New Mexico: Falling in Love with the Land of Enchantment

By | 2017-08-30T17:00:46+00:00 September 1st, 2017|
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La Fonda

I fell in love with Taos and Santa Fe when I first visited my brother in New Mexico in the mid-1990s. He moved to Taos on a whim and never looked back, and with each successive visit, I understand exactly why. Though I’ve remained firmly physically ensconced in Chicago, my heart belongs to Taos and Santa Fe.

The confluence of Spanish and Mexican history, architecture and food have come together to create something uniquely New Mexico. The stunning Sangre de Cristos, the piñon scented air, and the abundance of adobe construction remind me that I’m not in Kansas (OK, Chicago!) anymore. Green chile tops everything — and endless sunshine, blue skies, men wearing cowboy hats alongside women in jeans, tank tops and hiking boots without a business suit or sheath dress in sight. The stress just melts away.

True, both cities have their challenges when it comes to accessibility, but much has been done right to enable a wheelchair user to have a great visit. Join me, won’t you?

Taos Plaza and Taos Pueblo

From May to the end of October on Saturdays the plaza comes alive with the local farmers market.

Taos Plaza began as a Spanish fortified walled plaza in the late 18th century to keep out armed invaders. It was the central meeting place in the Taos Valley for socializing, trading, and community events. Today a ring of shops surrounds a park, anchored by the Hotel La Fonda de Taos. Shops feature Northern New Mexico goods like leather, pottery, jewelry and artwork. Curb cuts surround the plaza and ramps serve various levels, but take care, some of the ramps are pretty steep.

From May to the end of October on Saturdays the plaza comes alive with the local farmers market. Dozens of vendors sell local produce, flowers, prepared foods, fabulous breads, gelato in flavors like watermelon or milk and honey, and wonderful face creams and lip balms made with local herbs and flowers. Try a delicious breakfast burrito filled with eggs, potatoes and green chiles while you browse.

The rich history of Taos is everywhere. Thanks to the Spanish heritage of the region, Catholicism has an equal place alongside the Native American spiritual traditions, and a key piece of Catholic history is Our Lady of Guadalupe Church (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), just west of Taos Plaza. Built between 1801 and 1802 as a Franciscan Mission of San Geronimo parish at the Taos Pueblo, it has since been rebuilt and is still an active church with daily masses in English and Spanish.

Next, visit the Kit Carson House and Museum. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963, it is now a museum dedicated to Carson’s life and contributions to New Mexican culture. Built in 1825, the museum served as Carson’s home from 1843 until his death 25 years later. Today, the four-room house contains original artifacts, period furnishings, and photos of Carson and his family as well as letters and documents from his life. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for kids. The house is accessible for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility.

Taos Pueblo Pow Wow is a gorgeous display of indigenous culture with dance, drumming, music and songFor a glimpse into the Native American cultural traditions of Taos, visit Taos Pueblo. Over 1,000 years old, the Taos Pueblo consists of five stories of adobe construction, with living spaces built one on top of another and no electricity or running water. Home to the Tiwa Indians, the Pueblo currently houses about 150 people, with a few hundred more maintaining homes there for the ceremonies. Though many of the ancient buildings are not accessible to wheelchair users, there is a walking tour through the Pueblo, and the grounds are packed dirt — relatively easy to navigate on wheels. You can take a guided tour or wander the grounds on your own. Pueblo residents and artisans will often share their stories and history. Admission is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and students. Children 10 and under are free.

If you’re in town during July, the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow is a gorgeous display of indigenous culture with dance, drumming, music and song. Dancers and drummers of all ages share their cultural traditions in full costume. Admission is $15, and accessible parking is available just outside the grounds.

Nearby Day Trip

If you get the itch to absorb natural beauty, drive west on U.S. Highway 64 from Taos to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. This 1,280-foot long span hovers 650 feet above the Rio Grande, with stunningly breathtaking views of the mountains and the river below. Dedicated on September 10, 1965, it is the second highest bridge on the U.S. highway system and the fifth highest in the United States.

The Rio Grande Bridge is the second-highest in the U.S. Highway system.

The Rio Grande Bridge is the second-highest in the U.S. Highway system.

 

The bridge was famously featured in the films Natural Born Killers and Twins. It has concrete sidewalks on both sides to allow pedestrians, including wheelchair users, to cross. There are several lookouts for viewing and photo opportunities, and at the end, you’ll usually find several vendors selling handcrafted leather bracelets, silver jewelry, and pottery.

On your drive back to Taos, follow the signs to Millicent Rogers Museum, to enjoy the lovely collection of Native American and Hispanic art. Rogers collected more than 5,000 pieces of Native American and Hispanic art throughout her lifetime and was a talented artist in her own right. The museum, established to celebrate her contributions to Taos and New Mexico in 1956, features galleries filled with jewelry, pottery, baskets, tinwork and textiles. It is accessible for wheelchair users, and a must-see for the jewelry collection alone. Admission is $10 or less for all ages. Taos County residents are always admitted free.

