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Northern New Mexico Trip

Day 4 of 5

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Sunday, May 13th
High Road to Taos

After breakfast we started off on the High Road to Taos. The direct route to Taos along Highway 68 is only about 45 minutes. But if you've got the time, you should definitely take the High Road, which is basically NM 76. The road travels through several mountain towns filled with artists galleries and other goodies.

Unfortunately for us, it was Sunday, and Mother's Day as well, which meant that a lot of places were closed. But enough were open to satiate us for this trip. Our first stop was the Chimayo Trading & Mercantile store in the small town of Chimayo. We were the only ones there for awhile and got personal service as we examined Kachina dolls, pottery, and rugs. While we shopped, a busload of tourists came into the store. We settled on a small Kachina doll (the one we REALLY wanted cost close to $1000 dollars) and Jean found a decorative feather she liked. I asked permission to take pictures of the store, and the woman said it was no problem, so I took a few shots for posterity.

Chimayo Trading & Mercantile


After the store, we continued up the road to El Santuario de Chimayo, which is ascribed with miraculous powers of healing. However, they were having mass and we decided not to enter. We observed from the outside and then continued along our way.

Outdoor mass at the church

El Santuario

One annoying, common trait of the area is that every gallery and store has an "Open" sign. This doesn't mean they're open -- it just means that they're too lazy to change the sign to "Closed". We stopped at a couple places which said Open, only to futilely knock on the door.

Feeling a bit hungry, we stopped at the Restaurant de Chimayo, which is next to the church. Unfortunately, it was lunch time and Mother's Day, and they said it'd be an hour's wait. We went to the bar to get some snacks, but they were too busy to even take our order, so we left, disappointed and a bit miffed.

Rug in one of the shops

Our next stop was the Oviedo Gallery. When we arrived, three dogs started barking furiously at us, and it wasn't clear the gallery was open (despite the Open sign). Soon a woman came through a door and told us to come in, however. The dogs left us alone and we walked through the gallery of bronze sculptures. We especially liked three lizards (two green, one black) attached to the wall above an arch. There were also sculptures of Kokopelli, cats, mice, and other animals.

The next town is Cordova, where we stopped at two galleries. First, we stopped at the Castillo Gallery. Paula Castillo is a painter, and Terry Ensenat Mulert is a wood carver. Both their works are shown in the small gallery. Terry was there to talk with us about his work. He explained that when he created something he wasn't happy with, he broke off the head and collected these broken wooden heads. Then he placed them into a nook in the side of the house, which is the first thing we saw when we arrived. Terry's work is mostly twisting, narrow faces. Paula's work is whimsical.

Wooden heads outside Castillo Gallery

We stopped at a local wood carver's studio briefly before continuing along the High Road, in search of food. Unfortunately, we wouldn't find much -- there's not much in the way of services along the road, and it being Sunday, the few we did find were closed. We ended up having to wait until we got to Taos to eat.


The next town is the amazing town of Truchas. Apparently this town was featured in the movie The Milagro Beanfield War, though I'm surprised I don't remember much scenery from the movie. The town of Truchas has an amazing view of green fields with the sight of 13,101-foot snow-covered Truchas Peak in the distance. Old decaying log cabins slide down the slopes of the town. It's not a particularly inviting place -- any of the modern buildings aren't in great shape, either. But the view just takes your breath away.

View near Truchas

We continued along NM 76, passing some poorer areas. We saw old pickup trucks on blocks and dozens of abandoned, beat-up vehicles. We stopped briefly in Las Trampas, where there is the San Jose Church. By this time we were starving, however, so we quickly got back in the car and didn't stop 'til we made it to Taos, around 3:30pm.

San Jose Church

Taos has fast food places, a Wal-Mart, and other modern conveniences (or intrusions, depending on your point of view). It even has traffic, pretty much all from tourists, of course. We parked and ate at the Taos Mountain BBQ. Afterwards we continued up the road to the Taos Pueblo. We arrived at 4pm, just in time -- they close at 5pm.

Taos Pueblo

The Taos Pueblo is the home of about 2,000 Taos Indians. They charge $10 per person to enter the Pueblo, and $10 to photograph. Of course I paid the photography fee. It's one of their sources of income, although I'm sure they make much more from the Taos Casino down the road.

