New Mexico’s Gem

By  Jenny Peters

It’s not simple to get to Taos, but that’s part of the beauty of this special place in the heart of America’s West. Finding yourself in Taos isn’t usually something that happens by chance, as it is in New Mexico’s high desert, 100-plus miles north of Albuquerque and even farther from any other large city.

Road-tripping across the desert north from Albuquerque and past Santa Fe to discover Taos nestled near the Rio Grande and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is a leisurely couple of hours to drive, wending along that famous river and taking in the scenery along the way. Rolling into town on US-64/Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, the pueblo origins are apparent, as much of the architecture of Taos is still made of brownish-pink adobe, with buildings dating back over 400 years (and newer structures which maintain that unique style).

Taos has always been a place where people gather. It was first settled by the Taos Pueblo Indians more than 1000 years ago in a well-protected home that remains the center of tribal life today. Their famed Taos Pueblo UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in North America, and a fascinating, must-see place for any visitor to Taos.

That ancient community is about three miles north of town, so plan to settle in first and enjoy the picturesque city center. Check in to The Historic Taos Inn, a rambling hotel made of connected adobe buildings from the 1800s and a fixture since the 1930s. Rooms have fireplaces and antique furniture, and the inn’s Adobe Bar combines nightly live music and different margaritas for every taste.

If libations are your first order of business while on holiday, head across the street to the Rolling Still Distillery Lounge, where Nicole Barady and Liza Barrett are serving up their smooth, flavorful vodkas, locally made using nearby mountain water to create unique tastes. Stop in for a nip of green chili vodka neat, or perhaps taste a signature cocktail made with their lavender or pecan vodkas. Don’t be surprised if you’re immediately hooked on the unique flavors and the convivial lounge.

It’s easy as well to be hooked by the art galleries that dot the Paseo and the little side streets nearby, for Taos has drawn talented artists, weavers, sculptors, and artisans toward its natural beauty since the first Taos Indians began painting hides and pottery designs 1000 years ago. The Spanish conquerors brought religious iconography and carved wooden saints (Santos) into the mix. By the early 1900s, the first wave of Anglo artists came to the rich landscape and, by 1915, had formed the first Taos Society of Artists.

Today, it’s simple to wander into Native American galleries like Tres Estrellas (for woven textiles) and Buffalo Dancer (for silver jewelry), as well as other artists’ works in over 70 galleries that range from quaint to elegant, modern to Western traditional. The galleries are almost all in the old town’s center; walk to the north on the Paseo to discover the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House.  

That museum showcases Russian artist Nicolai Fechin, who lived and created art in the adobe house in the early 1930s, including incredible built-in wood carvings, paintings, and much more. Today, it’s a tribute to his creativity, with rotating exhibits that highlight the numerous artists who have drawn creative energy from the world around Taos. 

Taos gives off another, more natural energy, with the natural landscape drawing skiers in winter, hikers, bird watchers, fishing fans in summer, and wellness fans all year round at Ojo Caliente Resort & Spa. There, the natural sulfur-free hot springs and numerous soaking pools helped make it the first health spa in the country back in 1868, and it remains a beautiful oasis today, about an hour northwest of Taos across the Rio Grande Gorge, another nearby natural wonder.

Saving a fair day for the spa—and another to visit the Taos Pueblo—isn’t difficult, as Taos generally has 300 sunny days a year. To see the Adobe Pueblo, pay the entry fee and join a 20 to 30-minute guided tour led by a tribe member. And then imagine what it was like when the tribe first settled in this place, which was so perfect they had never left.

Don’t leave Taos without stopping into some of the delicious and diverse restaurants, from the chic Martyrs Steakhouse to the very laid-back Orlando’s New Mexican Cafe, with its colorful vibe and chili-infused fare. The Bent Street Grille is an excellent spot for hearty breakfast and lunch, and The Gorge Bar and Grill has the best green chili stew in town (the dish just about everyone offers) and a great patio overlooking Taos Plaza, the epicenter of the city itself.

And when you leave Taos, don’t be surprised if all its charms seem to remain in your heart, for it’s a place that calls you to return soon.

For more information about Taos, visit taos.org; for Taos Pueblo, visit taospueblo.com 

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