It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the Dirt Bag Barista, Zach Hester, but we’re glad to know he’s alive and well- last seen somewhere in New Mexico. To catch up on his travels read Part I, Part II, and Part III.
The Earth Ships of Taos New Mexico
We had just come from the Earth Ships of Taos and the wild sagebrush stretched for acres, maybe miles. The smell was what you’d imagine— turpentine and beautiful desert mythos. From left to right the vast desert stretched into some wild blanket of the brush until finally, some miles off, it ceased in growth at the foot of the Sangre Di Cristo Mountains. Somewhere in the distance you could see the coloring of yellow October Aspens and, illuminated by the sun, it became suddenly quite clear why Taos is the oldest continually inhabited community within our United States. The history dates back to 1000 A.D. I feel certain places secrete a stillness in the air that carries over into its’ environment, I’m not sure what one would call it—I imagine a lot of names for such held breaths in the natural world exists and Taos certainly carried this notion in abundance. The place is powerful.
As Ian and I drove up the road and away from the Earth Ships, road vendors began to sprout warmly in the desert. Rugs, blankets, jewelry, general trinket-ry, and so on, until all at once, around a bend a great suspension bridge spanning the width of the Rio Grande unfolded into a road leading towards our horizon. Just off to the right of that, a techni-colored bus painted in a number of beautiful hues advertising coffee and ice cream. Maybe more than one type of sage grows in this desert.
The Technicolored Dream Bus
Tired as we were from the early morning exodus of Santa Fe, coffee sounded not only ideal, but downright necessary. Ian pulled off the humble road and motioned for me to do my thing. I stepped out of the car and stood in front of this oasis on wheels. As I’m learning on this trip, commodities come in many sizes and are delivered any number of ways. I approached with intrigue, a petite face with dirt-blonde hair poking out of one of the windows where school children would normally occupy.
“Whatcha lookin’ for honey?”
“I think a cup of coffee would be perfect”
“Well, I see. Mocha, espresso, caramel, we’ve got all kinds of flavors and so on. Whatcha thinkin?”
“Oh, just a cup would be great.”
“How ‘bout Turkish, ever had Turkish coffee before?”
“I have and that sounds delicious. Thank you.”
“Oh, you’re welcome honey. You won’t forget this cup of coffee.”
After a few moments of waiting while she prepared the brew she smiled and the transaction was finalized. She assured me this would be the best coffee I have ever had. In fact, she said, this coffee would be special. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, what that lingo meant down here in Taos, New Mexico. But I accepted it gratefully and found to my relief that the cup of potent Turkish coffee was not only nice and warm, but delicious, just as she had assured me it would be. Having the coffee secured I scanned the makeshift operation of vendors, looking for my partner in crime. Eventually I spotted him, the familiar silhouette of a friend shaded out, leaning over the suspension bridge catwalk with his camera in hand, some hundred feet below, the Rio Grande.
Riders of the Purple Sage
I remember the wind whipping, I’m not sure it was, but that’s how I remember it. Well below us a river that I’m sure is much more formidable up close etched along the canyon like a thin blue flame making its way modestly from mountain to stream. Ian snapped pictures in all general directions. On the mountainous terrain leading to our perch, a family of bighorn sheep slowly walked their way up the treacherous side cliffs. The whole scene was spectacularly stunning and it made me think about the coffee in hand.
Having been now to what I imagine are some of the most beautiful cafés in the nation, it is quite apparent what purveyors of our fine craft are often willing to pay in order for the ambiance to match the craft. Indeed, setting is a critical part of a business; it offers at first glance what a customer should be expecting in return for their pay. How ideal I thought, what can be acquired for thousands upon thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in setting, can also be acquired with a school bus and a nose for the right direction on a map. Why build a million dollar café and spend another couple hundred on beautiful greenery when in parking a bus on the side of the road you give the customer the Sangre Di Cristo Mountains and miles of sage?
The sun was now beginning to dip and the vendors were hanging up their signs for the evening. Another day on this road was coming to an end and, leaning up against the post at the corner of our end of the bridge, I was nearly finishing my cup. Ian was taking his time whistling and strumming knuckles up the hand railing just as our compatriots, the family of bighorn sheep, made it finally up the long crawl and onto the side of the road, resting in the dirt and maybe picking at sage. Looking at each other Ian and I nodded, the sign to keep moseying along. First though, taking a page out of the bighorn sheep’s book, we both picked up a big handful of our own sage and rubbed it wildly in our palms, smelling impatiently what the beautiful shrub had to offer. A flood of memories come back from certain plants. I think sage is one you can rarely forget once you experience it for the first time. Finishing the cup of Turkish coffee, whiffing at the sage and putting the rest in my front pocket, I reflected on what my fellow barista had told me: this would not be a cup of coffee I was soon to forget. In fact, memorable as any I’ve had, I’d say.
Photographs from Zach Hester and Creative Commons.