How to Experience Taos, New Mexico
When driving to Taos from the south there are generally two ways to get to the northern New Mexico mountain community: the Low Road and the High Road. Both are beautiful in their own right, and both should be driven if time permits. An hour north of Santa Fe, Taos is accessible via the Low Road along the Rio Grande River valley, or the High Road, which twists and climbs through the mountains and secluded artists communities. And just as there is more than one way to get to Taos, there is more than one way to experience this ancient community.
Taos has enough going for it to fill several days of fun for art lovers, outdoors enthusiasts, foodies, shoppers, and history buffs. So whether you take the Low Road or High Road to Taos, once you arrive, you’ll find an abundance of options to keep busy.
You’ve possibly heard of Taos for the nearby Taos Pueblo. Maybe it’s the Taos Ski Valley or the Taos Society of Artists. Whatever the reason, at the core is the beauty of Taos and the surrounding mountains.
Some of America’s great artists of the early 20th century called Taos home. Santa Fe is known as the home of Georgia O’Keeffe, the great gallery scene of Canyon Road, and its numerous art markets throughout the year, but Taos is the namesake to the movement, more or less. The Taos Society of Artists was a group of painters who began migrating to the Taos area in the late 1800s. These artists came to New Mexico and just couldn’t escape its beauty. They told their friends about it. And from 1915 to 1927, the Taos Society of Artists was an active, thriving community of creatives.
The artists’ works can be viewed at several museums in Taos, including the Harwood Museum of Art, Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, and the Blumenschein Home & Museum. The Harwood, for example, has its own gallery dedicated to the Taos Art Colony, but it also covers Hispanic and Native American traditions of the region long before the colony began as well as has a collection of modernist work.
Various paintings also can be found at many of the galleries and shops on and around the historic Taos Plaza. In addition to those businesses, restaurants and museums are within walking distance of the plaza.
One of our favorite spots in Taos, located just across from the Harwood Museum and just two blocks from the plaza, was the tasting room for Black Mesa Winery. It is a fact that all 50 states have at least one winery, but not all of them are good. Black Mesa produces quality wines and is worth a stop for wine lovers.
Food in Taos lives up to the reputation of great New Mexican cuisine. There is plenty of traditional New Mexican fare; we enjoyed Orlando’s, which is a local favorite. Melissa, owner of Red Cat Melissiana as well as the apartment rental we stayed in just off the Taos Plaza, recommended it to us.
For outdoors enthusiasts, it’s pretty simple: Head to the mountains. It won’t take much effort to get there. Taos Ski Valley is 15 miles north of Taos and offers plenty of hiking options during the warmer months and winter sports when the snow is falling.
Just 10 miles west of Taos is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a 600-foot span that sits nearly 600 feet above the surface of the Rio Grande River. The deep gorge is unique in that while driving along US 64 toward the river, the bridge appears to come out of nowhere.
For miles, the land is flat between the mountains of the Carson National Forest to the west and the Sangre de Cristos to the east. Then suddenly, the deep river gorge is there. It’s a beautiful spot with picnic tables overlooking the bridge.
Taos has a lot going for it, and my favorite can be found at Taos Pueblo. Northern New Mexico is home to 19 pueblos, including Taos Pueblo just north of Taos Plaza. Taos Pueblo is the only inhabited property in the world listed on the UNESCO World Heritage site. The Taos Pueblo has been lived in for some 1,000 years. Tours aren’t necessary, but they are free and worth the time.
Our tour began outside the San Geronimo Chapel, the newest structure in Taos Pueblo, built in 1850. The tour took us through parts of the village as we learned about the history of the people and the adobe structures. After the tour, we were able to roam around much of the village, popping into a few of the shops and a fabulous café.
Taos Pueblo technically is lived in, but not every home is a permanent residence. Some are shops and cafes. Others sit empty except for during certain times of the year, when the owners return with their extended families for special gatherings. The homes are passed down through generations.
We could have spent 30 minutes at Taos Pueblo; it would’ve been enough time to experience the village. But we spent a couple of hours there getting to know several residents, and could’ve spent even more time there. During our week in New Mexico, the morning spent at Taos Pueblo was a highlight, much like our time in Taos.
And about the High Road and Low Road to Taos: My advice is take the High Road to get to Taos and the Low Road to get back toward Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We enjoyed a four-hour drive along the nearly 60-mile stretch between Santa Fe and Taos into the mountains along the High Road to Taos.
The road goes along Highway 76 through Chimayo, where we had our best meal of the week at Rancho de Chimayo, and Truchas, a tiny village with several art galleries just below the 13,102-foot-high Truchas Peak.
Taking the High Road to Taos was half the fun of our visit, but the Low Road isn’t too bad either. The Low Road is a quicker path, skirting along the Rio Grande as it winds along on its nearly 2,000-mile journey from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico.