Taos, New Mexico
The Gem of the Land of Enchantment
Taos is a magical town in New Mexico that leaves visitors passing through wanting to stay longer to learn and explore more. A rolling mesa located at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (meaning blood of Christ), Taos was established in 1795 by Spanish soldier and later governor of New Mexico, Fernando Chacon, and served as a secure plaza as well trading post for its neighboring Native American Taos Pueblo and Hispano communities. To the west is the famous Anasazi Capitol of Chaco Canyon, whose rich archaeological ruins are not to be missed. It boasts a unique mixture of cultures including Native American, Anglo and Spanish, and along with its natural beauty and majestic mountains, this town has an appeal like no other.
One cannot talk about Taos without first delving into the historic pueblo of Taos Pueblo. It is a small 19-acre community located only one mile from its modern counterpart, Taos, and is known for being the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the nation, who celebrates the magic of water with a large outdoor garden fountain in the middle of town. It is inhabited by the Tiwa Native Indians who continue to practice their centuries-old traditions. The 1,000-year-old archetypal, multi-storied adobe (water and straw mixed with dirt) complexes found here bring in tens of thousands of visitors a year. With its distinctive blend of ancient and modern, it has become both a tourist spot and a spiritual and sacred site.
Tourism is the single biggest driver of Taos Pueblo’s economy with people flocking here, not only to participate in the many special annual celebrations such as Feast Day (feast of two patron saints of Taos, Santa Ana and Santiago), but to witness the residing Taos Indians - who still cook with hornos, traditional outdoor ovens. Heated with coal, these adobe, dome-like ovens can bake over 30 loaves of bread at once. The pueblo itself is built completely of adobe and an adobe wall surrounds the village. Once standing at 10 feet tall, this wall served as a look-out post to protect its people from interlopers.
There are several individual homes in Taos Pueblo, including timeshares, all built very close together in layers and only reachable by ladder. In early days, before Spanish explorers arrived and showed the Taos Indians the convenience of a door, they would enter their homes from holes in the ceiling. They still follow long-established pueblo laws by not having running water or electricity and use kerosene lamps or skylights for light.
Heritage and History in Taos
Taos Pueblo is an example of a community that has kept most if its traditions which makes it unique. For this reason, it was made a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and in 1992, a UNESCO Heritage site. Now some historical facts about Taos itself. The Tiwas Native Americans resided here for hundreds of years before it was colonized by the Spanish. It became part of the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War, however it was a Mexican territory (won in the Mexican War of Independence) before it was ceded to the USA. Following this there was a rebellion, known as the Taos Revolt, where the Native Americans and Hispanics went up against the US which led to the death of newly appointed Governor Charles Bent. At present, his house is a famous landmark. In 1912, new Mexican became an official state and Santa Fe was made the capital.
The Famous 24/7 American Flag
Interestingly enough, the American flag is continuously (day and night) displayed at Taos Plaza. This comes from the days of the American Civil War when sympathizers for the Confederates tried to remove the flag. The decision was made by Kit Carson, a Union officer, to assign guards to stand by the flag and guard it in order to discourage this from happening again. From then on, the flag began flying 24 hours a day.
Taos has become a haven for artists, and this goes back to the turn of the century, in 1899, when many artists began settling in Taos. Six of these artists became a part of local history by forming the Taos Society of Artists in 1915 and in time, the art colony (known as Taos Art Colony) was formed. Artists were primarily drawn in by the rich tradition and culture of Taos Pueblo and the all-around beauty and light of northern New Mexico. The unique Hispanic craftsmanship in tin work and furniture was also important in forming a multi-cultural art tradition.
Artists and Artisans Are Alive and Well in Taos
Local scenes were the main inspiration for painters, particularly the activities of Native Americans in Taos Pueblo. Two artists in particular, Ernest L. Blumenschein and Bert Geer Phillips, who visited Taos in 1898 were instrumental in the creation of both the Taos Art Colony and Taos Society of Artists. A wealthy American patron of the arts, Mabel Dodge Luhan, also played a big part in promoting Taos to her inner circle of artists and writers. Modern artists provided new energy to the area in the early 20thcentury and by the 1950’s, abstract art was introduced. Today, a multitude of organizations encourage and promote Taos artists and Taos backs three museums and eighty plus galleries. At the Harwood Museum of Art, visitors can see paintings from the 18thcentury, and Indian art and crafts at the Millicent Rogers Museum. Other notable places to visit are the Kit Carson House Museum (an example of Spanish colonial architecture), the Martinez Hacienda (built in the Spanish colonial era) and the home of artist Ernest Blumenschein.
Shopping and Hotels in Taos
Aside from the art and historical nature of Taos, this town has much to offer. On the main street of Paseo del Pueblo, the Anglo influence is clearly visible with shops, hotels, businesses and some of the finest restaurants in New Mexico. One can also have a bit of fun on the challenging ski slopes at nearby Taos Ski Valley. Arroyo Hondo, a small, hippie-centric location in Taos County most known for a battle that took place during the Taos Revolt where eight people were killed, is a fascinating destination for tourists.
Amongst one of the most relevant sites in Taos is Blue Lake (or Ba Whyea).It was taken, along with 48,000 acres of mountain land, by the government of the United States in 1906 when Theodore Roosevelt was in charge and it became part of the National Forest. The Pueblo leaders fought long and hard to get it back, siting they required access to it, as well as the surrounding area, to protect their religious freedom. Blue Lake is considered a sacred region and it is believed the Taos people originated from this lake and that their ancestors live there. It was eventually returned in 1972 by President Nixon, along with Mount Adams in Washington to the nation of Takama. This fight showed the tenacity and persistence of the Taos Indians to protect their culture. Blue Lake is restricted to members of the Taos Pueblo only.
Taos is a special place where old meets new and the spirit of the people is still felt and seen today. Whether you are seeking to get a taste of how the Native American Indians live, if you are an aspiring artist, or if you want to witness the natural beauty of the land, Taos has all that. For a town with a mere population of 5,000, it contributes immensely to the character of New Mexico.