By Nancy Stern | Travel
Ask a local what brought them to live in Taos, New Mexico and they would likely answer, “I think I was called to be here.”
The area’s art and culture, serene mountain views, eclectic food scene, early history, and unique architecture will keep visitors busy exploring all of the various attractions that make this city a magical place. Here are some of the best must-see wonders of Taos.
Millicent Rogers Museum
The Millicent Rogers Museum is based on the life of a New York socialite who visited Taos in order to gain peace of mind. She fell in love with the thriving, edgy and artistic town. Over time, the fashion icon contributed her own sense of style and made an impact on the popular culture of her day.
Millicent Rogers’ unique chic style blends Native American turquoise and silver jewelry with high couture fashion. Along with a collection of her personal jewelry, there are displays of priceless Southwestern pottery, textile blankets and sarapes. More than 7,000 objects of art are rotated in the well-designed museum that was established as a memorial to her.
Taos Artisan Walking Tour
A delightful walking tour down Kit Carson Street is available through the Taos Artisan Tours by Heritage Inspirations, led by a well-informed guide.
The tour’s first stop is the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, where Eanger Irving Couse and Joseph Henry Sharp began recruiting artists from the eastern U.S. to paint new subject matter of local flora and the Native Americans.
After Couse’s death, his son maintained his father’s studio just the way it was left. Everything is authentic, and the brushes Mr. Couse used are still in their original place. The tour continues on to visit the studios of contemporary artists — such as Rich Nichols, Tres Estrellas Design, and Inger Jirby — who work there daily on their latest pieces.
Many Americans may not be aware that there are 19 Pueblo communities between Albuquerque and Taos. The northernmost of these, the Taos Pueblo, is believed to have been established nearly 1,000 years ago. It is the only living Native American community that has been given both the World Heritage Site designation by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and National Historic Landmark status.
For an admission fee, tourists can visit the walled-in city and hear resident guides speak about the historical culture and traditions. About 150 Pueblo inhabitants still live in their adobe homes with no electricity or running water — as simply as their ancestors did long ago.
Many who live there set up little shops outside their homes selling jewelry, Indian fry bread, pastries and crafts. As one young local said, “We don’t want to sell out to modernism; we want to keep it authentic.”
Located in the heart of downtown, Taos Plaza previously held a reputation of being a “wild and wooly West” hotspot. Hootings, hangings, excessive drinking and human trafficking all contributed to its notorious past.
Throughout the years, repeated fires burnt down the surrounding wood buildings until adobe construction put a halt to the destructive cycle. The Hotel La Fonda de Taos is testament to this as it has stood since 1820. Many celebrities and notable citizens have stayed here, including Judy Garland, Georgia O’ Keefe and Dennis Hopper.
The plaza is also a central meeting place for festivities. Throughout the summer on Thursday evenings, various local musicians are featured; tourists can also visit shops in the plaza that offer candles, jewelry, fine art and souvenirs. From May to October, a thriving farmers market on Saturdays sells fresh juices, produce, honey, homemade cheeses, breads and ethnic pastries.
One side alley off of Taos Plaza is called Teresina Lane, named after the daughter of Governor Charles Bent. In 1847, Bent was trying to keep peace among the Spaniards and local Indians, but in a grave misunderstanding, he was murdered near the Taos Plaza.
Today, the cobblestone alley houses tourist shops that lead to Alley Cantina, a popular restaurant and watering hole for the locals.
Kit Carson Home and Museum
Kit Carson is a household name and part of American West folklore. Visit his original Taos home — now a museum — to learn about this legendary frontiersman who was highly respected among the people of his time. Tragically, his wife Josefa died 10 days after giving birth to her last child, and Carson passed away one month to the day after that. Their gravesite is a short distance away in the Kit Carson Cemetery.
An award-winning History Channel video accompanied with exhibits, story boards, and a well-stocked bookstore all impart information about this colorful period of history.
Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
The Taos Art Museum at Fechin House contains a stunning collection of art from past notable Taos artists. Nicolai Fechin was a Russian artist who escaped the Bolshevik Revolution and eventually ended up in New York City where he painted portraits. Lured by fellow Taos artists, he made his final home in Taos and built an exquisite hand-crafted adobe home.
Today, his residence is known as The Taos Art Museum and displays his paintings and woodcrafts along with those of past fellow artists. Cultural events and exhibits occur throughout the year so there is always something new to see and do. Take time to browse the gift shop located on the landscaped grounds.
Los Rios River Runners
Los Rios River Runners is an outdoor adventure company offering a variety of river rafting adventures on the Rio Grande and Rio Chama rivers. The Sunset Dinner Float is a smooth and tranquil evening raft ride down the Rio Grande. Your guide will keep you entertained with colorful Western stories, and there is a good chance of spotting wildlife creatures such as beavers, mule deer, and wildcats. The raft ride concludes on the riverside with a sumptuous outdoor meal cooked under the evening stars.
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Much older than even the Taos Pueblo is the Rio Grande Rift, 6 miles deep and 20 miles wide. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the fifth highest in the U.S. and spans 650 feet above the Rio Grande River. This man-made marvel of engineering has been featured in several films such as “Terminator Salvation,” “Wild Hog,” and “White Sands.” The completion on this bridge project opened up Route 64 in Taos to the west and the north, creating easier access to parts of Taos County.
San Francisco de Asis Church
This popular tourist attraction is also an active church since its completion in about 1815. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, it is considered the oldest existing Catholic Church adobe structure in the Taos Valley and one of the finest examples of a Spanish Colonial New Mexican church. Georgia O’Keefe found its twin towers to be an inspiration for several of her famous paintings.
Parishioners and volunteers gather each year for the “enjarre” during the first two weeks of June. This is when the mudding (restoring the outside walls) occurs in the traditional way of mixing clay, straw, sand, and water.
Inside the hall hangs the 19th-century painting by artist Henri Ault, “The Shadow of the Cross,” which glows in the dark. Tourists can view it for a $3 donation to the church.
“There are no straight lines in Taos!” according to one guide. This can be found in the round curves of the adobe architecture, the cobblestones, and the many celestial symbols of the sun and moon in the local decor. Here, the relaxed attitude of the locals and shopkeepers slows down the pace of a once hurried tourist. The warm hues and bright colors happily stimulate the senses, compelling many to pull up stakes and make Taos their permanent home.
—Nancy Stern is a travel writer with her husband Ron Stern. This was a sponsored trip; however, all opinions herein are the author’s.