High Road to Taos — Photo courtesy of Flickr user David Baron
One of the most beautiful and interesting road trips through New Mexico is the 56-mile drive north from Santa Fe to Taos.
This stretch, called The High Road to Taos, is an official scenic byway and provides a glimpse into the historical remains–buildings, stories, art and preserved culture–of Old Spain.
The High Road is an excellent day or weekend road trip along varying landscapes. Wind through the mountains, desert, trees and small towns, and past galleries, shops and Pueblo villages.
Start in Santa Fe and head north on Highway 503. The byway will veer north on 520 and slightly zigzag northeast up to Taos.
There are a series of traditional, set points of interest that many road-trippers visit along this road. Here are 10 of those not to miss.
Hike to waterfalls at the Pueblo of Nambe
About 15 miles north of Santa Fe is an ancient Tewa Pueblo, a registered National Historic Landmark that dates back to around 1300. Tour the new community garden and vineyard and hike the short trails in the Nambe Falls Recreation Area, home to one of the most magnificent waterfalls in New Mexico.
To extend your road trip, stay to explore the vast pueblo land, with its tall trees, sandstone outcrops, lakes and the Rio Nambe, which ultimately feeds into the Rio Grande. The region is in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The Santuario de Chimayo — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Eugene Kim
Touch Chimayo’s healing soil
Chimayo is one of the most popular stops on the Santa Fe-to-Taos trek, made famous by a tiny church that some believe is filled with healing earth–and the art and crosses that line the walls, left by people who claim to have been healed, is a testament to the believers. Many pilgrims travel to the El Posito chapel to pray and take a pinch of the special dirt. It’s packed around Easter and Good Friday.
See Cordova’s traditional woodcarving
Whereas Chimayo is known for its dirt, Cordova is known for its wood. This small village–we are talking only a few hundred residents–is the home of traditional woodcarvers. Art-lovers will enjoy the Castillo Gallery, which contains unique sculptures, paintings, poetry and other creations by local artists, mainly Paula Castillo. See local woodcarving in person here, too.
Art at a church in Truchas — Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kathy Knorr
Enjoy dramatic views in Truchas
At the top of a relatively remote mesa, but below the tall Truchas Peak, is the small town of Truchas. The view of New Mexico’s second-tallest mountain is reason enough to stop here, but don’t miss the historical Nuestra Senora del Rosario church, with 19th-century santero art. Look for more modern art galleries, too, perhaps inspired by the dramatic views. Most fascinatingly, Truchas still runs under some old laws, such as cars are required by law to share the streets with livestock.
The San Jose de Gracia Church in Las Trampas — Photo courtesy of Flickr user arūnas Burdulis
See Spanish colonial architecture in Las Trampas
The National Historic District of Las Trampas was built with a wall around it to protect it from attacks, and that wall also helped protect the community’s culture. Although the wall is gone now, visitors can see a classic adobe Spanish colonial church. The San Jose de Gracia church is still functioning, 225 years after it was built, and it’s open to visitors on the weekends. Today, it’s one of the best-preserved remains of the Spanish colonial building style.
Celebrate art and culture in Picuris Pueblo
Take a detour to visit the Picuris Pueblo, known for its mica-infused pottery, ancient adobe church and festivals. In the summer, Picuris Pueblo is host to the High Country Tri-Cultural Arts and Crafts fair, with jewelry, pottery, painting and other creations. The 200-year-old San Lorenzo de Picuris church has been recently restored.
Ski or hike the Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort
Sipapu is the state’s quickest-growing resort, and it aims to be the most family-friendly resort in the Rockies. Dine next to the Rio Pueblo river at the cafe, go skiing in the winter (free lift tickets and no lines!), fish the pond, walk along the water, play disc golf and enjoy regular free events. Sipapu is small enough to feel like home, but full of enough activities to feel like vacation.
Climb into a kiva at the Pot Creek Cultural Site
Imagine what it might have been like when the Anasazi lived here in the 13th century, when you tour this cultural site. See the ruins of four adobe buildings, one of which has been restored enough to give visitors an idea about life back then. Climb down into a real kiva underground, and take a free guided tour to learn more. Throughout the grounds, look for remnants, like arrowheads, beads and pottery, for which the region is named.
See the tiny, ancient church in Talpa
Take time to gaze at the landscape of the Carson National Forest as you make your way to the small, ancient village of Talpa. In Talpa, one highlight is the tiny church with a big name, Nuestra Señora de San Juan de los Largos del Rio Chiquito, built in 1828. You can’t attend service in this church, but you can enjoy the beautiful and historical exterior.
The San Francisco de Asis Mission — Photo courtesy of Flickr user gettheshot75
Be inspired by the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church
This church in Taos has inspired many artists and photographers, including Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams; it’s one of the most popular churches to capture in art. The church, completed in 1816, boasts a unique exterior, with huge adobe buttresses and double bell towers. You can still attend service here and it’s often the heart of local festivals. The nearby plaza is a great place to get a bite to eat and shop, making this church the perfect place to end your Santa Fe-Taos road trip.