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A Southwestern USA Expedition: The Low Road to Taos


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The highway north out of Santa Fe is a pleasant drive through dusty, brown hills studded with juniper bushes that passes by the traditional pueblos of Tesuque and Pojoaque. At Pojoaque the so-called High Road takes off into the mountains but we held our course on the Low Road until we arrived at Vivác Winery, located right next to the highway. We had never known there were wineries in New Mexico, but apparently the Spaniards began planting vineyards soon after they colonized the region in the early seventeenth century. The modern era of winemaking in New Mexico began with the discovery that hybrids of French and American cultivars grew well in the dry, high altitude environment. Despite the proximity to the cars racing by it was a very idyllic place with rows of orderly grapevines and heavy bunches of unripe grapes hanging from a wooden trellis. They grew a surprising variety of red wine grapes, many of which were totally unfamiliar to us, and we shared a flight of single varietal wines and sampled the tantalizingly beautiful chocolates that were made on site.
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We took a short detour from the Low Road down Highway 75 to the tiny town of Dixon which was reputed to have a thriving artist scene. We found what seemed to be a completely deserted ghost town with a couple of closed galleries and a row of beautiful adobe buildings. We strolled around the dry, gravelly streets for a while and saw no signs of human life whatsoever.
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At this point it was just another half hour dive to Taos so we decided to go for it. I had scheduled a night in Taos on our original itinerary but ultimately decided that there wasn't enough of interest to merit the additional eastern detour. Now here we were going there anyway on a day trip. Although the name is legendary among ski resorts the only place of particular interest to us in the summer was Taos Pueblo, which we knew to be closed for COVID. We decided to see if we could drive by the pueblo anyway and at least see it from the outside. Taos proved to be a disappointment, seemingly an average colorless midwestern town albeit with more art galleries than one would expect. We drove around for a while hoping to find some area that was quaint or alluring but ultimately found it far less interesting than Steamboat Springs, where we had spent our only ski vacation. The access road to Taos Pueblo was closed denying us any opportunity to even get close.
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I hadn't done much research on the Taos area since I'd stricken it from our itinerary, so I scrambled to find an alternative to justify the journey as there wasn't anything in Taos that seemed worth getting out of our car for. Fortunately I stumbled on mentions of the Rio Grande Gorge and the Earthships Community, which proved to be very worthwhile destinations. The Rio Grande Gorge is a deep canyon through which the great Rio Grande flows for about fifty miles through northern New Mexico en route to Texas. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is a steel arch bridge that is one of the highest in the US highway system, six hundred and fifty feet above the river at one of the deepest parts of the gorge. There are parking lots on either side of the bridge and it's a short walk to the midpoint with great outlooks over the narrow chasm. Just as with the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, it is hard to comprehend how such a slender ribbon of shallow water was able to carve such a ferocious trench in the earth. It provides some humbling perspective on the tiny flash of our existence on this earth when compared to the millions of years nature needs to effect real change on the landscape.
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Just a couple miles past the bridge on Highway 64 is Earthship Biotecture, the original community of sustainable buildings that were christened Earthships by the visionary architect and founder Michael Reynolds. From the highway it appeared as though we were approaching a colony established on a distant planet, as the buildings looked like nothing else I had seen in our own world. The only thing I could compare the architecture to is the Gaudi creations of Park Güell in Barcelona, although I think the resemblance is purely accidental. The ingenious design of the buildings becomes more apparent as we approached closer on foot. The main principle of Earthship construction is that the homes should be as environmentally sustainable as possible. Towards that end they rely largely on solar and wind energy for climate control and power and on recycling of waste for building. The basic units of construction are discarded tires filled with compacted earth and walls or bricks made of recycled bottles and cans, with the gaps filled with concrete or adobe. The final result is extremely different from traditional architectural aesthetics but also very beautiful in its own way. Water conservation and sustainable organic food production are other important elements of Earthship life. While the community of sixty buildings we were now visiting was the original assemblage of structures created and inspired by Michael Reynolds, the concept has spread around the world and there are now Earthships on five continents. We had arrived too late to see the interior of the building that is open for self-tours, but we greatly enjoyed studying the whimsical and colorful exteriors. If we ever return to Taos, we'll strongly consider staying in one of the Earthships that is open for short-term rentals.
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I had planned on taking the High Road from Taos back to Chimayo but somewhere along the way Google Maps switched me back to the Low Road and by the time I realized we were off course it was too late. Instead we retraced our course on the Low Road all the way back to Española and then headed east on Highway 76. It was an interesting drive through wooded working class residential areas interspersed with the occasional art gallery. Our destination was Rancho de Chimayó, a legendary outpost of New Mexican cuisine. We already had a dinner reservation in Santa Fe but we hadn't had a real meal since the farmers market and we were starving. The restaurant occupies most of a sprawling, colorfully decorated hacienda on the outskirts of the small town. The large parking area was already filling up but we were fortunate to be early arrivals and we were shown to an outdoor table on an upper level. Mei Ling suggested I cancel our reservation in Santa Fe but I had been highly anticipating that dinner at one of the city's most recommended restaurants. Instead we restrained ourselves and ordered just enough food to assuage our hunger. We ordered modest portions of salsa and sopapillas and followed them with salad and trout. We then had to rush back to the highway to make our dinner reservation and missed our chance to see the town's other landmark, the Santuario de Chimayo church. And of course, Mei Ling was right as usual. The highly recommended tapas restaurant near the plaza proved to be barely average.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 01:47 Archived in USA Tagged taos chimayo family_travel travel_blog friedman tony_friedman family_travel_blog earthships

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