    There is limited space available so be in touch as soon as you can!

“Honest to Goodness”–Tio’s Story


I got to know Tio Manzanares Tio’s Biography  of the Abiquiu area one winter when I was instructor at Ghost Ranch Conference Center for the “Earth Walks” the Spirit of Place” college Jan Term course in 2002.  He impressed me as a sincere, humble and jolly person with many magical stories to tell.  To this day I don’t know which story was “true” or not, but what story that anyone tells is actually “true,” including mine? For me, what was true were the genuine smiles he engendered, the noble yet powerfully simple wisdom he imparted  and the history of this part of northern New Mexico that he experienced and shared. As a younger man, Tio had worked for artist Georgia O’Keeffe, so he had many recollections of this somewhat enigmatic icon to share.  “True” or not, they were fascinating, amusing and one person’s insight into O’Keefe’s world.

Tio accompanied a number of our Earth Walks and on one he shared that during his days as a stone mason, he would watch and listen carefully and select only those rocks and stones “that wanted to go with me.”  That seemed like such good advice for us all, not in just selecting stones for a garden wall but in making daily decisions in our lives.I wrote the following for an edition of the Northern New Mexico Community College literary magazine “Trickster,” before Tio’s passing in 2018:

Honest to Goodness or “With Good Attitude Comes Good Weather”Tio Manzanares

I would have never thought ghosts, spaceships and Georgia O’Keefe had anything in common until I met Tio Manzanares, stone mason, musician songwriter and story teller from Abiquiu, New Mexico. Are the stories Tio tells true? That’s for you to decide.  Reality is completely overrated, honest to goodness.

I was teaching at Ghost Ranch conference center near Abiquiu when someone said, “There’s a local storyteller today and everyone’s invited.”  My course was on the cultural and spiritual traditions of northern New Mexico so you can bet I went to hear him at his Elder Hostel presentation. But turns out it wasn’t just hearing him—it was seeing him. Something about his eyes.  A twinkle, yes, but more like a silent chuckle just before his whole face ignited into laughter and a smile, his eyes disappearing into tiny slits.  My curiosity was ignited as well.  Anyone who’s got a smile that big has something they’re not telling—or something they should be telling. In Tio’s case it was the latter, and I had to meet him.

Former home of artist Georgia O’Keeffe at Ghost Ranch

At dinner time I headed for the dining hall to find Tio.  Just outside the hall are huge elm trees where years later I would find myself on a late summer afternoon playing my Native American flute and standing with Santa Clara Pueblo elder Rina Swentzell, a respected scholar, architect, author and friend.  As I was playing, the twittering of a little bird hopping from branch to branch caught my attention. I finished playing and without thinking about it, turned to Rina and said, “Happy birthday!”  She looked astonished and asked how I knew that this day was indeed her birthday.  My answer?  “Honestly, I didn’t know.  But a little bird told me.”

As I entered the dining hall, there was a loud cacophony of noise from people busily engaged in conversations from their classes, speculations on the weather and a thousand other things. The hall was a large open space with a somewhat aging collection of tables, chairs and food serving stations all looking out through framed picture windows across open fields to the southern expanse of the Chama River Valley.  Ranch hands with dusty jeans and weathered boots munched hamburgers next to carefully coiffed Texas gals adorned with the appropriate amount of turquoise jewelry who sat next to college kids with tattoos and swatches of rainbow streaked hair.  Some people sat silently by themselves. All were welcome at the table.

I had two things in mind: supper and Tio. I found both, one that satisfied the body and the other that left my curiosity happily hungry for more. I spotted Tio, who to me looked like a magical duende, a Santa Claus off duty:  hair tousled from the winds, well-worn jeans, shirt not totally tucked in with an occasional spot of chile. New Mexico chile, of course.    I made my way over to his table, introduced myself and asked if I could sit and visit.  “Of course!” he said, smiling as he waved me to the open seat next to him. I sat down, but I soon learn I wouldn’t be sitting much longer.  I’d be dancing.

A few days later my Ghost Ranch class and I were at the cafe called Socorro’s in Hernandez, an area not far from the ranch and Abiquiu.  Plates of food came steaming hot from the kitchen–enchiladas smothered with the flavor of New Mexico—red and green chile, onion, cheese, frijoles.  Posole, the puffed corn stew that takes over where hominy leaves off, shoulders up to spicy rice and the whole combination ended up dancing off the plate and into my mouth. Our group was dancing too—or trying–to the songs of Tio and his longtime friend Socorro who ran the restaurant.. Her husband and son were belting out a lively instrumental backup on guitar and trumpet and in the tiny cafe the sound was deafening.  I and the class didn’t have a clue how to dance to this music, but were are dancing anyway, happily providing entertainment for locals in the cafe.  Smiles abounded amidst the pounding beat, spicy chile sauce and Spanish canciones.

