From the Taos Villas vacation rentals, it’s just a short walk (approximately one-half mile) to the historic Taos Plaza, a short drive to the Taos Pueblo (approximately 10 minutes), and an easy day trip around the Enchanted Circle. Of course, we also have the Taos Ski Valley nearby, as well as lots of sightseeing opportunities.
In the Taos Plaza and surrounding walking area, you’ll find wonderful galleries, shops, and restaurants, as well as a park, museum, and monuments.
Settled by the Spanish colonists more than 300 years ago, Don Fernando de Taos Plaza still retains its original shape. Taos Plaza survived numerous fires that destroyed several older buildings, and it served for decades as the central meeting place in the valley. Now, from May through October, the Plaza is where locals and visitors alike gather for free live concerts on Thursday nights, as well as an authentic Farmers Market each Saturday morning. The shops and galleries that surround the Plaza can be enjoyed all year long.
The Taos Pueblo is considered to be the oldest continually inhabited community in the USA. The Pueblo is generally open to visitors daily, with the exception of about ten weeks in late winter / early spring, and during tribal rituals.
Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community to be designated as both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and as a National Historic Landmark.
Archaeologists maintain that ancestors of the Taos Indians lived in the Taos Valley long before Columbus discovered America, and hundreds of years before Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. Ancient Taos Valley ruins indicate that the Taos Indians lived on the Taos Pueblo nearly 1000 years ago. The main portions of the present buildings of the Taos Pueblo were most likely constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D.
The Pueblo is made entirely of adobe, which is earth mixed with water and straw, then either poured into molds or formed into sun-dried bricks. Frequently the walls are up to several feet thick. The roofs are supported by large timbers (vigas) hauled down from the mountain forests. Smaller pieces of wood (typically pine or aspen latillas) are placed side-by-side on top of the vigas. The entire roof is then covered with packed dirt. The exterior surfaces of the Pueblo must be continuously maintained. This is done by “re-plastering” the surfaces with thick layers of mud. The interior walls are meticulously coated with thin washes of white earth, keeping them clean and bright. The Pueblo is actually many individual homes, built side-by-side and in layers. They may share common walls, but have no connecting doorways. In earlier times, entry was gained only from the top, as there were no doors or windows.
The Taos Pueblo stands at an elevation of 7,200 feet at the village. With more than 1,900 Taos Indians living on Taos Pueblo lands, there are approximately only 150 people actually living within the Pueblo full time. Other families who own homes in the North or South buildings live in summer homes near their fields, and in more modern homes outside the old walls (but still within Pueblo land). Tribal members are employed in a variety of occupations within the Pueblo’s centralized management system. Arts, traditional crafts and food concessions are important sources of employment at the Pueblo, and some tribal members are employed in the Town of Taos.
You can also explore the Enchanted Circle, a scenic byway through nearby valleys, mesas, mountains, and national forest.
The Enchanted Circle winds itself around the highest point in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak. Passing through several historic towns, and near numerous ski resorts and recreational parks, this scenic byway offers spectacular vistas at every turn, plus access to camping facilities, hiking trails, lakes, streams…. plus a view into New Mexico’s fascinating history.
Heading north on the Enchanted Circle from Taos, a short detour takes you to the Taos Gorge Bridge (the fifth highest bridge in the US, and the second-highest bridge on the U.S. Highway System). Travel west on US Hwy 64 to reach the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which spans the Rio Grande at 650-feet. Once you drive over the bridge, on the left is a state park where you can park and hike or walk on the rim. You can also walk across the bridge, and there are several ideal spots from which to take photos.
Head back to the Enchanted Circle, and continue north. Just before you reach Questa, on the west side of the highway is the New Mexico Fish and Game’s Red River Fish Hatchery. Here you can find a good trout fishing opportunity, just below the breeding ponds.
At the end of the Camino Real sits Questa, known for its local woodworkers, tinsmiths, and other traditional artists and artisans. Originally named Cuesta (“the lowering”) by early Spanish settlers because if its location in a mineral-rich caldera formed 25 million years ago, several steep-sided volcanoes surround Questa, providing views of many near-perfect volcanic cones.
