Wednesday, June 27, 2012

El Rancho de las Golondrinas

We have been so busy lately that a day together, as a family, feels precious. This last weekend, we took a little time to attend one of the festivals at El Rancho De Las Golondrinas south of Santa Fe. The Rancho is now a living history museum and on certain weekends different areas of the ranch are staffed by volunteers who demonstrate historic skills from the early Spanish Colonial period of northern New Mexico history. Many years ago, we used to live across the highway from the ranch. I took our little boys several times, but they are all grown up now and Abigail had never been. We had such fun! The weather was pleasant --hot, but with just enough of a breeze to make it comfortable. The cicadas were singing and it was truly a lovely day to just wander around and be together.

Some of you may be familiar with Josefina - one of the historical American Girl dolls. Josefina was “born” at this Rancho and the books are based largely on the local history depicted at the museum. So, it was especially fun for Miss Abigail because she has enjoyed the Josefina books.

I particularly enjoyed all the fiber demonstrations. There was lots of spinning and weaving going on and dyeing with traditional methods and material.

Because of my own recent activities, I was especially interested in the demonstration on washing wool with yucca root. It actually works! I knew that the early settlers and local native people used the roots from the soaptree yucca plant to wash with, but I never imagined that it could work so well. The docent pounded the root a bit, then swished it in a pan of water. I saw the dirty wool go into the water and then I watched the grease melt away. It was remarkable. I’m going to try this for myself! Of course the sample was quite small, so we’ll see how it works with a larger amount of wool. It certainly made a great demonstration.

I was also pleased to get up close to the demonstration on Colcha embroidery. In New Mexico, colcha is a form of traditional embroidery. The word actually means a bedcovering, which was a common household item embroidered with the colcha stitch. But the term also is used to designate a traditional piece of embroidery where the the colcha stitch is used predominantly. It is a couching stitch, with wool thread on a wool background using traditional folk motifs. Floral designs are especially used, but stylized birds are also common. Because the wool materials were so valuable, the challenge was to cover as much area on the top of the fabric and not leave much wool on the back - hence, the long couching stitches. The picture shows an antique colcha bedcover acquired at some point by the musem.

In the old chapel is a beautiful altar decorated with Spanish Colonial style art. My interest was the colcha altar cloth and the gorgeous embroidered altar piece to the side depicting San Ysidro, who is the patron saint of farmers everywhere and of this rancho in particular. (read the legend)

Volunteers at the musem were working on a colcha blanket in order to demonstrate the art of colcha embroidery. I enjoyed seeing the method and design worked up close.

There were other fun things to see. Two baby lambs had recently been born on the ranch. There was a sample of yummy bread made in the horno ovens. Willow basket weaving, blacksmithing -- all kinds of interesting demonstrations.

The fabulous antique leather box inside the museum was used as a packing trunk on the old carts that came up the El Camino Real del Tierra Adentro from Mexico. The carts on the grounds of the museum must surely be replicas. Altogether a wonderful day!


  1. That looks like a great place to visit. We did a family RV vacation to the west a couple of years ago ~ wish I had known about this then! Fun family memories being made ~ I would have loved the embroidery demonstrations!

  2. Wow, this is now on my list of places to visit. I LOVE the Josephina books, partly because I was raised in San Diego by a father who was a Spanish teacher, so I am somewhat familiar with some of the Mexican culture. I didn't realize the stories were based on actual history. (Silly me!)

    1. Oh please make plans to visit Rozy Lass! It is truly a wonderful destination for those who love Josephina. Best to come when they have the volunteers though. The demonstrations are just so fun. They have festivals throughout the year, but the two main ones are in the spring and fall. Please let me know and I'll meet you there!


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