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New Mexico’s Muse: Taos

Photo by Barbara Rudolph

Everywhere you look, you see adobe.

In Taos, N.M., a thousand-year history of adobe architecture is visible all around: in the Indian village, in the historic downtown and even in modern buildings such as restaurants and gas stations. And the packed-mud dwellings seem to fit perfectly into the stark desert landscape.

For travelers to this small town, which sits about 70 miles north of Santa Fe, Taos is a center of cultural history, artistic energy and natural scenery. From museums and galleries to historic sites and churches, groups will find plenty to explore.

Start at the beginning
To really understand Taos, the place to start is Taos Pueblo. The Pueblo Indians first settled this area more than a millennium ago, and their descendants still live in the village today, preserving the customs and culture of the nation.

              Photo by Barbara Rudolph

“If you want to focus on Native American culture, the Taos Pueblo is the No. 1 highlight,” said Steve Fuhlendorf, CEO of the Taos County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s kind of a must-see. It’s a beautiful five-story adobe complex that’s been standing and lived in for over 1,000 years.”

Today, the pueblo is a living museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dwellings in the pueblo are constructed of adobe and built into the base of New Mexico’s largest mountain. Long ago, residents entered the homes through holes in the roofs, which were accessible using ladders that still lean up against the sides of the buildings.

About 100 people still live in the historic pueblo, where running water and electricity are prohibited. The locals welcome visitors, who can take pueblo tours that are guided by the people who live there. On the tour, guests see a Catholic shrine and learn about how Catholicism has been practiced alongside ancient native religion.

Groups can also visit a number of shops, where Pueblo women offer fresh-made Indian fry bread and handmade crafts.

An artists’ paradise
Indian crafts and a wide array of other locally made artwork can be found throughout Taos thanks to a thriving community of artists who have migrated to the town since the early 20th century.

“We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 artists living here,” Fuhlendorf said. “The landscape and the architecture are incredible, and I’ve been told by so many that the light here is just unique. There are so many things here that the artists love to paint.”

Courtesy Photo by Geraint Smith

For a look at historic art from the area, start at the Taos Arts Museum at the Fechin House. The home originally belonged to Nicolai Fechin, a famous Russian woodcarver and painter who came to Taos in the 1920s. The museum features a large collection of Fechin’s artwork, as well as many other works by members of the Taos Society of Artists, which was founded in 1915.

In the downtown historic district, visitors will find between 60 and 70 art galleries, where owners showcase the work of artists from around New Mexico. The town center dates back to the 1500s, and today the galleries are housed in adobe buildings that are 70 to 400 years old.
Groups can also arrange to experience the arts firsthand.

“If a group is interested in art, we can set up a painting session for them,” Fuhlendorf said. “We can take them to paint in the Taos mountains. We have artists who will accompany them and give them lessons out in the field.”

On location
For groups that aren’t interested in hands-on artwork, tours around the area can take guests to see landmarks and locations that are famous in the arts. One of the most iconic images in Taos is the church of San Francisco, an adobe church built by Spanish missionaries to the area.

“We lovingly refer to it as Our Lady of Ansel Adams, because it’s been photographed and painted by so many major artists,” Fuhlendorf said. “It was built in the 1700s and has incredibly unique architecture.”

Another popular spot is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which towers 614 feet over the river and offers visitors expansive views of the area. The bridge has been featured in a number of films, including Wild Hogs, Natural Born Killers, Easy Rider and the latest installment of the Terminator series.

Other locations and landmarks in the historic district and the mountains around Taos have appeared in films such as Off the Map, The Longest Yard and The Missing, as well as the television miniseries Into the West.

Researching your trip:
Taos Chamber of Commerce
(575) 751-8800

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.