Skip Out on the Low Road—Take the High Road to Taos

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Welcome to 2019. We made it y’all!

Another successful calendar flip is always cause for celebration—and what better way to ring in the new year than by climbing into your trusty ride and jetting off on a trip?

Indeed, if getting out on the open road more often is one of your resolutions in 2019, there may be no better route to break in the year than the High Road to Taos, also referred to by the government as the High Road to Taos Scenic Byway.

The pretty little 105-mile run cuts a gorgeous line through the high desert, connecting the storied cities of Taos and Santa Fe. Along the way, it passes through plenty of places that have all the same beauty of the famous towns yet far, far less of the crowds, making them ideal locations to reflect on the year that just ended and the one that’s just begun.

As its name may suggest, the road has some serious altitude behind it, winding its way through the glorious Sangre de Cristo Mountains. But the weather can remain relatively mild in the winter, and the area is anything but short on spirituality, making it a perfect place to ease yourself out of the holiday season.

Plus, the ratio of things-to-do to miles-to-trek makes for an easy pace that’s the perfect antidote to the end-of-the-year fever pitch. Though, with New Mexico’s astoundingly delicious assortment of food, you may end up holding onto that holiday paunch for just a bit longer.

It may be just one road, but it really does have all you need to kick the year off right—plus amazing burritos.

Santa Fe

santa fe palace of governors market
People at a market in the recess of the Palace of the Governors in the Plaza of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

You’ll start your trip in Santa Fe, a bohemian dreamtown namechecked so frequently in popular culture it’s not even worth trying to name them all. (Well, except for maybe this one.)

But it’s easy to see why the city inspires such adulation.

Blissfully wrapped in the Sangre de Cristo foothills, Santa Fe has an undeniably cozy vibe, which helped nurture one of the world’s most fantastic and long-enduring art scenes. As such, you’ll find no shortage of museums, galleries, and other interesting spaces to explore.

And if history is more your thing, guess what: Santa Fe has plenty of that, too.

Incorporated in 1610 originally as a Spanish colony, the city is the oldest capital in North America and the oldest European community west of the Mississippi. As such, you’ll find no shortage of fascinating history museums to explore—and while they’re all great, the Palace of Governors truly should not be missed.

It’d be infinitely easy to let the city suck you in forever, but there are many more places to see along the High Road to Taos.

Chimayó

Santuario De Chimayo New Mexico
The entrance to Santuario De Chimayo, New Mexico provides a threshold with an otherworldly feel.

As you travel on, you’ll get a taste of the New Mexico badlands—all hoodoos and hills carved out by the high desert wind.

But eventually that distinctive sandy milieu will give way to the green farming valley of Chimayó, another quaint community with colonial Spanish routes.

Even in the Land of Enchantment, this specific area is known for its spiritual nature; the town believed to be built upon sacred earth with powerful healing properties.

That may be why one of the area’s top attractions is its church, the Santuario de Chimayó.

But if you’re more interested in the trappings of this physical plain, you can also check out the numerous traditional weaving studios in town, including those showcasing the famous works of the Ortega and Trujillo families.

Truchas

Truchas New Mexico
The high desert community of Truchas, New Mexico boasts beautiful views and incredible native history.

Departing from Chimayó means ascending the mountains, and you’ll begin your trek up the Sangre de Cristos almost immediately.

From that point, the High Road proceeds to pass by a number of tiny, charming, and historic villages, including Córdova, Ojo Sacro, Chamisal, Peñasco, Vadito, and many others. Each has its own interesting backstory and compelling reasons to visit, but Truchas is one of the most unique.

The town was established via royal land grant in 1754 in order to create a bulwark against the roaming Apache and Comanche tribes who would frequently raid a number of nearby towns, both European and Native American.

Its name—which is Spanish for trout—was derived from the acequias, or irrigation ditches, hand-dug by its original settlers to capture water (and, yes, trout) from a nearby fish-filled river.

Las Trampas

San Jose de Gracia Catholic Church
San Jose de Gracia Catholic Church in Las Trampas is along the High Road to Taos in Northern New Mexico.

Continuing to wend your way through the mountains, you’ll eventually find yourself in the small town of Las Trampas, another New Mexico community revered for its spiritual connections both ancient and modern.

Well—relatively modern.

Settlers here in the 1750s found themselves on the lucky side of a historical anomaly as members of one of the few communities in the area to survive the smallpox plague relatively unscathed. This may be why they felt compelled to build such a beautiful spiritual meeting place, the San José de Garcia Church.

Today, it’s officially on the registry as a National Historic Landmark, with Las Trampas itself designated a National Historic District.

Picurís

San Lorenzo de Picuris church in New Mexico
One small part of the community of this region that is left is San Lorenzo de Picuris church.

From Las Trampas it’s just a handful of miles to Picurís, but getting to see the area is definitely worth making another stop so soon.

Picurís is steeped in history as it formerly housed one of the largest pueblos—or Native American communities—in all of New Mexico. It’s daunting size and strategic location made it a key diplomatic player in the area, where it served to facilitate trades with a number of regional tribes.

The community eventually lost most of its members to violent clashes with Spanish colonialists and competing Native American groups. However, the pueblo remains today, and visitors are welcome to explore the unique community.

Talpa

Carson National Forest in NM
Carson National Forest in Talpa, New Mexico provides green and gold foliage beauty.

Shortly after departing the pueblo, you’ll drive through one of New Mexico’s 5 national reserves: the Carson National Forest, a gorgeous mountain-bound park in the shadow of Wheeler Peak with altitudes reaching as high as 13,161 feet.

Just beyond that outdoor wonderland lies the ancient site of Talpa, the last of the High Road’s mountain villages.

The site rests just 6 miles south of Taos but boasts plenty of wonders all its own, including a number of pueblos and pit houses built as far back as the 1100s.

Soak in all the beauty of the old world and all the peace of the tiny town before emerging once again into the relatively huge and busy pace of its more modern neighbor.

Taos

San Francisco de Asis Church
Old Adobe, San Francisco de Asis Church sits on a hill outside Golden, New Mexico.

Finally, you’ll wrap up your journey in much the way it began: surrounded by an embarrassment of riches both natural and man-made, all clustered around an artistic Southwestern dreamscape.

Much like Santa Fe, Taos has long been a magnet for creative types, and the city bustles with art exhibits, museums, and galleries, as well as an array of delicious food and fantastic—and varied—local music.

If you’re yearning for more Native American history, you can take in the Taos Pueblo, which dates back more than 1,000 years.

More modern history buffs should make sure to visit the San Francisco De Asis Church, a beautiful adobe abode that’s appeared in the paintings and photographs of countless artists, including no less than Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams.

And even more forward-thinking travelers would be remiss to miss out on the area’s truly unique Earthships, a 1970s architecture experiment that blossomed into a cluster of some of the world’s most sustainable homes.

The futuristic space offers a great place to contemplate what’s sure to arise in your own upcoming year, and how to make that time the best one yet.

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