taos, new mexico

At some point back in Albuquerque, we’d made a change of travel plans. Plan A had been to carve our way north through New Mexico from White Sands to Albuquerque, on to Santa Fe and Taos, then head up to Four Corners, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet at one point. Apparently there’s nothing there to see – it’s just lines on a map – but we want to see that for ourselves. Four Corners has the added advantage of being en route to the Grand Canyon, which is where we’re heading next. It is en route, but to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, which as it turns out is not open during the winter months. March tourists must go to the South Rim. Different road. Plan B nixed Four Corners and turned Santa Fe and Taos into a three-day side trip: two days in Santa Fe with a trip to Taos sandwiched in between. Taos is very close – about an hour-and-a-half drive from Santa Fe.

Which is to say we’re off to Taos today. The woman at the Santa Fe Visitor Center had given me a map – a very detailed one – that showed the two routes to Taos – the low road and the high road. Any of the literature I’d read so far said to take the high road to Taos (for the views), clearly indicated on the map. As is the low road, the faster route, which hugs the Rio Grande. To be fair, I imagined there would be a sign saying “High Road, turn right,” but if there was, I missed it, and it was the low road for us up to Taos.

Rio Grande

Taos is cute. Small and cute. Like Santa Fe, it has a plaza, the Guadalupe Plaza, with the town radiating out from there. We went to the plaza and radiated from there, mostly in and out of shops and galleries in the compact historic downtown area. Not too many people about on this midweek day in late March. We’re too late for ski season and too early for summer art classes, when the town is probably abuzz with visitors; but today, we have lots of elbow room as we stroll around and pretend we’re shopping. (Actually, I bought a blouse at Michelle’s, so it wasn’t all pretend.)

Taos skyline

I knew that D.H. Lawrence had moved to Taos in the early 1920s and had purchased a home some miles north of town, where he and Frieda lived for a couple of years, but there simply wasn’t enough time for us to visit. What I didn’t know is that his “Forbidden Art” collection is housed in the Hotel la Fonda, on the south size of Guadalupe Plaza. Big miss. Lawrence had 13 of these paintings (of which nine make up the Taos collection), which were banned from London in the late ’20s. Apparently they’re still banned! I won’t miss it the next time I’m in town. In the meantime, though, instead of being enthralled with Lawrence’s erotic art, I was beguiled by some shunga at G. Robinson Old Prints & Maps, a little shop in among the shops and galleries off the plaza. I think these shunga were woodblock prints dating from the early 1800s, but don’t quote me on that. I bet these would have been banned in London too. This is the first time I’d even heard of shunga, let alone seen this Japanese erotic art – I’ve since learned that it reached the height of its popularity during the 260-year Edo period, which ended in 1867, but with the introduction of photography, in particular erotic photography, this graphic Japanese art form couldn’t compete and died out. During its time, many of the shunga artists had their regular day jobs creating “reputable” art but dabbled in shunga because it paid better. A little like Anaïs Nin, who wrote pornography on the side to pay the bills.

Our stay in Taos was shorter than short – just a couple of hours to see the town and then it was back to Santa Fe in time for Bridget to sign up for open mic night at Sol. We were determined to find the high road, but like on the way up, there are no signs indicating the way – you simply have to know. Well, we do know this time, we turn left on the right road. At least we think we know, but about a half mile along Route 518, there’s a sign – the first sign we’ve seen all day for the high road – with the words “High Road to Taos” on it. Wait a second – how can that be? – we’re on the high road FROM Taos … are we going the wrong way? And that’s when it dawns on me. The name of the road is the “High Road to Taos,” so when folks were telling me to take the high road to Taos, they didn’t literally mean to take it on the way to Taos, they simply meant “Take it!” And so we did. And it does have some spectacular views as it winds through the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the first of which is snow – little piles on the side of the road where the snowplow has dumped it, on the forested hills, and off in the distance on the mountaintops.

And look at all the green trees …

As we pass through the small farming communities of Vadito and Peñasco and on through Las Trampas, Truchas, Cordova and Cundiyo, we don’t have time to get out and explore the pottery shops and other artisan galleries that dot the landscape – we are car sightseers today, just enjoying the scenery. As the road moves further west and away from the mountains, we move from greens to the familiar browns as we get closer to Santa Fe.

One day in Taos is not nearly enough. We barely scraped the surface, just enough to get a glimpse of what draws people to the area. I’d like to see more, dig a little deeper. And next time I’m here, I’ll take the drive north of town to the Taos Pueblo. The pueblo was not open to the public this week – supposedly this is the week when their artisans come to Taos and set up their stalls and blankets, displaying their wares. I didn’t see them in town, so I don’t know what that was all about, but no matter. Next time I’ll time my visit when they’re at home. The Taos Pueblo is just one of many Native American pueblos throughout New Mexico, but I saw nary a one … I did see a fair number of their casinos, though, with neon lights and cars in the parking lots, but it’s not quite the same thing.

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