On to Santa Fe

When you’ve had your fill of Taos, take Highway 64 south to visit historic Santa Fe, the state capital, about an hour-and-a-half drive. Like the rest of New Mexico, here you’ll find Mexican, Spanish and indigenous influences in architecture, art, food and culture.

Once you arrive, enjoy a late breakfast or lunch at Tia Sophia’s, a local, family owned institution since 1974. Whether you order my favorite blue corn huevos rancheros or a breakfast burrito of eggs, bacon and green chile, your breakfast comes with a basket of sopapillas — pillowy breakfast breads served with butter and honey. Coffee is strong, delicious and plentiful.

Then it’s off to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Born in 1887, O’Keeffe is widely renowned as one of the most influential artists of our time. Her career evolved from realism to abstraction, and she ultimately became enthralled with the architecture and landscape of New Mexico. She spent much of the 1930s and 1940s living and working in the state, finally settling in Abiqui in 1949. She continued to live there, traveling and painting, until her death at the age of 98 in 1986.

The O’Keeffe Museum houses her entire collection — 981 works: paintings, drawings, sculptures, sketches and photographs. The museum also features photographs taken of O’Keeffe by other photographers, giving an outside perspective into the life of this vitally important artist and her place in New Mexico history. Adult admission is $13, students $11. The museum is accessible to wheelchair users and those with limited mobility.

Next stop, the Loretto Chapel. The history of the Chapel dates back to 1850, when Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy was appointed by the church to spread the faith in the New Mexico Territory. The Sisters of Loretto opened The Academy of Our Lady of Light (Loretto) in 1853, a residential school for girls. The Chapel was built in 1873, incorporating both local sandstone as well as stained glass windows imported from France into the stunning example of Gothic architecture.

Though the entire Chapel is gorgeous, to me the most striking feature is the “Miraculous Staircase.” Said to have been constructed around 1877, the 33 steps rise over 20 feet tall, making two complete 360-degree turns with no visible means of support. It is closed to foot traffic. Today, the Loretto Chapel is both a museum and a wedding destination.

The Plaza and More

Don’t miss a chance to stroll around Santa Fe’s Plaza, where you’ll find dozens of indigenous artisans selling silver and turquoise studs, cufflinks, hammered leather bracelets, amethyst pendants, and more. I’ve done lots of Christmas shopping in this very spot. You’ll also find many galleries on and around the Plaza featuring pottery, sculpture, photography, painting, and artists more than willing to share their stories with you.

When you need a break, visit “Santa Fe’s Famous Cart” for a Frito pie. You’ll get New Mexico chili poured inside a bag of Fritos, topped with sour cream and shredded cheese that you can eat as you stroll. Heaven in a bag!

Next, head to The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, created from the merging of The Museum of New Mexico (founded by anthropologist Edgar Lee Hewitt) and the Laboratory of Anthropology (founded by John D. Rockefeller). The Museum is known for having the most complete collection of indigenous New Mexico ceramics anywhere in the world, as well as millions of archaeological artifacts. It pays homage to the past but also welcomes the future of indigenous art through featuring current artists like Jody Naranjo, a Pueblo potter from Santa Clarita, and Frank Buffalo Hyde, a painter and sculptor whose works represent the span of Native American culture from the ancient to the modern. Admission is $7 for NM residents and $12 for non-residents.

Head to the Pink Adobe for the restaurant’s signature enchiladas, which come with — of course — green or red chiles.

Head to the Pink Adobe for the restaurant’s signature enchiladas, which come with — of course — green or red chiles.

At day’s end, stop in at one of my Santa Fe must-visits, La Boca, for some tapas and a drink. My favorites are jamon iberico, a traditional Spanish ham made from acorn and olive-fed black pigs, manchego cheese, bacon wrapped dates, fried Brussels sprouts and patatas bravas, potatoes in spicy tomato sauce. Order a glass of Spanish cava (sparkling wine) and settle in for a live music set. You’ll hear everything from Spanish guitar to country to jazz.

If you want something more traditionally New Mexican, head to The Pink Adobe. Opened in 1944, the Pink Adobe was named for the color of the adobe used to build it. I love the warm colors and kiva fireplaces — it’s like having dinner at a friend’s house. While you can enjoy terrific salmon or steak, I prefer the native New Mexican favorite, Enchiladas Pink Adobe, which comes with your choice of red or green chile, rice, beans and posole.

When you’re ready to turn in, there are many lodging options to choose from. Two of my favorites are right near or on the plaza: The Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi is a gorgeous luxury accommodation. Located walking distance to galleries, museums and dining, it offers accessible Southwestern style accommodation, several dining options from casual to fine dining, and a lovely patio where you can people watch and enjoy a drink.

