Taos is a town in northern New Mexico’s high desert, bounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s known for historic adobe buildings such as Taos Pueblo, a multistory adobe complex inhabited by Native Americans for centuries. A longtime artist colony, Taos also offers many galleries and museums showcasing regional artwork, including the Harwood Museum of Art and the Taos Art Museum.
Arriving in Taos, after checking in to our lovely “Casita”, we headed for Ranchos de Taos, south of Taos City proper, to the St. Fancisco de Assis mission church and a wonderful late lunch of chile rellenos (and the best red chili sauce I have ever encountered).
The Burch Street Casistas
San Francisco de Asis Mission Church is a historic and architecturally significant church on the main plaza of Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. Built between 1772 and 1816, it is one of the finest extant examples of a Spanish Colonial New Mexico mission church, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
We just made it to the Ranchos Plaza Grill, before they closed on Sunday, for a wonderful meal of chile rellenos and enchiladas smothered in the most flavorful red chili sauce I have ever eaten. Although I am no expert on New Mexican Cuisine, the restaurant was recommended by the owner of our casitas (who happens to be a professional chef) as well as a number of knowledgeable local “foodies”. The famous heirloom red chilis come from the town of Chimayo. They are crushed rather than ground and are simmered for hours with fresh ground pork, yielding deeply complex flavors with just enough heat to keep things interesting 🌶🌶🌶
The old plaza and hacienda still stand next to the mission church. Today the Hacienda houses the The Ranchos Plaza Grill, a Northern New Mexican Restaurant.
After a stroll around the historic Taos Plaza to settle our dinner, we head back to our casita to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures: The Taos Pueblo, mission church and the Hacienda de los Martinez.
We booked a tour of the mission church and the Taos Pueblo with a young Taos Puebloan woman who provided her unique perspective on the Taos Pueblo, it’s history and the role of the Roman Catholic faith, historical relations with the Spanish and modern Taos Pueblo life.
Mission Church: The present San Geronimo, or St. Jerome, Chapel was completed in 1850 to replace the original church which was destroyed in the War with Mexico by the U.S. Army in 1847. That church, the ruins still evident on the west side of the village, was first built in 1619. It was then destroyed in the Spanish (Pueblo) Revolt of 1680 but soon rebuilt on the same site. St. Jerome is the patron saint of Taos Pueblo.
Taos Pueblo (or Pueblo de Taos) is an ancient pueblo belonging to a Tiwa-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people. It lies about 1 mile (1.6 km) north of the modern city of Taos, New Mexico, USA. The pueblos are considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States. This has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Taos Pueblo is a member of the Eight Northern Pueblos, whose people speak two variants of the Tanoan language. The Taos community is known for being one of the most private, secretive, and conservative pueblos.
The north-side Pueblo is said to be one of the most photographed and painted buildings in North America. It is the largest multistoried Pueblo structure still existing. It is made of adobe walls that are often several feet thick. Its primary purpose was for defense. Up to as late as 1900, access to the rooms on lower floors was by ladders on the outside to the roof, and then down an inside ladder. In case of an attack, outside ladders could easily be pulled up.
The Pueblo is made entirely of adobe — earth mixed with water and straw, then either poured into forms or made into sun-dried bricks. The walls are frequently several feet thick. The roofs of each of the five stories are supported by large timbers — vigas — hauled down from the mountain forests. Smaller pieces of wood — pine or aspen latillas — are placed side-by-side on top of the vigas; the whole roof is covered with packed dirt. The outside surfaces of the Pueblo are continuously maintained by replastering with think layers of mud. Interior walls are carefully coated with thin washes of white earth to keep them clean and bright. The Pueblo is actually many individual homes, built side-by-side and in layers, with common walls but no connecting doorways. In earlier days there were no doors or windows and entry was gained only from the top.
Approximately 150 people live within the Pueblo full-time. Other families owning homes in the North or South buildings live in summer homes near their fields, and in more modern homes outside the old walls but still within Pueblo land. There are over 1900 Taos Indians living on Taos Pueblo lands.
Taos Pueblo Doors and Windows
Our guide informed us that the Spanish brought the technology to create the wooden doors and windows, which are now employed in the Pueblo. Blue doors welcome good spirits and influence, red doors ward off evil. I loved the variety of colors and textures.
