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The Santuario del Chimayo church in Taos, NM. (Kent E. St. John photo)

Taos, New Mexico: Still Heavenly

A town of 5,000 with LOTS of choices


By Kent E. St. John, GoNOMAD Senior Travel Editor

It’s bound to happen to a nomad sooner or later; a return trip to a favorite destination and things have changed. Chain hotels have sprung up like dandelions. Close your eyes and you still can name the fast food places tucked in between the hotels.

Don’t turn tail and run; get some local advice as I recently discovered in Taos, NM. It wasn’t long before I was traveling into Taos’s parallel world. The one filled with magnetism, allure and simple pleasures. The one that attracted artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and D.H. Lawrence as well as mountain men like Kit Carson.

A Place to Hang Your Head

Tripadvisor hotel reviews

On rare occasions paying a little more for lodgings can pay off big. The Casa de las Chimeneas (House of the Chimneys) certainly proved that point. To simply call it a B & B is an injustice and not simply because a buffet supper is included.

It’s the whole atmosphere: authentic New Mexican furnishings, kiva fireplaces, and actual neighborhood. Susan Vernon has created an oasis that will please. She uses the Casa to better the community. An intern from one of New Mexico’s culinary programs undertakes the cooking responsibilities.

Each of the eight suites is different, and after peeking in all, I could easily settle in any. The combination of care, accommodations, and style will make a return to Taos inevitable. A bonus payoff is the “Concierge,” or all-knowing Tracy Baker. Be it back roads, good eats or real art treats, Tracy will know.

If funds are low and a hostel stay is the way to go, head ten minutes north of town and hunker down in the hamlet of Arroyo Seco at the Abominable Snowman (see below). In the summer there are teepees and camping areas and in the winter, bunk style lodgings. It’s clean, spacious and close to the ski area. The circular fireplace and kitchen are gathering spots.

A good mid range stay can be found at the Sun God Lodge. The rooms are done in a southwestern style and the hot tub out back is a great place to end a long day.

Mountain Air, Mountain Appetite

It’s Christmas all year round when dining in Northern New Mexico. When ordering any dish from hamburgers to goat cheese enchiladas you will hear, “Red or green?” Simply answer Christmas, it’s what the locals do. That way you’ll be served a mix of both red and green Chile. They are the foundation of the area’s distinctive cuisine and not to be confused with the chopped meat and over-spiced tomato based dish served elsewhere.

The Chile is the pepper that has long historic and traditional ties to the area. In the fall the roasting of the Chile provides an aroma that lingers through the other three seasons. It can be hot and spicy, or subtle and laid back. Ask before ordering!

For a town of only 5,000, Taos offers an amazing amount of choice. From trailer type stalls to restaurants featured in Food & Wine.

As a past restaurateur I’ve dealt with egos before. So suffice it to say, glad I’m on the other side now! I’ve got to love a chef who posts his accolades on the bathroom doors! !The chef / owner of Joseph’s Table (see details on right of the page), Joseph Wrede, has it right. Small, offbeat, good, and wine prices in this world not out. And he loves his job. Better yet, it’s a splurge that’s worth it! In Taos, with planning, you can offset other costs with a wonderful meal at Joseph’s Table.

Pizza, pasta and family fun add up to one thing--reasonable. La Luna is fine, filling and a better value than chain food. You’ll forget it’s in a strip mall when you twirl the pasta.

The Bent Street Deli offers casual fare with artistic flare. “The Taos” is turkey, green chile, bacon, salsa and guacamole all rolled up in a flour tortilla. They also serve an arrangement of salads from hummus to tabbouleh.

Late night dining (weekends) is authentic and inexpensive at El Pueblo Café. It’s a no frills eating and drinking spot, but a great chance to try menudo or pozole. One thing is for certain, there is no need to pass under golden arches or visit Wendy.

Tiny Taos, Wide Open

Gunmetal blue skies punctuated with staccato white clouds have a powerful effect in Taos. The surrounding mountains only add to the draw. Taos is more than adobe buildings and art galleries; outdoors is king here.

The Carson National Forest is a playland for outdoor lovers. Hiking, cross country skiing and wandering back roads can fill as many days as you have. Drive the Enchanted Circle and delight your senses. It’s 84 miles of mountain rambling.

Stop in on the DH Lawrence Memorial and the town of Questa and Red River. Traces of indigenous natives, early Hispanic settlers, mountain men and gold diggers will pop up at every turn. One “do not pass go if you miss it” spot is the town of Chimayo. This town is a fascinating look at the stamp the settlers from Mexico have left.

The Santuario de Chimayo Mission, built in 1816, holds superstitions that to some are holy promises. By the collection of pictures, crutches and written pleas the dirt from a back chapel does possibly produce miracles. More than 30,000 people make a pilgrimage to the church every Good Friday. Collect some lucky dirt for those travel emergencies.

If you get hungry try the nearby Rancho de Chimayo. The old ranch house offers pleasant New Mexican style grub as well as seven guestrooms.

The town is also a center for weaving. America’s oldest health resort, Ojo Caliente, is also a pleasant way to spend time in the area. This is not a fancy slick new version of ancient pleasure. It’s a glimpse back about 50 years when hot springs were treasured for their natural properties not marble entryways and juice bars.