I was told that Socorro was a major mariachi diva back in the day and I believed it. Her voice boomed out louder than the instruments as she smiled widely while waving her hands rhythmically in the air.  She’s had on her kitchen work clothes and apron but in my eyes she was spotlighted on stage, glittering with silver braid around a black gabardine jacket and skirt, complete with a white cotton blouse and big bright red bow tie.

Socorro Herrera at her restaurant in Hernandez, NM

Mariachi music is often called la musica de la gente (music of the people), evoking stories of triumph and sorrow, betrayal and heroism, life and death.  It’s the strand that weaves together baptisms, graduations, weddings, reunions and festivals of all kinds, the gorilla glue that’s been keeping generations of many northern New Mexicans together. And it’s the music Tio said he’d been making since he was two years old. For good description of mariachis see:

 “The older generation was very musically inclined.” Tio said. “It was a way to relax.  There were lots of dances where local bands played.”  At some point he began to record music of his own on 45 rpm records but ironically had no player on which to listen to them until some unknown person gifted him with one on his doorstep. Gifts from unknown and unseen angels—it’s a theme that runs through Tio’s life.  But he had to deal with some not so better angels when it came to getting his music in the public ear.

“I had bad experiences with the Spanish language stations,” Tio shared.  “They had an unwritten rule: you pay to play.  The FCC said you should support the community but they weren’t playing local music.  I’m embarrassed to say it was the ‘gringo’ stations that agreed to air my music every now and then.”

Back in Tio’s early years a traveling troupe of entertainers wound its way up from Albuquerque and into the isolated villages of northern New Mexico, bringing music, cuentos y dichos—modes of storytelling that kept the culture vibrant.  Imagine the 1957 hit Broadway show Music Man with a local version of Robert Preston rolling into town—maybe not with 76 trombones, but still with lots of fanfare and great anticipation.  Tio joined the troupe dressed as a clown and acting every bit the part.  He must have been in his perfect element among the puppets and ventriloquists, musicians and assorted members of the traveling troupe. Tio’s grandfather was also a clown in the shows.  They say humor is the best medicine and so it must have been for him.“He never smiled except when he was a clown with the Maromero,” Tio recalled, “and then only once in a while.”

As he got older, Tio stepped outside his familiar world, venturing into the Los Angeles music scene a bit. During high school he worked for a Spanish language radio station and traveled around the Southwest as a news reporter. He even tried out Catholic seminary for a few years. “But honest to goodness with the temper I have, I would tell the priest off.”

For most of his life, though, Tio kept close to the land near the village of Abiquiu, where he was born in 1948. A starkly beautiful area, the valley is sheltered by shoulders of tall red, ocher and gold mesas. From some places you can see the flat-topped volcanic butte known as Pedernal to the Spanish, and Tsi Ping to the original Pueblo Keres people. The Chama River originating in Colorado snakes its way through the valley amidst a tangle of cottonwood trees, salt cedars, willows and high desert cactus and plants that have adapted to the sometimes-punishing winds and extreme temperatures. Occasional rain storms can be fierce, flooding everything in their path.

The now famous artist Georgia O’Keeffe made her way to this harsh and beautiful desert environment seeking quiet and inspiration for her work in 1929. She first landed in Taos, then Ghost Ranch and finally settled in Abiquiu. Tio worked for her part time from 1959 to 1971, helping her around the house and garden.

Tony Vaccaro, Georgia O’Keefe with “Pelvis Series, Red with Yellow” and the desert, 1960. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Courtesy of Tony Vaccaro studio.

“Miss O’Keeffe loved nature.  She had me come to work early in the day so we could watch the sunrise.  She really taught me to love nature,” he said.  “When I drove her out somewhere to paint, she wouldn’t just sketch anything, only do a real painting. And she said she ‘just made the mountains.” One time when he drove her out to paint the landscape, she told him she would paint the Pedernal (original name by Keres First Nation Pueblo of Cochiti is Tsi Ping) enough times that it would become “hers.” In a way her determined goal came true: after her death in 1986, her ashes were spread atop the iconic volcanic feature. But instead of the mountain becoming hers, it was more like she became part of the mountain.

Tsi Ping or Pedernal Peak in the mist

Tio remembered that Miss O’Keeffe would repeatedly urge him to be independent, go to school, and to have the discipline to do whatever he wanted in life. He took her advice and put that discipline to work. For over 20 years (1972-98) he was a stone mason, hauling 8,900 loads of rock and going through 42 trucks. He was given the secret of how to do the work by another stone mason.  It was hard labor for sure, but if he’d only known what he knows now it would have been easier, he says.