Heading east from Questa, the Enchanted Circle runs through the historic Town of Red River. Red River offers you the opportunity to stretch your legs, and also exercise your shopping skills. A family-oriented town with an Old West feel, Red River has something for everyone: saloons, daily staged gunfights, a fine mining museum, a long-running melodrama at the Red River Inn…. and all the souvenir shops you ever wanted. In the center of town, the Red River Ski Area operates its main ski lift during the summer and fall months. The 10,250-foot top of the lift offers a breathtaking view of the entire valley, and access to several hiking trails of varying difficulty dotted with old mining camps.
Continuing east on Highway 38, before twisting its way down into the Moreno Valley the road tops the Bobcat Pass (at 9,820-feet), offering some of the best scenery on the trip… including a stunning vista of Wheeler Peak’s north face.
To the west of the highway, Elizabethtown (dubbed “E-Town” by the locals), built up quickly to accommodate the rush of miners. Once teeming with over 7,000 residents, it’s difficult to imagine Elizabethtown as it once was. At one time, Elizabethtown was the county seat of Colfax County, and the largest settlement in Northern New Mexico, however, it has long since become a ghost town. Early settlers and miners were “squatters” because everything that could be seen for miles was part of the Maxwell Land Grant, and Elizabethtown quickly became the epitome of the Wild West. Today, a small museum tells the story of E-Town’s rich history, but unfortunately, there are only a few of its original buildings remaining.
Continuing on Highway 38, you’ll soon arrive at Eagle Nest. In the 1920’s illegal gambling was introduced to Eagle Nest, which enjoyed its heyday during the 1930’s. Eventually, the town was busted in the late 1940s for illegal gambling, when authorities took axes to the slot machines, breaking them into pieces and leaving the pieces in the streets of Eagle Nest. Gambling continued to go on in the back rooms of some of the businesses after the bust. (Many of the local establishments reportedly even hid slot machines in their bathrooms!) The expansive Eagle Nest Lake offers excellent year-round fishing. In the winter, anglers drill holes through its frozen surface, in hopes of catching rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and kokanee salmon. The ice fishing season typically begins in January, with open water fishing typically starting in April. Eagle Nest still hosts an annual Fish Fest, which began back in the 1930’s. Held each fall, this Fish Fest features not only great prizes but also the world’s only (we think!) Worm-Eating Contest! Today, restaurants, old-timey saloons, lodging, and arts and crafts shops fill the streets of Eagle Nest. The village is now known as a laid-back mountain town, and in recent years has added old-fashioned streetlights, sidewalks, and benches. The Main street (less than mile long) features numerous specialty shops, and Eagle Nest’s Fourth of July celebration features an old fashioned parade, as well as the annual fireman’s barbeque, and one of New Mexico’s largest fireworks displays.
From Eagle Nest, head southwest on US 64, then south on Highway 434, to reach Angel Fire. A busy ski resort during the winter, Angel Fire continues to operate its chairlift for hikers, mountain bikers and sightseers during the summer, and also boasts an 18-hole golf course. “Balloons Over Angel Fire”, usually held over Father’s Day weekend, is an annual hot-air balloon festival featuring an early-morning mass ascension of breathtaking hot air balloons. Festivalgoers can even catch a ride on one of these colorful balloons, and float over the charming town.
Once you return to US 64, you can continue your scenic drive over the high 9,101-foot Palo Flechado Pass, then down into the Canyon of the Rio Fernando de Taos. You’ll find campsites, picnic areas, and many trails through the canyon, on your way back to your starting point in Taos.
TAOS SKI VALLEY and OTHER OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
The Taos Villas are approximately a 30-minute drive from the Taos Ski Valley. There, in the winter you can enjoy downhill skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tubing. In the summer you can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, climbing, rafting, fishing, horseback riding and more. Here are some of Taos Villas’ recommendations for local outdoor activities:
SKIING and SNOWBOARDING
SNOWMOBILE TOUR in the SKI VALLEY
Reservations: (575) 751-6051
HORSEBACK RIDING in the SKI VALLEY
Reservations: (575) 751-6051
HIKING in the SKI VALLEY
HOT AIR BALLOON RIDES
Here are some highlights of the Taos Villas’ sightseeing recommendations.
RIO GRANDE GORGE BRIDGE
OJO CALIENTE MINERAL SPRINGS and SPA
KIT CARSON HOME and MUSEUM
KIT CARSON PARK and CEMETARY
SAN FRANCISCO de ASIS MISSION CHURCH