Archive for the 'Adobe' Category

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

2 Gates

The normal state for a gate is closed. Here’s a gate doing its duty.

This gate is gate in memory only. Most of the adobe wall it once served is gone.

Tags: ,


Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Spineless Cactus

If you look around many of the older homes in the Mesilla Valley, you’ll see an odd-looking prickly pear. It’s thornless.

Alien mutation?

Nope — the non-prickly prickly pear is the creation of the eclectic Luther Burbank, “The Plant Wizard.”

Burbank was born in 1849 and had no schooling beyond 6th grade, but he did have an intense fascination with plant breeding. He is credited with creating over 800 strains and varieties of plants, including the “impossible” , which he called “a cross which man said could never be made.”

The 12 volumes of his 1914 magnum opus, “” is available online, includes wonderful color photos, and still makes interesting and enjoyable reading. His self-promotion, however, sometimes leads him to sound like a cross between a used car salesman and P. T. Barnum.

He says of this effort, “the work through which this result was achieved constituted in some respects the most arduous and soul-testing experience that I have ever undergone.”

Here’s a picture from the book showing Burbank examining cactus seedlings:

It may look like a loving relationship, but…

“For five years or more the cactus blooming season was a period of torment to me both day and night. Time and again I have declared from the bottom of my heart that I wished I had never touched the cactus to attempt to remove its spines. Looking back on the experience now, I feel that I would not have courage to renew the experiments were it necessary to go through the same ordeal again.

Not only would the little spicules find lodgement everywhere in my skin, but my clothing became filled with them, and the little barbs would gradually work their way through the cloth and into my flesh, causing intense irritation.”

The spines on the prickly pear (and other cacti) evolved from leaves on its ancestral parent. These leaves, over time, became sharp spines and acquired the capacity to detach easily when touched, a very effective defense against being eaten.

What Burbank succeeded in doing with his selection and cross-breeding was to produce a plant that grew only rudimentary spines and then dropped them voluntarily. In this photo from his book you can see the vestigial leaves with the spines gone.

Burbank’s hopes for millions of acres of desert growing spineless cactus as animal feed was never realized, but for a while the un-prickly pear was quite popular as a landscape plant around homes in arid areas like Southern New Mexico.

Here’s a planting around an old Adobe home in Mesilla:

A planting in Las Cruces:

A planting in Organ:

A planting next to an abandoned, decaying Adobe in Doña Ana:

A cactus without spines is defenseless. The photo below was taken about 2 months after the one above:

Someone, in an act of pure vandalism, has stomped the plant.

Tags: , , ,


Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Adobe Restoration

Part of preserving Mesilla history is restoring and maintaining its old adobe homes. This isn’t a cheap proposition and most home buyers won’t do it.

Here’s a wonderful example of a new home owner who’s willing to buy a neglected adobe and restore it:

This structure was built originally as a single room adobe in the 1860s, then added to over a period of 40 years. Here’s the original part of the house:

The lintels show the location of entrances, later closed in. Here’s a better view of the blocked doors:

Here’s a view of the living room and the corner where the fireplace was located and will be restored:

Another corner showing a blocked window and a restored wall:

In order to preserve this wall, it was necessary to add a new wall beside it:

Another example of repair:

This is one of the wonderful features of the structure, an arched door:

After the adobe walls are made structurally sound, they will be plastered inside and out, making an energy efficient home that will be naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Tags: , , ,


Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Adobe Wall

An old adobe wall along a quiet Mesilla street.

Tags: ,

Filed in: Adobe, Mesilla | Comments


Friday, December 15th, 2006


Here’s the old Mesilla blacksmith shop, which was built before 1900. It’s been closed for 40 years. The original blacksmith and owner was Simon Guerra.

The structure is unplastered adobe.

Here’s a closer view of the weathered front and the sliding horse door.

The human door:

The inside:

Tags: ,


Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Adobe Embeds

Here’s a well-maintained adobe building co-habitating with the remains of an old adobe structure.

This kind of thing can be seen around Mesilla because most owners don’t want to demolish this historical heritage. In recognition of this preference, Mesilla has a city ordinance against removing old adobe structures.

This tree was undoubtedly alive when it was incorporated into this adobe wall.

So we have duple embeds: tree in wall, wall in building. Or do we have tree in building, building in wall?

Tags: , ,


Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

Making Adobe

Adobe is still made in Mesilla just as it was 150 years ago, with the exception that a machine is used to help mix and pour the mud.

First the dirt for the adobe is shoveled into a pile and mixed with straw.

Next water is added to the center of the pile and roughly mixed.

The mud is then shoveled into the mixing machine and mixed to the right texture. You can see the adobe building being repaired here.

The mud is poured into wooden forms that make bricks 10 x 14 inches in size.

The forms are removed and the bricks are not moved until they are dry. The drying process may take days.

Mesilla ordinances forbid the demolition of an adobe structure.


Filed in: Adobe, Mesilla | Comments


Friday, October 20th, 2006

Adobe House

All the early structures in Mesilla were adobe, and many, many adobe structures remain in use. Here’s an adobe house a couple of blocks off the plaza that’s being renovated.

Before the arrival of Spaniards, Native Americans were building using dried mud. But they didn’t use bricks. They built by drying the mud in layers. Building with mud bricks was introduced by the Spaniards, and it’s structures built with these bricks which are called adobe.

Almost all the early adobe houses are long and narrow, or L-shaped like this one.

Two features that characterize adobe structures are recessed doors and windows with wooden lintels, as you see here. The recessing is due to the thickness of the walls, which can be two feet or more. The thick walls keep the interior cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Before hard plaster was available, the external and internal surfaces were plastered with mud. Hard plaster is vastly superior, providing a water-proof, durable surface.

In this case, it appears that the outside plaster below the top cap has been removed, probably because it was in bad shape. This will certainly be replaced during the renovation.

The smoothness of this wall, and the rounded corner, show it’s been exposed to the weather a long time



Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

Adobe Pulled Down

Yesterday afternoon, several miles south of Mesilla, I watched the last wall of an adobe structure pulled down. There were several good reasons the old home had to be demolished, including public safety.

Here’s the wall about to go:

I spoke with the owner, who told me the structure was not that old, having been built about 1950.

How do you date adobe? Here’s one way:

Notice that the mortar used between the adobe bricks is cement. That is a practice that began in the late 1940s and largely defeats the advantages of adobe, because cement is an excellent conductor of heat. An adobe structure that uses cement mortar instead of the traditional mud will be hotter in the summer and cooler in the winter.

Here’s the wall going down:


Filed in: Adobe, History | Comments