“An Indian friend once told me to listen to what the rocks were saying. I thought that was silly.  A rock doesn’t have any understanding.  But it was actually me who didn’t have the understanding!  Once I caught on and figured it out, the rocks were gentler to me.  I stopped smashing my fingers and could move them more easily.  I was told by the rocks not to clear all of them out of one area.  Cooperate with nature and leave some for the next generation.

“Everything in nature has a way of working in harmony with humans.  But people have to do the right things so nature will do its part. With good attitude comes good weather.  Not just one person should do this but thousands.”  Then added some more sage advice: “Just try listening to a 500-year-old cottonwood tree.  You have to listen a long time and be at ease and serene in your life.  Listen with a good heart and put away negativity.  A tree is a very sensitive thing; but it and anything in nature will respond.  If we pay attention to certain signs, we can tell when things are going to happen.”

But Tio wasn’t always paying attention. “Sometimes I was sure my truck had broken down because some of the stones I had were not intended to move from their spot.” One cold winter late afternoon his truck became disabled in a remote and isolated location. Tio was worried, unsure of what to do. There was no one in sight and the darkness was quickly clamping down around him. Suddenly in the distance he saw headlights of a vehicle, coming closer to his location.  Then he could hear tires slowly crunching on the frozen dirt road. The car arrived and out stepped a total stranger.

Inquiring as to who he was, the stranger cryptically replied, “I’m just helping out people who get stranded.”  And where are you from, Tio asked.  The reply, just as inscrutable: “Oh, a place you wouldn’t even know about.”  The stranger walked back to his car and returned quickly with the exact tools and part needed to get Tio’s truck up and going.  Then he departed into the dark.  Quickly Tio climbed the hill to watch where the stranger’s car headed but there were no lights and no sound of a vehicle in any direction.

Tio’s life was filled with the kind of inscrutable that some would call angels or visitations of divine apparitions. Towards the end of his stonemason career, he smashed his hand severely, crying out to the patron Saint Jude of Desperate and Lost Causes, “If you think you can change my life, do it!”  In a week he had a different job and ever after he kept a candle lit at the foot of a statue to the Catholic saint. “Maybe he’s the one that helped me out on that cold winter afternoon when my truck broke down,” Tio mused.One time he was watering plants outside his house and heard someone call his name.  No one was around, but then he saw a “very pretty young lady floating in the air above the trees.”  He felt fearful at first, but then she spoke in very gentle soothing tones. “She talked about a lot of things that would happen in the future and showed me a large animal chewing on the world,” he said.  “Then she told me I was going to be very sick but that she would take care of me and I’d live past 95 years old.”

Not all his close encounters were with the metaphysical, but they were definitely tinged with the mystical as well as the amusing.  Like his encounter with what he called the “bus queen.” Tio once owned a school bus which he was tinkering with to turn into a traveling van or even a place to live.  But he gave it up to a homeless man who was living in a car and struggling with dialysis.  He was on a search for another school bus when he met a woman from Colorado who said she had over 100 buses and would give him one.  Twenty-two years later the Colorado woman called and told him, “I might take a long time but I don’t forget.”  Soon after he got his new bus.

Tio and friends at his school bus “summer home”

Then there was the Halloween night when neighbor boys pulled a trick and partly painted his truck black and white, “like a Holstein cow or the Gateway computer logo.”  The truck had been repeatedly revived with 10 motors and had “a million plus 32,000 miles on it.”  The only original things on it were the cab and doors.  Tio’s response to the prank?   He went directly to the boys’ house (correctly surmising who the culprits were), sternly confronted them in front of their parents and then gave them a Halloween trick or treat of his own.“You did a good job,” he said with I imagine a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “But it wasn’t good enough.  I want you to finish painting the truck.”  They did.  The story got around the Abiquiu valley and traveled with Tio wherever he drove the Gateway Holstein cow truck.

There were also aliens from other worlds.  Tio said he had encounters himself, but an uncle who was a sheepherder near Roswell had one to be remembered for sure.  As Tio told it: “My uncle was out with the sheep one day when he saw a big flash of light and heard a crashing sound on the land.  He went over to see about the commotion and found a strange looking vehicle on the ground and odd little men in brown skirts running around like they were in shock.” Tio said almost immediately his uncle was visited by government agents in large black cars who told him to leave the area and that they would take over from there.  This was in 1947, the date most ascribed to the Roswell Incident, which the U.S. Military claims was a nuclear test surveillance balloon.  Fact or fiction?  Military operation or extraterrestrial visit?

