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Taos - New Mexico

The haunting artistic temperament of Taos is best seen in two centers of activity. In the middle of downtown Taos is the Plaza -- 200 years old and Spanish in character. The Plaza is not large in comparison to other New Mexico plazas, but is has a quiet, serene ambience that complements the more recent cultural developments that have made this small community a magnet for visitors from around the world.

North of the modern town is a much more historic seat of culture -- the oldest inhabited community in North America. Taos Pueblo is not only an amazing architectural marvel; it is a reminder that our modern cultural practices and history -- derived from European development -- are often rendered insignificant against the backdrop of the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest and the series of ancestor people (the Fremont, Mogollon, Anasazi and others) who developed the indigenous culture of North America, long before the Europeans arrived.

At the time the Spanish explored the area and Hernando de Alvarado had come north to Taos in 1540, the Pueblo Indians had been living here for centuries. Together, the Indians and the Spanish occupied the area, farming the valley until the Pueblo Uprising of 1680, when the Indian pueblos united to drive out the Spanish. The Taos Indians were conquered in 1696 by Don Diego de Vargas, and the Spanish returned.

The legacies of both cultures are apparent throughout Taos, with the trademark Spanish/adobe architecture and festivals celebrating both cultures taking place year-round.

Taos lies 7,000 feet above sea level, nestled against the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mountains. The air is crisp and summer skies are clear. The town is situated in the wide valley of the Rio Grande. The river flows south, through a dramatic gorge, a few miles to the west of the town.

The enchanting appeal of Taos is, first, in its shaded streets and buildings. You'll see a succession of old adobes with traditional walled courtyards, interspersed with the more modern quasi-adobe style of architecture, which mixes Spanish colonial touches with thick-walled adobe construction. The streets are lined with small boutiques and art galleries, cafes and crafts studios. All are within a short walk from each other in this city that has remained -- in its feel -- a small village.

Taos is a center for the arts, commemorated for all time by such ground-breaking Western artists as Georgia O'Keeffe and Ernest Blumenschein. Art museums and commercial galleries display the work of present-day Taos artists and other Southwest arts and crafts notables.

How to Get There

The scenic route between Santa Fe, Espanola, and Taos is the historic "High Road to Taos," the original wagon road between the two Spanish colonial centers. U.S. Highway 84 and New Mexico Route 68 offer a more direct and speedier drive from Santa Fe. Our recommendation is to take U.S. Highway 84 as far as Pojoaque (a pueblo town) or drive a little farther north to Espanola, and follow the scenic drive to complete the route via the old High Road.

Taos Plaza

Located just west of the main street (Hwy. 64), the Plaza is the gathering place for the town, with original Spanish buildings (mostly homes) now converted to restaurants and shops.

You'll see chile ristras hanging in front of stores, the old Hotel La Fonda (related to but much less fancy and a lot more quirky than Santa Fe's La Fonda), and art galleries.

Taos Pueblo

The pueblo is north of the main town via Hwy. 64 (turn onto the right-hand fork). Unlike many pueblos, this is not a ruin. It has been and is now occupied by families who live here year-round, and many others who have modern homes in the pueblo lands come here for ceremonial occasions. Some of the ground-floor "apartments" are now Indian bake shops and crafts stores. The two large, five-level structures have been here since about ad 1000.

The pueblo community has turned their apartment complex into something of a prime tourist attraction and commercial enterprise. Expect to pay when you drive your car into the pueblo parking lot. Expect to pay again if you wish to use your camera. Visit the bake shops and buy Indian bread and biscuits, and stroll through the crafts stores. There's an amazing collection of Indian art and memorabilia available here. The old Catholic mission church is open to the public, but the pueblo buildings are off-limits, except for the shops. Other than on a few ceremonial occasions (funerals, etc.) the pueblo is open every day.

Ranchos de Taos

This village south of the main town has some fine restaurants and galleries, but the main attraction is St. Francis of Assisi Mission Church, a wonderful example of early Spanish mission architecture dating back to its completion in 1755. The interior features many art objects.

Museums & Historic Homes

The Millicent Rogers Museum (4 miles north of Taos on N.M. Route 3) houses an outstanding collection of Indian art and crafts including the work of potter Maria Martînez in addition to Spanish-colonial art, furnishings, and artifacts. The museum overlooks the Rio Grande Valley. If there is one museum to visit when you're in the Taos area, this is the one.

The Harwood Foundation Museum is a cultural research center featuring public and research libraries as well as a gallery that features paintings by famous artists of the Southwest in addition to Spanish folk art.

Ernest Blumenschein Home and Museum (13 Ledoux Street) is a national historic landmark and the home of the seminal Western artist who co-founded the Taos Society of Artists. The house was built in 1790 and has antique furnishings; it serves as a showcase for local artists.

Governor Bent House was home to New Mexico's first American governor, from 1846. The old adobe house features a collection of Bent family artifacts and other local historical items. Kit Carson, the famous frontiersman, lived and died in Taos. His home, open to the public, is east of downtown on Kit Carson Street. The Hacienda de Don Antonio Severino Martinez is two miles west of town on N.M. Route 240. This Spanish hacienda has period furnishings and decor. A classic colonial home, it was built with security in mind and contains two enclosed courtyards. It's situated on the banks of the Rio Pueblo.

