Monday, January 26, 2009

"The Place That Always Was"

There are three ways into and out of Acoma Pueblo. First, one can ride the shuttle bus from the Cultural Center. Second, you can walk up and down the paved roadway. And third, you can use the stone stairway with handholds cut into both sides of the rock wall. No dummy me, I chose the bus for both in and out. Chuck, on the other hand, decided to walk down the road - all in the interest of art (in this case, photography). (The Cultural Center is near the trees in the upper right corner of the photo.)

By the time he got down the mesa, it was almost noon and time for lunch. Now you need to realize that the pueblo is literally in the middle of nowhere. The nearest form of commercial activity is along Interstate 40, almost sixteen mile away. So it was the Yaak´a Café at the Sky City Cultural Center or starvation. A few blogs ago, I noted my reservations about eating at cafeterias/cafes at museums or cultural centers. So we walked into the Yaak´a (corn) Café with modest expectations. We didn’t take time to study the menu board, since a sign proclaimed that the daily special was a beef and bean burrito garnished with lettuce, tomato, red onion and topped with a choice of red or green chili sauce.

We both decided to go with the special with green chili sauce along with an order of tortilla chips and salsa. The chips – red, blue, and yellow corn – came fresh from the fryer and were warm, fresh, and crisp. These were some of the best tortilla chips we’ve had since arriving in New Mexico. The salsa was as I like it – fresh, spicy, and full of cilantro. This was a promising introduction.

When the burrito arrived, we both gasped. Another mammoth burrito! The flour tortilla was generously filled with a beef and bean mixture that also included some corn kernels. In contrast to most meat fillings, this was seasoned with red chili and cumin. Now I have a limited tolerance for cumin, so I was pleased that this spice was used with caution. The green chili sauce was medium hot and was generously applied. This was truly a fine burrito.

Faced with the alternative of over-stuffing ourselves or having burrito leftovers for supper, we chose the latter (and wiser) choice. Tented with foil and heated low and slow, the repeat meal was almost as good as the original.

I do wish that restaurants would stop presenting a display of pastries as one enters and exits. This always proves to be a downfall and today was no exception. The case held cookies, sweet rolls, and fruit pies, and we couldn’t resist the temptation to bring home one blueberry pie and one apple pie. The pie crust here was interesting – more like a shortbread than a flaky shortening crust.

The Yaak´a Café’s menu was heavy on the basics – burgers, sandwiches, and wraps. But the menu did also list a number of more traditional foods – Red Chile Beef Posole, Green Chile Pork Stew, Frybread, and Acoma Lamb Stew. This is a restaurant that, lacking any competition for miles around, could have coasted. Instead, they set our tasty food at reasonable prices and has earned 4.0 Addies (on a 5.0) scale.

Since we still had our camera permit, we could photograph scenes along the roads of the Pueblo. The clouds had given way to blue sky, so the sun-rock formations-blue sky combination brought out the beauty of central New Mexico.

We were drawn to this dirt road just off the main road, but our curiosity as to where it led was squelched by a sign that read: "No Visitors Beyond This Point." We respected the wishes of the Acomas, but the message only served to increase our curiosity.

We love the New Mexico landscape; we think the colors are unlike those anywhere else. Even the sun seems to show a special appreciation for the landscape in the way that it highlights every "participant" in the scene.

As we neared the end of the road from the Pueblo, Chuck was drawn to the golden grasses along the roadside. He was almost prone on the highway to get this view of the grasses and the rocks. Oh, the challenges confronting the artist.

It was tough to leave Acoma, but we left with a better understanding of why the people choose to stay on the mesa in "the place that always was."

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