This town tucked into the Sangre de Christo Mountains has attracted artists since the late 1800s because of its beautiful setting and dramatic light. Today, it's still full of artists, galleries and travelers who want to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and the relaxed, creative vibe. There is an interesting mixture of three cultures—Native American, Hispanic and Anglo.
To get to the roots of the town's character, start with Taos Pueblo, which was there centuries before the town of Taos. The first view you get of the historic pueblo village is unforgettable—a jumble of adobe buildings posed in front of Taos Mountain. The most stunning are the two large multistory structures, which look a lot like apartment buildings. By some estimates, the village may be more than 1,000 years old, and some members of the pueblo still live there today. After paying an admission fee, you're taken on a brief tour that includes historic San Geronimo Church and several other stops. After that, you're free to roam around (though some areas are off-limits) and to browse through the many shops housed in the historic buildings. They sell locally made jewelry, pottery, musical instruments and food items. (Taos is one of the most accessible of the New Mexican pueblo communities.) You'll need to pay a fee to take photographs, make video recordings or sketch at the pueblo, but it's well worth it. Buy a piece of bread hot from the outdoor oven, or horno. It's heavenly.
Back in the town of Taos, be sure to visit the plaza, which is ringed by shops and restaurants. The Kit Carson Home and Museum is nearby and contains period furnishings and artifacts related to Carson, the controversial explorer and "Indian fighter" who lived for a time in Taos. Carson and several other important Taos residents are buried in the cemetery in Kit Carson Park. The town is also home to El Monte Sagrado, an eco-resort complete with plush rooms, fine dining and an exciting bar scene. The resort reuses much of its water and relies on solar power.
Several museums showcase the town's artistic legacy. They include the Millicent Rogers Museum (strong collection of Native American and Hispanic artists) and the Harwood Museum (works by prominent figures in the Taos arts scene). The homes of two artists, Ernest L. Blumenschein and Nicolai Fechin, have been converted into museums. If the atmosphere of the town inspires you to create your own works (but you need a little help), art workshops are offered in the area.
One of the best-known figures associated with Taos is English author and artist D.H. Lawrence, who spent time in the area in the 1920s, shortly before his death. A shrine dedicated to his memory is located northwest of the city (take Highway 522, and look for the signs—you'll have to make a dusty drive up a dirt road to get there). Some of Lawrence's paintings are on display in the manager's office of the La Fonda Hotel, on the plaza in Taos. The hotel features a restaurant run by nationally acclaimed chef Joseph Wrede.
Buildings of historic and architectural interest in the area include the Hacienda Martinez, an imposing 21-room hacienda decorated in early-1800s style. The Mission San Francisco de Asis at nearby Ranchos de Taos was built in 1730 but exhibits a much-admired simplicity of form that looks absolutely contemporary. You may have seen the church in photographs by Ansel Adams or paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe. Folks visiting in June can take part in the annual re-mudding of the church, which allows parishioners and strangers to help preserve the church.
Travel north on Highway 64 out of town to reach the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is perched 650 ft/198 m above the river. You can park at either end and take a walkway out onto the bridge, but those with a fear of heights will find it terrifying. If you're up for a little adventure, we've found that Route 507—not the best of roads but passable—takes you down through the gorge itself. In summer, adventurers can board rafts to shoot the white-water rapids of the Rio Grande.
In winter, skiers will find varied and challenging slopes at Taos Ski Valley, the state's pre-eminent ski resort. The ski experience in Taos is unique because of the blend of European-style accommodations and group-oriented skiing. Ski lessons for all visitors, from tots to experts, are encouraged. These sessions, coupled with family-style dining in the base lodges, create an extremely friendly atmosphere. With a variety of deep-powder bowls, gladed runs and steep chutes, the mountain has a reputation for being tough: There are beginner and intermediate trails, but they tend to be a bit more difficult than at many other resorts. Of the resort's 72 trails, more than half are rated expert. Snowboarding is not permitted at Taos Ski Valley. The area also offers great cross-country skiing. Enchanted Forest has more than 25 mi/40 km of trails, and Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area has ungroomed trails for the more adventurous.
Accommodations at the resort lodges at Taos Ski Valley are more utilitarian than luxurious, but the quality of service is outstanding and the lodgings are being improved. Space is limited, so reservations should be booked at least a year in advance for the peak season. It's also possible to stay in the town of Taos and drive to the slopes, but it can be a long trip, especially if the winding road to the ski valley is covered in snow. If you want to make a stop on the way, the charming village of Arroyo Seco has some shops and restaurants. Frequent skiers often rent condos or houses rather than stay in hotels.
Skiers have several other options in the area. Both Angel Fire Resort in Angel Fire and Red River Ski Area in the town of Red River have downhill slopes, and both permit snowboarding (unlike Taos Ski Valley). From Taos, you can drive to Red River and Angel Fire on the "Enchanted Circle" route (formed by Highways 522, 38 and 64). It makes a scenic day trip at any time of year. Be sure to stop at the Vietnam Veterans National Memorial near Angel Fire.
Some of the annual events in Taos include the Spring Arts Celebration (art shows, auctions and a three-day arts and crafts fair—May); the Taos School of Music Summer Chamber Music Festival (concerts, seminars and open rehearsals—June-August); the Taos Pueblo Feast Day (with vespers and a mass, sundown dance and an arts fair—29-30 September); the Hot-Air Balloon Festival (October); and the Taos Pueblo Dances (including the eloquent Tiwa deer dance—December-January). Of special note is the Christmas Eve procession at Taos Pueblo, featuring bonfires and the carrying of a likeness of the Virgin Mary through the village. 105 mi/170 km northeast of Albuquerque.
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