Taos Pueblo Church

Taos Pueblo

The first thing you see when you enter the pueblo is the church, which is has a small courtyard with a cross over the entrance. There's a wide open area, a creek running down the center of the Pueblo, and adobe dwellings on either side of the creek. And behind it all is the snow-capped peaks of Taos Mountain and friends. The mountains in this region rise to as high as 13,000 feet.

Peppers hung over a Taos Pueblo dwelling

Taos Pueblo and their river

Back down to earth, most of the pueblo's residents were tucked away into their homes, out of sight. Those that were visible were staffing small gift shops which were present on either side of the creek. I had been hoping to photograph some of the residents doing what they do, but I was to be disappointed. I did spy a couple of the homes with propane tanks which they used to generate electricity. Apparently 200 of the residents still go without electricity or running water. The rest use modern conveniences, however.

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo Church cross

After visiting the pueblo, we retraced our steps back to downtown Taos and stopped at the Taos Arts Festival. This was similar to all the arts & crafts fairs you find in the Bay Area on weekends -- people set up under white tents selling their wares. There were perhaps 40-50 booths, nothing special. I found it strange that after traveling from Silicon Valley to northern New Mexico, everywhere I went I heard people talking about technology. In the Restaurant de Chimayo I heard someone talking about Epson printers. Here at the art fair, I heard people discussing DVD-ROM, RAM, using cell phones. And everywhere I went, every place had a web site. No restaurant or art gallery is too small to have a web site. The Internet is everywhere. You can't escape it just by leaving Silicon Valley. But maybe that's a good thing -- some of these artists probably greatly benefit from the increased exposure and the chance to do research over the Internet. It's probably even more important to them considering they live in small mountain towns, far from large centers of population and modern services we take for granted.

In any case, after quickly browsing the art fair and being disappointed, we went on to visit the Rio Grande River Bridge. More important than the bridge, though, the drive to the bridge is beautiful. We realized that we were driving on a large, mostly flat plain, surrounded by high snow-capped mountains to the north, south, and east. It's a completely different world than the hot, dry, dusty world of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Whereas that area is mostly reds and browns, this area is all greens and blues. In fact, the drive up the High Road to Taos consist of forests that look as if they'd been transplanted from the Sierra Nevada. It is a beautiful place, one I hope to return to in order to do some hikes in the mountains.

Rio Grande River Gorge and distant mountains

For now, though, we parked our car and slowly walked across the bridge. It was a bit windy as we crept out to the center. Jean decided to turn around and wait in the car while I took pictures 650 feet above the Rio Grande. My own sense of vertigo quickly dissipated -- you just get used it after a short time. Interestingly enough, the canyon walls reveal that the soil here is just the same as that in the Santa Fe. The only difference is that the increased altitude brings cooler and wetter weather, resulting in a drastic difference in vegetation and appearance. At 650 feet, the bridge is one of the highest in the country. It's not very long, however, as the river cuts a deep and narrow chasm.

Next, we drove back through Taos to Ranchos de Taos, just south of Taos. We made a brief stop at the San Francisco de Asis Church, which has been the subject of photographs by Ansel Adams and paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe. The church is remarkable in that there are very few windows and doors, but the building has a lot of structure -- it's not your basic rectangular parallel piped (as my calculus teacher would say). The church was closed, but I took some pictures from the outside.

San Francisco de Asis Church

We had 7:30pm dinner reservations at Joseph's Table, but we arrived a bit early. This wasn't a problem for them, however -- even on Mother's Day. Not to say the restaurant wasn't busy. It was. It was also very good. We had white wine, oysters, shrimp, salad with chopped nuts, crispy duck and fish. Their smashed potatoes are especially tasty. My duck with pear chutney was excellent, as well. Okay, everything was great. We topped it off with tea and dessert. Joseph Wrede was named one of the top 10 new chefs in Food & Wine magazine. He did nothing to dispel that notion tonight. Afterwards, Jean, perhaps having had a little too much to drink, went into the kitchen and told them they were better than Gary Danko. While I'm not sure about that, I would definitely return. And it's definitely cheaper, too.

We took Highway 68 back, and quickly made it back to our suite in about 45 minutes. As I said, 68 is the direct and much quicker route, but if you have the time, definitely take the High Road.

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