Family Visit with Carl

We left Hovenweep and made our way into New Mexico, spending the night at Hotel Walmart in Farmington.  We planned to spend a couple of weeks exploring the northern portion of the state before driving south to visit my brother Carl Ulrich (yes, there is a bit of confusion here.  In the US Carl is called Carl and in Denmark he is called Ulrich.  I’ll probably switch back and forth a bit.)

Back to our story.  We got up, ate breakfast and made ready to drive over to the nearby laundromat (practical things also have to be taken care of when you are cruising – even on land).  Just as I was putting the key in the ignition (literally, I had the key in my hand) a Text message ticked in on my mobile from my niece Annelise.  Carl had been found yesterday evening in a parking lot, unconscious and was now in intensive care in a hospital in Santa Fe.


Forget all about laundry, the key was inserted into the ignition and we were off towards Santa Fe – 5 hours away.  The first couple of days, Carl was in an induced coma, thereafter he came out of it and as some days passed, he got better.  Apparently, he had pneumonia when he was in Denmark a few weeks before and despite antibiotics, he was not completely well.  Whether he had a coughing spell or just fell, no one knows. But apparently he hit his head on the neighboring car as he went down, resulting in a small aneurism which in turn caused a seizure.

To make a long story short, after a couple of weeks, we could pick him up, take him home and he could begin to lead a normal life again (he’s fine today).  In the meantime, we enjoyed living in his fabulous house – The Dragon House (more about it further down).  A couple of weeks after his return, Vinni and I flew to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with my daughter and her family (not the least – our two grandchildren).

We spend three wonderful weeks in the sun, on the beach and by the pool.  It was a no stress holiday and we enjoyed being together with the family.  Our grandchildren have begun speaking Danish and it was joy to hear them chatter away.  Even Jamie (son-in-law) has begun to understand a fair bit of Danish.

Back in New Mexico, we visited Bandelier National Monument in the Jemez mountains, just southwest of Carl’s house.  Bandelier is a large area where the Pueblo Indians lived for thousands of years (until about 1000 A.D.).  Here they built cliff houses and hollowed out the sandstone cliffs for swellings.  There are many settlements in the area.  Most of them are small and probably only housed a couple of families but several are large, the largest easily housed more than 400 families.  The largest on is called the circle house and had 3-4 floors and many rooms.  As Vinni noted in her blog about Mesa Verde, Kivas are a central part of the Indian culture.  They are used for all types of ceremonies.  There are a number of Kivas in Bandelier.  We Had hoped to get a chance to go inside a real Kiva (especially in the Pueblo Ohkay Owingeh, close to Carl’s house, since he knows many that live there), but all the Pueblos and reservations are closed due to Covid. 

The long house that had up to 400 families
Vinni climbs up to inspect one of the cliff dwellings
You can see that they had begun to use advanced building techniques

Bandelier stretches many miles along the bottom, sides and rim of Frijoles Canyon.  You can trek and camp virtually everywhere, but unfortunately Vinni and I have not brought a lightweight tent, backpacks or sleeping bags with us or else we would have spent some days out in the “bush”.

The days passed quickly and before we knew, it was Christmas, which we celebrated like we were in Denmark.  First we drove up in the mountains (well, there are no mountains in Denmark) in Carl’s pick-up and wandered around until we found the perfect Christmas tree which we cut down. 

Cutting down the Christmas tree

Home and we made Gløgg  (gluhwine) and æbleskiver (Danish type of confection) – it was as Danish as can be.  Carl has tons of Danish Christmas tree decorations, so later that afternoon, the tree and the house were decorated and by God – it was Christmas.

