Monday, September 8, 2008


Time to face it: Taos is not the favorite I thought it would be, and I will come away with very mixed feelings.

Fascinating history, beautiful setting, appealing architecture… galleries, museums and good restaurants… its all there. So are Wal-Mart, fast-food chains, weedy strip malls and traffic gridlock.

The historic plaza (top photo), dating from the 1500’s, is the bull-eye of Taos. This is where a visitor would love to sit in the shade of the huge old trees to admire the centuries old buildings and watch the pedestrian traffic - except that the ornate iron benches are not comfortable for anything other than a brief rest.

From the plaza, “Historic Taos” radiates a few blocks in all directions - the old buildings that now house galleries, hotels, restaurants, t-shirt and gift shops, candy stores, toy stores and a pet shop where you can pay over $100 for a stroller to walk your dog. It feels like an upscale, “Pueblo style”, shopping mall, pure retail except for Kit Carson’s house, now a museum.

The old buildings of Historic Taos give way to a ring of attractive, expensive, upscale hotels, motels and B&B’s, still within walking distance of historic Taos, housing the pack of tourists coming to experience the Taos mystique.

It is fortunate that they can walk to the galleries and restaurants, because one block from the plaza, through traffic on all the major highways traveling this part of northern New Mexico funnels down to the grid-locked narrow streets of Historic Taos - trucks, cars, RV’s, and tour busses. Morning, afternoon, and evening, stop and go traffic snakes through town.

Once outside the Historic District, mundane realities of life in what is no longer a small town set in. Chain restaurants and fast-food joints, strip malls, Wal-Mart, Chinese-food buffets (when did they get so popular?) and all the other businesses that thrive off servicing locals and guests. Traffic everywhere.

Finally, beyond all that, the beauty of northern New Mexico - high, forested mountainsides sloping to arid, high desert and sweeping vistas. It is easy to see why people have been drawn here for centuries, and why the creative and artistic spirit was and is nourished here. Travelers coming to Taos 20, 30, 50 years ago were no doubt able to see and appreciate that creativity, and the lore of Taos was born… and promoted.

How is it different than what I expected? So much bigger, so much more commercial, so much traffic… it’s a city, some of it lovely, much of it unappealing. Not unlike many large towns/small cities, but I expected something different, more magical, less commercial.

The magic is to be found outside Taos. Our first day’s exploration (second and third photos) included a hike along the Rio Grande Gorge (breathtaking) and a visit to the Greater World Earthship Community (last two photos), truly inspiring. One of three “earthship” communities in New Mexico, homes (earthships) at Greater World are earth-friendly in the truest sense - built of recycled materials (“garbage” including tires), they are completely off the grid - no utility hookups allowed. Electric power is generated by sun and wind, water is collected, stored, and reused, sewage is treated locally (septic tanks - no city sewer hookups).

We toured the Greater World visitor center, a 1,400 square foot earthship - a fascinating abode that seemed an organic feature of the countryside it (and the rest of the earthship community) inhabits. Even though we have no interest in a permanent house, we left feeling impressed and inspired!

We have three more days here at Sierra Village RV Park (read our campground review and see more photos here), where we don’t have phone or internet access. Expect our next blog posting to come from Santa Fe, next stop on our southward trek.

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