Visitors to northern New Mexico’s premier destination — Santa Fe — often plan a day trip (or longer) to savor the picturesque, historically rich, artistically renowned town of Taos.
Most take the 73-mile more direct route known as the Low Road. It follows U.S. Highway 285 and state Route 68 north from Santa Fe through the valley of the Rio Grande River, with an arrival in Taos in about two hours.
There is, however, a beautiful, mountainous, vista-rich alternative — the 105-mile scenic byway known as the High Road. Both routes have the same beginning as you drive north out of Santa Fe (on U.S. Highway 285) toward Espanola. That’s where state Route 76 intersects and your “High Road” adventure begins.
Leaving the high-speed highway behind, the mostly two-lane road snakes and climbs its way into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, passing through the old Spanish villages of Chimayo, Truchas and Las Trampas, communities that can trace their heritage back 400 years to the arrival of the conquistadores.
Eventually you’ll follow state Route 75 east to Penasco, state Route 518 north to Ranchos de Taos and finally drive a short stretch on state Route 68 north to the Taos Plaza. It’s certainly less direct but well worth the extra time and navigation.
First settled in 1692, Chimayo is one the High Road’s most popular destinations, just 25 miles from Santa Fe. Its plaza dates back to the era of the village’s founding and is now defined by the graceful adobe architecture of the Santuario de Chimayo (a National Historic Landmark), built between 1814 and 1816. During Holy Week the red clay of the Santuario is said to be imbued with miraculous powers of healing. Each Easter thousands of Christian pilgrims make the journey on foot to the Santuario.
Chimayo is equally famous for its culinary treasure, the Rancho de Chimayo Restaurant. Founded in 1965 by Florence Poulin (of Hartford , Connecticut) and her husband, Chimayo native Arturo Jaramillo, the restaurant played a key role in introducing the world to the robust flavors and delicacies of New Mexico cuisine.
For half a century the restaurant has offered its signature spicy guacamole, hand-rolled tamales, blue-corn enchiladas, chili rellenos and (not to be missed) carne adovada and stuffed sopaipillas, a fried puff pastry made from wheat and masa. The house special Chimayo Cocktail is a delectable blend of tequila, apple cider, fresh apples (from the orchard) and Creme de Cassis.
For centuries Chimayo has also been recognized for its weaving. The tradition has been carried on by generations of the Ortega and Trujillo families. The Ortega’s Weaving Shop and Centinela Traditional Arts (both on Route 76) offer a rainbow of weaving from elegant, distinctly patterned placemats to full-size blankets.
Straddling a high ridge, the isolated New Mexico community came into existence as the Nuestra Senora del Rosario, San Fernando y Santiago del Rio de las Truchas Grant in 1754. It is a quiet place set against the backdrop of the Truchas Peaks. The event that put Truchas on the map was the choice by Robert Redford to use the town as the setting for his 1988 film, “The Milagro Bean Field War.” The town and its historic church also play a part in Willa Cather’s 1927 novel, “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”
Located midway between Santa Fe and Taos is the village of Las Trampas, best known for its San Jose de Garcia Church. With its symmetrical twin bell towers, the adobe church was built between 1760 and 1776 and is one of the finest existing examples of Colonial Mission architecture in New Mexico. It sits peacefully in the middle of the village, and if the doors are open visitors are welcome to enter and view the works of art by local artisans that adorn the interior.
The village itself is much older and can trace its Spanish heritage back to 1751, when Gov. Tomas Velez Gachupin allowed the original 12 families, led by 74-year-old Juan de Arguello of Santa Fe, to settle in the valley.
The remainder of the drive to Taos winds through heavily wooded Kit Carson National Forest before descending to the great plain, where Taos and the historic Taos Pueblo are located. Abundant in its history, including the homes of Kit Carson and arts doyen Mabel Dodge, Taos also features the superb collections of the Millicent Rogers Museum along with myriad art galleries, eateries and inns. The best way to end your visit is by returning to Santa Fe by way of the also scenically rewarding Low Road.
WHEN YOU GO
For general information: www.tripadvisor.com/attractions-g47224-activities-c47-Taos_Taos_County_new_Mexico.html or www.taos.org/trip-ideas/day-trips?/item/14/the-high-road-between-santa-fe-and-taos
Rancho de Chimayo: www.ranchodechimayo.com/#welcome2