Las Trampas on the High Road

San Jose de Gracia Church in Las Trampas, NM

That wall’s in need of mudding. Maybe in the spring?

Behold the San Jose de Gracia Church, also known as Church of Santo Tomas Del Rio de Las Trampas! Well, at least the gate. Trampas, I’m informed, means “traps,” perhaps alluding to the early fur trade in these mountains. Then again, New Mexico is weird, and trampas also serves for “clothespins.” Take your pick!

The church was built between 1760 and 1776, and you can see the interior here. It’s not open now, but I’ve been inside, where the creaky wooden floors will set you wondering. The little paper bags you see are weighted with sand and lit with candles inside that make them glow. People call them either luminarias or farolitos, depending on which valley they grew up in. Here in Taos County, we tend to use the former term, but I should tread quite lightly on this, because luminarias also refer to bonfires made of pitch-wood that people light on Christmas Eve in front of churches and their homes.

Considering how you have to light these things one at a time with actual fire, it must involve a lot of work. On the same Christmas Day we drove by Las Trampas, we passed another tiny mountain village—sorry, I forgot the name—where luminarias lined the highway on both sides for about a mile! I don’t know how the residents ever got them lit or why the forest didn’t burn down. Impressive, either way.

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  • glenn December 31, 2013, 2:43 PM

    Ever since I read River of Traps three times I have wanted to find my way here one trip out.

    • JHF January 2, 2014, 10:38 AM

      I know that book! Haven’t read the whole thing, though. You should come on out. And I should finish the book.

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