In recent years, Tio stepped a bit more out of the radar to live on a patch of high desert land near Abiquiu.  He was harder to find, out of cell phone range. No land line, but on the land for sure. He mailed me directions to his place, and one day I and some visiting friends decided to find him.  It felt like a treasure hunt with cryptic clues:  turn past the second fence post after the third dirt road; don’t take the left fork, it will get you lost; look for the large juniper tree on your right….and so on.  I think we did take the wrong fork, had to backtrack, and had to be careful not to get the tires stuck in an arroyo with deep sand.  Climbing up a hill on the rutted road, we found the remote valley where his summer home—a converted school bus—and his winter home—a metal shed—were situated. As we drove up, Tio emerged from the bus, his always smiling self, to greet us.  On a tour of the place, he shared that friends had paid to install a small propane heater in the shed and one day a set of brand new mattresses mysteriously showed up at the doorstep.  Another of those inscrutable gifts from the mysterious unknown that have visited Tio throughout his life.

As remote as it seemed, I knew that if I could fly like a raven I could take a short direct path and flap over the McMansions bulldozed into the hills and former farm fields of the Abiquiu Valley.  It got me thinking. A lot lies beneath the surface of the iconic red chiles hanging at the front door, like at my own house. Generations of colonialism and traumatic cultural conflict continue to the present day and show up in many sad and distressing ways here.  Economic hardship in New Mexico is pervasive, so much that people sometimes say when the nation’s economy goes for a deep dive, it isn’t noticeable here.  I suppose I’m an unwitting part of the gentrification and social displacement, a product of privilege in my own way. As I said, it got me thinking.

Some people might see Tio’s life as one of poverty, wonder how he could live like that and then they might pass on by to find photo opts of the intensely blue skies or Georgia O’Keeffe’s house in the village or attend seminars at Ghost Ranch like the ones I taught.  I was reminded of British author Rodger Housden’s experience writing Sacred America: the Emerging Stories of the People. Traveling across the country he stopped in Santa Fe and for some inexplicable reason he was interviewing me for the book and had joined one of our Earth Walks events.  He shared this insight: “I was in Moab Utah trying to find a woman who local people told me I should meet due to her profound insights.  Eventually I made my way to her tiny trailer in the desert.  There wasn’t even room for me to sit down, but I felt like I was in the grandest palace in the world. I’ve been in those palaces, too,” he added, “and have felt literally claustrophobic by the smallness of spirit.”

As our visit continued, Tio lamented, “So many places have been taken over by newcomers. There is more dishonesty, deceit.  They try to regulate the old timers with laws and restrictions.  They make honest to goodness people smaller, calling them old fashioned because they are kind.  They are doing things that aren’t environmentally sound, like using dangerous pesticides for farming rather than the old natural methods.”He was quick to add, though, that “there are a lot of good newcomers.”

Tio didn’t invent a cure for some disease, travel around the world in record-breaking speed or land on the moon.  He did, however, help keep traditions of New Mexico alive.  Like many native New Mexicans he was anciently rooted in the spirit of place and the power of kindness, seasoned with fierce confidence, a good dash of humor and belief in miracles.“A stone mason got me started with doing that kind of work early on,” Tio said.  “It’s like putting a puzzle together, finding the pieces that fit.  It’s helped me deal with my problems of life.  The rocks have to fit in a special way, just as things had to fit together in a certain way in my life so I could do what I wanted to do.”

Honest to goodness, indeed.

Harvest Moon with Earth Walks at Synergia Ranch, NM

The Dome at Synergia Ranch, near Santa Fe, NM

Earth Walks for Health (the name of the nonprofit program when it was sponsored by the New Mexico Foundation for Human Enrichment and provided a focus for people dealing with HIV and AIDS.) spent harvest full moon weekend October 24, 1999 with Bea Duran, her mother Ignacia Duran and aunt Priscilla at Synergia Ranch near Santa Fe, NM.

   Bea Duran of Tesuque Pueblo

Nearly 20 people attended on a beautiful, warm autumn weekend, sharing under the apple trees as leaves dropped gently in the breeze.  The full moon rose in the evening as we chanted and played drums of a Tewa honor song. There was storytelling, marshmallows, laughter and dancing around the bonfire as we walked slowly around the fire, following the pace of Richard, who was using a walker due to health complications of HIV. I awoke early morning the next day to call of the full moon on the western horizon. Breakfast was made by the group in the dining hall to the radio tunes of black gospel and gales of laughter to high heaven.  Then a three-hour wisdom circle and drumming in the dome during which Bea and I quite spontaneously stood behind Richard as he shared his challenges of dealing with his health complications.  Bea was a drum maker and I end up purchasing one of her larger drums, which to me resonated with love, power and expansion of  her creative and prayerful intentions, her Indigenous traditions and the weekend shared together in community.


