08/24/2011 02:39 pm ET | Updated Oct 24, 2011

Blessed Dirt And Beauty In New Mexico (PHOTOS)

I find folks around the country who make things, mostly handcrafted things, learn their stories, and see where they live. The products go on to live in four Levis "neighborhood" stores and I go on looking for more great stuff -- carrying a camera and video equipment, of course.

Danielle Levitt, a friend and photographer, joined me on a recent trip to New Mexico. Upon looking at the map we noticed the Turquoise Trail, an alternative back road to I -25, our route north to get through Santa Fe, up to Chimayo, our first stop on our weeklong blacktop journey through the southwest.

Along the Turquoise Trail we stopped in the town of Madrid, which has a couple craft shops and roadhouses. After shopping the local pottery and second hand sections, we went to get some food and came across half a dozen true grit types sharing a drink outside a restaurant. We chatted them up, took their picture, found out most of them were cowboys, one a painter whose work I've been really into since, and another said to be most photographed man in New Mexico - the guy with the big white moustache. I guess the guys get cast as extras a lot when movies are shot in the area.

We were set to meet Irvin Trujillo in Chimayo. Irvin is a weaver who has lived in Chimayo and woven textiles in the Chimayo style since his dad, also a master weaver, gave him a loom when he was 10. Their company is called Centinella Traditional Arts. They live out back from their workshop and studio and the sheep they sheer for wool are out back too, near the natural dye house. I went there to develop three patterns and color ways for weavings that will become the back panel on Levis denim trucker jackets.

Down the street from the Trujillo's is an incredible old church called El Santuario de Chimayo that's been around 200 years. People make pilgrimages there all to see the holy dirt, which sits in a hole we weren't allowed to photograph. After having the church door shut in our face, we stood there for thirty minutes. The line built up and the women behind the door cried, disrobed and rubbed dirt all over themselves. When they were done we quickly filled the holy dirt containers we bought in the gift shop and got out of there.

Up the road we found another old church. There was no one around this one, but apparently there are pilgrimages to it as well. There was a guy working the yard there that came over and opened his store ( potter weavings, jewelry), which was more like a cluttered living room with lots of greats pottery, silver and turquoise jewelry and kachina dolls -- exactly my kind of place. We bought a few things, including a great hand shaped ceramic bowl with lots of imperfections and and what looked like gold flakes mixed into the clay.

We got on the road again and, on our way to Window Rock Arizona, we stopped in Gallup New Mexico, and did more jewelry shopping at one of the many trading posts there. We posted up at Hotel El Rancho, an establishment so lit up you can see it from the highway. It was built in the 30's for all the movie stars going out there to shoot westerns. The charm and character are still there and the lobby and bar were completely stuck in time. Unfortunately the rooms are stuck in time too, and not in the best possible way.

The best way to check out the slideshow from the trip is while listening to "Tumble Lies and Honesty" by White Fence, a band I love, which I was enjoying in the car