Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Traveler at Home: The Bond House Museum

Occasionally I go with my friend Rheta to Española, a city downhill from Los Alamos, for her chiropractor appointment. We love to eat at one of the best restaurants in all of New Mexico, El Paragua. The food is good northern New Mexico cuisine, unadulterated with fanciful presentations like slivers of chile draped artfully over a delicately sauced enchilada. (Sauce should never be drizzled over an enchilada, no matter how pretty it might look to a foreigner.)  It is old fashioned down-home cooking. Rich enchilada sauces, perfectly matched cheeses in abundance, tasty and sometimes hot green chile, shredded (not ground) beef inside the rolled tortillas, and sopapillas to write home about.

For those who have no idea, a sopapilla is a triangular bread that has been deep fried fast so it's not too greasy, used to scoop up food, or drenched with honey as dessert. As a kid I was required to eat one taco, then I could have all the sopapillas I wanted. Needless to say, it's one of my "soul-foods".

After sharing a luncheon steak smothered with chopped green chile and avocado, feasting on the best pinto beans and half a sopapilla each, we headed home. Rheta had picked up a brochure for the Bond House museum so we stopped there. Neither of us knew there was a museum in Española. WalMart, Lowes, a gambling casino, yes, but a museum?

What a delightful find.

Franklin Bond and later his brother, arrived in Española from Canada, when it was little more than a dirt railroad yard next to the Rio Grande. Some form of town had existed there for 300 years, but the early 1900s were the boom times. The Bonds became relatively wealthy as merchants. The home that now houses the museum is partly adobe. The original house had a flat roof. As children came along, they put a second story up and expanded ground floors.

The current exhibit in the museum documents the Arriería, the mule packers whose work kept the northern provinces of Mexico in luxury goods. Sheep were the big product in the 1700 and 1800s. Wool was sold in its natural state, but also, much of it was woven by locals artisans into blankets that became the trade goods. The aparejo packing system was a relatively new invention and was widely used in the southwest. The exhibit tells how it worked, and chronicled some scary adventures, including one loaded mule that fell off a cliff, landed in bushes, rolled off and landed on her feet!

The two people volunteering at the museum were Ron and Pat Rundstrom. They have been trying for several years to retire from their mule packing business, but the demand for their service is still high. Many people hire mule packers to haul equipment, food, and tools for long term assignments in remote deserts, forests, or at archaeological ruins. 

Another room in the house featured Española history. It documented the 400 years of off and on civilization in the valley, the economy, politics, and struggles of the Hispanic and indigenous people, and later the influx of Anglos before NM was made a part of the Union. 

The museum belongs to the city of Española and is free to the public. It's not very big, but you can't beat the price. Donations are gratefully accepted, and the volunteer operators were generous and helpful without being intrusive. It was a small oasis of history in the desert, well worth a visit if you're just passing by.