High Desert Sun
Taos, 70 miles to the north of Santa Fe, has only about 6,200 residents. The faster "low" road from Santa Fe to Taos, state route 68, follows the Rio Grande and meanders through narrow valleys and soaring red-rock cliffs past charming communities such as Embudo and Dixon. The High Road to Taos, while longer, encompasses spectacular mountain views and wonderful old churches in the towns of Chimayo and Las Trampas.
D.H. Lawrence was among the artists and writers to be enthralled by Taos, where he even lived for a while. The southwest's most photographed Indian village, Taos Pueblo sits on the town's northern edge. While the village of Taos has grown in recent years, it is a still largely a poor but proud town. Its striking mountain backdrop and Hispanic atmosphere have lured not just cultural figures but any number of raffish outsiders from Kit Carson to sixties communards to movie star Dennis Hopper into its web of art and spirituality.
For now, Taos seems to have tamed the developers that not long ago threatened to anglicize its Hispanic core. That period and the continuing friction between various sides in Taos is wonderfully depicted in John Nichols' novel, The Milagro Beanfield War, later made into a film by Robert Redford.
Although tourists crowd its streets, too, Taos still clings to its special aura, with the fresh scent of pinon logs burning in fireplaces even on summer nights under a sky punctuated by a million stars. It is the only non-university town I have ever visited in which three excellent, independent bookstores have thrived for years.
The mountain biking, hiking, rafting and fishing opportunities in Carson National Forest just outside Taos are as abundant as the town's charm. Within the forest are Wheeler Peak, the state's highest, Blue Lake (a sacred place to the Taos Puebloans) as well as to Taos Ski Valley. The ski resort , one the west's most challenging downhill areas, harbors a cluster of friendly inns at its base and makes a great jumping-off point for wilderness excursions in the snow-free months.
As you explore the archeological riches of ancient and modern pueblos or the wilderness just beyond Taos, Los Alamos and Santa Fe, be sure to sample the New Mexican cuisine, whose green chile wakes up your senses. Leave time to wander through the numerous museums and art galleries that have made northern New Mexico a magnet for artists and collectors. Treat both native peoples and native habitats with respect, and you will reap the rewards of a gorgeous environment filled with gracious people.
Grace Lichtenstein, the former Rocky Mountain bureau chief for The New York Times, writes frequently about skiing and other sports. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico and New York City.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication