Exploring New Mexican Names: Mount Taylor

President Zachary Taylor never saw Mount Taylor nor set foot in New Mexico, but he made his mark on the modern state of New Mexico in a couple of ways. As a prominent general in the Mexican-American War, he helped bring most of the territory of New Mexico into the United States. And during his brief presidency, Taylor opposed Texas’ claims to the eastern half of New Mexico. Thanks in part to President Taylor, Burqueños live in New Mexico and not Texas.

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This is the first post in a series exploring New Mexican place names. This series explores New Mexican history, US history, and geology. If you have suggestions or feedback, I welcome your comments!

Looking west from the Albuquerque foothills, Mount Taylor is the most prominent feature in the western panorama. It was named in 1849 for then-President Zachary Taylor. The Navajo call it “Tsoodził” (don’t ask me to pronounce that), and the mountain is important in the beliefs of the Navajo and local pueblo peoples. The mountain is rich in uranium, and was a mine until 1990. In nearby Grants, you can visit a uranium mine museum. If you’re a masochist, consider the Mount Taylor Quadrathlon, featuring biking, running, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. 

Zachary Taylor was the second and last Whig to be elected to the presidency. Both he and William Henry Harrison were generals, and both died early in their presidential terms. Taylor was mostly apolitical; the presidency was his first elected office. He fought in the War of 1812, against the Black Hawk Indians in what is now Minnesota, and against the Seminoles in Florida. He was called “old rough and ready.” His daughter married future president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, but she died three months into the marriage.

Taylor came to national prominence during the Mexican-American War. This war eventually brought the territory of New Mexico into the union, and is detailed in Amy Greenberg’s A Wicked War. Taylor won famous victories in the Battle of Monterrey and the Battle of Buena Vista. The war was initially popular, and Taylor became correspondingly popular after his victories. Taylor privately opposed the war from its beginning, calling an early troop movement “injudicious in policy and wicked in fact.”

Democratic president James K. Polk (1845-1849), who had almost single-handedly created the war, grew frustrated that Taylor, a whig, was getting credit for what Polk considered democratic achievements. Before the Battle of Buena Vista, Polk stripped Taylor of a portion of his troops, leaving Taylor and his troops more vulnerable to attack from the army of Mexican general Santa Anna. (Santa Anna was a busy boy in early Mexican history; he was president 11 nonconsecutive times, and he was the leader of the Mexican forces at the Battle of the Alamo in the Texas revolution.)

As time passed, the war grew unpopular, and so did Polk. After the invasion of Mexico City, the war stagnated, with US forces harassed by guerrilla warfare. US troops committed atrocities, such as the Agua Nueva Massacre. Polk wanted to annex all of Mexico, and some wealthy individuals in Mexico preferred this to the constant coups that plagued early Mexico. But would this territory permit slavery? And how would dreaded dark skinned Catholics be allowed to become citizens? Eventually, the upper one-third of Mexico’s territory was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (a treaty that Polk opposed, but grudgingly accepted).

Taylor never saw Mount Taylor nor set foot in New Mexico, as far as I can tell. But he made his mark on the modern state of New Mexico in a couple of ways. The Mexican-American War brought most of the territory of New Mexico into the United States. And during his brief presidency, Taylor opposed Texas’ claims to the eastern half of New Mexico. Thanks in part to President Taylor, I live in New Mexico and not Texas.

Taylor assumed the presidency in March of 1849. Perhaps Polk resented this, but not for long; he had the shortest retirement of any president, dying just three months after leaving office. In the 1800s, presidents took office on March 4th after the election. Because March 4th, 1849 fell on a Sunday, Taylor refused to be sworn in. This led to “President for a Day” David Rice Atchison, who is slightly famous in my home state of Missouri. Taylor lacked specific policies and history considers him to be in the worst 25% of presidents. On July 4th, 1850, President Taylor ate some fruit and milk at a Fourth of July celebration. He became ill and died on July 9th, leaving Vice President Millard Fillmore, who is rated even worse than Taylor, historically. Polk, incidentally, is rated 10th best president, a ranking I suspect the author of A Wicked War disagrees with.

