Vien R. Guenther
Taos - New Mexico, U. S. A.
Visiting the County of Taos was part of our road trip in New Mexico. We started in Santa Fe, drove to Chimayo and then to Taos. Taos is one of the oldest Spanish settlements in the Taos valley, initially founded in 1615, formally established in 1795 and incorporated in 1934. Located in the north-central part of New Mexico, the town was once a fortified plaza and trading outpost for neighboring communities. This historic town as well as the historic village of Taos Pueblo and San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos are worth visiting if you are in the area.
TO GET HERE
From Santa Fe to Taos is about 1 hour and 25-minute drive via US-84 W/US Highway 285 N and NM-68 N. But if you planned to stop at Chimayo, from there to Taos is about 1 hour and 10 minute-drive via 76/High Road to Taos. Then from Taos to Taos Pueblo is about an eight-minute drive north from town.
The County of Taos contains seventeen out of the twenty five highest peaks in New Mexico, of which Wheeler Peak (13,161 feet), located northeast of Taos, is the highest point in the State of New Mexico. The Wheeler Peak Wilderness was designated by United States Congress in 1964. If you are a hiker, several hiking trails can be found here.
The name “Taos” derives from the native Puebloan language meaning, “place of red willows.” Native Americans ranged through the Taos area about 6,000 years ago. Then about 900 years ago Puebloans moved into the Taos and Picuris Pueblo areas. In 1540 the Spanish arrived in the Taos valley (also called Lower Taos Canyon) and after the Spanish conquest of the Indian Pueblo villages a settlement was established in 1615 as Don Fernando de Taos, which later became just Taos.
Later, with pressure to convert to Christianity and demands to pay tributes to encomenderos (conquerors), resentment and hostilities built up against the Spaniards which led to a revolt of the Pueblo in 1640. The Spanish fled, but returned in 1661. In 1680, Taos Pueblo joined the widespread Pueblo Revolt. The Spanish re-conquered the town in 1692 and the Taos Pueblo continued armed resistance until they were defeated by Governor Diego de Vargas in 1696. In 1710 the Spanish regained the territory. In 1847 New Mexico became a territory of the United States during the Mexican-American War.
Beaver trappers made Taos their home in the early 1800s. At that time there were about 500 settlers. Kit Carson, an American frontiersman and legend, married Josefa Jaramillo from Taos. One block from Taos Plaza you can visit his home, the Kit Carson Home and Museum, located along, guess what? Kit Carson Road.
Taos Downtown Historic District
Exploring the downtown historic district is enjoyable. We love the adobe style architecture, plus there are plenty of shops and historic structures to visit. If you are an art enthusiast, Taos offers many galleries and museums. In July each year, a Pow Wow is held here and many tribes participate for a weekend of trade and festivities.
Since the beginning of 1899, many artists were attracted by the culture of Taos Pueblo, and Northern New Mexico. They settled around the plaza and the Taos Society of Artists was then formed in 1912. Hippies arrived in town in the 1960s and 1970s and added influence to the culture of Taos today.
Food is diverse in Taos and you will never get hungry if you are craving food other than the Mexican specialties. Of course we had to have the local fare, even once or twice while in the area.
So, if you are longing for Mexican food, then Taos will satisfy your cravings. We got to eat at the Alley Cantina, a restaurant and bar housed in the oldest building in Taos. The building was built in the 16th century by the Pueblo Indians. It was partly destroyed, rebuilt and then was added on to through the years. It was once an outpost along the Chihuahua trail. Then it became an office of the first U.S. Territorial governor of Taos, Charles Bent, who was assassinated in 1847.
We dined there way back in 2008 and this restaurant is still there. I don't have pictures of our food, sorry to say, but as we remembered it we had a good meal in this restaurant.
Three miles northeast of Taos is Taos Pueblo, designated a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960 and UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.
In the village are two structures called Hlauuma (north house) and Hlaukwima (south house). Taos pueblo is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States, estimated to have been built between 1000 and 1450 A.D. Taos Pueblo is one of eight Northern Pueblo communities and one of the most private, secretive and conservative among the pueblos.
The Pueblo is a combination of multi-storied complex, up to five stories high in some places. Located on either side of the Rio Pueblo de Taos, also called Rio Pueblo and Red Willow Creek, the complex was constructed with reddish-brown adobe, the largest multistoried Pueblo structure that still exists. The individual homes have common walls but no connecting doorways. With the Taos Mountains of the Sangre de Cristo Range as a backdrop, the complex’s beautiful setting is like a postcard perfect scene that you can find in the area. Its north side is said to be one of the most photographed and painted buildings in North America.
When the Spanish arrived in Pueblo country, they thought they had found the "Cities of Gold", because the adobe houses glitter in thr light. Little did they know that the glitter is due to the micaceous mineral (soil containing mica) mixed in the clay for mudding (or plastering) the buildings - they do this every year to maintain the structures.
The homes in the Pueblo are inherited over generations of ownerships. Some homes are open as shops selling native American jewelry, pottery, drums and other native items as souvenirs to take home. I sure found some.
Native Americans are famous for their work with animal skins, including drums. We got to hear a sample of what their drums sound like when we were there, unfortunately neither of us are musicians. But it would be nice to have one on display, come to think of it.
In the village you will find these beehive-shaped mud ovens called "horno", the Spanish word for oven. They were originally introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors and adopted by the Spanish who carried the concept to all Spanish-occupied lands. They were used by native Americans and early settlers in north America.
The Rio Pueblo de Taos, a tributary of the Rio Grande, passes through the center of the village. Its source is the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, at the Blue Lake two miles southeast of Wheeler Peak. The river's entire upper part is within the Pueblo Indian Reservation.
In Pueblo, modern conveniences such as power, running water and indoor plumbing are not allowed. It is said that as of 2006, no one lives in the community full time, for reasons you can imagine. Most live outside the village and occupy the Pueblo houses only during ceremonials at which time they closed to the public.
St. Jerome (San Geronimo) Catholic Chapel
Puebloans practice their original spiritual and religious tradition as well as Roman Catholicism. About 90% of Puebloans are Catholic. The first construction of the Catholic church in the Pueblo was in 1619, called the mission of San Geronimo de Taos (St. Jerome). It was destroyed during the Spanish Revolt of 1680. It was rebuilt but was also destroyed during the Mexican-American War in 1847, after which the present church was built in 1850. St. Jerome is the patron saint of Taos Pueblo.
The Pueblo is open to the public - for a fee of $16 per adult (it was $10 when we visit here 13 years ago), plus an additional fee for each camera brought in (including cell phones). Photos are for personal use only and taking photos of tribal members is not allowed without permission. On All Souls’ Day the village is closed to outsiders or non-Indians, while the locals spend their day with families.
San Francisco de Asís (Assisi) Mission Church
South of Taos is the San Francisco de Asís Mission Church, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. This church was founded in the mid-18th century by the villagers - civilian Spanish and Mexican families - who settled permanently in Ranchos de Taos. The settlers built their adobe homes around this church, close together to defend themselves against Comanche raiders attracted to the rich valley of Taos.
The church, located on the plaza, was completed in 1816 in the large sculpted Spanish Colonial style. Well known artists such as Ansel Adams photographed this church for his Taos Pueblo art book. Georgia O'Keeffe painted a series of perspectives of this church describing it as “one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards”. To maintain the church, the local villagers and visitors gather annually each June for two weeks to re-mud the exterior.