Friday, December 9, 2016

Taking it to Taos

Overlooking the Rio Grande River
From Albuquerque you can run up the highway to Taos and go through some of the interesting desert countryside or you can take the Turquoise Trail up through Santa Fe. Since we’re more enamored of back roads than of freeways when we’re just out to explore, we chose the Trail. Along the Turquoise Trail are some interesting small towns that caught our attention and put us in mind of the old song, Old Hippie.

The Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway is pretty much all you could want in a road for
Along the Turquoise Trail
exploration with its history towns, art galleries, shops, museums, and scenic views that range from desert to alpine. It actually was a mining trail with deposits of turquoise found near the northern end. Turquoise was first mined and used by the early Pueblo people more than 1000 years ago and its beautiful blue-green color still makes it a desired stone. We traveled through Tijeras, with its gateway to the Cibola National Forest; Cedar Crest and the Museum of Archaeology and Material Culture; Sandia Park that leads up the mountain to the back side of Sandia Peak; Golden, that was named for the gold mines that promptly played out; and Madrid, with its tiny shops, galleries and restaurants. It was in Madrid we made our first real stop for, not surprisingly, food. The Mine Shaft Tavern is in an historic building housing an old bar, wooden floors, and an attached coal museum; it’s on the 2005 National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of most endangered historic places. The murals on the wall above the bar remind you of the early days in this area when such a saloon was graced with miners, cowboys, and other dusty travelers looking for a place to have a drink and a meal.

Our final stop before leaving the Trail at Santa Fe was Los Cerrillos. What caught our attention first were the stark white tombstones sitting on a flat above the San Marcos
Top L to R: Los Cerrillos, Public restrooms
Bottom L to R: Italian immigrant's gravestone,
Movie site overlook
Arroyo. We couldn’t decide if we were seeing an actual cemetery or the set from some long ago filmed movie. Once we found a road that led through the arroyo and up the hill, we discovered that this was an actual Catholic cemetery with both new and old gravestones. The ones that were most surprising were for Italians who had been born in Italy, but had settled in Los Cerrillos to become miners. This echoes what we learned on our trip to Utah where we found that many southern Italians immigrated to the US to work in mines of various sorts. Here in New Mexico the focus was on gold, coal, and of course, turquoise and Los Cerrillos has one of the oldest historically documented mining districts in the US. According to the historic society, the little town at one time boasted 21 saloons, many of which were only tents with bottles, glasses and a table for playing cards. To be a ‘high class’ saloon, you had to have ‘upstairs entertainment’. There are still many of the old buildings and a few businesses. The Saint Joseph Church is still in operation, as is the Eaves Movie Ranch where such films as Cheyenne Social Club, the Cowboys, A Gunfight, Silverado, Wyatt Earp, Lust in the Dust, Timerider, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, Red Sky at Morning, Billy Jack, the TV series Empire and several commercials were shot.

We only spent a short amount of time in Santa Fe since it’s on our list for a long visit in the
Top L to R: Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Monument
to Spanish Colonists
Bottom L to R: Wall of the persidio, Panther sculpture
near future, but we did walk around the square and visit the park next to the church. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is a beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral designed in the Romanesque Revival style quite unlike the adobe buildings that surround it. It has the characteristic round arches separated by Corinthian columns and truncated square towers with a large rose window in front. On one side is a lovely park area with an unusual statue that almost immediately attracted my attention. The Monument to the Spanish Colonists of 1598 is a statue of Mary La Conquistadora on top of a column. On the sides of this column are a Franciscan monk, a colonial settler family (man, woman and two children), and a Spanish soldier. The column is decorated with many of the fruits, vegetables, tools, and musical instruments brought to New Mexico by the Spanish colonialists; horse heads and legs are projecting from this section, giving the statue a feeling of movement. Supporting the immigrants are a cow, a pig, a sheep, and a donkey, with poultry and a goat stuck in-between.  The statue was designed by Santa Fe architect Bernabe Romero for the 400th anniversary of the first European settlers and completed by sculptor Donna Quasthoff. There are also several informational plaques that tell about the social development of Santa Fe and recognize the contributions of groups of people. The park and the church sit at one end of the Santa Fe Plaza, a National Historic Landmark in the style of traditional Spanish-American colonial cities. The plaza was originally the center gathering place for commercial, social and political life in Santa Fe since about 1610. Don Pedro de Peralta help found the Plaza within a presidio surrounded by a large defensive wall enclosing residences, barracks, a chapel, a prison and the Governor's palace. These walls are still standing and house shops, and restaurants. Under the wooden awnings artists still set up spaces to sell their wares, much as they did in the early days.

