top of page

Turquoise Mission to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico

New Mexico trip with the Windsor's. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Windsor.

New Mexico trip with the Windsor’s. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Windsor.

We began our trip to Albuquerque with the intention of using Kirtland AFB as the hub of our mission while we fanned out to various New Mexico locations. Our plan was to purchase American-made gifts for the female cousins of my wife June, who currently live in Italy. It is our hope to revisit them soon via the Norfolk to Naples Pat Flight.

Finding American souvenirs has proven to be quite difficult in the last decade. Almost every item sold at Walmart or local gift shops carry the ubiquitous “Made-In China” label. Therefore, we were off to New Mexico seeking genuine turquoise and silver jewelry for all June’s (my wife) wonderful “cugine.” She and I discovered these delightful ladies in our 2013 visit to her grandparent’s ancestral Italian village, San Ambrogio Sul Garigliano, near Monte Cassino, Italy.

We started early at 0400 from Arkansas, and planned to stop at Tucumcari, NM, for the night. However, while passing the famous Texas “Cadillac Ranch” outside Amarillo, we decided to press ahead and make for Kirtland. The “extra” hour gained from CST changing to MST, along with the 14 hour July daylight, were incentives to keep traveling another 3 hours in full sunshine.

The Kirtland Inn folks were quite accommodating and got us a room for that night. The Desert Inn has a fairly new addition that is first class in every respect. We were fortunate to draw that facility for our entire stay.

Friday, 10 Jul 15

We awoke to a glorious aquamarine sky with the sun’s intense arc-white beams irradiating over the top of Sandia Mountain. Being extremely hungry we headed to the Owl Café at 800 Eubank Blvd NE. We purposely took a long route and traveled down Central Avenue, the site of the old Route 66. Its nostalgia is part of June’s life history as she was driven on this very route as a young child with her Italian family permanently departing Rhode Island, seeking their new home in California.

The Owl Cafe has perfectly captured the Route 66 ambiance. It is in the shape of a large terra cotta brown nesting bird-of-prey having its eyes encircled with neon lights. The interior is a step back into the past with its stool counters, large comfortable booths and old fashioned coin-operated wall boxes to play 50’s tunes over the PA system. It serves a plethora of traditional and southwest menus and fresh delicious coffee. From there, we planned our outing for the day.

Leaving the Owl, we headed to the Past/Present Flea Market on Lomas Blvd to see if by chance Native American Jewelry was available. There were stylish Rte 66 items galore; however, no Indian Jewelry. The very helpful and friendly proprietress suggested we try Santo Domingo Pueblo, a town north of Albuquerque. We placed it on our agenda for the morrow. Before we left her store, we discovered a booth owner who turned out to be a Pisano. She was thrilled to meet my Italian wife even if June was a 2nd generation child.

Turquoise and Silver sales in S. Domingo. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Windsor.

Turquoise and Silver sales in S. Domingo. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Windsor.

We ventured next to the Palms Trading Company  which has a large selection of Native turquoise and silver. It is also competitively priced in contrast to the touristy stores at the nearby Old Town center. We purchased two exquisite earrings while there. The Palms also gave us an idea of what to expect in the line of reasonably priced necklaces, pendants, etc. If your time in Albuquerque is limited, the Palms would be an excellent source for quick purchases of Indian jewelry at reasonable prices.

Circling back to the base, we strolled along the vendor displays lining the entrance to the BX. Kirtland has constructed a brand new Exchange and has several booths and shops with excellent Native American choices. We picked up two pieces of pottery, Navaho and Acoma pots, for cousin Fiorenzo who is an old West aficionado.

After sampling the Food Court cuisine, we did a windshield tour of the base. I had spent some Reserve training duty here for the Naval Research division attached to Sandia Laboratory. Following a serene drive through the backside of the base, we began our first day mission by leaving Kirtland and heading west on I-40. Our destination was the Crownpoint New Mexico Navajo Auction. Held on the second Friday of each month, the auction is an attraction for locals, out-of-state travelers, and visitors from all over the world. The site is a draw for vendors, trading-post owners, designer contractors, and collectors from all walks of life. Conducted in the Crownpoint Elementary School auditorium, it opens at 1600 for bidder and seller registration.