If you prefer to be right on the plaza, the La Fonda On the Plaza is the place to be. The site has continuously hosted an inn since the 1600’s. There’s some rumor of ghost appearances — not so unusual for New Mexico — but I hear they’re friendly. The spacious guest rooms feature kiva fireplaces, hand-painted furniture and art from local artists. The Bell Tower Bar on the rooftop is my favorite place to enjoy a stunning Santa Fe sunset.

Whether you enjoy art, history, dining, or outdoor activities, Taos and Santa Fe are perfect vacation destinations. Beautiful weather, abundant sunshine, and friendly people no matter where you go are sure to leave you heading home relaxed, refreshed and ready for your return to the Land of Enchantment.

Taos Dining

To get your day started, try Michael’s Kitchen, a locally owned favorite since 1974. They have delicious huevos rancheros, but one of my favorites is the Poor Man’s Eggs Benedict — eggs with shaved ham, chile and cheese on a toasted English muffin. And grab a cream puff from the counter bakery for later.

At the Taos Diner, try Copper John’s Eggs — two eggs scrambled with green chiles and cheese, home fries and a homemade biscuit, and bottomless coffee.

At lunchtime, head to another Taos institution, The Alley Cantina, located in the oldest building in Taos, with two original walls from the 16th century structure still remaining. Here locals and tourists alike enjoy live music, pool tables and shuffleboard, and an outdoor pet-friendly patio. You can’t miss with the green chile cheeseburgers or green chile stew, served with a huge flour tortilla for dunking.

For a dinner of quick, inexpensive Mexican food, you can’t beat Guadalajara Grill. My favorite is the Guadalajara shrimp, marinated in butter, chile and garlic salt, served with rice, beans and tortillas. Their burritos, tacos and enchiladas are delicious, too.

If you feel like something a little fancier, head on over to Lambert’s of Taos. Built in typical Southwestern adobe style, Lambert’s has a beautiful outdoor patio with the main level fully accessible. Try the green chile stew appetizer, or if you want something lighter, the watermelon salad is amazing. For dinner, fresh trout or duck breast are delicious. A wonderful wine list and delectable desserts like seasonal fruit cobbler or housemade ice cream make this one of my favorites.

Taos Accommodations

Taos has accommodations to fit every budget. Here are two possibilities:

El Monte Sagrado Resort is a high-end luxury property with gorgeous grounds and wonderful amenities, including the Anaconda Bar where you can enjoy cocktails and a light bite, as well as an award-winning restaurant, De La Tierra. A full-service spa will leave you pampered and relaxed, or you can enjoy a dip in the pool. Accessible accommodations can be found across room types and price ranges. My favorite is the Native American Suite, a room with a private balcony overlooking a babbling brook in the center of the property that just whispers you to sleep.

The Sagebrush Inn is a more moderately priced accommodation, with typical Southwestern knotty pine architecture and Mexican style furnishings. Here you can enjoy a complimentary breakfast, dinner at the Sagebrush Grill or happy hours and live entertainment in the Cantina make this a great spot to spend your time in Taos. There are five wheelchair accessible rooms, but only one has a roll-in shower.

Resources In and Around Taos:
• Taos Plaza, 800/732-8267; taos.org/what-to-do/landmark-sites/taos-plaza
• Taos Pueblo, 575/758-1028; www.taospueblo.com
• Farmer’s Market, www.taosfarmersmarket.org
• Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 575/758-9258; ologtaos.com
• Kit Carson House and Museum,  kitcarsonmuseum.org.
• Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, taos.org/what-to-do/landmark-sites/rio-grande-gorge-bridge/
• Millicent Rogers Museum, 575/758-2462; millicentrogers.org
• Michael’s Kitchen, 575/758-4178;  michaelskitchen.com
• Taos Diner, 575/758-2374;  taosdiner.com
• The Alley Cantina, 575/758-2121;  alleycantina.com
• Guadalajara Grill, 575/751-0063;  www.guadalajaragrilltaos.com
• Lambert’s of Taos, 575/758-1009; lambertsoftaos.com
• Hotel La Fonda de Taos, 575/758-2211; www.lafondataos.com
• El Monte Sagrado Resort, 575/758-3502; elmontesagrado.com
• The Sagebrush Inn, 800/428-2636; www.sagebrushinn.com

In and Around Santa Fe:
• Santa Fe Plaza, www.nps.gov/nr/travel/amsw/sw53.HTM
• The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, 505/946-1000; okeeffemuseum.org
• Loretto Chapel, 505/982-0092; www.lorettochapel.com
• Tia Sophia’s, 505/983-9880; tiasophias.com
• Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, 505/476-1269; indianartsandculture.org
• La Boca, 505/982-3433; labocasantafe.com
• The Pink Adobe, 505/983-7712; thepinkadobe.com
• The Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, 888/767-3966; rosewoodhotels.com
• La Fonda on the Plaza, 505/982-5511; lafondasantafe.com