Perhaps someday I will learn how to pronounce Tsoodził, what it means, and the names and meanings of Mount Taylor in the Puebloan languages. Until then, I suppose Old Rough and Ready will have to do. He seems like the sort of person one makes do with.

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Mount Taylor framed by an outcropping in the sandstone cliffs of El Malpais National Monument.

Nature Nearby: Albuquerque’s Carlito Springs

Amidst the many natural wonders of a state like New Mexico, it can be easy to overlook local gems like Carlito Springs. Located just 20 minutes east of downtown Albuquerque, Carlito Springs feels more like the Appalachian Mountains than the southwest. It’s a place with quirky New Mexico history, lush foliage, and inspiring landscaping.

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The History

Carlito Springs was first settled in 1882 by Civil War veteran Horace Whitcomb while he looked for gold. In 1930, it was bought by Carl Magee, editor of the Albuquerque Tribune and patent-holder for the parking meter. He named it “Carlito” for his son, Carl Jr., who died in a plane crash. (This link contains an excellent and more detailed history.)

Of course tuberculosis, America’s deadliest disease at the time, played a role in Carlito’s history. In 1910, 3000 of Albuquerque’s 13,000 residents were people seeking treatment in the dry, high air. Today, Lovelace and Presbyterian Hospitals, two of the largest systems in the city, remain from the tuberculosis treatment days. Magee’s wife was tubercular. The property was used as a sanitorium before Magee’s purchase.

Magee’s daughter married a Sandia atomic scientist, and many of the features of the property date from that time. The pair won many ribbons at the New Mexico State Fair as “master gardeners,” and planted flowers and fruit trees on the property. Today, architect Baker Morrow calls Carlito springs “one of the most amazing landscapes in the southwest.” The property has several cabins, as well as the springs, several highly manicured fishing pools (no longer stocked), fruit trees and flowers. If you’re an engineering nerd like me, you can check out the rusty vintage concrete pourer, which I suppose was used to craft the lovely railings around the ponds.

Carlito Springs was only permanently opened to the public in August of 2014. Because the property is on the steep banks of Tijeras canyon, substantial work went into building the trails that lead to this historic property. They did a great job, and Carlito Springs is a great Albuquerque attraction.

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The Hike

The hiking loop is about 2.4 miles, with about 400 feet of elevation change. From the parking lot, take the fork left for the most direct route to the cabins and ponds. This is the steepest section of the loop; it follows the springs up the side of the canyon, but it is cool and shady. The trails is good quality, without many rocks or roots to impede footing. The last few hundred feet before the cabins are switchbacks.

On the first leg of the hike, mind the poison ivy which grows near the trail. In May, there was quite a bit of it, neon green and inviting, but the trail is wide enough that it’s easy to avoid. By the cabins and on the second part of the loop, I didn’t see any.

To the left of the cabins (if you are facing them), you can follow a small spur which leads to a view of the valley. It’s a steep walk and you get the view later anyways; when I do the hike again I will skip this spur.

To the right of the cabins (again, as you face them) the loop continues. Just past the largest building, you will find the cement mixer, some various old rusted implements, and a port-o-potty. By the cement mixer, you can look into Tijeras Canyon, this time without the extra vertical effort. It’s a pretty enough view, besides the mining facility (which I omitted from my image).

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The final leg of the loop is sunny and gently sloping. Here, you see red soil and cacti rather than water and poison ivy. In May, the sun was pleasant, but this south-facing trail could be hot later in summer. We had this portion of the trail to ourselves.

May was a great time for this hike. Up by the cabins, peonies and columbines bloomed. Later in the hike, cacti bloomed. We read about wildlife sightings such as bears and deer at Carlito, but on a busy Saturday, we had no encounters.


Extras

Carlito Springs is only a couple of miles from the famous “singing road” portion of Route 66. You can take Route 66 (Central Ave) from Albuquerque, or you can overshoot the Carlito Springs turn and u-turn. The singing portion is only eastbound. It’s silly, but entertaining.