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.     http://www.ehrenkeenatay.com/
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 info@earthwalks.org    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.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9BNoNFKCBI    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:  earthwalks1@yahoo.com  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. https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/30038862-walking-to-listen



Story of the Real Thanksgiving

It’s long overdue but the real story of the first Thanksgiving is finally being heard by a much wider audience.  Take a look at this article from the Smithsonian Magazine:  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/thanksgiving-myth-and-what-we-should-be-teaching-kids-180973655/

This is not to diminish the fact that despite it all, there is much to be thankful for at this time of year.  May you be healthy and happy.

Ousamequin and Carver

Tewa Women United Healing Oasis Garden

Amaranth!  Earth Walks volunteers helped at the Tewa Women United Healing Oasis Garden this growing season.  It was a growing experience for everyone, learning not only about traditional foods and how many are also used as medicine but how indigenous people of the region are facing serious environmental contamination from the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory where the atomic bomb was first developed.  Despite a long history of environmental justice issues, the people of the region are courageous and resilient.  But they depend on support from allies on all levels.

Here’s an excellent article about amaranth and its vital importance to the Americas that appeared in The Guardian.   

We hope you’ll join us for future volunteer work throughout the U.S. Southwest.  Earth Walks is located on Tewa Pueblo land that is now known as Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Doug Conwell  Earth Walks