Chaco Canyon Calling! June 2023



The Flute at Sunrise–Chaco Canyon

JUNE 16-18, 2023
(Just a few spaces left–register soon!)
On the mesa at Chaco. You. Native American flute plays as birds sing the day awake. First rays of sunrise warmly greet you.
If you’ve been to Chaco Canyon New Mexico before, you most likely want to return.  If you’ve never been to this profound World Heritage site, this is your opportunity for a wonderful immersive experience.  Chaco is vast, silent and filled with the voices of the Ancestors in ancient Pueblo sites, rock art known as petroglyphs and phenomenal archeoastronomy reflected in its buildings.  Then there are the stars at night! 
In fact, this will be New Moon when the night sky will especially display her sparkling glory.  We will be in the Canyon close to Summer Solstice, when special features of the ancient buildings receive the first rays of light in a remarkable display of architecture and the natural world.
Cultural resource guide for  the group will be respected elder and artist Bea Duran of Tesuque Pueblo.  Bea considers Chaco to be ancestral heartland and homeland and her humor and goodwill radiates a warm welcome to all.

Bea Duran of Tesuque Pueblo

Prior to the two night camping trip, the group will meet  with Ehren Kee Natay, a local Indigenous multi-media artist and recognized member of the Dine Nation with Kewa Pueblo, Irish and German ancestry. Deeply connected to his ancestral traditions, Ehren will share his understanding of historical and contemporary Indigenous culture, dispelling myths along the way.
His creative work has shown internationally and can be found at two New Mexico Heritage Museums. His current work further infuses his musical craft in Native American flute and drumming with visual aesthetics via live-performance. In his words, “I have a prayer, a spirit, a breath that is inside me.  It tells me to create. It cannot be silenced.  It can only be quiet by creating.”  

It is this spirit and breath that can be found in Chaco Canyon. I hope you will join us in this journey of discovery.

Doug Conwell, Earth Walks

For more details, cost and registration information contact    There is limited space available so be in touch as soon as you can!

“We are the World!”

We Are the World

I did not want to host the Earth Walks at my home that November 2 in 1998. As an Indigenous friend who had considered moving in as a housemate had said, there were “spirits” there that were not good. I had certainly seen evidence of that myself. I moved to Rio en Medio after I had to leave my Upper Canyon Road home since it was being sold.  I could not find a rental in Santa Fe that I liked and the Rio en Medio location, though way above my price range, was in the country adjacent to an acequia (irrigation canal), orchards, a small pond and a small stream. I could see the Jemez Mountains from the place, which was to me the symbolic fire on the mountain” volcano that was part of the McKenzie Klan emblem on my mother’s side of the family. But once I moved to the house (actually a 5,000 square foot double wide mobile home that included an attached carport, full basement, two story greenhouse and studio) I discovered many negative aspects of the place.

Church at Rio en Medio

Church at Rio en Medio

Search as I did, I could not find another suitable location for the Earth Walks for Health weekend.  There were to be people attending with serious health problems so I called our guide for the weekend, Maria Elena Orona to ask her advice.  Maria Elena was of Mexican Huichol/Raramuri/Tahono O’odam ancestry and was considered a “dream healer.”  She was also a devotee of the east Indian avatar Mata Amritanandamayi.  I trusted her guidance implicitly.  In truth, she told me, there are spirits moving everywhere, spirits that have not found their final resting place.  We were to be doing a purification ceremony that she said would create a doorway of light for the spirits to pass through for their own peace and for our healing as well.  I decided to offer my home, but little did I know what was to take place–on many levels.

Maria explained that Winter Ceremony is a time of acknowledging, thanking and receiving the blessings of our ancestors and in so doing helping health and bring benefit to not only those souls and our own but those to come in the future.  Those who came to this particular Earth Walks included a mother and her three daughters whose husband/father has passed about a year before and people from Indigenous, Hispanic as well as Anglo ancestry.  We did several rituals with Maria Elena which were to “purify the mind,” and created an altar for our loved ones with their pictures, sharing flowers, candles and prayers.  Dinner was delicious, a portion of which was first brought to the altar with a prayer by Maria Elena.

After the evening concluded, I felt a deep sense of peace not only for myself and the others but for the land we were on.  It was my sense that this valley with its relatively constant source of water had been a place of intense struggle and conflict over time, at least since the coming of Europeans.  When I first moved to Santa Fe, I was told as an outsider Anglo I would not be welcome.  There had unfortunately also been a history of drug and alcohol abuse in the valley.  By the time I moved here, much of that had changed, but I felt that the sad part of its history lingered in dark shadows and recesses.

