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Santa Fe and Taos: Art, Culture and the Great Outdoors

Author: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: September 2007

Our next stop was the San Ildefonso Pueblo, an Indian reservation. I'm not sure what I expected, but it was both larger and smaller than I'd pictured. We drove in for about a mile past the occasional house before we reached a small visitor center, where we registered and paid a fee for parking and for permission to take photos. We were given a detailed map of the parts of the pueblo we were and were not permitted to visit.

The center of the pueblo consisted of a wide, dusty plaza, a small adobe church, and some adobe houses. Pickup trucks, small cars and a Coca-Cola truck kicked up dirt as they rode by, but otherwise the town was eerily quiet. We checked out the small museum about the pueblo's traditions and the local artists' specialty, "black on black" pottery. There were several "shops" (basically sections of people's homes) where we were hoping to find some affordable pottery. Unfortunately, small pots typically ran at least $100 -- way beyond what we wanted to pay, even to support Native American artists who clearly needed our help.

To be honest, I found the experience rather depressing on several levels. First, to see what was once a vibrant culture reduced to this tiny reservation was very disturbing, even if I felt encouraged by the fact that certain traditions were still being passed on. And I always have a hard time with this sort of tourism -- gawking at people's homes and livelihoods as though they're items in a museum. Of course, visitors help to support them, so NOT going isn't the answer either. But it feels very invasive.

Back to Santa Fe
We drove back to Santa Fe and took a quick peek at the wares outside the Palace of Governors, right on the main Plaza. It was mostly jewelry, which neither of us was really interested in. We had dinner just a block away at a Mexican restaurant called the Shed, as suggested by a woman we met on the street. Apparently their green chile is amazing, but spicy foods tend not to agree with me. Instead, I had mushroom soup and a chicken/walnut/blue cheese salad -- yummy. Mom had a chicken dish with an enchilada and Spanish rice. After one bite of the green chile on the side, she decided it was too spicy for her and she just ate the rest of her meal without it.

We checked into the Super 8 that night and it seemed quite luxurious after the hostel -- two beds, TV, hair dryer, coffee machine...heaven!

Ghost Ranch and the Drive to Taos
We woke up early on Wednesday morning to hit the road for Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O'Keeffe spent many of the later years of her life. We were hoping to do some hiking there, so we called ahead to see what was available. The person told me that there were quite a few trails there, some short and others as long as four to five miles. Perfect! (Or so we thought.)

The drive there took about an hour and a half, and wasn't quite as scenic as some of our other drives had been until we got very close to Ghost Ranch, where there were some dramatic red rock formations as well as a couple of small, veryblue lakes. The ranch itself (today a conference and education center) was lovely, with a welcoming dirt drive lined with wildflowers and a sprawling landscape of layered red rocks.

We checked in at the office to pick up a copy of the trail map and decided to do the most popular hike, a three-mile trail up to Chimney Rock. Bottled water and some cashews in hand for a snack, we sallied forth...

...only to turn back within two minutes after being attacked by dive-bombing mosquitoes. Not quite ready to give up, we searched the gift shops in the office and museum of the ranch until we found some bug spray. Once lathered up, we headed back on the trail.

At first the bug situation seemed a little better, but before long we were making a continuous swatting motion with our arms as we walked. To add insult to injury, we came upon a gate barring what we thought was our path. Hmm. At this point, with time ticking away and our trail seemingly blocked off, we decided to skip the hike altogether and just check out the museum instead. It was okay -- local pottery and textiles, and an exhibit on some dinosaurs found on Ghost Ranch in the mid 20th century. The woman working the register in the gift shop told us it was an unusually bad year for mosquitoes -- just our luck.

So at that point we had two choices for a route to Taos, our next stop: back down 84 to Espanola, then up 68 (the "fast" way) -- or go further up 84 to 64, the "scenic" way through the mountains. In the interest of time we probably should have taken the fast way, but the lady in the gift shop told us that the scenic way wasn't actually that much slower. (This assumes, of course, that you're not stopping for photos, meals, cute little galleries along the way, etc. -- all of which we were rather susceptible to! I figured we were in for a three-hour trip, and I was pretty close.)

We proceeded north and made our first detour to Tierra Wools, in the teeny town of Ojo Caliente. It was on a dusty back street off the main road, but there were several other visitors when we arrived, and the place had a really friendly vibe to it. They were selling tapestries, woven rugs and even organic yarns made from locally raised sheep. You could go back into the main work room to see the huge looms where the weavers did their work. There was a sign up that said they tried to hire low- to middle-income employees, which I thought was a nice thing to have as part of their mission statement.

After that we headed east on Route 64, which was truly breathtaking in some spots and rather boring in others. The road passes through Carson National Forest, and the landscape changes dramatically from red rocks and arid valleys to green mountains covered in conifers and what looked like aspens shivering in the breeze. Lots of photo ops there! As we descended we saw ranches and farms, with some cattle and a few horses, before we got to Tres Piedras -- a tiny and rather grim town that seemed to consist only of an intersection with a blinking traffic light.

The road flattened into a broad plain as we approached Taos and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. We paused at the Rio Grande Bridge for a quick photo -- the river (which seemed very narrow and shallow) has carved a dramatic 600-foot gorge into the land there. We parked and walked out onto the bridge to look down at the dizzying sight. I felt okay, but Mom seemed a little freaked out. When a truck rumbled past us, making the whole bridge vibrate, Mom decided it was time to move on!

The Millicent Rogers Museum was just down the road, so we stopped there to see a collection of Native American jewelry, textiles, pottery and other crafts -- including the famous black-on-black pottery of Maria Martinez, a former resident of the pueblo we visited the day before (San Ildefonso). It was cool to see samples of her work and learn about her life and family (many of her family members helped her with her pottery). The museum's namesake was a wealthy collector who traveled all over the world, married three times, and designed her own jewelry. Photos of her were all over the museum -- a very tall, slim woman with frighteningly thin eyebrows and an aloof expression. It seemed like she lived a fascinating life, though I'm not sure if I'd actually like her very much!

We continued into Taos and checked into the Laughing Horse B&B, which was FABULOUS -- funky and colorful and friendly. It was sort of a cross between a B&B and a hostel. There was a nice library of books, CD's, and piano music, as well as a homey kitchen and living area. Our room was very small with a single bed on the lower level and a double bed in a loft reached via wooden ladder. We had a sink, but the shower and toilet were in a shared bathroom down the hall. (No one was in the room next to ours, so we had the bathroom to ourselves.) Outside our door, the hallway was a mini-solarium lined with plants, and several small dogs ran freely in the common areas. This was my kind of place -- informal and charming, with a bit of a hippie vibe (our room was called Earthship 3).

The woman at the front desk recommended the Apple Tree restaurant for dinner, so we drove into town to check it out. There was plenty of seating available in the lovely outdoor courtyard, with each table lit by a tall candle. Mom and I both really wanted something healthy, so we ordered salads and some warm almond-crusted brie. (Okay, so maybe the brie wasn't so healthy.) The food was delicious and the atmosphere nice and laid back.

Before and after dinner we strolled through the historic part of Taos, which looked quite similar to Santa Fe -- pretty plaza, adobe buildings, tons of expensive galleries. Most places were closed (it was after 5:00), but we did find one place that was open until 8:00 and actually offered affordable pottery. The lady was very sweet, keeping the place open past closing time and reducing the prices on a couple of pots ($69 --> $50, $48 --> $40) for Mom. She bought both.

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