Taos, New Mexico – magical, mysterious and marvelous

By | Category: Travel destinations
artists come for the light - and the views. image © GeraintSmith

artists come for the light – and the views. image © GeraintSmith

Raja’s big brown eyes looked sideways at me with a touch of suspicion. After all, I had been lavishing the llama with affection, perhaps a bit too much for his liking.

We kept trekking ahead, steadfast, along the lush green trail in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just outside of Taos, New Mexico. My enthusiasm and delight just didn’t seem to impress the woolly guy. People from all over the world come to Taos for its incredible light, so tantalizing to artists, to visit the fascinating ancient pueblos, and to flock to the unique shops and galleries. At this moment, I, however, was enthralled with my “lunch with a llama” adventure with Wild Earth Llama Adventures, which also offers snowshoeing in wintertime.)

Taos is a rather dreamy place, full of history, mysticism, cultural mélange and moving to a slower pace than what most of us experience in our own lives. It’s a place that entices you to quiet yourself and pay attention to your senses. Your eyes rest on the warm peaches, corals and browns of the adobe (from the Spanish word for mud brick) homes all around you, your nose and mouth perk up at the aromas and tastes of toasting tortillas and simmering pots of beans, and your ears enjoy the sounds of cottonwood leaves rustling in the breeze and the hints of Spanish guitar emanating from the plaza. You stop, you listen, you feel. This is why people come to Taos – it’s a destination for the soul.

Start your Taos experience with a visit to the Taos Pueblo, a living history site where some 100 Native American people (the Red Willow tribe) still live in their traditional ways in what is considered the oldest continuously inhabited community (some buildings date to 1000 B.C.) in the United States. It is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. Against the spectacular backdrop of the Sangre de Cristos mountains in a windswept, high desert valley, you’ll see ancient Pueblo adobe homes, each with its ‘ristra’ of red chilli peppers, built atop of each other, ladders perched to each level. Tiny windows let in light and air, while the thick walls keep temperatures constant in this land of hot summers and cold winters. Besides the many dogs lazing in the shade, there are numerous shops (I liked Wayleah) for jewellery, baskets, ceramics and other crafts, and don’t forget to indulge in some native foods – especially the fresh baked bread. If possible, try to come during tribal dance or powwows – they are thrilling and truly authentic, and you’ll probably hear some folks speaking in the native language, Tiwa.

© Lenny Foster

© Lenny Foster

Heading back to the downtown area, you might want to take a stroll through the historic district.  Print out the “Historic Taos, and take a self-guided walking tour of 22 important sites to lead the way. You’ll see one of the most famous churches in North America, San Francisco de Asis, painted by Georgia O’Keefe, (widely considered the “mother” of the American Modernism art movement) containing 10,000 adobe bricks, as well as the delightful Taos Plaza, a park surrounded by shops, art galleries and bistros, along with the beloved La Fonda de Taos Hotel with its “forbidden art collection” of D.H. Lawrence, fronted by a very popular, indie coffee shop. Summertime brings free concerts to the plaza on Thursday evenings – with people-watching galore. And yes, D.H. Lawrence lived here. His ranch is just outside Taos and his ashes are supposedly buried in the memorial there.

After touring the plaza area, explore Ledoux Street, a charming route lined with more galleries and shops. Speaking of galleries, Taos is filled with them. Artists love this town and its splendid “light,” (especially at dawn) which is said to be different to anywhere else. You’ll find everything from Southwest and Native American themes, to portraits, expansive landscapes, modern and impressionistic, as well as pottery and ceramics, blown glass and metal crafts. The Taos light is also known for invigorating spiritual practices – this town is big on yoga, meditation, labyrinth walks and other healing and alternative treatments.

enjoying the great outdoors. image ©  Gak Stonn

enjoying the great outdoors. image © Gak Stonn

When you’re ready for some active adventures, Taos delivers. Besides the llama trekking I mentioned earlier, the area offers warm weather activities such as high-energy rafting down the Rio Grande River (see the cavernous Rio Grande Gorge with its bridge, the 2nd highest in the United States,) hot-air ballooning,  horse-back riding and superb mountain biking and hiking trails. Wintertime brings snowshoeing and world-class snow skiing and boarding at Ski Taos or at several other nearby areas.

Taos features a wealth of museums of top quality. For just $25, buy a combination pass to get into five of them – valid for one year. Most notable are the Harwood, the Taos Art Museum, La Hacienda de los Martinez and the Millicent Rogers Museum . The Harwood Art Museum focuses on Southwestern and New Mexican art.

Encore Gallery.© Geraint Smith

Encore Gallery.© Geraint Smith

The La Hacienda de los Martinez  is very different having twenty-one rooms surrounding two courtyards which provide a glimpse of the rugged frontier life and times of the early 1800s. Additionally, regularly scheduled demonstrations present the continuing traditions of northern New Mexico. The Millicent Rogers Museum is dedicated to the arts and cultures of the American Southwest, particularly Native American and Hispanic ones. Another worthy site is the Mabel Dodge Lujan House, where the daring, society maven heiress lived until the end of her life with her last husband, a native American who would drum outside her home in a traditional teepee.

Looking for something you can’t find elsewhere? Visit the world headquarters of Greater World Earthships and learn now many people all over have chosen to live “off the grid” and be self-sufficient. Smile at a resident and you just might get invited into one of the ‘”earthships,” which are radically sustainable homes made of recycled materials such as old tires compacted with soil. The visitor center is open daily from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Dining is fabulous and eclectic in Taos. With many celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Dennis Hopper and former Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld living here, world-class cuisine is demanded and readily found. Try Graham’s Grille on the Plaza (artichoke and fennel fritti,) Doc Martin’s at the Taos Inn (achiote rubbed duck breast,) or The Stakeout (meats and seafood with an Italian twist.)

who could love a llama? © Wild Earth Llama Adventures

who could love a llama? © Wild Earth Llama Adventures

If you DO opt for a Taos llama trek, take care not to do what I did. Llamas really don’t like all the attention, and my Raja made it quite clear. With a disdainful snort, he shot a cool spray of llama saliva right at my face, and just kept on trekking. I learned my lesson about llama trekking – just walk and don’t hug, and you’ll be fine.

Major events that take place in Taos include:
July 12,13,14, — 28th Annual Taos Pueblo Pow-Wow
July 25, Santiago Feast Day
July 26, Santa Ana Feast Day
Sept. 29, San Geronimo Eve Vespers
Sept. 30, San Geronimo Day, Traditional Pole Climbing
Dec. 24, Procession of the Virgin Mary
Dec. 25, Deer or Matachines Dance

Santa Fe is the closest (70 miles away) airport that has flights which will connect to the UK and Ireland via Dallas, Denver and Los Angeles. Albuquerque is about 130 miles away and has connections to all the gateways from the UK and Ireland.

For more information about Taos, click here.

 

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