The Legendary Light of Taos
Two beautiful routes take you to the fascinating town of Taos, NM, in which artists, aging hippies, farmers and entrepreneurs intermingle in a setting of high-desert splendor, where the Spanish and Native American cultures both exert a strong presence. The main highway, which follows the Rio Grande, takes about an hour to an hour and a half; the High Road, a two-and-a-half hour drive, winds through traditional Spanish villages where artisans ply their centuries-old trades of weaving and woodcarving, and Spanish Colonial churches provide a focal point for village life. The High Road route is spectacular in either direction, but especially following it from Taos south to Santa Fe.
Nambe Pueblo and Nambe Falls: Nambe is a 700-year-old pueblo nestled in a valley at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo range. A short hike takes you to Nambe Falls, a dramatic cascade streaming through the rock face. A nearby recreational site offers fishing and non-motor boating in Nambe Lake. For directions and information call 505-455-2036 or 455-2304. Another good stop is the Nambe Trading Post, tucked along an almost hidden side street behind the village church, where you’ll find quality textiles, pottery, jewelry and carvings. (Along the High Road)
Chimayo: This charming village, filled with adobe homes and apple orchards, is famous for its Spanish-style weavings and its nineteenth-century church, the Santuario de Chimayo, where miraculous healings are documented by the faithful who regularly seek out its holy dirt to rub on their ailments. Be sure to visit Ortega’s Weaving Shop (www.ortegasweaving.com), where seven generations of weavers have produced high-quality textiles, and the attractive Centinela Traditional Arts (www.chimayoweavers.com), whose owners have exhibited their traditional and contemporary weavings in museums like the Smithsonian. A good stop for lunch or dinner is the Rancho de Chimayo, a graceful former hacienda known for its authentic New Mexican food and its signature apple margaritas. (Along the High Road)
Las Trampas: This mountain village’s Spanish-Colonial adobe church, San Jose de Gracia, built between 1760 and 1776,was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. It’s worth a visit to see its distinctive architecture and interior religious paintings. If the doors aren’t open, ask at the store across the street for access; the caretaker can tell you some intriguing stories about the building’s origins and its role in sheltering Spanish settlers from attacks by Apaches. (Along the High Road)
Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo (formerly San Juan Pueblo): This pueblo is near the site of the first Spanish capital city of the northern territory of New Spain (circa 1598). Spanish conquistador Don Juan de OÃ±ate renamed it after his own patron saint; in 2005 the local Pueblo people reclaimed the pueblo’s original name. Two churches, one Indian and one Spanish, face each other across the road. The pueblo is known for its Turtle Dance, which is performed annually on December 26. (Along the main highway route)
Taos Pueblo: The subject of numerous photographs, paintings and books, the pueblo is the only living Native American Pueblo community designated as both a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. Continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years, the pueblo still houses a number of full-time residents as well as many privately owned shops and galleries. The church, dedicated to San Geronimo, the patron saint of translators, is a particularly impressive one; the multi-storied adobe apartments are a testament to the enduring nature of the architecture and the Tiwa culture. Call 575-758-1028; www.taospueblo.com.
The Kit Carson Home and Museum: The former home of the famous scout is preserved as a museum, offering an authentic and evocative look at frontier life in the region. The bookshop has a wide selection of books on New Mexico culture and history. The museum is located just a block east of the Taos Plaza on Kit Carson Road, of course. Call 575-758-4945; www.kitcarsonhome.com.
The Millicent Rogers Museum: Head four miles north of Taos proper to find this charming and unexpected museum displaying the art collection of the late Standard Oil heiress. She had the taste and the resources to amass a broad representation of local artistry.The exhibits span the ages from early Native American artifacts to colonial and contemporary art and religious crafts, including the work of such notable TaoseÃ±o artists as Agnes Martin. Call 575-758-2462.
The Taos Art Museum and Fechin House: Russian artist Nicolai Fechin began construction of this adobe home in 1927, embellishing it with skillful and stunning hand-carved doors, windows, gates and posts, all reminiscent of a dacha from his homeland. His adobe fireplaces are noted for their asymmetrical designs, and each of them is unique. Call 575-758-2609; www.taosartmuseum.org.
Church of San Francisco de Asis: The village of Ranchos de Taos, just south of the town of Taos, was founded in the early 1700s and endures as a typical rural New Mexico community. Completed in 1815, its church is stunning example of Franciscan architecture in adobe, with a fortress-like appearance, four-foot-thick walls and enormous buttresses. A favorite subject of painter Georgia O’Keeffe, photographer Ansel Adams and countless other artists, it offers unique perspectives from every angle.
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge: Spanning the Rio Grande at a height of 650 feet, the bridge is a marvel of engineering and provides panoramic vistas of the Llano Quemado (“burned plain”) and the Sangre de Cristo range, spread out behind the town of Taos. Occasionally you’ll see below a rafting trip conducted by any of experienced guides, such as Far Flung Adventures, Known World Guides, Kokopelli Rafting Adventures or Los Rios River Runners.