Closer to Home

My favorite experience bar none in Taos is a visit to the Taos Pueblo. This is not a Disney set; it is a place where traditions are a way of life. The language you will hear is the unwritten Tiwa. The traditions are passed verbally and religiously.

Rule number one on the Pueblo: follow the rules. Pay the fee; do not intrude, and do not wander in places off limits. Do enter the small rooms that offer crafts and treasures. One such object is the Micaeous pottery, made from natural clay with flecks of mica. The pottery and the other works are suprisingly reasonably and not mass-produced. This is a glance into a sacred and spiritual community.

Just outside of Taos is the Martinez Hacienda and museum. The hacienda provides Spanish colonial outlook of life New Mexico. Its thick adobe walls and central courtyard are a reminder of past Comanche and Apache raids.

Art has played a part of the area for at least 100 years. The tradition is still strong today. Just three possibilities are the Fechin Institute, Van Vechten-Lineberry Art Museum and the Millicent Rogers Museum. Before hitting the hundreds of galleries in Taos a stop at the Millicent Rogers Museum is a good idea. The collection is heavy on traditional Hispanic and Native American pieces. The starting point for many of the local artists.

One Kokopelli Over the Line

The Kokopelli is the southwestern version of Bacchus, the god of merry making. After 12 years of living out west I have seen just about every design and use of the mythical creature. I believe this can be done in just one stop in any of the over abundant tourist shops.

Luckily Taos does have a number of quality galleries. One of my favorites is the Starr Gallery and its sister Gallery La Unica Cosa. Both feature weavings, carvings and art work done by Zapotec Indians as well as works of arts from other indigenous Mexicans. The owner, Susanna Starr, has worked for 25 years building this magical emporium.

One easy way to weed out those galleries that will not interest you is to log on to taosgalleryassoc.com and its gallery links. More than 31 fine galleries are represented. On the site are maps, events and art walk schedules. The Taos Gallery Association takes great care in its standards and members.

Boot Scootin' Boogie

If the combination of Inn, dance hall and restaurant sounds overwhelming take a big gulp and head into the Sagebrush Inn. The locals gather here on weekends to dance their cares away. Don’t let the combination of cowboy hats and concha belts rattle you. These people are friendly and willing to teach you some dance steps.

I was lucky enough to attend a party for Michael Hearne’s Sight and Sound CD release party. Hearne took thirteen pieces of local art and composed songs to match them. The CD liner holds the words and pictures of the works, and his music is pure art.

For a different variety of performances try the Adobe Bar. There you will encounter jazz, rock and even Celtic duos. The place is called, “the living room of Taos’. For rock and roll Taylor’s new dance floor is the place to be.

The natural beauty of Taos is well matched for three strong and distinct cultures. The American Indian, Spanish settler and artist colony weave together to create a one of a kind destination. If New Mexico is the Enchanted State, then Taos may be its cosmic heart. Every season has a good reason to visit Taos.

Taos Hotels

Casa de la Chimenas
405 Cordoba Rd
Taos, NM 87571
505 758-4777
visittaos.com

Sun God Lodge
909 Paseo del Pueblo Rd

Abominable Snowmansion
Arroyo Seco, NM
505 776-8298

Restaurants

Joseph's Table
4167 Paseo del Pueblo Sur
Ranchos de Taos, NM 87557
505.751.4512

La Luna Ristorante
223 Paseo del Pueblo Sur Taos
505.751.0023

Bent Street Deli & Cafe
120 M Bent Street Taos
505.758.5787

Adobe Bar
125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte Taos
505.758.2233
Email

Sagebrush Inn
(505) 758-2254,
Fax (505) 758-5077,
Reservations 1-800-428-3626
1508 Paseo del Pueblo Sur
Highway 68, 2-1/2 miles south of Taos Plaza
Post Office Box 557,
Taos, New Mexico 87571

Attractions
La Hacienda de los Martinez
Ranchitos Road
PO Drawer CCC
Taos NM 87571
505-758-0505

The Fechin Institute
227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte
Box 832
Taos NM 87571
505-758-1710

Blumenschein Home & Museum
222 Ledoux Street
PO Drawer CCC
Taos New Mexico 87571
505-758-0505

Millicent Rogers Museum
1504 Millicent Rogers Road, 4 miles north of Taos
PO Box A
Taos NM 87571
505-758-2462,
Fax 505-758-5751

Van Vechten-Lineberry
Taos Art Museum
501 Paseo del Pueblo Norte •
PO Box 1848 • Taos NM 87571
505-758-2690 •
FAX: 505-758-7320

Taos Pueblo Tourism
PO Box 1846, Taos, NM 87571 758-1028

Galleries

Taos Gallery Association

Starr Gallery
Phone 1-800-748-1756 or
505-758-3065


Books

Roadside History of New Mexico
Francias L. and Roberta Fugate
Mountain Press

Touring New Mexico
Coyote Books



Kent E. St. John is GoNOMAD's senior travel editor.

 

 

A sugar bird in Nevis Visit our Kent St. John Page with links to all his stories

 

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