Album Cover for USA for Africa

After the ceremony and all had gone to sleep, I walked into the open field below the house.  The clouds parted and the moon emerged.  I felt so positive about what had happened that I spontaneously broke into the song, “We Are the World.”    It truly felt that the Winter Ceremony had helped to lift at least some of the disturbing energies of the valley that night. As Maria Elena said, “we helped open a portal through which these and other souls may be with God.”  Just before that time, my father had passed and I felt the ceremony helped Daddy on his journey.  It was the week of my birthday as well and I felt thankful for the gatherings with Earth Walks participants that had occurred and those that were to come. We are the world indeed and I prayed that the healing work that night in some way might be of benefit to others.


Coyote and the Pyramids of Mexico

(This is next in a series of highlights from my Earth Walks experiences over the years.)

Coyote and the Pyramids of Mexico

I traveled to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in southern Colorado for first time in July 1990.  The tallest dune is 750 high, which is over seven stories. At the visitors’ center I learned about the fate of a coyote who died in a well of the dunes.  He had ventured into one, perhaps chasing a bird or rodent, but could not get out.  Although coyotes are sly and cunning and quite bright creatures, this one did not realize that if he had used the principle of sacred geometry and walked in a spiral direction up the sides of the dunes, he most likely would have escaped. (Watch birds circling upward through wind currents you can see this principle in action.)  Climbing in a straight, linear direction was of no help–obviously. Maybe in his next life Mr. Coyote would know that traveling in a straight path is not always the quickest way to your goal. It’s something I keep relearning in this life myself.


His story reminded me of my own years before at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan of Mexico when I had scrambled laboriously up the side to the top of the Mayan Kulkulcan (El Castillo) pyramid.  While I ate my sack lunch, I devoured the words of a Mexican anthropologist whose book I bought at the visitors’ center told of the ancient priests ascending the pyramids in a zig-zag fashion, conducting ceremony on top, then ascending the opposite side in an opposing zig-zag. Putting the two paths together formed a diamond pattern, which was also found on the back of the rattlesnake. The serpent was a central cosmological icon for the Mayas.  In fact, at summer solstice the noon day sun casts shadows down the steps of the pyramid creating the effect of these diamond shapes, ending in the huge stone head of the serpent at the bottom.

I wrote the following about that experience:

The asteroid slams into the ocean creating an immense cataclysmic tsunami. The event profoundly shapes the course of global history over millions of years and forms the Yucatan peninsula of México, a flat, almost  featureless massive limestone shelf carpeted with densely grown selva.  For reasons not completely known, huge pyramids begin rising above the jungle forest, fashioned from the limestone floor.  They are a marvel of architecture, mathematics, astronomy and human endeavor.

I sit high atop one of these, Kulkulcan, at Chichen Itza, watching tourists claw like insects up the 95-foot structure.  They clutch the safety chain on their route, unaware of a mysterious giant serpent just beneath their feet.  Their focus is on cameras, picture taking and conversation.  Mine is on lunch and a little pamphlet that will create a tsunami in my own consciousness. Sandwich in one hand, pamphlet in the other, I read that the classic Mayan culture spanned 2,000 years (1000 BCE-CE 1542). The Mayans devised a calendar system more accurate than the Gregorian calendar of 1582 and their writing skills surpassed all others in the New World. Somehow, they developed the concept of zero.  It was an amazing period of art, scholarship, political and religious fervor.

The pamphlet I read purports that Mayan priests ascended the pyramids with a predetermined zig zag pattern, conducted ceremony, and then descended the opposite side in another diagonal.  The two diagonals juxtaposed formed the diamond design on the rattlesnake, the Kulkulcan deity.  Each of the four stairways on this pyramid has 91 steps, adding up to 364, with the upper platform equaling 365 for the number of days in the year.  Guarding the bottom level is a huge stone serpent head.  During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun casts a series of triangular shadows against the northwest balustrade, creating the image of a feathered serpent.

I finish my sandwich and finish the pamphlet. Wanting to do the ancient diagonal walk, I find myself oddly hesitant.  After a deep breath, I step off into the unknown.  First thing noticeable:  My feet perfectly fit the rough, narrow limestone steps as I walk diagonally in the zig-zag pattern.  No safety chain needed.  Then, halfway down, an unexpected encounter: a man dressed in black, carrying a falcon on his arm, ascending the pyramid, also diagonally.  Time seems to stop in the silence.  Our eyes meet in mysterious recognition.  Time begins again and we continue on.  For some reason, I don’t look back to see if the man and falcon are “really there.”  Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter. Later I learn that our encounter was at the level of the pyramid where a jade jaguar statue, symbol of strength and power, had been discovered.

I reach the last step and pause for reflection at the stone carving of Kulkulcan.  Standing next to the statue is a visiting tourist who indifferently crushes out her lit cigarette on the serpent head.  One kind of light goes out, but another has ignited within me to help illuminate the unexpected zig-zag mysteries of life ahead.

