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Taos and the Enchanted Circle

Liquid light filters through the open venetian blind into the spacious adobe room with its high viga ceiling. With one stroke, the gentle warmth on my face brushes night's sleep away. I linger for a moment before rising, surveying the San Geronimo Lodge room with the viga exposed timbers, kiva Southwest adobe fireplace, and Mexican tiled floors. Rising, I walk to the window and widen the slats to catch the splayed rays of sun emerging over the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Last night, it had stormed. The rising warm moisture suffuses the morning landscape with a golden aura. Taos awakens to another lovely summer southwest day.

I dress casually and leave my unlocked room, walking downstairs for a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Then I walk back upstairs and take my coffee to the rambling veranda. Later I will have a breakfast of fruit and a delectable green chili omelette. Taos is famous for its green and red chili dishes, served mild to hot.

Sangre de Christo

The Taos morning air is scented with the mixed aromas of blooming flowers and trees. The veranda gives me a sweeping view of the valley's high chaparral and alpine zones, two landscape puzzle pieces in Taos County's five different ecosystem ranges. In the distance, like an ancient Zuni kachina spirit, 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, New Mexico's tallest, stands vanguard over the Sangre de Christo Mountains (meaning Blood of Christ in Spanish). On the range’s apron hem unfolds beautiful, sequestered Taos Ski Valley, home to some of the finest alpine skiing in the United States.

Taos lies at the foot of the range, high enough (6,967 ft. altitude) to get 35 inches of yearly snow, but low enough to have a mean temperature of 82 degrees in June. Taos Ski Valley, 20 miles from Taos, receives an average of 303 inches of snow annually.

San Geronimo Lodge
Guest relaxing at San Geronimo

Slowly sipping my coffee, I am reminded of similar mornings in Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Taos has the flavor and charm of those two south-of-the-border cities, steeped deeply in art, music, romance, food and architecture. The American Indian, European and Mestizo blood similarity bonds the three cities.

Adobe Architecture

Architecturally and artistically the small town of Taos with its 5,000 residents is truly unique. Burnt orange and earth-colored adobe homes dominate the landscape. Long and short strands of sun-dried chili peppers adorn many of the vigas, doorways and windows and earth-toned pottery accents the verandas. Taos's downtown plaza is like those found in Mexico--a main park surrounded by a square street with businesses lining the outside perimeter. Art, food and music permeate the air.

Hotel La Fonda
Hotel La Fonda, Taos

Taos gallery
Dos Lunas Gallery

Taos artist
Taos Pueblo dreamcatcher artist

Many days can be spent strolling the narrow streets, discovering treasures in 96 art galleries representing the 1,000-plus local artists. Famous haunts such as Hotel Fonda (where one can view D.H. Lawrence's controversial erotic paintings once banned in London), the Fechin Inn (one time home of Russia's renowned painter-woodcarver, Nicolai Fechin), and the Sagebrush Inn (where Georgia O'Keefe lived and painted) are interesting places to explore. So is the Kit Carson Home and Museum, where the famous scout and mountain man lived from 1826-1868. Other worthwhile architectural attractions are San Francisco de Asis Church, Hacienda de Martinez, Mabel Dodge Luhan's home, Austing Haus Hotel (the largest timber frame building in the United States), and the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (towering 650 feet above the Rio Grande River).

Taos Pueblo

Especially noteworthy is Taos Pueblo, America's oldest community, located four miles outside of Taos. Most of the pueblo was constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D. It appears nearly the same today as it did when the Spanish explorers arrived in 1540, believing that Taos Pueblo was one of the fabled Golden Cities of Cibola. The walls are several feet thick, made entirely of adobe, an earth/water/straw mixture poured into brick forms and sun dried. Currently, 150 Tiwa-speaking Native Americans inhabit the pueblo, down from as many as 2,000 residents ten years ago.

Taos Pueblo
Taos Pueblo

Taos drummer

Taos Pueblo cemetery

 Taos Cuisine

Eighty Taos restaurants do a good job of covering a broad range of culinary tastes, simple to sophisticated. Popular local dishes include chili relleno, posole, calabacita, (squash, pan roasted corn, cilantro), and tamales. Many Taos chefs rely on local organically grown produce, which extends the range of Taos' artful and colorful culinary palette. When available, the fresh bread baked by Native Americans in adobe ovens is a real treat. Hotel Edelweiss in Taos Ski Valley has the finest key lime pie and croissants that I’ve ever eaten. If strolling in Taos on a hot afternoon looking for some refreshment, one might stop at Eske’s Brew Pub near the plaza and sample a fresh beer, such as the highly recommended Taos Green Chili Beer or Seco Stout.

Enchanted Circle

Hiking near Taos Village
Hiking near Taos Ski Village

A major Taos advantage, as is true with nearby Santa Fe, is its proximity to the mountains — a land of winter snow, clear creeks and rivers, summer meadows drenched in wildflowers, and autumns ablaze with aspens. One day we drove the Enchanted Circle, a 100-mile mountain route that begins and ends in Taos, passing the quaint, all-season resort towns of Red River and Angel Fire along the loop. It was an eventful day, including a jeep tour of the Red River Ski area and a sumptuous southwestern lunch at Poor Boy's Country Club near Angel Fire's Blackfire Ranch Lake. This beautiful country was the backdrop for many of the Lonesome Dove television series segments. The lake is known for its incredible fly-fishing as evidenced by a follow-up visit when we caught and released a large number of 20-inch rainbow and brown trout. Our day ended with a veritable feast at Angel Fire Resort's Southwest Wine Competition Gala Award Dinner. Prior to the dinner, some of us tried our hand (and feet) at simulated free-form rock climbing, offered by Angel Fire's summer Outdoor Recreation Program.
Recreation Abounds

One would be bereft while visiting Taos not to take advantage of its many recreational possibilities, whether river rafting, mountain biking (500 miles of nearby trail), hiking, horse and llama trekking, fishing, or golfing. For golf enthusiasts a popular event is the Tango in Taos Tournament, hosted early each June by the Taos Country Club Men's Golf Association. Taos has a community theatre, performing arts group, orchestra, chamber music chorus, and film festival. "There is nothing remotely boring connected to this town and region," says Patty Taylor, director of marketing for the Taos Chamber of Commerce.

Rafting Rio Grande Gorge

Flamenco dancers

Spirit of Taos

One afternoon while reading on my terrace, I heard music, gaiety and laughter winding through the San Geronimo Lodge's portals. I stopped reading, climbing onto the roof of the adobe lodge, then walked over and peered down on the veranda extending from the lodge's spacious lobby. A troupe of young female Flamenco dancers glided fluidly to the music being plucked from a gentleman's guitar. It was a hearty, lively and heavenly sound. The visual aptly represented the spirit of Taos — brash, energetic, poetic, romantic. I lingered until the music stopped. The sun had set and the first evening stars were out as I strolled back to my room. I knew I would sleep well, but I was also anxious for the first light on my face, ushering in a new day to again explore alluring Taos.

Click here for details to plan your own trip to Taos, New Mexico.

Larry Turner
Article and Photos

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