Attractions Near Taos

Taos Ski Valley

With Mt. Wheeler looming overhead, this is New Mexico's best downhill ski area. It also serves as a base for outdoor activity in the summer with hiking trails fanning out through the Carson National Forest. The vertical drop is 2,612 feet, and the longest run is a long 5.2 miles. At the base are condo accommodations, restaurants, and bars. To get there, drive north from Taos on N.M. Route 3 and turn right (east) onto N.M. Route 150. The ski area is 19.5 miles from downtown Taos.

Angel Fire

Another noted ski area is located 26 miles east of Taos -- via N.M. Route 68 and then south for 4 miles on N.M. Route 75. With a vertical drop of 2,180 feet, runs up to 3.5 miles, and a cross-country ski center, Angel Fire offers just about everything (including golf when the snow has disappeared).

Side Trips from Taos

We highly recommend the circle route around the "Enchanted Circle," leading through the Carson National Forest, past the D. H. Lawrence Memorial to the rustic resort town of Red River, and then to Eagle Nest before returning to Taos. This drive is very scenic, as is the longer Valle Vidal Circle route, which includes much of the Enchanted Circle. For details, look at our on-line Great Drives feature on the scenic drive, and visit the forest ranger station in Taos.

Places to Stay in Taos

Taos has a good selection of hotels and motels. It also has wonderful historic hotels and charming, atmospheric bed and breadfast inns. Here is a selective list.

Palacio de Marquesa
405 Cordoba Road, 575-758-4777 or toll-free at 855-846-8267
Look for chimneys adorning the kiva fireplaces found in each room, this delightful B&B is well known for its extra touches. It was previously well-known as Casa de las Chimeneas. The grounds are well landscaped with three separate gardens, a hot tub, and a fountain amidst the flowers. Each room and suite has private bath, TV, VCR, and bar with mini-fridge.

The Historic Taos Inn
125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, 575,578-2233
The Taos Inn is an utterly charming hotel, with 44 rooms (including several suites). The lobby sits where an early small plaza used to be, with parts of the building dating back to the 1600s. What was a well in the former plaza has been converted to a fountain. Located off the lobby is Doc Martin's Restaurant, serving three meals daily.
The place for social interaction is the Adobe Bar.

Casa Benavides
137 Kit Carson Road, Taos
575-758-1772 or toll-fre at 800-552-1772
This inn was the family home of owner (along with her husband and son) Barbara McCarthy, a Taos native. This, combined with other neighboring adobe buildings, has resulted in 22 guest rooms, all with private bath and TV and some with kitchenettes. All rooms are authentically decorated in New Mexican style with kiva fireplaces and tile. Breakfast might include eggs with green chile and cheese and homemade flour tortillas, and the McCarthys serve fresh home-made pastries at afternoon tea.

Hotel La Fonda
108 South Plaza, Taos, 575-758-2211 or toll-free at 800-833-2211
A sister to the famous La Fonda in Santa Fe, this hotel sits on the Plaza, the hub of the city with shopping and restaurants nearby.The original hotel on this site was opened in 1820, a a general store that had some rooms and a saloon. Several fires destroyed a succession of properties here but the replacements always offered rooms to travelers. This hotel is a bed & breakfast that offers rooms, suites, and four penthouses. Guests of the hotel have access to the famous (or notorious) "Forbidden Art" collection. The author and eccentric art collector was a resident of Taos.

Casa Europa Inn
840 Upper Ranchitos Road, 575-758-9798
The pueblo style adobe Bed & Breakfast inn sits under cottonwood trees, surrounded by horse pastures, and fine mountain views. Enclosed courtyards offer strolls through flower gardens, past a fountain, to a sauna and whirlpool. Seven units offer sitting areas with fireplaces, private bath with shower or whirlpool tub. Two units have two full-size hot tubs. The 17th Century dining room, where full breakfast is served, features a large kiva fireplace.

El Monte Sacrado - Living Resort And Spa
317 Kit Carson Road
Located four blocks from the historic Taos Plaza, the El Monte resort offers rooms decorated in Southwestern and Southwest Native styles, including casitas and suites, some with kiva fireplaces and kitchenettes. All rooms have refrigerators. A laundry is on the premises. TheDining at De La Tierra is an indoor and outdoor experience.
The Anadonda Bar provides informal dining.

Old Taos Guest House
1028 Witt Road, east of Taos
575-758-5448 or toll-free at 800-758-5448
All ten rooms in this historic and distinctive guest house have outside entrances and private baths, and some have skylights, and kiva fireplaces. You have your choice of rooms with king, queen, and twin beds. An full Southwestern breakfast is served in the Breakfast Room. The adobe building was built more than 150 years ago, and is set on a rise overlooking Taos. It was recently restored and renovated, and has been newly purchased by new owners, the Aspinwalls

Taos Mountain Inn
13 West Road, Taos, 575-770-0375
The pueblo-style inn sits on a hill overlooking the valley, and the Rocky Mountains. It's a spa with massage and healing services in the coutry outside of Taos. The four units are condominiums, with a variety of accommodations. The Terrace Suite has one bedroom, king bed and two baths, plus two queen futon sofa beds. The Grand Suite has two bedrooms, two baths, with 3 queen beds and a queen sofa bed. Other suites have one and two queen beds, and a futon sofa bed. Hiking trails are nearby. The inn features outdoor decks, fireplaces, and a large outdoor hot tub with great views.


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