Our Christmas tree with real candles

Now a little about Carl’s house.  Almost 50 years ago, Carl and his wife Peggy built their dream house here in the Espanola Valley right on the banks of the Rio Grande river.  They were hippies and everything, of course, had to be at one with nature.  The result was a passive solar heated home, one of the very first that was built in the United States.  Carl designed and built it himself.  It quickly became known in the architect world and a number of articles were written about it in the architectural digests.  The house has an outhang along the roof that shades the greenhouse during the summer months when heat is not need and the sun is high in the sky.  Carl cut the outhang in soft arcs and one of their friends, a potter, made a gigantic dragon neck and head.  The result is that the roofline looks a dragon flying.

The house quickly became famous as; The Dragon House.

The house is built of adobe, the traditional building material here in New Mexico.  Adobe bricks are made by mixing mud and grass, pouring the mixture in a form and letting the sun dry it.  It will become almost as hard as a rock.  These “bricks” measure about 18 inches wide by 3 feet in length and 8 inches high.  The “cement” used to hold them together is mud.  True adobe houses (like Carl’s) have walls that are over three feet thick.  Staying with the traditional building materials, the roofs are built up on vigas, tree trunks that you gather high up in the mountains (I helped Carl bring down a couple of loads back then when he was building back in the 70’s).  The vigas are laid as beams from one wall to the other and the roof is then laid on top of the viga.  True adobe buildings are unbelievably charming and very practical.  The sun heats the walls during the day and they release the heat during the night.

The house is beautiful and the view from the living room is fantastic.  The morning sun peeks over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the east and sends golden rays into the living room and the atrium.  It is difficult to sleep late. 

Typical sunrise seen from the living room

Virtually all the rooms in the house have their own fireplace and we lit them each evening simply because it is so cozy with a living fire.

There is a hot tub in the garden (who can live without one?) and when you lie there under the star strewn skies (there are soooo many stars visible here) with a glass of white wine – well, life rarely gets any better.

Finally, it was Christmas.  Carl had bought a traditional Danish pork roast and AnneSophie (my daughter) had brought a special kind of rice with her from Denmark and given it to us at Thanksgiving, so it truly was a Danish Christmas.  Pork roast, candied potatoes and red cabbage, risalamande for dessert and some excellent red wine.  Carl’s friend Paula came for dinner and the evening so all was well in world.

It isn’t every day you see a pink Christmas tree – so here’s a picture of one

In New Mexico, there is a Christmas tradition of setting out fajalitos (luminarios).  Luminarios are small brown paper bags with a little sand in the bottom then a candle.  This gives off a soft brown light and is beautiful.  These are then placed on both sides of the driveway and along the walks to the house (also on rooftops or anywhere else there is a flat surface).  The tradition is to show the Virgin Mary the way to a place for her to birth and sleep so the little Christ child will not have to spend the night in a manger.

Luminarios light the way for the Virgin Mary at Carl’s house

It is difficult to describe just how beautiful these lights are – especially when there are many of them.  The little village Carl lives close to, La Estaca, goes all out each year.  The neighbors buy a couple of thousand bags and candles and then spend a day (it is fun to work 10-12 persons making these), making the luminarios.  They are then set out along the road into the village – almost two miles of a golden pathway with lights on both sides of the road.

Normally the Indians have big festivals for Christmas (partially because they are religious, but from olden times, it certainly was to celebrate the winter solstice and the coming of longer days).  We had looked forward to going to see some of their winter dances, especially in Ohkay Owingeh, the Pueblo just a couple of miles from Carl’s house.  They have huge dances with several hundred dancers, but like all the other Pueblos, they have closed everything down because of Covid. 

New Year’s day is set aside for hangovers and American football on TV and we watched for almost 9 hours.  Vinni has found out she likes to watch American football and has begun to understand the rules etc, so she has become a fan (yeah – believe it or not, I have a wife who likes to watch American football – how the hell did that happen?)

All good things must come to an end and we can’t stay here until we die, so in mid-January we packed our things, fired Caprise up, waved and began the long road back to Capri.  Our first stop will be the Grand Canyon.  I’ve promised Vinni she will not be disappointed when she sees it.  We shall see.

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