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Experience Taos Beyond the Valley (Taos, New Mexico)

By Tina Colasanto

Winding along the road to Taos beneath streaks of cyan sky, the wind carries dust and pebbles through the cool, piñon-scented air. A jagged mountainous silence echoes the spirit of centuries of Indians, Spaniards and Anglos, the Taoseños’ patchwork lineage. Its approximately 5,000 people have incorporated a history of foreign influence, becoming a spiritual and cultural center as well as a thriving ski resort. Wandering through town is a journey through the lives of its people, unrivaled by skiing the valley.

In Ranchos de Taos, four miles south of Taos proper off Paseo del Pueblo Sur, the dramatic Spanish-style church San Francisco de Asis casts its magnetic spell. A reddish-brown structure of adobe brick, it stands buttressed by mounds of earthen clay from which short blond pieces of straw spring in all directions. Curving archways reference Spanish and Arab influences. And church parishioners still participate in annual re-muddings, dedicating a fresh coating to its preservation. Unraveling the sacred sanctuary straw by straw was tempting.

Off the wide commercial vein of Paseo del Pueblo Norte on Ledoux Street is the Harwood Foundation. A Pueblo Revival housing a Southwestern-influenced art collection, it conjures images from the days of literati muse, Mabel Dodge Luhan. Of its many incarnations, Taos was an early 20th century artist colony; Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keefe, and more contemporary artists continue to be nurtured by its raw beauty. Under a skylight, watch the natural light dance across Agnes Martin’s linear compositions in white and gray. Evoking a sense of natural order and balance, they characterize the spirit of Taos.

Back outside the scent of refritos and smoldering sagebrush leads the famished and weary north to Bent Street. Here the unyielding mountain and mesa countryside has conceded a few upscale art galleries and restaurants. Nearby on the Plaza, a white-haired woman with wrinkles running across her face like riverbeds through a canyon sells Kachina dolls, evidence that past and present coexist.

An evening at the Apple Tree promises intoxicating scents of hickory roasted duck and berry-infused Sangria. In the adobe structure claiming to have once been a brothel, find a table tucked into one of the art-filled niches and listen to soulful ballads by the Gypsy Kings that resonate a Spanish-flavored southwest.

At the American Artists Gallery House, farolitos (paper bag lanterns of votive candles) line pathways to tiny adobe casitas. Inside, Kiva fireplaces erase the last winter remnants, inducing a dreamless sleep.

Just before dawn, travel along the deserted two-lane road to the Rio Grande Gorge. Without warning, chunks of earth disappear, leaving a gleaming suspension bridge. Staring into the 650-foot chasm stretching endlessly north and south, the gorge stares back. As the sunlight floods the canyon, mustard-yellow and brown hues change to brilliant burnt oranges and reds.

Before leaving the Taoseños’, visit Dave Anderson’s stand to buy piñon nuts and buffalo jerky. Surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez mountains, you’ll agree Dave has the best view in the country. Sentinel to a town of mysterious silences.

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