New Mexico’s rich Hispanic heritage and Pueblo Indian traditions are revealed as you head north through valley towns and mountain villages. Take the High Road to Taos, but watch carefully for signs, since it’s easy to make a wrong turn on this route. Start on US 84/285. Turn right on NM 503 to NM 76. This takes you to the village of Chimayó, famous for its weaving tradition and the Santuario de Chimayó, located off of a well-marked side road. This “Lourdes of the Southwest” is visited by thousands of pilgrims drawn by the alleged healing powers of the “miraculous dirt” found in a corner of the 19th-century chapel.
Your route then ascends past nearby forests and through several Hispanic villages that have changed little over the centuries. Worthy stops along this route include any of the galleries in Cordova, Truchas, and Ojo Sarco, and the Spanish Colonial church at Las Trampas. Area specialties include pottery, quilts, rugs and wood carvings. Side roads lead to campgrounds and hiking trails. At Peñasco, take NM 518 as it winds through the Carson National Forest. NM 518 intersects US 68 at Ranchos de Taos, known for adobe-buttressed San Francisco de Asis Church, as favorite subject of Georgia O’Keeffe and other artists.
Next stop: Taos, historic meeting ground for Pueblo Indians, Spanish settlers, mountain men, and frontier scouts. Today there are scores of galleries, restaurants, and shops to choose from, along with several fine museums. Like Santa Fe, Taos is built around a plaza, from which you can walk to many attractions. On the outskirts of town is Taos Pueblo, with multistoried adobe houses built more than a thousand years ago. Other side trips take you to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge on US 64, a stunning overlook that sometimes affords a glimpse of soaring eagles, and north via NM 522 to the San Cristobal grave of D. H. Lawrence, one of many famous writers who’ve found inspiration here.
Return via NM 68. You’ll cross a wide mesa where there’s brief but spectacular view of the Rio Grande Gorge, a knife-thin slice in the earth cut by the river as it meanders all the way from Colorado. As the road drops, it follows the Rio Grande through a narrow canyon. Embudo is a historic railroad stop where you can enjoy a riverside meal beneath tall trees. For several miles along here, the river’s boiling waters attract rafters and kayakers from around the world.
The area between Embudo and San Juan Pueblo is renowned for its farms. You’ll see roadside stands selling fresh fruit, corn, juice, and chiles during growing season. A short detour takes you to the pueblo, which welcomed the first Spanish colonists to the area in 1598. A tribe-owned shop and several artists’ studios sell handmade craft items.
Turn south at Española on US 84/285 for your return to Santa Fe. If it’s still afternoon, take a short side trip (which includes an easy hike) by turning on NM 503 to Nambe Falls, one of the area’s true natural wonders. This is about a 165-mile round trip.
Map of North Central New Mexico
#1: West on the Jemez Mountain Trail
#2: Northwest to Georgia O’Keeffe Country
#4: East to Las Vegas
#5: South on the Turquoise Trail
Five Santa Fe Trips
Santa Fe, New Mexico