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On Walkabout In: Taos, New Mexico

Basic Information

Narrative

When it comes to ranking the most beautiful cities in New Mexico, I would rank downtown Santa Fe as the most beautiful city in the state however the city of Taos in northern New Mexico is a worthy runner up and arguably more historic due to its still vibrant Native-American culture.  Taos is located about two hours north from Santa Fe and the drive is quite a pleasant one as Highway 84 passes through various small farming communities before giving away to Highway 68 that passes through the Rio Grande Gorge and up to Taos:


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Taos in the Native-American Tiwa language means “the village” and this village is really old by American standards.  The Taos Pueblo located just outside the modern day city of Taos is considered the longest continuously inhabited city in the United States which helped it become designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992:

You can view more pictures from my visit to the Taos Pueblo at the below link:

Taos was established roughly around 1000 AD by the Native-Americans and  it is said that this pueblo still looks much the way it did when the first Spanish explorers arrived here back in 1540 except for the windows and doors that were added for convenience reasons by the tribe.  The Spanish and the local Tiwa Native-Americans lived peacefully among each other for many years until the two cultures came into conflict due to the poor treatment of the Natives by the Spanish and their zeal to try and convert the Pueblo Indians in the region to Catholicism.  This led to the Pueblo Revolt that began on August 10, 1680 under the leadership of Pope, a San Juan Pueblo Indian.  The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 led to the deaths of many Spanish settlers and ultimately the expulsion of all the Spanish from New Mexico.  12 years later the Spanish were able to regroup and send a massive military force from Mexico led by Don Diego de Vargas to reconquer the New Mexico Territory.  The Pueblo Indians realizing how futile it would be to fight the large military force armed with modern weapons largely gave in to Spanish demands to surrender.  However, it wasn’t until 1696 that the Spanish were able to get the Taos Puebo to fall under the Spanish flag.

With Taos under Spanish control the colonists that followed constructed most of their buildings using the adobe architectural method the Native-Americans had perfected.  The following generations of Mexicans and Americans would do so as well.  This had made the modern day city of Taos become well known for the fact that nearly all of its buildings are built using the Southwest adobe architectural style.  Even the local McDonald’s is built in the Southwest adobe architecture style:

Most of the newer buildings in Taos use modern stucco to make the buildings look like an adobe building.  However, in downtown Taos this is where the historic real adobe buildings stand with some of them being hundreds of years old:

For example the popular Taos Inn located in the heart of downtown is composed of multiple adobe buildings that were built in the 1800’s and combined in 1936 to form the hotel.  Since then the Taos Inn has been given many awards to include being recognized by National Geographic Traveler as “One of America’s Great Inns”:

Like most historical Spanish settlements Taos has its own plaza park in the middle of the downtown area with shops lined up in adobe buildings all around it:

While walking around Taos I was able to learn more about the town’s history such as the fact that Charles Bent was once the Governor of New Mexico and was killed here during the Taos Revolt.  Bent made a name for himself out West when he and his younger brother William partnered with Ceran St. Vrain and opened a number of trading forts along the Santa Fe Trail.  One of these forts, Bent’s Fort outside of La Junta, Colorado has been fully reconstructed and a very interesting National Historic Site to visit.

Picture of Charles Bent from Wikipedia.

In 1835 Bent found himself in Taos where he ended up marrying Maria Ignacia Jaramillo.  While serving as the territorial governor in 1847 Governor Bent was shot and scalped by Pueblo Native-American attackers at his house in Taos.  The attackers went on to kill other US officials in the city as well.  The Taos Revolt that was headlined by the assassination of Governor Bent was a resistance movement by some Mexicans and Native-Americans to the occupation of New Mexico by the United States during the Mexican-American War.  The uprising was quickly put down when the US dispatched additional forces to New Mexico who captured the insurgent leaders.  The six leaders were tried in Taos, convicted of treason, and hung in the Taos Plaza pictured earlier.

The downtown area is very pedestrian friendly and it is fun to walk around and check out the various stores, art galleries, hiking stores, restaurants, cafes, etc. that now call these historic adobe buildings home:

A museum that I highly recommend checking out is the Kit Carson Home & Museum located on the north side of downtown:

Here is a historic picture of Kit Carson’s house to compare to what it looks like today from the museum’s website:

Kit Carson was a frontiersmen in the 1800’s that became famous as a guide, war hero, and Indian fighter.

Picture of Kit Carson from Wikipedia.

Though he spent most of his life wandering the Old West, Kit Carson always would always come back to his home in Taos where he married his wife Josefa Jaramillo in 1843. Yes, this is the same Jaramillo family that Bent married into.  Josefa Jaramillo was the younger sister of Bent’s wife Maria.  Through marriage the Jaramillo family may have been the most well connected family in all of New Mexico.  You can read more about Kit Carson’s life to include the death of him and his wife in 1868 at this link.

