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Taos: Natural New Mexico

Taos, New Mexico is a sensory wonderland. Bracing mountain air with the scent of Pinon, wildflowers and adobe seems to make up the common palate of the mountain west, and Taos enjoys them in abundance.

While perhaps known best for skiing and a 20th Century artist’s colony, what is possibly most striking about Taos to the first-time visitor is the serene sense of community that pervades among the diverse resident groups here. It seems that no two residents a visitors meets share the same heritage: there are art historians, environmentalists, innkeepers, college students and hospitality workers with a variety of backgrounds.

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Although a popular getaway since the early 20th Century, the town’s streets maintain the charm of a small western community. The traffic might back up a bit midday and one might have to stop in their tracks on the sidewalk to keep out of a selfie with the Historic Taos Inn sign, but otherwise, Taos is a sleepy town.

Attractions

Taos is more of a place to wander, but there are also plenty of attractions to fill the time of a weekend getaway or a longer leisure visit.

A must-stop is the Taos Pueblo, where college student docents who are also residents of the pueblo give guided tours, sharing the history of the pueblo, which is thought to be over a thousand years old. Visitors will learn about the traditional structures, history of the tribe and the area and a few words of the Taos dialect of the Tanoan language.

Visitors can then explore the pueblo and the creek that bisects it. Some of the homes are clearly marked as (cash only) shops or bakeries where baked goods cooked in traditional adobe ovens are on offer. The Pueblo closes periodically, so it’s worthwhile to check the website before heading out.

Visitors interested in sustainability should visit the Earthship Biotecture, just on the other side of the Rio Grande Gorge (the bridge has pedestrian walkways for photo ops). In addition to the Visitor’s Center, which occupies a prototype of the earth ships, which are made from recycled materials and provide the six basic human needs for life completely off the grid. Guided tours are also available that will take visitors through existing models which are available for overnight rentals.

Art

At the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, it can be difficult to discern whether the more impressive art is on the walls or the house itself. Built by Nicolai Fechin, who was already a well-known artist in Russia before fleeing the country during the Revolution, the house is filled with design touches that nod to the artist’s home country, in particular, some spectacular wood-carved designs.

The museum and adjacent studio also feature rotating collections by other Taos artists.

Available for tours by appointment is the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, also in the historic homes and studios of Eanger Irving Couse and Joseph Henry Sharp. The Couse house, notably, is left virtually intact from the period. Speaking the global language of art, it’s a worthwhile attraction for fans of art and architecture. Visitors can peer into pre-electric spaces designed for optimum light for sketching and painting, and see examples of works by both artists who tended to prefer Native American subjects.

Eat

In New Mexico, one eats chile. Whether, green, red, or “Christmas” (both), it’s an enduring symbol of the state’s culinary heritage. One of the better places to sample New Mexico cuisine is the no-fuss Michael’s Kitchen where gigantic fluffy sopapillas served with honey accompany most plates, and the savory meat-stuffed, chile-drenched sopapilla lunch is one of the most popular dishes, aside from the all-day breakfast platters.

Ranchos Plaza Grill at the Church of San Francisco de Asis is another popular spot for New Mexican cuisine for a change of scenery (but not a change of chile!)

Brunch fans will delight in an eclectic menu in the garden room at the El Monte Sagrado resort. Dishes like lobster benedict or the New Mexico “wet” breakfast burrito almost threaten to distract the attention from the plush surroundings.

Stay

The Adobe & Pines Inn is an oasis of calm in a town that’s hardly fraught with bustle. Taking up space in an 1830’s hacienda on the edge of town, the grounds are so beautiful it’s almost difficult to get out and explore. It’s easy to want to spend the entire day sitting on the porch listening to the creek babble through or wandering through the labyrinth.

Breakfasts in the sunny breakfast room are generous and made with organic eggs from chickens raised on-site, and most of the charming rooms have kiva fireplaces to warm against chilly Taos nights.

The full-service El Monte Sagrado has striking modern architecture and accommodations in a variety of styles, from traditional guest rooms overlooking the botanical grounds to themed casita-style accommodations tucked away into secluded corners.

Guests can also indulge at The Living Spa where palatial treatment rooms have soaring ceilings, fireplaces, and local artwork, and treatments infuse the same high desert botanicals and fragrances that make the Taos Valley seem like one of the most natural places on earth.

Good To Know

Most visitors access Taos by road from Santa Fe or Albuquerque. The entrance from the south follows the Rio Grande Gorge and is best taken slowly, both for views and for safety.

Parking can be limited in the town of Taos, but many businesses have private lots that aren’t apparent from the street; sometimes it’s worth calling ahead for parking instructions.

Evenings can be crisp and cool, even in the summer, so bring a wrap for chilly weather.

For more information on Taos, check out Taos.org.

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