Leaving the Turquoise Trail and connecting with historic Route 66, we headed into Taos. This small town was established in about 1615 by Don Fernando de Taos and although the
Sculptures by Charles Collins
settlers initially got along with the Pueblo peoples, missionaries forcing their beliefs on the tribe, and demands by the Spaniards for tribute eventually led to a revolt. Between 1640 and the 1770s the Taos Pueblo continued to resist the settlers and the Comanche Indians carried out raids making inhabiting the area uncomfortable. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a fortified plaza was built and settlers began to live somewhat peacefully. However, Taos had to weather more rebellions and the Civil War before life calmed down. By the 1900s, Taos had become an artist colony and began attracting creative people from all over. It is now home to many art studios and has examples of these works throughout the town. We wandered through the plaza area poking into shops and people watching. In one small area are two sets of statues that resemble faces when seen from the front and people when you look closely from the side. Ambassadors Meet in Washington is actually the face of George Washington made up of three Pueblo people. It is an original bronze sculpture by Charles Collins that won Taos Best of Show in 2003. If I ever win the lottery, one of his sculptures may have to come live at my house.

Just a few miles outside of Taos is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Completed in 1965, this
Left: Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Right: Rio Grande River
steel deck bridge arches across the Rio Grande Gorge at 565 feet (172 m) above the river; it is the seventh highest bridge in the US and 82nd highest bridge in the world. There is a small park just up from the bridge that gives great views of the bridge and of the river. It’s not surprising that the bridge has appeared in several films: Natural Born Killers, Twins, White Sands, She's Having a Baby, The Signal (2014 film), Paul, Wild Hogs, and Terminator Salvation. We enjoyed walking where we could see the bridge rather than out on it.

From this very short trip to the ‘Land of Enchantment’ it’s apparent that I’m going to have to
Clouds, mountains and desert
schedule substantial time to really explore this area of the Southwest. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

What we ate:

Four carrots
The Gorge Bar and Grill (103 East Plaza, Taos, NM 87571, 575-758-8866) is in the Taos
Top L to R: Menu logo, Burger
Bottom: Grilled cheese
Plaza and is a really good place to rest from walking through the area and also a good place to eat. We had an excellent waitress who was knowledgeable about the menu and had a great sense of humor. Dave was in search of the best green chile burger and he got a really good one here. He said the fries were good but not great. I had a green chile grilled cheese sandwich that was amazing. The half sandwich was more than enough for lunch. The cheese was melted without being drippy and the chile was tasty without being ‘take your head off’ hot. The sweet potato fries were a nice accompaniment to the spice of the sandwich. I really enjoyed my meal. Prices were what you’d expect for a tourist area.
Three and one-half carrots
The Mine Shaft Tavern (2846 NM-14, Madrid, NM 87010, 505-473-0743) is one of those places you have to go to be able to say you’ve been down the Turquoise Trail. Even if you
Top: Bar
Bottom L to R: Pulled pork, Burger
don’t eat here, it’s worth a visit just to see the bar. Dave had an excellent green chile burger. What made it really special were the two hatch chiles that had been battered and fried. The burger was cooked as he asked and he said it was obviously fresh rather than pre-made. I had a pulled pork sandwich that was okay but not outstanding. The sweet potato fries were good. Service, although there were few people in the bar, was slow. The prices were a bit high for what we were served.

What we did:
Four Carrots
Made in New Mexico (104 Cam De Santa Fe, Taos, NM 87571, 575-758-7709) is a cute
Made in New Mexico
little shop with items that are only, as the name implies, made in New Mexico. It’s worth a visit whether you buy something or not. We found a great coffee mug with Southwestern rabbits adorning it, dried peppers ready to be processed and used, and sacks of ground hatch pepper if you like spicy foods. They also have an online presence.

Santa Fe Plaza (63 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe, NM 87501, 505-955-2503) is a good place to wander around soaking up the history and people watching. If you want to enjoy art, there are plenty of galleries; it you’d like something to eat, you can spend a thrifty amount or really splurge; and if you need some retail therapy, your needs will be met.
Three and one-half carrots
Taos Plaza (North Plaza, Taos, NM 87571) isn’t nearly as commercial as those of Santa Fe or Albuquerque, but you can still enjoy all the amenities offered at the other places. It is certainly worth a visit.
Hog-back along the Turquoise Trail
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