After the rug retailers check-in, they will then set up tables for bidders to view the works of art. The actual auction begins at 1900 and is usually is over by midnight although it has, on occasions, lasted until the wee hours of the next day. However, our goal for this visit was not for the rug auctions; instead it was for the jewelry vendors who set up their treasures during the early admission.

Bluffs that elicit silence and meditation. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Windsor.

Bluffs that elicit silence and meditation. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Windsor.

We took in the peaceful drive on I-40 passing the bluish-purple Jemez Mountains to the North. On the south lay the El Malpais or “The Badlands” composed of beautiful chocolate brown volcanic rock. Coming from the same direction were large thunderheads dropping much needed rain to the desert. They had the appearance of gigantic floating Portuguese Man-of-Wars dragging their huge tentacles across the dry plains. It was the monsoon season for the Southwest. Such clouds brought both relief and terror to the local inhabitants. Although the rain was much appreciated, the accompanying lightning strikes could also fetch devastating and explosive brush fires from the sap-laden pinion trees acting as volatile Molotov cocktails. The captive views quickly ate up the two-hour drive to Thoreau, NM. Alighting I-40 by Exit 53 and aiming northward onto State Hwy 371, we instantly immersed ourselves into the Great Navaho Nations Reservation.

This was the Dinè Land of famed author Tony Hillerman’s Navaho Nations Policemen, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. It is also the home of the famed Marine Corps Wind Talkers, as well as R.C. Gorman, the Navajo Picasso of American Indian Art. We pushed through canyons with heart stopping bluffs composed of terra cotta yellow or red clay cliffs, the face of which looked as if they were a continual array of heavenly temple columns tightly squeezed together.

Cookie, our Garmin voice, was confused and wanted to take us off on a side road in an easterly direction. Luckily, we retained a full sized DeLorme New Mexico Atlas which we used to navigate the half hour trip from Thoreau to Crownpoint. We arrived! True to the Crownpoint Webpage instructions, we followed the “throng” (which was a pickup driven by a Navajo who knew where he was going) to the very new and well maintained elementary school. Parking our car, we entered the building grounds and followed a young Dinè mother and child into the gymnasium. The peaceful silence within swathed us like a soft affectionate blanket. A Zen temple could not have been tranquil. Although there must have been over 100 people inside the gym, it was as if we had entered a house of serious, yet humbled worship. The stillness and solemnity was so overpowering, it produced instant pause for inward reflection.

Toward our immediate right was a line composed of over 50 individuals quietly and patiently queuing to sign a ledger book. On our left were several vendors setting up tables with various jewelry and other items for sale. In hushed tones, we inquired of the vendors if we needed to sign-in as well. They informed us that the line was for the rug sellers and bidders; and since we were not staying for the auction, we did not need to sign in.

Navajo Pottery at Crownpoint. Photo courtesu of Malcolm Windsor.

Navajo Pottery at Crownpoint. Photo courtesu of Malcolm Windsor.

We perused the first few tables and returned to the one at the gym entrance. The Navajo couple at this stand had several earrings, rings, bolos, bracelets, and necklaces on display. They introduce themselves as Bessie and Andrew Henry. Bessie designs and makes earrings and necklaces using turquoise, silver, stone, shell, and sinew. Andrew has been a Navajo silversmith for many years. His specialty is a handmade multi-layered copper and silver “storyteller” bracelet. He was a photo feature in the April 2006 issue of Arizona Highways.

His bracelet creations tell a story of a Dinè life at his home in Chaco Canyon, NM. They include the representation of desert varnish (the orange-yellow-black patina on cliff faces), Spider Rock (the site where the Navajo Spiderwoman threw her newly spun and dew-filled web into the sky thus creating the stars), the Henrys’ traditional Hogan home, the sun and clouds rising above their wagon, cottonwood trees, and the White House Ruins – one of the many Ancestral Puebloan dwellings in the area.

