The sky's the limit on Santa Fe's High Road to Taos

November 20, 1994|By Judy Folkenberg | Judy Folkenberg,Special to The Sun

Two roads connect Santa Fe to Taos: But take the road less traveled -- state Route 76. It will take you on a journey through an earlier time -- an era of ancient Indian pueblos, missionaries and Spanish settlers. This is the High Road or Mountain Road between Santa Fe and Taos.

The road weaves through tiny adobe villages where centuries-old traditions persist. It cuts through the clean pine trees of the Carson National Forest, through fields of sweet-smelling sage and across high plateaus with spectacular views of the arid New Mexico landscape.

But the journey's greatest attraction is that it leads you so near the sky that nothing else seems to matter. New Mexico is known for its spectacular skies, and American author Willa Cather, who set some of her novels in the Southwest, captured their haunting beauty in the novel, "Death Comes to the Archbishop."

She writes: "The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, -- and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one's feet, but what one saw when one looked about was the brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud . . . Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky . . . the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!"

This is the key you'll encounter on your journey down Route 76. Sometimes you'll want to stop the car by the side of the road and just stare up as the clouds rush overhead.

Starting out from Santa Fe, as you wind your way northeast toward Taos, take U.S. 84/285 north for a few miles and turn right on Route 76.

The first village on your route, Chimayo, a late 16th-century Spanish outpost, is now famous for its traditional weavers. They work on ancestral looms, some in their homes, others in small shops.

At the Ortega Weaving Shop, you can watch seventh-generation weavers work. You can also purchase rugs and wall hangings from the adjoining shop.

Down the road a short way, you'll see the El Santuario de Chimayo -- also known as the New World Lourdes. Thousands of the faithful come to visit each year -- many to be cured by the earth in the anteroom beside an altar to which the devout ascribe healing powers. Scribbled testimonies of healings line the walls of the anteroom as do cast-off crutches and braces.

Before continuing your journey, take time to have a meal at the Rancho de Chimayo, located in a 19th-century house where native New Mexican food is prepared from generations-old family recipes. The food is served on terraced patios or in intimate dining rooms.

Continuing down the road, you can stop at the village of Cordova, a town of woodcarvers who sell their wooden figures of Madonnas, saints, coyotes and other animals in their homes.

A few miles further, at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, sits Las Truchas, a tiny farming village established in the 1700s. From this height you can view the deep Rio Grande Valley on one side of the mesa, while the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, dominated by the 13,000-foot Truchas peak, command the other side. The panorama also allows you to view spectacular stormy skies when the heavens turn alley-cat gray and billowing storm clouds sweep across the sky.

Las Truchas, which served as the movie location for Robert Redford's film "The Milagro Beanfield War," is still a sleepy little village. Primitive adobe houses and a church predominate, although the 20th century has invaded in the form of a Santa Fe-style art gallery at the edge of the village.

At the town of Las Trampas (Spanish for the Traps, a reference to the river, which was once a fine place to trap beavers), founded in 1751 by 12 families from Santa Fe, an 18th-century church, the San Jose, predominates. Considered one of the finest examples of Spanish mission architecture, it has an entrance guarded by a heavy wooden door. Inside the tiny chapel, a wooden candelabrum (held together with 20th-century masking tape) hangs from the high-vaulted ceiling. If the church is locked, seek out the caretaker (an easy task in this small village, where everyone knows everyone) for a visit.

As the journey nears Taos, take a slight detour down Route 75 and visit the Picuris Pueblo, settled about 1130. For a small fee you can drive through the 15,000-acre mountain pueblo of the Tewa Indians, or take a guided tour. The Indians never signed a treaty with the U.S. government, so the nearly 300 Tewa Indians still consider themselves a sovereign nation.

Pottery is for sale from the craftsmen's homes, and the annual feast day on Aug. 10 features a food race, pole-climb and afternoon dances. Permits are available for camping beside, and fishing in, the Pu-Na and Tu-Tah lakes.

Coming into Taos jolts you back into the 20th century -- the fast-food joints, the four-lane highway, the commercial strips. But you've just had a glimpse of an earlier time when people moved in rhythm with the changing seasons and the ever-changing drama of the sky.

IF YOU GO . . .

All the major car companies have branches at the Albuquerque Airport. For hotel, motel, and bread and breakfast information in Santa Fe, call the Santa Fe Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (800) 777-2489.

The Rancho de Chimayo (on the High Road) also is a bed and breakfast. Call (505) 351-2222 for reservations. Room prices range from $69 to $105 for double occupancy. In Taos, call the Taos Bread and Breakfast at (800) 876-7857.

For more information on visiting the various Indian pueblos, call the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos at (505) 852-4265.

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