A Travel Guide to Taos, New Mexico

Welcome to Taos: A Personal Journey Through New Mexico's Enchanting Town

What an awesome sight, on NM-68, after splitting from the Rio Grande River, driving out of the canyon once you clear the cliff, directly ahead of you is the colossal Taos gorge, appearing as if God himself ripped the desert apart to recognize immediately the village under the mountain. Taos rests in north-central New Mexico, fifty miles south of the Colorado border. The quiet town is known primarily as a ski resort town although the snow in the Taos Ski Valley hasn’t been as good as the mountain above Santa Fe, New Mexico in recent years.

I wanted to like Taos. There are some things about Taos that I enjoy: the site of the Taos Gorge, the Earthship houses outside of town, a hot spring adjacent to the Rio Grande after a hike down the gorge cliffside, a small shopping district north of Taos’ historic plaza, and the Taos Pueblo site; most of which you can experience in a single day. Taos is beautiful, that’s undeniable, but even for someone like me who enjoys the simplest things, sitting with a cup of tea on a table outside of a coffee house people-watching—that isn’t Taos. Taos for tourists is primarily a ski resort town, and the summer is an opportunity to experience life on the pueblo. The people who live in Taos are introspective and artistic. It’s a town of introverts who enjoy living simply.

The last time I was in Taos the hot springs were closed to the public, they’re on private land, and the landowners allowed people to drive through and park on their land and to walk to the springs. However, people managed to ruin the experience for everyone who might respect others (as people often flagrantly do), the landowners, and the land. People trashed the road, the lot, the pathway, and the springs, and the landowners are working on cleaning it up. They posted signage suggesting they were considering whether or not to reopen the springs to the public. I don’t know if I would allow access.

There’s a beautiful bridge constructed over the gorge. After I learned that the hot springs were a bust, I caught the road to the bridge and parked in the lot just opposite the bridge. I took several pictures in the park before walking to the center of the bridge and stood there looking down 600ft at the Rio Grande, which seemed so small. Across the bridge on NM-64 past the gorge, several miles are the Earthship neighborhoods, and the Biotecture Visitor Center. I never cease to be amazed by the Earthships. Regardless of how often I’ve stopped there. Earthships are fascinating, sustainable homes built into the earth with recycled, durable, and sustainable materials such as tires, glass, and aluminum. They’re designed for temperature control and water conservation. They truly are incredible structures, like a living piece of art, similar to Bio-Dome.

Taos is one of those places, I guess, at least for me, where the glamor and the charm exist mostly in the story, people talk about it—in much the same way as Aspen, Telluride, or Vail—like it’s a city in the clouds reserved for only the most notable of journeys; the state of New Mexico’s very own Mecca. When I visit a place, I’m interested in the food, what the locals are eating and doing, and notable areas, like the Taos Pueblo and perhaps the shopping districts, but I’m rarely interested in shopping. I’m intrigued by the types of business a town has, the people, the aesthetics, and how different one tourist trap might be from another or the rest of a place. I seek out those dives, the local coffee shops, bars, art galleries, bookstores, museums, parks, and the natural uniqueness, like the gorge. 

I have a hard time understanding why, when people are vacationing, they eat at corporate restaurants and not out of the way local spots, and why they might shop at novelty stores in designated tourist areas. You never really get to know a place or the people that way, and you leave with an illusion of a place that isn’t real. Taos sure as hell isn’t where you might lose a McDonald’s receipt that slipped under your car seat, it’s not the neon green shirt you found in a gift shop that says, TAOS, that you’ll never wear, except to go on vacation. Taos is unique and hold-offish, it’s unwelcomingly welcome to outsiders. There are parts of Taos established to get the attention of tourists like a red cape distracting a bull.

I don’t know, perhaps in a way, Taos has lost its allure for me, because it’s so familiar to me. I’d been familiar with the town with an air of magic like Taos had once been lost to mystic realism somewhere far away from anything I knew and then suddenly rediscovered. When I was first introduced to Taos the magic had already drifted away. Before walking back to my car, and heading back toward Santa Fe, on my last visit to Taos, I walked around the plaza a few times hoping that I might be inspired or compelled to head in a certain direction or into a certain place. Something that often happens when I’m exploring somewhere new. That inspiration never came, and I drove away wishing that the experience had been more crowning.

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