Sunday, October 23, 2022

The High Road to Taos

I have not written about Taos, New Mexico, for some time but this take is a little different from the others. A couple of days away from town was a birthday present from my wife, Penelope. The idea was not only to get away for a night but to do it in the fall which, like in many places, is so beautiful at this time of year. 

There are two ways to get to Taos from Santa Fe. One is relatively direct and takes roughly an hour and a half. The other, the high road, takes about an hour longer. Of course, it depends on your speed but with all the hills and switchbacks it also depends on your driving skills and, I’m afraid, your age! But boy is the high road worth it.

It is hard to take photos from a moving vehicle on a curving mountain road but there were a few, very few, places where a car could safely go off the road as photo opportunities. From this one view I took you can see why in 1975 the High Road was listed in the New Mexico Register of Cultural Properties.

In 2016 Mike Butler published a book called “The High Road to Taos” with about 200 black and white photos dating from the 1930’and 40’s from The Library of Congress. The High Road has always been a tourist and pioneer attraction.

Some guidebooks give you up to seven hours to take the High Road because there are so many historic villages and pueblos along the way. In 2012 I wrote about our tour of Taos Pueblo ...

Penelope had picked our luncheon spot called Sugar Nymphs Café in the village of Peñasco.

To give you an idea of the vintage of the place, these old fashioned washing machines stood outside.

The café shares the building with an old time theater which I could only peak into. In the “lobby” was a vintage movie projector.

It did not look like a great place to eat but i was in for a very pleasant surprise.

I ordered my favorite chili cheeseburger and Penelope a BLT, simple but delicious, mine was no patty but a thick burger cooked to rare perfection. It came with a large bowl of cauliflower soup. Did not sound that great to me but home made with lots of vegetables. If I return some day, I hope they have that soup again. We had to sample their signature drink made with syrups and berries like I have never tasted before. Adding to the atmosphere was a totally black cat with bright green eyes.

Coming into Taos we passed Saint Francis Church, Rancho de Taos, a famous subject for Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe. When we were there six years ago, we were pretty much alone but the church was closed. This time the parking lot was full and we did get into the church, as guests for a wedding were just dispersing, everyone decked out in their Sunday best. Here is Ansel Adams’ 1929 photo of the church.

We stayed at the Historic Taos Inn, which opened in 1936 and has retained its style. Its restaurant, Doc Martin’s, lived up to its reputation with a great chili relleno and margaritas. Our room was small but really cozy, with fireplace in a reading nook.

The next morning, we visited the Taos Art Museum at the Fechin house, home of Nicholai Fechin (1888-1955) a Russian painter who specialized in portraits. Here is a 1933 portrait of his daughter, Eya.

Born in Kazan, Russia he came to the United Sates with his wife and daughter in 1923. The family lived in Taos from 1927 until 1933. During that time, he transformed and added to an adobe house which is today listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He not only carved the furniture but incorporated architectural ornament recalling Russian folk art.

Returning home via the low road, the pouring rain made us very happy that we had come in on the high road on a beautiful sunny and warm day.

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