Taos, New Mexico

Taos, New Mexico

In January, 2013 three MAPS Members ventured into the high ground of New Mexico to scout and photograph Taos and the surrounding region.  The adventurous souls were Steven Mayer, Bill Dixon and Greg Blue.  The area was new to us so we did our due diligence and research and were armed with scenic locations, sites and pueblos to visit and of course the local eateries (a must for any trip into the wilderness, especially when you have a chef in the group).

A direct flight to Albuquerque from Chicago is recommended.  Taos is then about 135 miles North and a 2-1/2 hour car ride which includes passing through Santa Fe. Taos is a town in the north-central region of New Mexico at an elevation of about 7000 ft.  As of the 2010 census, its population was 5,716.  One can imagine year-round activities and we recommend visiting the Taos Vacation Guide 2013, and for further details visit: http://taos.org/

There is a full range of hotel accommodations and we chose mid-range lodging which worked fine.  The typical draw to Taos is the excellent skiing challenges of the Taos Ski Valley village and alpine ski resort which is another 30 min. drive north into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Taos Ski Valley is the highest municipality in the US with the village at an elevation of 9,207 feet however the village limits reach 12,581 feet. But not to worry, the MAPS trio avoided the temptation of taking on the black diamond slopes.

Our photographic priority was to chase the frigid daybreak and late day light highlighting the natural splendor of the Rio Grande River, mountain scenery, and the grand vistas of various mesas and rock formations.

Our journey started with a scouting trip to the Rio Grande Gorge State Park which is accessed near Pilar (17 miles south of Taos at NM68 & NM570).  Travel north along a 5-mile stretch of the Rio Grande River including twists and turns with wonderful scenic photo opportunities all along the way. Then we suggest continuing north along the west rim about 12 miles to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge locally known as the “High Bridge” which is a steel deck arch bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge. At 565 feet (172 m) above the Rio Grande, it is the tenth highest bridge in the United States and 82nd highest bridge in the world.

On your way back from the high bridge it’s a great idea to stop in Taos Plaza and visit several of the art galleries featuring local painters and photographers.  We truly found this helpful in understanding and locating local photographic sites. We especially enjoyed the time we spent with Steven’s new friend Lenny Foster at his gallery.  Steven is trying to lure Lenny to a MAPS program in Chicago – but our best chance to see Lenny again might be to have a MAPS outing in Taos.

Just north of Taos we took an afternoon to wander through the Native American village of Taos Pueblo.  It is estimated that the pueblo was built between 1000 and 1450 A.D., with some later expansion, and the pueblo is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States.   There are over 1,900 people in the Taos pueblo community.   The Taos Pueblo was added as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 as one of the most significant historical cultural landmarks in the world. The mid-day lighting required some artistic creativity in our image selection, however absorbing the history and way of life was well worth the experience.

Next we journeyed south of Taos a few miles to Ranch de Taos to capture images at the historically famous San Francisco de Asis Mission Church which many believe has inspired artists perhaps more than any other building in the United States. Georgia O’Keeffe painted it four times and Ansel Adams and Paul Strand famously photographed it. Begun around 1772 and finished in 1815, it is built entirely of adobe, mud and straw, and as we were told, the locals gather every year in the summer to refinish the exterior of the church to preserve the structure and its natural beauty.

We also recommend that you check the schedule of the church services as we arrived quite early to catch the morning light and suddenly found our vehicle was consumed by a hundred or more cars attending the 9 o’clock mass.  Fortunate for us a new eatery had just opened across the street where we enjoyed a wonderful local breakfast and a conversation with a local art gallery owner providing us with more local art history and suggestions for our continuing journey.

On our final day we drove south from Taos to Santa Fe and then enjoyed a 56-mile journey back along The High Road to Taos which is a scenic, winding road through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains  through high desert, mountains, forests, small farms, and tiny Spanish Land Grant villages and Pueblo Indian villages which retain the flavor of the early Spanish settlers who came here four centuries ago.  Scattered along the way are the galleries and studios of traditional artisans and artists drawn by the natural beauty.  A straight drive can be made in about 2 -1/2 hours, but we recommend taking 4 to 7 hours as there are so many interesting places to stop along the way.

One of the highlights of this journey was the village of Chimayó.  Here you must stop and visit the El Santuario de Chimayó, a National Historic Landmark, which is probably the most visited church in New Mexico believed to be built on sacred earth with miraculous healing powers. Santuario de Chimayó is famous for the story of its founding and as a contemporary pilgrimage site. It receives almost 300,000 visitors per year and has been often been referred to as the most important Catholic pilgrimage center in the United States.  Each year some 30,000 people from all over the world make pilgrimages to the church during Holy Week, some seeking blessings and some in fulfillment of a vow.  Many visitors to the church take a small amount of the “holy dirt”, often in hopes of a miraculous cure for themselves or someone who could not make the trip.

On our way back to Albuquerque, we allowed time to visit the amazing Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument which is located approximately 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe. “The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a remarkable outdoor laboratory, offering an opportunity to observe, study, and experience the geologic processes that shape natural landscapes.”  Our visit was a bit late in the morning so we missed optimum light; however we would recommend late afternoon light to catch the amazing tent-like rock formations jutting our from the earth and also take the time and venture into the Slot Canyon.  And if you are a movie buff you will love the tent rocks scenes in the movie Silverado!

Of course we would be remiss to leave out a special non-nature experience of our trip which was a visit to an amazing roadside find called The Classical Gas Museum located approximately 25 miles south of Taos on route 68. It’s literally like stepping back in time and an amazing opportunity for photos of all kinds of old-school antique gas pumps, signs, oil cans, and all sorts of other crazy vintage memorabilia.

The photographers Greg Blue, Bill Dixon, and Steven Mayer provided the details and images for the Taos destination.

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