July 27, 2007
There’s an extraordinary history behind the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico. Its past is a collage of moments both inspired and insane, of guests and visitors both famous and infamous.
Wealthy, Buffalo-born socialite Mabel Dodge already had an established reputation for her literary and artistic salons in Greenwich Village, NY, before moving to Taos in 1917. In reading descriptions of the relationships she formed and the gatherings she pulled together, it’s not a stretch to say she had a magnetic, even hypnotic effect on those around her.
After meeting Tony Luhan, a local Tewa Native American who would become her fourth husband, she purchased a small adobe house on the outskirts of town and added on guest rooms and common spaces to house the flurry of visitors and activities. That guest list included dozens of highly influential names, including D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keefe, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Carl Jung and Martha Graham. Add to that the Dennis Hopper years – he owned the property from 1970 to 1977 – which added names such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jack Nicholson and Bo Diddley to the list of guest celebrities.
If the walls could talk, they would tell of love affairs, marriages broken, friendships made and lost, novels written, suicides botched, films edited, drug parties and more. It was a center of much activity and much controversy, as well.
I had visited the current incarnation of this property a few years ago, now used as a bed and breakfast and center for various artistic workshops. At that time, the rooms were all booked, but this time I had planned ahead. I knew I had a place in the Cather room – a good choice for me, since Willa Cather has long been one of my favorite authors.
It’s quite amazing to walk into a building, knowing the footsteps of those listed above all stepped through the same doorway.
I entered quietly, found the office, checked in and headed back out through a classic southwestern portal, finding my room two doors down. The room was spacious, one of several with twin beds to accommodate workshop attendees. It had a kiva fireplace, two dressers, an armchair, reading lamps and a private bath. And it was quiet – no phone or television. Wireless access was available in the lobby area.
The rain that had followed me along the High Road to Taos was still drizzling a little, on and off. I wandered around the cobblestone and garden areas, snapped what photos I could, and then made a trip into town, where I indulged in a New Mexico carb-fest by ordering Mango Chicken Enchiladas at The Apple Tree, a well-established cafe a couple blocks from the plaza. I then strolled over to browse plaza shops and galleries before heading back to the inn, where I worked on writing and editing until the day caught up to me. Lights out. Long day. Restful sleep.
Morning followed, bringing with it a shared breakfast at a common table with other guests. It was fascinating sharing travel stories and wishing each other well for our continued travels.