Backed against the blue-grey Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos is one of the southwest's most gorgeous and scenic spots. Situated on a plateau, cut-through by the Rio Grande River, Taos is also home to one of the longest inhabited sites in North America, the Taos Pueblo. Although relatively isolated, the area's natural beauty, emphasized by high-desert, azure-blue skies, has been an inspiration since the late 19th century for artists, among them painter Georgia O'Keeffe, photographer Ansel Adams and writers Willa Cather, Aldous Huxley and D.H. Lawrence, as well as a long lineage of indigenous artists and jewelry makers. As D.H. Lawrence wrote, "You cannot come to Taos without feeling that here is one of the chosen spots on Earth."
Today, Taos' narrow streets and main historic plaza are dotted with jewelry stores, art galleries, sculpture gardens and studios that honor that artistic tradition. Complementing the many modern diversions is the brilliant natural setting. Although there's plenty of development, Taos is not overrun with the usual chain stores and fast-food outlets. The historic core and town plaza remain picture perfect with low, adobe-made buildings, many with quiet courtyards and vistas that reveal the mountains and wide-open spaces of the pueblo's surrounding undeveloped land and the vast mesa to the west.
Taos' pueblo-style buildings reference the town's many influences—from native cultures to Spanish colonization to the town's rough-and-rowdy frontier days. Among the must sees: legendary scout Kit Carson's home; one of the world's best collections of Native American art at the Millicent Rogers Museum; and the iconic San Francisco de Asis church in Rancho de Taos — built in 1816 and often captured in photographs. In addition to historical sites, museums and shopping, outdoor pursuits are plentiful too. There's hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking and horseback riding — in fair weather. In wintertime, enjoy skiing and snowboarding and every mountain winter sport.
The best way to get to Taos is to rent a car at the Albuquerque International Sunport airport. Taos is a scenic 135 miles north of Albuquerque, and the road leads you close to Santa Fe. Drive past several Indian-owned casinos, such as the San Felipe Casino Hollywood and the Camel Rock Casino; the scenic "badlands" of Pojoaque; and through the winding Taos Canyon, which follows the course of the Rio Grande, opening onto the blue-green sagebrush plains outside Taos. Be prepared for your first breathtaking sight of the Rio Grande Gorge, a steep canyon of black rock etched out by the rushing waters of the Rio Grande.
For the most luxurious stay in Taos, El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa offers a full-service hotel on cottonwood-dotted acres. The resort's intimate spa has several unique treatments, including a desert purification ritual. On-site is the Grand Bohemian Gallery, and original artworks are found throughout the property.
The Sagebrush Inn is a Taos landmark, built of adobe and welcoming guests since 1931. The huge, hand-hewn ceiling timbers are referred to by the Spanish term "vigas." Taos is also known as the bed & breakfast capital of the Southwest. La Posada de Taos and the Hacienda del Sol Bed & Breakfast are two fine examples in this category. Famous New York Bohemian Mabel Dodge Luhan once owned the Hacienda property and her guests included both Lawrence and O'Keeffe. Taos Ski Valley also offers several lodging options year-round and ski/board-and-stay packages during the season. At Sierra del Sol Condominiums in the Taos Ski Valley, which front the rushing Twining Creek, travelers will find full kitchens and spacious balconies.
TAOS DAY 1: Kit Carson Home and Museum, Hacienda de los Martinez and Taos Mountain Casino
Any trip to Taos has to start with a stop at the busy Taos Visitors Center, where you can get a wealth of maps, dining suggestions and magazines, not to mention free mini cups of coffee. After a brief review of the tourism materials you gather, you'll find that a great way to ease into the city is by touring the homes of the area's famous pioneers, artists and socialites: frontiersman Kit Carson, Standard Oil heiress Millicent Rogers and freethinker Mabel Dodge Luhan.
Walk to the 12-room adobe Kit Carson Home and Museum, which offers a glimpse into the soul of this interesting and controversial trailblazer, mountain man, U.S. Cavalry officer and Civil War veteran, who lived in Taos from 1843 to 1868. His grave and that of his wife, Josefa Jaramillo, are in the cemetery in Kit Carson Park.
Two blocks from the plaza, the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, now an inn and conference center, is open to the public, and still filled with the ceramic roosters she collected, as well as a wealth of other fascinating memorabilia. In 1918, Luhan "discovered" Taos after moving from Greenwich Village, New York, where her home had been the gathering spot for freethinkers of the time. She married a Taos Pueblo Native American named Antonio Luhan and together they built Los Gallos, "The Roosters," where they attracted other luminaries of the day, including D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe, Carl Jung and Martha Graham. Be sure to check out the Ansel Adams Room, where actor-director-artist Dennis Hopper stayed while editing the film "Easy Rider."
Finish up your historic core walking tour at the E.L. Blumenschein Home and Museum, housed in the late artist's funky 1797-built adobe residence that features a collection of Blumenschein's work and artifacts from his life, as well as art by the Taos Society of Artists, which Blumenschein famously founded.
Two miles out of town is the 19th-century Hacienda de los Martinez, which housed Taos' prominent Martinez family, and now provides a period recreation of life on the frontier. The last weekend in September, the home hosts the Old Taos Trade Fair, during which the kitchens, looms and blacksmith shop are brought back to life. The Millicent Rogers Museum of Taos is another must-see. Rogers was a visionary American artist, socialite and fashion icon who moved to Taos in 1947. The museum that bears her name displays an impressive 5,000-piece collection of historic and contemporary Native American and Hispanic art, jewelry, woven blankets and basketry.
A good lunch choice is Eske's Brew Pub & Eatery, Taos' own microbrewery with seasonally changing brews selected from 25 different ale recipes, as well as Wanda's Famous Green Chile Stew, which is just as good as it's touted to be. If you just want a salad and slice of pizza, there isn't a better place than the Taos Pizza Out Back. The salads are piled high with alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes and cucumbers, all doused with a garlicky homemade dressing. Among the excellent pizzas, try specialty creations like the Greek pizza with fresh spinach, kalamata olives, fresh basil and tomatoes; or the delicious Taos pie, which features green chile, mushrooms and, yes, beans.
Lunchtime isn't too early to begin planning dinner. During the high seasons of summer, fall and winter, reservations are a necessity in otherwise laidback Taos. You'll find one of the best fine-dining experiences in all of New Mexico at Lambert's of Taos. The seasonal menu features crab cakes, pepper-crusted lamb, grilled ginger shrimp and heart-stopping desserts.
The afternoon hours leading up to dinnertime are ideal for gallery hopping. Wander along the streets of Taos, stopping in wherever artwork catches your eye. You'll find realist and abstract, traditional and contemporary works in a wide variety of media. Some, but not all, art shows the influence of New Mexican and Southwestern cultures. Ringing the Taos Plaza are several touristy curio shops for dream catchers, kachinas dolls and assorted Native American tchotkes.
After dinner, you might be inclined to celebrate your getaway with some nightlife — only to discover that Taos doesn't sport much in the way of nightclubs. The serpentine Anaconda Bar at El Monte Sagrado is something of a nightspot for locals. You can sometimes catch a Western band in the bar at the Sagebrush Inn, and Eske's occasionally has live music. If casinos, with their gambling and lounge acts, are your style, try the Taos Mountain Casino. Plan on getting to bed at a fairly reasonable time, because you have an active day ahead.
Continue to Day 2