Ant Volcano [Revised]

anthill in Llano Quemado

Something doesn’t fit

Here’s a shot from just before the heavens opened up and rained all night and most of the next day. Inside the old adobe, we just got colder and colder. When it’s damp, you really feel it. I lit the pilot lights on the two gas heaters in the house and cranked up the one in the living room for a while. That wasn’t enough of course, so tonight we had a fire in the wood stove.

That’s a typical anthill in the photo. I love the way it mimics the extinct volcanoes in the distance. The rest of this view is pure real Taos: busted slab-side fencing, never-will-be-painted bare concrete stucco, homemade solar collectors, low-hanging power lines, and all the sagebrush you can eat. No trailers in this shot, apparently. I have no idea how that happened.

We drove out Old State Road 570 this evening to spy upon a house for sale. That would be straight ahead from this shot, turn south, and drive out west toward the gorge. A major landslide blocked the road around the time we moved here, and the road gods just abandoned it. Before you reach that point, the landscape drops and twists and makes for stunning views. That’s where the house is. Straw bale and frame construction, but no portal* that I could see, and no garage. No storage or way to enjoy the out-of-doors—in New Mexico, mind you.

That’s how it often is: you pay umpteen thousand for a home and have to lean your tools against the wall and leave your car out in the snow. Rent a storage unit, keep belongings in your truck. Okay, I get it. But this place also had a too-strong whiff of owner-built without much money (the pain, the pain). I sympathize completely, God knows, and I’m fighting too. But for that and a couple acres of desert, somebody wants $230K? No way! Bargain basement for this town, I know, but just not good enough. Dreams of grandeur or escape, I guess. In Taos the stink of failure is often mistaken for sage.

* Portal (Spanish): an open, covered porch for sitting outside.

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John Hamilton Farr lives at 7,000 feet in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore tells it, John is “a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” This JHFARR.COM site is the master writing archive. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page. For a complete list of all John’s writing, photography, NFTs, and social media links, please visit JHFARR.ART  

  • Mary Martin September 14, 2013, 5:09 AM

    Are those fire ant mounds?

    • JHF September 14, 2013, 8:20 AM

      No, not fire ants. Just good ole New Mexico ants. Big brown and red ones!

  • christian ienni September 14, 2013, 1:31 PM

    “This place also had a too-strong whiff of owner-built without much money…”

    or basic engineering skills, sounds like.
    (not to mention common sense- “yeah! i’ll buy a couple cheap acres in Taos & build my own personal Fortress of Solitude! it’ll be great!!” uh-huh…)

    • JHF September 14, 2013, 2:03 PM

      No cheap acres in Taos, unfortunately. The house looks decent, too, just half-hearted. As if somebody lost the will to make it better. Also possibly related: as I tweeted earlier, “Taos is a funny place. It ruins you for everywhere else, yet that also works the other way around.”

      • christian ienni September 14, 2013, 3:56 PM

        yeah, maybe it was more in the “seemed like a good idea at the time” category – someone decided to dive into the deep end of Taos with both feet before realizing that, well, Taos is Taos, and unless you’re strong enough to deal with that “Taos-ness” it’ll eat you alive! 😉

  • terri September 14, 2013, 4:32 PM

    I do love how you can write such love/hate pieces and not get accused of hating New Mexico…and not get locals defensive. Or maybe you do. The last line is perfectly anguished. I find folks in ABQ to be less accepting of writing on the idiosyncrasy of their city. Like people out taking photos of the water as it travels under the Alameda road/bridge. Yes, it’s higher, we’ve had days of rain and that’s rare. But it’s still FUNNY to see people doing a thing that anywhere else would indicate a dead body floating or something. Perhaps that is what it all boils down to out here. What passes for typical or ‘normal’ in the rest of the US never does here. You named it beautifully: the bare stucco that will never be painted. The state that will never change, the river that will never have (much) water in it, the (politician, judge, criminal, system) that will remain corrupt. But also the anthill that shows us how to appreciate the dry volcanoes.

    • JHF September 14, 2013, 7:14 PM

      You probably know all this, but people come here to reinvent themselves, and most of them don’t make it. Folks crash and burn, get divorces, sell unfinished houses, and end up with four jobs. I’ve never seen such a high proportion of formerly middle-class people as there is in Taos. There IS anguish in the sage. It also smells good and holds the soil down. The attraction for me—and I’m definitely attracted—has little to do with Taos proper. I came for Nature. On the other hand, I’m rather suited for life in Taos, to be someone from here. As for the state, as I told someone before we moved from Maryland, “I love Maryland, but New Mexico makes me cry.” It’s true. I’m blown away.

  • Michael C. Rael May 18, 2014, 11:07 AM

    San Antonio Mountain in the background (center) is a great extinct volcano, and this photo reminds me of all the photos I’ve taken of the mountain in my book, “Sentinel in Sight.”

    Sorry for the shameless plug, but you can get “Sentinel in Sight” online at or at Moby Dickens in Taos.

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