Taos rests in north central New Mexico, 50 miles shy of the Colorado border. The little town is known primarily as a ski resort town although the snow in the Taos Ski Valley hasn’t been nearly as good as the mountain above Santa Fe, New Mexico in recent years.
I’ve never skied in Taos, in fact, I can’t recall whether I’ve ever seen the town with snow on the ground or on the mountain, save a drive through a snowstorm headed back to Santa Fe after being volunteered to help my ex’s brother move. In my life I’ve made exactly two attempts at skiing. The first was in Winter Park, Colorado, and I have only two memories of that experience on that slope. The first was how excited I felt after completing the “half day” of ski school. I have always wanted to learn how to ski and to enjoy it, but most of my life up to this point had been spent in Texas, and even if there is snow most Texans tend to hide from it. The second memory, which started near the top of a very basic run, was of how pleased I was at myself when I managed to turn my body, while also thinking, ‘this ski thing isn’t so difficult, and it might actually be fun!’ Only moments later in a blur and a frenzy I found myself heading, uncontrollably down the last fifty yards of the slope, trying to process that turning my body the other direction would, clearly, be slightly more complicated for me, and that this skiing thing would, in fact, be a difficult beast for me to tame. My second attempt at skiing was on the mountain above Santa Fe, this time with a snowboard strapped to my feet, and although that felt much more comfortable, I still wasn’t able to enjoy it. I rented the board, and it’s only occurred to me in the last couple of years that the board may have been too long, though I still couldn’t say for certain. Now that I’m living in Montana, I’ll very likely have to make a third attempt, or it seems that I’ll never really ‘belong.’
I wanted to like Taos. There are things about it that I have enjoyed: the site of the Taos Gorge, the earthship houses just outside of town, and a hot spring adjacent the Rio Grande after a hike down the gorge cliffside, and a small shopping district north of Taos’ historic plaza. Other than that, all which can be in a single day, I was never all that impressed with the town. There is a small art community and the Native American culture and pueblo is intriguing still I failed to see the allure, and I tried. I drove myself to Taos several times, always enjoying the drive, driving through northern New Mexico has been more interesting and inspiring for me than any one of the towns or cities that I’ve visited, with the exception, maybe, of Santa Fe.
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 but people, as we often so flagrantly do, managed to ruin the experience for everyone who might respect others, the landowners, and the land. People trashed the road, the lot, the pathway, and the springs, and the landowners were working on cleaning it up and the posted signage suggested that they were debating whether or not to reopen it to the public. I don’t know if I would allow access. If it were my land, I’d probably require people to take a test.
There’s a beautiful bridge constructed over the gorge, and 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 and took several pictures in the park before walking to the center of the bridge and stood there looking down the 600ft at the Rio Grande, which seemed so small. Across the bridge on 64 past the gorge a few more miles is the earthship neighborhood and the Biotecture Visitor Center and I never cease to be amazed by the earthships, regardless of how often I’ve stopped there. Earthships are fascinating, they’re sustainable homes often built into the earth and using recycled, durable, and sustainable materials such as tires, glass, aluminum and they’re designed for temp control and water conservation. They truly are incredible structures, it’s like a living piece of art, similar to Bio-Dome.
Taos is one of those places, I guess, at least for me, that 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 journey’s, New Mexico’s very own Mecca. That has never been my experience with Taos. When I visit a place I’m interested in the food, what the locals are eating, notable areas, like the Taos Pueblo, maybe shopping districts but not for purposes of shopping, I think it’s interesting the types of business, the people, the aesthetics, and how different those tourist traps might be from the rest of a place. I seek out those dives, the local coffee shops, bars, art galleries, and 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, 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 the 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 the hot spring adjacent the Rio Grande at the base of the gorge that, when suggested, might encourage only a shrug, and it is standing at the center of the bridge looking down into the gorge that you might otherwise only peak over at as you’re driving by if you make it that far, and it is that hole-in-the wall Mexican restaurant several blocks away from the plaza that you would pass on for the overpriced menu and the ridiculous staging for the tourist eye at the center of downtown, and it is the Taos Ice Cream Co., and the small hidden coffee shop you’ll only find if you already know where it is.
I don’t know, maybe, in a way, Taos has lost its allure for me because it is so familiar to me, and perhaps I’ve heard about the town so often, as if it were lost in mystical realism somewhere far away from anything that I knew, while I was growing up, and then when I finally met it, Taos, I felt like it’s magic drifted away. Before I walked back to my car and started heading back toward Santa Fe, that last visit to Taos that I made, I walked in a circle 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, like I have so often felt when travelling, but the feeling never came and I drove away wishing that the experience had been more crowning for me.