Hacienda de Los Martinez
Martinez Hacienda, also known as Hacienda de los Martinez, is a Taos, New Mexicohacienda built during the Spanish colonial era. It is now a living museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located on the bank of the Rio Pueblo de Taos.
Now owned by the Taos Historic Museums, it is a living museum honoring the contributions of the early Hispanic settlers in the Taos Valley. It is particularly focused on life during the 1820s under Spanish colonial rule. For instance, the weaving exhibits display wool died with vegetable based tints. And the hacienda’s interior walls are white washed with tierra blanca, which is a mixture of micaceous clay and wheat paste.
It is one of the few remaining Spanish colonial haciendas that is open to the public throughout the year in the United States.
It hosts the annual Taos Trade Fair in late September to reenact Spanish colonial life and celebrate the trade among mountain men, Native Americans and Spanish settlers. Demonstrations are performed of blacksmiths, wood carvers and weavers. In addition to a working weaving room, there is also a blacksmith shop within the museum.
We found the displays fascinating and clearly depicted the deprivation, hardship and hard work to survive and thrive in New Mexico during Spanish colonial times.
Taos Art Museum at Fechin House
Taos Art Museum opened in 1994. Eight years later it moved to the beautiful and historic Nicolai Fechin home. The Museum is dedicated to the art of early twentieth century Taos. The museum is housed in the studio and home that artist Nicolai Fechin built for his family between 1927 and 1933. Fechin, born in Kazan, Russia in 1881, carved and molded the adobe buildings into a fascinating, harmonic marriage of Russian, Native American, and Spanish motifs. Fechin’s heirs have entrusted many of his art works to the care of Taos Art Museum.
The heart of the museum is a collection of paintings by the masters of the Taos Society of Artists. This group was prolific from the arrival in Taos of Blumenschein and Phillips in 1898 through the 1930s. As a result of the acclaim these artists and their associates achieved, many more artists migrated to Taos, continuing a tradition of creativity into the twenty-first century.
Chokola Bean to Bar is a small-batch, organic, crafted, bean-to-bar chocolate maker in historic Taos, New Mexico.
So reads the promo material in print and on-line, that proprietors Javier and Deborah (Vincent) Abad Etxaniz have used to describe the incredible new shop (and bespoke chocolate maker) they recently opened on Juan Largo Lane.
Each hand-made bar of decadent deliciousness comes with this descriptive wording, along with an artist statement provided by the artist du jour whose work graces the packaging – currently (former Taos resident) Erin Currier. Deborah’s background in Art History has compelled the couple to support (New Mexico/Taos Artists) by featuring their work on their packaging.
The material goes on to inform us that “every morning, the pure Alpine air is laced with the rich aroma of our freshly roasted cacao beans, inviting Taosenos and visitors to our Chokola store (just off the plaza).” This is not an exaggeration.
From San Sebastian – Basque country – in Spain, Javier and his wife Deborah (her father was from Taos, her mother is South American) are dedicated to educating people about the “Food of the Gods” and dispelling the notion that chocolate is mere candy.
Besides the house-made bars, Chokola makes delectable bon-bons, tiny pastries, mousse and hot chocolate (to go, or to sip/eat at the tables in or outside) from high-end, imported confectioners chocolate. The mousse (I tasted it too), is out of this world. Addictive even, so do be careful. Light as a feather on the tongue, but brings to mind the old dictum; a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.
That said, chocolate – especially chocolate of this quality – is loaded with antioxidants and magnesium and is very good for you. It’s the sugar that can be a problem and if so, go darker!
Mousse and bon bons aside, the emphasis at Chokola is definitely on the in-house production of the chocolate they make from the ethically sourced aforementioned beans. Run, don’t walk to this fabulous new addition to Taos’ artisanal community, and stock up on the hand-crafted bars. If you don’t eat them all yourself (not hard), they’ll make brilliant gifts to have on hand.
A family-run café in El Prado, about two miles north of the plaza, Orlando’s doesn’t cook anything too flashy, but what they do, they do well—witness the dozens of awards on the walls. Red and green chile are the standouts, but the carne adovada and taco salad are also popular with the crowds that pack the place at lunchtime. One way you can tell it’s authentic New Mexican cooking is that they serve posole (hominy stew) instead of rice on the side.
Regretfully, we leave Taos for commitments back in Colorado
NOTE: items in quotes (such as this note) are taken from reviews, promotional materials, Wikipedia, etc to provide background information on attractions we have visited. Photographs are my own.