A popular and very scenic drive while vacationing in New Mexico is called “The High Road to Taos”. This route is often taken while driving Santa Fe to Taos. The route is 56 miles in length and winds through the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The trip is listed as an official New Mexico scenic by-way and you’ll pass by many unique art galleries which are home to the local artists who make this part of New Mexico their home. The Santa Fe to Taos route goes through deserts, mountains, forests and farmland. This route probably represents the best area of New Mexico where the Spanish heritage is still somewhat untouched. From Santa Fe to Taos, this scenic byway is one of the most impressive road trips in New Mexico. It’s also the perfect road trip to combine a Santa Fe and Taos vacation.
The journey on the High Road to Taos begins in the Espanola area about twenty miles north of Santa Fe. This Scenic Byway takes you through an authentic remnant of Old Spain. To start your journey, take U.S.285/84 north from Santa Fe and turn east on N.M.503. This will take you to the village of Nambe. You’ll drive by several adobe brick churches and chapels. These structures represent the early Spanish influence on the entire New Mexico region. The Byway then turns north on N.M. 520. The Byway next follows N.M. 76, heading northeast. N.M. 76 will turn into N.M. 75 eastbound. You’ll reach an intersection with N.M.516 going north and this road will take you to Rancho de Taos. The roads are posted with appropriate signs to help your journey. There are of course several short scenic detours that you can take before getting back on the scenic Byway. One such short detour is when you reach the village of Truchas. Truchas is situated on the side of a canyon and is very picturesque. Many people take a short ride east of the town toward Truchas Peak which is quite scenic.
An added treat along the way is a stop in Chimayo. Chimayo New Mexico is home to the Sanctuario de Chimayo which is a noted shrine. This church was constructed between the years 1811 to 1816 and is visited by thousands of people annually from throughout the world. The Santuario de Chimayo is believed to have healing powers and one of the most visited chapels in the entire American West. Chimayo is also home to several weaving studios that are operated by descendants of the original Spanish settlers. One very good stop for the hungry traveler is the Rancho de Chimayó. This popular restaurant is located in a restored, century old adobe home and is surrounded by three beautiful mountain ranges. The restaurant serves some of the finest Native New Mexican cuisine you’ll find in New Mexico. Diners can enjoy the garden terrace on sunny summer days, and cozy fireside dining as you watch the snow fall during the winter months. I’ve been to this restaurant during all seasons and I know you’ll enjoy it.
The last two weekends of September is the traditional time for the High Road to Taos Art Tour. This is a very fun event and allows you to attend gallery open houses and have a chance to meet and greet local artisans. The High Road Art Tour offers the opportunity to deal directly with artists as well as visit the small, historic Land Grant villages in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Among the towns you’ll drive through on The High Road to Taos include Nambe, Truchas, Las Trampas and Cordova. In Truchas you’ll have wonderful views of the Rio Grande Valley and Truchas Peak. Great for picture taking. In Las Trampas be certain to stop and visit the San Jose de Gracia Church. This church is considered by historians to be one of the most beautiful colonial-era churches in the United States.
Your High Road to Taos drive will end at Ranchos de Taos which is about four miles southeast of Taos. Here you will see the magnificent San Francisco de Asis. Many believe that this is the most photographed church in all New Mexico. The church faces a plaza which is surrounded by adobe structures, some that are quite old. Rancho de Taos also offers some great photo taking opportunities. It is also thought that this church provided the inspiration behind many paintings by New Mexico’s own Georgia OKeefe. OKeefe spent a good deal of her time in nearby Abique which is southwest of the Taos area on the west side of the Rio Grande and Chama Rivers. The San Francisco de Asis Church was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970 and has also been designated as a World heritage church.
Another very interesting article related to the Spaniards and the colonization of Nuevo Mexico is the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe. This was the seat of government for all of Nuevo Mexico. Another good article relating to your New Mexico visit is the story of the La Fonda Hotel and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.
When on a Taos vacation make it a point to explore the Kit Carson Home and Museum, the Charles Bent Home and Museum which is two blocks north of the Taos Plaza and also the Taos Pueblo or often referred to as Pueblo de Taos which is just a few miles northwest of town. The Taos galleries are also great places to view local southwestern art. This part of New Mexico combines some of the finest western scenery there is with very interesting historic sites. If you plan on spending the night in Taos there are several unique hotels and bed and breakfast locations. One popular historic lodging site is the Mabel Dodge House just a very short drive east of the Taos plaza.
(Photos are from author’s private collection)