The museum is open from 11AM-5PM daily and costs a small fee to visit:

Kit Carson’s home in Taos was like most other homes in the city; a single story multi-room adobe structure shaped like an L with an attached barn for animals that created a C shaped courtyard:

In this courtyard is where the family would have spent most of their time in tending to the animals, the garden, cooking, and where the kids would play:

Inside the museum there is a gift shop with an extensive collection of books about Kit Carson and the nice lady working in the gift shop was eager to educate people about Kit Carson.  The next room I walked into had some pictures of Kit Carson’s various family members:

I learned Kit Carson actually had quite a large family with some of them still living just across the state line in southern Colorado today. The room also had this large buffalo hide said to have been used by Kit Carson:

The next room had a little kitchen and dining area that the family would have sat down to eat at:

The last room had a number of various Kit Carson memorabilia on display to include his Army jacket:

All in all the Kit Carson museum I found to be very interesting for someone like me that likes learning about the various historical figures that lived in the Old West.

Another well known attraction in Taos is actually located on the outskirts of Taos which is the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church:

This historic church is located in an area called Ranchos de Taos which people driving to Taos from Santa Fe will pass right by.  Construction of this mission began in 1772 and ended in 1816.  So it is a pretty old church, but by New Mexico standards there are plenty of churches older than San Francisco de Asis.  However, the age of this church is not what has made it famous, but rather its beautiful architecture:

Its architecture was so beautiful that famous Southwestern painter Georgia O’Keeffe painted for different artworks of the church and even the famous photographer Ansel Adams took time to take pictures of this beautiful church.  Here are one of these historical photographs taken by Adams in 1934:

Picture via Wikipedia.

Here is a picture of the San Francisco de Asis Mission from a similar angle that Adams took of the church:

Due to its age and fame the San Francisco de Asis Mission was declared a US National Historic Landmark in 1970.  I visited the church early in the morning thus it was locked up and I could not go inside.  However, I had a nice time just walking around the outside of the church.  Compared to the above historic photo a lot of landscaping has been done over the years to beautify the grounds around the church:

There was a few graves located on the grounds in the front of the church that were also visible in the historic photo as well:

Here is a look at the architecture along the side of the church:

From the side of the church I then walked over to the back of the church which was the subject of one of Georgia O’keeffe’s paintings of the church:

As I walked back around the church I looked at the various gift shops that have sprung up around the church in old renovated buildings:

However, not all the buildings around the church have been fixed up because there was a few structures that were in disrepair:

Here is a final photo I took of the church before I walked back to my truck:

Many people consider this church to be the most beautiful in New Mexico and it sure is a beautiful building to look at.  However, I really like the El Santuario de Chimayo Church and the San Esteban Del Rey Mission as well.

Just outside of Taos is the Sangre De Cristo Mountains where the Taos Ski Resort is located:

The Taos Ski Resort is a beautiful location for skiing for any budget to include luxury ski holidays.  Besides skiing the resort is also a gateway to some of the best hiking in all of New Mexico to include to the summit of New Mexico’s highest mountain, the 13,161 ft Wheeler Peak:

You can read about my hike up to the summit of Wheeler Peak at the below link:

Another scenic attraction just outside of Taos is the Rio Grande Gorge State Park which includes a stunning bridge that provides dramatic views of the Rio Grande River:

You can read more about my visit to the gorge at the below link:

The final thing I recommend checking out in Taos is to go out and try some of the Southwestern cuisine that can be found in the cities various restaurants.  A place I recommend eating at is Graham’s Grille located near the main intersection in old downtown.  Graham’s is a very nice restaurant that features both indoor and outdoor dining.  From the minute we walked into the place the service was truly outstanding and friendly.  You can tell that this restaurant goes out of its way to hire great employees.  My wife and I want to try some Southwestern cuisine and this restaurant really delivered.  Here is a link that shows everything that is on the menu at Graham’s.

Here is a picture of the Blue Corn Red Trout that my wife ordered:

Here is the El Miramon Combination Plate that I ordered:

Both dishes were just outstanding and the freshness of the ingredients was easily apparent.  I liked how the cooks put their own style to the Southwestern cuisine.  The dishes were still Southwestern but still had their own unique taste.  Also Graham’s has an extensive wine list which we ordered a bottle of Chilean wine with our meal.  For as good as the food, service, and atmosphere is the prices at Graham’s are also very reasonable.  So all in all we had a great time eating there and will definitely eat there again the next time we are in town.

Conclusion

A visit to Taos is really something that anyone visiting New Mexico should really take the time to go and do even if it is just a day trip from Santa Fe.  The historic district of the city and the nearby Taos Pueblo are truly unique places in the state that are filled with important New Mexico history.   Besides the historic nature of Taos the city also features some of the best hiking and skiing in the state plus plenty of great dining and shopping opportunities as well.

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