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Saturday, September 26, 2015

The High Road to Taos

The 56-mile High Road to Taos is a scenic, winding road through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Santa Fe and Taos. It winds through high desert, mountains, forests, small farms, and tiny Spanish Land Grant villages and Pueblo Indian villages. Scattered along the way are the galleries and studios of traditional artisans and artists drawn by the natural beauty. It has been recognized by the state of New Mexico as an official Scenic Byway.  Today we decided to drive from Las Vegas, New Mexico to Taos, and we followed scenic back roads until we met the High Road south of Sipapu.

The weather was splendid and the aspen were turning yellow (later than further north in Colorado where we were a week ago).  We followed the beautiful Mora River for much of the way, through the Santa Fe National Forest.  The scenery was beautiful.  Our first stop was the Taos Visitor Center, where a wise woman suggested we first stop at the Hacienda de los Martinez.  We might not have stopped there without her suggestion, because we hadn't found the hacienda in our tourist references.

The Hacienda de los Martinez is one of the few northern New Mexico style, late Spanish Colonial period, "Great Houses" remaining in the American Southwest.  Built in 1804 by Severino Martin (later changed to Martinez), this fortress-like building with massive adobe walls became an important trade center for the northern boundary of the Spanish Empire.  The Hacienda was the final, northern terminus for the Camino Real which connected northern New Mexico to Mexico City.  The Hacienda also was the headquarters for an extensive ranching and farming operation.

Today the hacienda was the site for an annual "Trade Fair," comprising local artisans, craftspeople and artists, showing their wares, musicians playing local music, and historians giving talks about the history of the hacienda and the area.  When we arrived, we were greeted by some re-enactors displaying traditional goods that would have been traded at the hacienda in the 1800's:

Kathy took the opportunity to make friends with a little burro who was standing placidly under a tree next to our path:

The entrance to the hacienda greeted us warmly, admitting us to the front-most of its two placitas (or "little plazas"):

When we arrived, an historian was explaining the hacienda's history.  As we listened, our eyes wandered to details of this beautiful architecture:  an arched passageway --

-- and this beckoning corner of the placita:

The hacienda was both home to the Martinez family and a fortified trading post for barter among Mexicans, Indians, trappers and Anglos.  The parlo, or sala, was simply decorated in its day, with a typical corner fireplace for heat during the colder months:

Throughout the hacienda contemporary artisans were displaying their wares.  This room full of local quilts was entrancing:

Most of the hacienda's original front structure still stands, needing only renovation:

The rear of the hacienda gave upon views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, across the floor of the Taos Valley:

We ate a lunch of local New Mexican fare, and then headed on our way, looking for the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  Also known as the "Gorge Bridge" and the "High Bridge", it is a steel deck arch bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge 10 miles northwest of Taos. At 565 feet above the Rio Grande River, it is the seventh highest bridge in the United States:

It spans an awesome gorge that presents imposing views both south --

-- and north:

As we walked out across the bridge, some kind tourists pointed out to us the mountain sheep relaxing in the shade of the bridge on the side of the gorge cliffs below:

Having satisfied our curiosity about the bridge and gorge, we returned to historic Old Town Taos. Our first stop was the home of Kit Carson, which is now a museum about his life: 

The adobe house is estimated to have been built originally around 1825, and was purchased by Kit Carson in 1843 as a gift for his wife.  The family continued to live in the home until 1867, shortly before their deaths in 1868.  They had moved to Colorado in 1867 so his wife could be treated by doctors there.  The two are buried in the local cemetery, which has been taken over by the State of New Mexico and designated as Kit Carson Memorial State Park.  Clearly, Kit Carson ranks second only to the Martinez family as central to the history of the town.

Having absorbed all this history, we wandered around the central part of the town, which is fairly typical as an upscale tourist destination.  When we weren't sure where we were going, we checked with a local, who always knew the way:

Many of the older, historic buildings have become restaurants, or inns, or galleries, if not museums.  Here is the front yard of one beautiful galleria on a small side street:

Walking back to our truck, we stumbled on yet another historic structure, which now houses the Taos Society of Artists:

Taos was, for decades, an artists' haven.  During the 1960's and 1970's, it became somewhat notorious among locals as a place where hippies went to live.  Since then, obviously, all that history conspired to make it an irresistible tourist attraction.  While the streets are congested with tourist traffic and the shops are too predictable in what they offer to tourists, nevertheless, we were fascinated by the architecture and history, and there is no doubt some beautiful art is made by local artists.  We returned to our campground in Las Vegas late today, satisfied that we had gotten a good introduction to Taos and the beautiful mountain valley in which it sits.

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