(Years later, I dreamed of being a priest on top of the Kulkulcan pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico. In it, I was inspired to bring the other priests off the top of the pyramid with me to the people assembled below to do ceremony and prayer with them. I am most certain that I was assassinated for this violation against the hierarchical power structure. Was it a dream, or was it perhaps a past life?)

On my way back home to Santa Fe, NM, I stopped for a visit in Mexico City.  The city’s metro rail system was a marvel of efficiency, cleanliness as well as an educational experience.  In one passageway a magical holographic exhibit with black lights illuminated a journey through the stars.  After emerging into the sunlight above ground, I made my way towards a looming conical shape in the distance, the ultra-contemporary Basilica of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, built adjacent to original historic church.

The popular story is that the Virgin Mary appeared to a Nahua man named Juan Diego in December 1531 on Tepeyac Hill, north of Mexico City, where there was a shrine dedicated to the female Aztec earth deity Tonantzin. To this day, in Nahuatl-speaking communities (in other communities as well), the Virgin Mary continues to be called “Tonantzin” and her appearance is commemorated on December 12 each year.

The figurine pictured above from the Mexico City National Museum of Anthropology is  believed to be of Tonantzin, which reportedly means “Our Sacred Mother” in the Nahuatl language. Tonantzin continues to be connected symbolically to fertility and the earth. There are many myths surrounding the Virgin of Guadalupe but she has been recognized by the Catholic church as a manifestation of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin of Guadalupe has become a national symbol of the Mexican nation and she is viewed by many to be a special protector of Native American people.

The Virgin eventually replaced the Aztec Earth Mother goddess Tonantzin in shrines throughout the countryside.  Her image is found throughout the world, especially in the Southwest and New Mexico in many shapes and forms, from tattoos on the back of bikers to pillows and banners.  To me, however, she represents the divine feminine, great mother of the universe.


The original as well as the new church sit in sharp contrast to the shocking poverty of the people who beg for a few centavos at its doorstep.  Would La Senora really have wanted all this opulent fuss?  What would Christ have said?

Like other visitors, though, I got on the constantly moving conveyor belt to get a glimpse of the cloth with Mary’s image. I entered the Basilica as a haunting cancion and the mass began and I was on a mission: to light the candle in my hand at the main altar.  With the kind help of a local woman and nun, I received permission from one of the male priests officiating at the altar (of course, no women on the altar, even though this was a temple to honor a woman) to light the candle.  “Not normal,” the priest said in a friendly way, but he did indeed light it from one of the altar candles. (I love breaking taboos!) Shielding it carefully from the breeze, I retraced my steps around the enormous hall, exited “stage left” and placed my candle at a tiny humble shrine outside that was embedded in the hill.

From the oppressive glitter of the Basilica, I trod zig-zag (like the ancient priests did at the pyramid of Kulkulcan at Chichen Itza off the hill to make a private offering to Tonantzin with cornmeal. As the atole rose to each direction in the gentle breeze I felt a mixture of joy, sadness and thanksgiving.

Back in the Metro, I encountered an amazing photographic display that started with an image of human skin, then delved deeper into the microcosmic details to the very quasars and atomic structures as we understand it now.  At one point the skin looked like great canyons and valleys like those of distant planets or the Southwest of the United States.  I was tired from traveling and got disoriented, but a kind Mexican man helped me back in the right direction.  Running late, I arrived at the airport, checked in and walked to the gate precisely as they began to board….I was on my way home.

“Come in and Eat!”

(This is the latest entry about my times and life in New Mexico, and special experiences with the Earth Walks program I co-founded.)

“Come in and Eat!” 

I moved to Santa Fe in December, 1978 but on August 4, 1984 I received  a heartfelt welcome to my new home of New Mexico.  It happened at the Corn Dance ceremony, Santo Domingo Pueblo (now called Kewa in the original Keres language).

Over 500 dancers entered the plaza for the ceremony.  Umbrellas of onlookers sprouted like gaily colored flowers as the morning sun grew stronger along with the power of the drum and chanting.  Heartbeat, soul beat.  A whirlwind spirit moved through the area, stirring up dust and bits of paper borne high above the crowd. The clouds near the Jemez Mountains across the Rio Grande valley seemed to hear the call of the prayers because they arrived to shower us their gifts of a light rain, answering prayers offered by the dancers and drummers.  

A jellybean ant–or so a little boy next to me called him–did his own ceremonial dance on my arm as I sat cross legged on the ground, eye level with the line of dancers.  At that moment, something happened in my awareness.  Drums beat in rhythm, their vibration transmitted up my spine.  I felt a wordless connection with the ceremony that was so foreign, yet so very familiar.

