Take the High Road To Taos

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Explore the history of Santa Fe and northern New Mexico on a boomer road trip. When Alan and I traveled to Santa Fe, we drove the Enchanted Circle Highway. In today’s guest post, Billie Frank of The Santa Fe Traveler, takes us on the High Road to Taos.

Santuario de Chimayo on the High Road to Taos.

Visiting picturesque Taos is a great addition to any road trip to Santa Fe. The historic town (the Pueblo dates back about 1,000 years) is know for its artists and bohemian lifestyle. Boomers planning to explore the town should make this road trip an all-day affair. A great way to go is up on the High Road and back on the Low Road. Winding through the Sangre de Christo Mountains en route is very scenic with spectacular views.

The first stop on the High Road to Taos is historic Chimayó. A visit to Santuario de Chimayó, a church famous for healing miracles, is a must. Also stop at one or more of the weaving shops. Chimayó weaving has been passed down through families for generations. There are several shops owned by the Ortega and the Trujillo families famous for their craft. If you are ready for lunch or a snack, try Leona’s, the tamale stand adjacent to the church or dine at Rancho de Chimayó, known for its New Mexican food. This popular restaurant has fed people for over 40 years.

Leaving Chimayó, the road winds through old mountain villages settled hundreds of years ago by Hispanic immigrants to the New World. Rumor has it that until the mid-1960’s, English was rarely spoken here and that the people spoke a Spanish that had close ties to 15th Century Castilian. One of the interesting things about this area is the presence of the people known as Crypto Jews. These are descendants of Jews who fled Spain during the Inquisition who had to renounce their faith in order to survive. The rituals from their original religion were passed down generations, usually with only one family member, if that, aware of their heritage.

Church in Truchas
Church in Truchas.

Truchas, a bit up the road from Chimayó is famous as the town where Robert Redford filmed The Milagro Beanfield War in 1988. In Las Trampas, take a right and view the historic church, circa 1760. Artists who cannot afford Santa Fe rents have moved to these mountain towns and opened galleries. Art lovers will enjoy the High Road Art Tour held the last two weekends in September.

A little past Peñasco, make a left onto NM 518. The road takes you through Kit Carson National Forest with its alpine landscape and beautiful views. When the road meets 68 at Rancho de Taos, turn right, Taos is minutes up the road. A jog to the left will take you to Church of San Francisco de Assisi dating to the late 18th Century. This adobe structure may look familiar. It was painted by Georgia O’Keeffe and photographed by Ansel Adams; many other artists have been inspired by it.

If you have questions or want information about the town, stop at the Taos Visitor’s Center on the right as you come into town. Taos has attracted artists since the beginning of the 20th Century. The Taos Society of Artists was formed in 1915 and in the 1920s, heiress Mabel Lodge Luhan brought Georgia O’Keeffe and D. H. Lawrence to town.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos, New Mexico.

To get a feel for Taos, stroll the streets around the Plaza. Check out the historic La Fonda Hotel and charming Bent Street. Shop, dine, people watch and soak in the historical surroundings. The Harwood Museum on narrow Ledoux Street is worth a visit. If you are a fan of Native American and Spanish Colonial art and handcrafts, the Millicent Rodgers Museum, northwest of town, is a must-see. Millicent Rodgers was an heiress (Standard Oil), a jewelry designer and a serious collector of both genres. The collection is superb. On the way to the museum, you’ll pass the thousand-year-old Taos Pueblo. This is one of two historic Pueblos in New Mexico currently occupied. Take a tour with a Pueblo guide. If you want to take photos you must buy a permit. Other historic attractions include the Kit Carson House and the Martinez Hacienda.

Northwest on NM 64 is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, fifth highest bridge in the US. Park your car and take a walk on the bridge for spectacular views of the gorge. Baby boomers with height issues should beware, the bridge vibrates and is not for the faint of heart.

When done exploring Taos, return to Santa Fe on the Low Road (NM 68, becoming US 285 and NM 84 at Espanola. The route wends through the Rio Grande Valley. As an alternative, you can go up the Low Road and back down the High Road, either one will get you there. The trip takes about an hour-and-a-half (less if traffic is light) on the Low Road, about two hours on the High Road.

Scratch those itchy travel feet!

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