With such uniqueness, it was impossible for me to resist purchasing this wonderful gift for June. She also procured from Bessie several necklaces and earrings. One earring Bessie created was caste with beautiful and highly prized Blue Cinderella Turquoise stones; petite, yet very striking. When we informed the Henrys that these were presents for June’s cousins in Italy, they each beamed as if they were small children receiving a large frozen custard ice cream cone for the first time in their life. This scene was often repeated whenever we revealed our rational for the purchases to any Native American vendor we met throughout the trip. All of them were extremely proud that we had chosen their artwork as a representation of our Country.

Since our first trip was solely an excursion, we did not stay for the auction; however, we will definitely return. As we retraced our steps back to Albuquerque, we could see the remnants of puddles from the storm that had previously loomed on the southern horizon. It had turned from the thunder and fire-bolt cloudburst that the Navajos have designated as a frenzy-like male rain to their more soothing description of a dove-like female shower.

The trip back to Kirtland was completed in a little over two hours, yet the breathtaking scenery reduced it to a minuscule passage of time. That night we watched two classics; Earth Vs The Flying Saucers and It Came from Outer Space. The Roswellian milieu emanating these two vintage 50’s black-and-whites lent the perfect mise en scène to our mystic desert environ just outside our window.

Saturday, 10 Jul 15

After another large breakfast at the Owl Cafe, we then began our drive up I-25 to the Tesuque Santa Fe Flea Market, which was our final destination. Acting on the tip given the day prior by the Past/Present Flea Market proprietress, we added a stopover at the Santo Domingo Bazaar. After a fast 44-minute drive, we turned off at Exit 259 and headed west back over the Interstate.

Pueblo Jewelry Dealer. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Windsor.

Pueblo Jewelry Dealer. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Windsor.

Immediately we saw the marketplace set up next to the Phillips 66 gas station. The booths are inside a chain link fenced area and have tarps for protection against the warm, yet pleasant high plains sunlight. In less than two minutes, we were plunged into the adornments of the Puebloan people. One gentleman identified himself as Gene Pacheco, and he explained his Spanish surname was given to his people many centuries ago when the Spanish first inhabited the area. His specialty was hand-made arrowheads.

We purchased several pieces for the grandchildren, but also for June’s Italian cousin Fiorenzo who, as described previously, has never grown out of his love affair for the American Wild West. We also purchased several turquoise bracelets and pendants from these wonderful and charming First People. Again, as at Crownpoint, the men and women were visibly elated to learn that their creations assembled with their meticulous craftsmanship would soon be on its way to Italy as gifts.

Leaving the open air bazaar, we pressed on to Tesuque Flea Market. Located north of the outdoor Santa Fe Opera House, it lies on 15 Flea Market Road, Tesuque NM. There are over 40 booths with items ranging from African objects to Persian rugs. Some of the exhibits are Hippy Daliesque, such as paint brushes with smiley faces, or tchotchkes flat-tin figurines on steel poles. Sadly, the Tesuque market is now bereft of American Indian vendors. One dealer informed us that over the years the rising vendor fees forced many of the Native Americans to relocate to their local pueblos.

It was now two o’clock when we left the flea market and having taken over six hours to burn off the wonderful Owl entrees, we relocated to the Tesuque Village Market and Restaurant. Situated at 138 Tesuque Village Road, this combination gourmet deli and café is always abuzz with patrons, artists, and hipsters. Their food is delicious and made fresh daily, which makes it worth the extra wait and forego that which transpires as sustenance from the fast food joints.

Having completed our entire mission of attaining gifts for the cugini, we wrapped up our assignment to head back. The visual treat to Kirtland was not without disappointment. We headed straight into a large anvil thunderhead looming over Albuquerque. The azure blue dome sky supported by stream-lined Route-66 clouds lining the highway presented an iconographic display of our purchased treasures that truly represent a symbol of America.

Author: Malcolm Windsor

Reprint from November–December 2015 • Volume 45, No. 6


bottom of page