Bound for the Southwest

By Valerie Yarberry

New Books to Help You Explore New Mexico

So your Aunt Maude is coming to town, and she says she wants to "see where you live." Who can you turn to for help? Well, you could ask your Uncle Jim to bring some of his old gas station road maps, but he always spends these road trips getting drunk in the back seat, tippling from his hip flask like no one notices, the old lecher; don't get me started on Uncle Jim. So anyway, it looks like you'll have to find a guide book, one that can give you detailed, comprehensive information on our region in a way that's easy to use and simple to understand. Here are just three of the latest guides to take on the Southwest, all written by local authors, all dealing with places that are near to our hearts and somewhat near to our homes. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, of course, so it's important to choose wisely. That way, Aunt Maude and Uncle Jim can see all the right sights and go back home with a couple of nice photographs, a souvenir or two and some pleasant, tequila-doused memories.

American Southwest Travel-Smart

by Daniel Gibson (John Muir Publications, paper, $17.95)

In constructing this travel guide, Albuquerque author Daniel Gibson was given the impossible charge of describing the entire Southwest in only 300 pages. So it should be no surprise that his efforts fall pretty short. Gibson tries to tackle the whole region in 22 brief chapters, which range from the overwhelmingly broad (Nevada is lumped into "Las Vegas" and "Outside Las Vegas") to the curiously specific (there's a whole chapter on the rather obscure Capitol Reef National Park). The result is a highway guide that is somewhat informative but very uneven.

The focus here is on natural splendor, with heavy emphasis on the wide-open spaces of New Mexico and Utah. But details on camping and backpacking are so superficial that it seems like Gibson's target audience is the motel-naturalist rather than the hardcore hiker. That would also explain why Travel-Smart's maps only show the largest highways, sticking to the Interstates and primary roads and leaving me, in a recent road test, stranded on a highway outside of Española without a map that listed it. As for the region's largest cities--Phoenix and Tucson--they apparently didn't rate very high in Travel-Smart's estimation; neither town is mentioned once, even in passing. If you just want to know how to get to Zion National Park or who serves the best burgers in Jemez, American Southwest Travel-Smart should do the job. But if you want a guide that really reflects what the Southwest has to offer, you can safely leave this one in your glove box.

Field Guide to Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts

by Susanne and Jake Page (Random House, paper, $18)

Here's a sharp idea: Corrales writers Jake and Susanne Page have taken the concept of the field guide--like the kind you use to identify birds in the wild--and applied it to the kingdom of Southwestern handicrafts. Just like you'd use an Audubon book to tell a curlew from an avocet, you can crack open Field Guide to Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts to find out how a Ganado rug differs from a Two Grey Hills, or which is a Navajo kachina and which is Hopi. Scores of lush photographs provide stunning examples of native artwork from all over New Mexico and Arizona--including jewelry, pottery, basketry and weaving--but thankfully, the coverage does not stop there. Field Guide is satisfyingly heavy with text, describing not just what these works of art are but also what they mean--culturally, historically and sometimes personally. The Pages have written two books together on the Navajo and the Hopi, and Jake has authored dozens of titles--from mystery novels to history books--that detail the life of the Southwest; their expertise is easy to witness in these pages of well-crafted, sensitive prose. Field Guide even provides tips for art patrons on the road, like where you'll find reservation markets and how you can contact them. Of course, you'll need a lot more than this to have a successful excursion, but Field Guide to Southwest Indian Arts and Crafts should make a handy complement to your summer road trip.

City-Smart Albuquerque

by Brendan Doherty (John Muir Publications, paper, $12.95)

This one goes out to all you Alibi fans out there. If you've ever wished there were a guide to Albuquerque that had an Alibi kind of flavor, except more--you know--grown up, then this is the book for you. City-Smart Albuquerque gives you the low-down on almost every aspect of what to do and where to go in Albuquerque, from a guy who has seen this town from all sides, frequent Alibi contributor Brendan Doherty. Want the word on practically every restaurant in town? The City-Smart guide gives you prices, addresses, even recommended dishes, for most of the city's eateries. Looking for a new place to take the kids? Here you'll find plenty of options you probably never knew about. Dozens of sidebars offer fascinating bits of Burque trivia, and the concluding section provides an overview of Santa Fe as well. There are even contributions written by a few of your favorite Alibi staffers. No doubt this guide will come in handy for your visiting relatives, providing that they don't stray far from I-25. But it seems even better fitted for the local who wants to learn more about the place we call home.

--Blake de Pastino

 Last Week  Page Forward

Weekly Wire   © 1996-98 Weekly Alibi