Above/feature: In the background at right-centre is the sacred Pueblo Peak (Taos Mountain) with a light dusting of autumn snow.
The following takes place entirely within day 7 of our time and drive through the American Southwest.
In a daylong trip from Santa Fe, we’re in Taos for the first time where we meet with nature photographer Jim O’Donnell, whose writings also appear locally in The Taos News. We also marvel in the hamlet of Embudo the collection of paraphernalia associated with American automobile culture at the Classic Gas Museum.
Our drive is on the Low Road in both directions. It’s no real surprise we’re in the Taos area longer than anticipated, but we leave the area a little earlier to catch a couple of sights back in Santa Fe as we must depart the following day for Arizona. It’s curse and benefit, wanting (or needing) to stay in one place for an extended duration with the anticipation of a return, because there’s much more to see and learn.
On the Low Road to and from Taos
- Rio Grande, near Pillar
- Taos, elevation 6967 feet / 2124 metres
- Taos Pueblo, elevation 7200 feet / 2195 metres
- Rio Grande Gorge, outside Ranchos de Taos
- Classical Gas Museum, Embudo
- Ohkay Owingeh
- Estimated total drive distance: 144 mi (232 km)
From Santa Fe, drive north on highway US-84/US-285 to Española. Follow the signs to Taos, and the road changes to NM-68 north. With light traffic and no stops, the drive takes at most 90 minutes. For us, our arrival in Taos at 8am means we’re in time to put the brakes on the hunger. Taos Diner II satisfies a craving for breakfast burritos: they’re massive and they’re delicious.
Rio Grande, near Pillar
In the autumn “shoulder” season, what few other cars there are on the highway in the early morning are local and regional commuters, some of whom are heading in the opposite direction, southwest to Santa Fe. Accompanying state highway 68 to the side is the Rio Grande river, looking like a “normal” river than a deep carved canyon.
The Spanish word “Taos” is derived from “tə̂otho“, which means “in the village” or “at the village” in the Taos language.
As much as people talk up (or down) the differences between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, I get the impression there are less talked-about differences between Santa Fe and Taos. The landscape appears remote, a rugged semi-arid desert with a river gorge on one side and steep mountains on the other. At about 7000 feet, Taos and her 6000 residents seems quieter and more laid back than the state capital. Some key activities revolve around getting high on cultural endeavours and winter activities. What we learn after a short walk through town with Jim is that the historical impact of Spanish colonization is still felt in the area, but moving forward to shaping a positive and productive future incorporates combined energies of the creative, indigenous, post-colonial, reconciliatory, and the spiritual.
A sign at the plaza reads: “Capitan Hernan Alvarado and his conquistadors from the famous Francisco Vasquez de Coronado expedition arrived here on 29 August 1540 AD/CE. The indigenous Tiwa people likely settled in the surrounding valley two centuries earlier around 1350.”
An old sign at the cemetery reads: “The original cemetery was established in 1847 when Dona Teodora Martinez Romero donated land for the burial of American soldiers and civilians killed during the Taos Rebellion. The burial ground was first called El Cemeterio Militar (The Military Cemetery). In 1852, additional land was purchased to enlarge the cemetery which was then the only burial ground for non-Catholics, and was known as the American Cemetery. In May 1869, when the bodies of Kit Carson and Josephine Carson were buried here, the cemetery was renamed the Kit Carson Cemetery. Also buried in this small cemetery are soldiers who served during the Mexican War of 1846, the Taos Rebellion of 1847, the Indian Campaigns of the 1850s, the American Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. Many early Taos traders, merchants, as well as members of early Spanish, French, and American families are buried here.”
The accumulation of adobe since its introduction by Spanish colonizers is very real, an ongoing process of continuous mud coatings onto original buildings since the 13th-century. Two groups of mud-brick buildings are central to the indigenous settlement called Taos Pueblo. The Pueblo is home to about 150 people who live here all year without electricity or running water; there are about 1000 people of the Taos who live outside the Pueblo. Living spaces are stacked on multiple floors, and each level is accessed with wood ladders. Both Taos Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo assert they’re the “oldest continually inhabited” communities in the U.S.. Human presence in the Taos area goes back 1000 years, and the main structures in the Taos Pueblo were built between 1000 and 1450 AD/CE (ref). For ongoing historical significance, Taos Pueblo is the only indigenous site in the United States to be recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1992).
Rio Grande Gorge, outside Ranchos de Taos
We drive south on the Low Road (NM 68) on the return to Santa Fe. To the west we can make out the S-curves carved by the Rio Grande river. The next time we’re in the area we’ll make time to head out onto the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
Classical Gas Museum, Embudo
We missed seeing the signage on our way north to Taos. But on return to Santa Fe, we find the sign by the road, and we’re soon in the thick of fuel pumps, a diner building, brand decals, and the warm glow of neon signs. For more about our visit, click here.
Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo)
The earliest indigenous people arrived in the early 13th-century from southern Colorado to settle in the area, establishing the Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo). After Europeans established their foothold on the continent, the first capital in the Spanish colony of New Mexico was founded in 1598 as “San Juan de los Caballeros” near Ohkay Owingeh; in 1610, the colonial capital was moved to Santa Fe. Ohkay Owingeh became the northern terminus of the Royal Road (El Camino de Tierra Adentro), which began in México City and served as a vital north-south road for trade and communications in the Spanish colonial territory of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
I made all photos above on 11 October 2018 with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime. Thanks to AB for making this memorable trip possible. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-f77.