Depending on which way you go, it’s about 220 miles from Farmington, New Mexico, to Taos. Today was all about visiting the D.H.Lawrence Ranch in Taos and I’d been given special permission to visit on a day when it isn’t generally open to the public. Better than that, the trustees at the University of New Mexico, who now administer the ranch, had granted me permission to film there.It had been arranged that I would meet Ricardo, the Ranch’s caretaker, at the front gate of the property at 2pm. Google was telling me that it is a five hour drive through Navajo City, Jicarilla Apache Nation reservation and on through Dulce, Chama and Carson National Forest, before crossing the Rio Grande into Taos. That’s a bloody long way and I had to crack it out before lunchtime.
First, I had to effect some minor repairs on the bike. Carrying my exceptionally cool Mexican blanket, strapped to the forks and resting on the headlight had obviously not done the headlamp unit mounting a lot of good because on the way to Walmart last night, I noticed a rattle. Thinking it was just a case of nipping up a bolt, I got out my tools and realised that the main mounting bolt was tight. So I took the headlight apart in situ to find that the internal robots that hold the bracket to the shell had started to come loose. One had already came away and it was this that was causing the rattle. If I left it any longer, not only would my perfect spot for my cool Mexican Blanket be under threat, but I’d be buggered if I wanted to ride at night.
Fortunately, the holy trinity of bodging came to the rescue. What’s that, you say? What is this trinity you speak of? Duct tape, Araldite and cable ties, my curious friend. Three items that will get your fundament out of a sling when you don’t have access to the correct parts, tools or whatever it is you need to permanently fix a problem.
With that resolved for hopefully the next thousand or more miles, I was on my way. I cued up some more classic Americana on my earphones and hit the road. Even in the arse end of nowhere, Google maps has been my go-to navigation method of choice. When there’s no signal, as long as you’ve got mapping cached for the area you’re in, Google will work and I bloody love it for making this trip significantly easier than it would have been 20 years ago.
My iPhone was telling me that I was predicted to arrive at 1436, but I was treating that 36 minutes as down time for fuel, wee stops and everything else. It meant I didn’t have time to take *any* photos or shoot any video along the way, so you’ll have to take my word for it, the scenery was breathtaking. On the way, I clicked over another thousand on the tripmeter, meaning that I’ve now ridden 3000 miles on my journey this far,
Farmington is basically hot and a bit sandy. By the time I was past Navajo city, things were starting to look distinctly green again. There were trees – proper ones. And grass, too. The road I was on was just superb biking territory. Even though I was enjoying it immensely, I couldn’t help but think how much faster I could have taken those sweet, sweet curves on my Triumph Explorer 1200.
I only needed one gas stop as I’d filled up the previous night so I made good time, stopping only once more for a call of nature in the bushes. Unfortunately, this little slack in the schedule meant that lunch was off the cards – but I didn’t mind; I just wanted to ride and get there.
The Rio Grande bridge is a bit impressive. They say that an appreciation of the need for negative space is key if you’re going to be a graphic designer. Whoever did the Rio Grande clearly knew their stuff because there’s a very large amount of negative space going on in the gorge and the river at the bottom seems bloody tiny.
Arriving at the turn off for Taos, recent (Ballarat) history was repeating itself as there was five (yes FIVE) miles of unmade road to navigate in order to get to the ranch. I womaned up and got on with it
When I finally made it to the property, almost bang on time, Ricardo came out to meet me. We had a few formalities to complete prior to my being able to film and after that he gave me the tour. Ricardo is a seriously nice bloke and clearly loves the place with all his heart. He’s been the caretaker for many years, as was his father before him and it’s his job to keep the property safe, secure and preserved for future generations.
Okay, so why on earth was I going to all of this trouble to visit the ranch in the first place? What’s the connection with Easy Rider, anyway? Well, if you’ve seen the film (and if any of you haven’t by now, this blog can’t be making an awful lot of sense) you’ll remember the scene outside the jail, when Wyatt, Billy and George have just been released (it was actually filmed in Las Vegas, NM – I’m going there tomorrow).
Our motorcycling heroes were arrested for parading without a licence and put in a cell with George, the alcoholic small town lawyer, played by Jack Nicholson in his first major cinematic role. Jack absolutely rocks the part and because most of the dialogue in the film is improvised, it’s a fair bet that his lines outside the jail were his own:
“Here’s to the first of the day, fellas. To ol’ D.H. Lawrence. Nik-nik-nik-f-f-f-Indians”
According to legend, the cast and crew visited the D.H.Lawrence ranch during filming and it’s suggested that they might have even slept there (although Ricardo refutes this, saying that the caretaker at the time would not have allowed this). Either way, Jack Nicholson was well aware of the significance of the ranch and references him in his speech.
D.H. Lawrence spent eleven months at the ranch in 1924 and 1925 and this was some of his most productive time as a writer. He had a dream of setting up a utopian community called Rananim, a collection of like minded artists and intellectuals, working toward a new way of life. Although the was never to be, his influence strongly contributed to the development of Taos as an artists’ colony by drawing famous visitors to the area during his lifetime.
Lawrence and Frieda were invited to the ranch by its then owner, Mabel Dodge Lujan and they first visited in 1922. When they took up residence in ’24, Mabel legally signed the ranch over to them in exchange for the handwritten manuscript to Sons and Lovers.
Lawrence and Frieda left the ranch on his birthday on September 11th, 1925. He died in France in 1930, having never returned.In 1935, Frieda had his body exhumed and cremated in France and brought the ashes to the ranch for interment. Apparently, she mixed them into concrete and made the altar in the memorial chapel on the hill above the ranch:It’s a beautiful place, but possibly more beautiful still is the tree outside their cabin, where he used to sit at a simple wooden bench to write. It’s a massive ponderosa pine and was painted by Georgia O’Keefe during her stay at the ranch in 1929. To think that this incredible organism was there before Lawrence was born and will likely outlive me and possibly my own daughter is quite wonderful. It’s been featured in a National Geographic piece on famous trees and I spent quite a long time under it, reading and thinking about all the other artists who visited and spent time at the ranch. Tennessee Williams, Aldous Huxley, Ansel Adams and O’Keeffe, to name a few, once strolled the 160 acres of aspen, pine and wildflowers nested at 8,500 feet on Lobo Mountain. Finishing up. I packed my little lightweight filming kit and said my goodbyes to Ricardo. I found a nice little motel in Taos and the receptionist recommended a local Italian place for vegan food (if anywhere will have vegans in New Mexico, it’s Taos – these days it’s very chichi).I ate an enormous cheeseless pizza and drunk about three pints of water. I was also introduced to the local speciality of deep fried Avocado. I’ve got to tell you, it’s not wrong…