Hunger brought me back to the mundane.  I took my sack lunch out to the ocean of cars in the dusty parking area beyond the dancers and the plaza and found a perch on a concrete parking curb.  Suddenly I heard from behind me a woman’s loud voice:  “What are you doing?”  Uh, oh, I thought.  Was I violating Pueblo rules?  I turned around and there was the woman standing in the doorway of her home looking at me.  “Come in!” she said emphatically and with a broad smile.  “Come in and eat!”  I was being invited into her home to share a meal.  This was one of my first introductions to Pueblo generosity and hospitality.

This generosity has been a part of recorded history, ever since Spanish explorer Coronado was given shelter and food on his failed quest for the gold and riches of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola.  When they saw Zuni Pueblo shining golden in the sunset, the story goes that they thought they had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  ‘Nothing’ but mud, they pressed on.  What Coronado failed to appreciate was the wealth and richness of the ancient indigenous cultures of the Southwest and their deeply rooted wisdom traditions.  Sitting at the table of my host in her home at Kewa, I tasted this golden heritage and felt honored and blessed.

A humorous side note:  In my earlier “wannabe” days in Santa Fe, I wanted to get a “Pueblo” ribbon shirt like the ones I saw men wearing during feast day ceremonies.  The ones I found were quite expensive.  During a shopping trip at a local western wear store, I found a brightly colored snap button western-style shirt I thought would serve the purpose, at a much more affordable price.  At one of the dances in Kewa Pueblo I attended after that, I noticed an elder in the ceremony who looked like he could be his nineties.  He carried a long ceremonial pole adorned with feathers and flags, moving and dancing with great vigor and concentration. Much to my surprise he was wearing  exactly the  same style shirt that I had bought at the store! It was one more way in which I felt like I had “arrived” in New Mexico.”

The Way of the Drum

                                        Arnold Herrera, Cochiti Pueblo

I joined about 40 other folks to experience the wit and wisdom of Cochiti Pueblo elder Arnold Herrera at his afternoon presentation in the main Library recently.  Arnold and his sons are skilled drum makers, storyteller and keepers of the traditions.  Mr. Herrera has led several drum-making Earth Walks retreats over the years.  Here’s a couple of his comments:

The only people that don’t make mistakes are those who don’t do anything.  (From his Dad)

The drum is the heartbeat of the earth and once you believe that, the miracles start happening.  If you don’t believe, you are just wasting your time.

Enjoy this autumn day, 2022
Earth Walks


Come join a journey near summer solstice time into the vast silence and wonder of Chaco Canyon World Heritage site.  Containing the most sweeping collection of ancient architecture north of Mexico, the park preserves one of the most important pre-Columbian cultural and historical areas in the United States. Between CE 900 and 1150, Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo peoples.

We are invited to visit this special place with Pueblo guide and scholar, Jon Ghahate, who considers Chaco ancestral homeland. Mr. Ghahate is from the Pueblos of Laguna and Zuni, of the Turkey and Badger Clans. He currently serves as the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center Museum Cultural Educator in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Jon Ghahate

Here’s what you can look forward to on the journey:

  • A fascinating evening presentation on the archeoastronomy of Chaco and views of distant objects in space through the visitor center observatory
  • Walks and talks by a knowledgeable Pueblo guide through buildings & sites
  • Time on your own in the canyon
  • All meals prepared for you at the campsite
  • Evening story telling around a fire

Cost includes guiding services, campsite fee, all meals.  Transportation by carpooling.  Camper truck/vans OK, no RV.  Participants responsible for own camping equipment.  

For information and to register, contact:  or 505-231-5802

Voices from the Road: A Community Listening Project

Four years ago I was honored to be one of 400 folks from around the country to attend Krista Tippett’s “On Being Gathering.

People from many walks of life, ethnicities and ages came together to explore how to create civil dialogue in our society which has become so polarized.  Several months ago, I began my own effort to do this with what I call “Voices from the Road.”  The “road” is called Cerillos in Santa Fe, New Mexico and it is like many other hugely busy streets in America, filled with fast food establishments, a church, big box stores, people experiencing homelessness, upper income folks seeking healthy foods…it is in effect a cross section of Santa Fe.

I decided that instead of traveling thousands of miles to walk Spain’s Camino de Santiago I would walk Cerillos Road in search the stories that make up our community.  I suspected they would be stories of loss and despair, hope and transformation, laughter and tears.  I am going by bus and foot, meeting people on the streets, in workplaces and all along the way.  I’ll be posting some of these stories here along with photos, but if you’d like to be on a regular mailing list, please let me know by using the contact form in this post.


Listening to learn…  In addition to the On Being Gathering, I was inspired by Andrew Forsthoefel and his travels by foot across the country, shared in his book, Walking to Listen.