Desert Traditions
…where new journeys into life, tradition & culture begin

Mabel’s Place

There is a wonderful house in Taos – inviting, warm and haunted by the most desirable ‘ghosts.’ Mabel Dodge Luhan House, as it is now known, was established in 1922 by heiress and arts patroness Mabel Dodge and her Pueblo Indian husband Tony Lujan (later anglicised to Luhan). ‘Los Gallos’ (the roosters), as it was formerly named, stands as a testament to a shared vision and to enduring love. Ownership of this sprawling adobe building may have changed, however its original purpose remains; it is a retreat for pursuits of the mind, body and spirit and a stopping place for art pilgrims drawn to its mystique. Who would not want to sleep in a room once occupied by Georgia O’Keeffe, DH Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather or any of the many other literary, image making, thought provoking greats that Mabel attracted into her fold? O’Keeffe, Cather, Adams and Lawrence found inspiration that would shape their life’s works; Carl Jung’s visits to the Taos Pueblo would influence mainstream ideas about the ‘native mind,’ while political change, set in motion by John Collier, would benefit Native American communities for future generations. The ongoing ripples of these earlier movements, including the American counterculture, can be traced, at some point, to Mabel and Tony’s commitment to each other and to the life they built together.

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Los Gallos – Mabel’s roosters

Much-married/partnered heiress and patroness Mabel Dodge discovered Taos through a sequence of what might be called paranormal events – not the least of which was the vision of watching her then husband Maurice Sterne’s head morphing into that of a noble Indian. Mabel knew the instant that she laid eyes on Tony Lujan on her first visit to Taos Pueblo that he was the man in the dream and he seemed to know it also. I am currently revisiting her autobiography ‘Edge of the Taos Desert’ and I note with interest that she was aware of the hum (see my last Snippett Taos HUMMMM). The following extract was written on her first arduous journey to Taos long before real roads came into being. She was sitting alone in the car waiting for her driver to finish his meal before tackling the final few miles.

Mabel Dodge and Tony Lujan

‘It was intensely silent out there without a stirring of anything, and yet, I seemed to hear, inside the silence, a high, continuous humming, like a song, and it made me happy. For the first time in my life I heard the world singing in the same key in which my own life inside me had sometimes lifted and poured itself out …’

There are not many moments in life when one’s inner and outer lives are in tune.

Friend, Mark Gordon, of Santa Fe, has devoted the past few years to the documentary film, ‘Awakening in Taos’. We were very fortunate to see a short preview during my last Beyond Santa Fe tour. This meticulously collaged work of art based on diaries, journals, letters and writings (Mabel was a prolific writer), and a myriad of images tells her larger-than-life story. The film fills many gaps and smooths the edges of an often criticised and seemingly difficult woman. Should the rumour be true that a rumour that a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition is heading our way next year then ‘Awakening in Taos’ would add great background material to the event.

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Mabel’s dovecotes – Las palomas de Taos – the doves of Taos.


Potted history of Mabel and Tony’s house

June 22, 1918: Mabel buys 12 acres bordering Pueblo land at the urging of Tony Begins construction on the big house, known as ‘Los Gallos’

Dec 1920: The big house is finished with six rooms and a balcony

1921: Sun porch built on the third story and is currently the solarium

Fall 1921: Tony completes construction of a five room adobe dwelling on Indian land

1924: His pink house is finished and Mabel moves in

1925: Rainbow room added to the big house

1948: Mabel and Tony build a smaller house on Morada Lane

1970: Dennis Hopper buys the big house first seen while filming ‘Easy Rider’ where he ran a 70’s (hippie) version of a salon for friends, colleagues and guests. He renames the house the ‘Mud Palace’

1977: Hopper sells (and takes the furnishings) to George Otero, who undertakes a massive rehabilitation after years of neglect and hard use. The Oteros start a non-profit, ‘Las Palomas de Taos’ (the Doves of Taos) and begin to hold workshops

1996: The Attiyeh Foundation purchases the house and begins the current operation as a hotel and conference centre

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All are welcome.


Footnote: Personally I love this house, its setting and ambience. After all, who would not want to wake up to the scent of desert sage carried on the breath of a mountain breeze and the mouth watering aroma of baking emanating from the house’s ample bosomed kitchen? Who would not want to discover the morada (small windowless chapel), a favourite sketching spot for O’Keeffe and now lying deserted in a nearby patch of scrub? Who would not want to watch the rising sun tip the edges of Taos Mountain or hear the mystical sounds of a midnight under the moon – or even perhaps tune into the elusive HUMMMM?

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The ‘morada’ – favourite sketching place for Georgia O’Keeffe.