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Taos

Photo by Ron Cogswell

Taos Itineraries

Taos in 2 Days

Taos brings a triple threat as an arts colony, counter-culture hub, and outdoor mecca

When traveling near Taos in 1898, painter Ernest Blumenschein broke a wagon wheel and never left. The story is both local lore and reality in this mountain town with a captivating character, which has called to everyone from Georgia O’Keeffe to Julia Roberts to ski bums. The town’s independent spirit and scenic surrounds make it fertile grounds for artists, counter-culture, and outdoor athletes—perhaps an odd combination elsewhere, but in Taos it works.

The town’s human history begins more than a thousand years ago, when the Tiwa-speaking people of Taos Pueblo constructed their multi-storied adobe village. Today, the village is the only living community in the United States that is both a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The puebloans are known for crafting leatherwork, such as drums and moccasins, as well as mica-laced pottery. Spanish settlers soon made their homes on the mesa; these lifeways is preserved at Hacienda de Los Martinez museum, where re-enactors weave as the settlers once did. Generations later, founders, such as Blumenschein, modernists like Agnes Martin, and today’s masters, like Ed Sandoval, have cemented the town’s artistic roots. This creative character is on display in downtown galleries and the town’s prolific museums, such as the Harwood Museum of Taos, Millicent Rogers Museum, and others.

The town’s artistic scene is equalled only by its outdoors cred. The Rio Grande del Norte Monument protects the depths of the Rio Grande Gorge—New Mexico’s grandest canyon—the broad sagebrush mesas, and the blue peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southern range of the Rocky Mountains. The 800-foot high steep cliffs of the gorge draw rock climbers, while tumbling waters of the Rio Grande below are a boon to rafters and kayakers. Just a 15 minute drive from downtown, Taos Ski Valley has the best steep-and-deep runs in the state, and the only hike-in terrain. The mountains are also home to Wheeler Peak, the highest in the state at more than 13,000 feet.

In the 1960s, the town’s independent spirit also attracted groups who constructed communes on the mesa. Although remnants of this culture continue today, its become both diluted and ubiquitous as most Taoseños reduce, reuse, and recycle, in addition to building sustainable homes, eating local and organic food, and dropping into one of the myriad yoga studios along the town’s main drag.


When To Go

The best time to visit depends on your interests: Summer is prime season for hiking, mountain biking, rafting, and other water sports. It’s also host to most of the state’s top festivals, art markets, and outdoor concert series. Winter brings skiing, snowshoeing, and Christmas festivities unlike any other destination.

If your interests vary, fall, and September in particular, is the most glorious time of year in the state. As high summer dips into Indian Summer, the weather is temperate statewide. In the mountains, the leaves of aspen trees shimmer golden, and around nearly every corner, you can smell the enticing aroma green chile roasting at farm stands.

How Much Time To Spend

You should plan to spend at least a long weekend in Taos. If you plan to explore

High and Low Season

Summer is prime time in Taos, when the surrounding mountain peaks beg to be bagged and galleries are in full swing. Wintertime is also a popular season, with some of the best Rocky Mountain skiing at Taos Ski Valley. With everyone on the mountain during the day, winter can be a good season to go gallery- and museum-hopping. (However, you should note that they cut back on their hours during that time.) If you’re hoping to visit Taos Pueblo, keep in mind that it closes for cultural observances for 10 week sin February and March. It’s most popular feast day, San Geronimo, is in September, which is a gorgeous time to visit New Mexico.

Weather and Climate

Visitors often mistakenly believe New Mexico has a perennially warm climate. Instead, all corners of the state experience four seasons, with the higher elevations being coated in snow (and the cold temps that accompany it) in winter. The seasons, however, tend to be mild and arid. The state receives relatively light precipitation, most frequently via summer rainstorms and winter storms. It receives abundant sunshine with most of the state receiving blue skies 300 days of the year—some places rack up as many as 360 sunny days annually.

During the winter, temps in Taos can dip into the teens (in Fahrenheit) at night and never climb above freezing during the day. Summers are relatively mild; however, with its high-desert climate, temperatures can vary wildly in the course of a day. Dress in layers, including jackets in the evenings, even during summer.

Events and Holidays

Local Events include:
May (last week): Taos Lilac Festival
May-September: Taos Plaza Live (concerts)
Mid-July: Taos Pueblo Powwow
September 30: San Geronimo Feast Day at Taos Pueblo

National Holidays include:
January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday):     Martin Luther King Day
February (third Monday):   Washington’s Birthday
May (last Monday):  Memorial Day
July (4th):      Independence Day
September (first Monday):  Labor Day
October (second Monday):  Columbus Day (aka Native American Day)
November (11th):    Veteran’s Day
November (fourth Thursday):        Thanksgiving Day
December (25th):     Christmas

Time Zone

New Mexico is located in the Mountain time zone.

To check the local time in New Mexico, click here.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (early March, on a Sunday morning at 2AM). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (late October or early November on a Sunday morning at 2AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’

What To Pack and Wear

As with much of the American West, New Mexico is a casual place both in mannerisms and dress. You’ll find locals and visitors wearing jeans or broomstick skirts with boots in even the most sophisticated fine-dining restaurants and the Santa Fe Opera.

The state’s desert surrounds and high elevations mean temperatures can vary widely. Even for summer excursions, pack layers so you’re prepared when seasonal monsoons or the evening causes temperatures to fall from the 90s to the 60s. Sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and a water bottle are packing musts. If you’re visiting during the winter, temps in northern New Mexico can dip into the single digits (Fahrenheit) and in southern New Mexico in the 30s. A winter coat, hat, gloves, and boots will help keep you comfortable.

If your itinerary includes visits to traditional areas, such as mission churches and/or Pueblos, women should be prepared to cover their shoulders.

What it Costs

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.

HAVE CAR, WILL TRAVEL

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8-10 per hour; gas and insurance are included.

Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities (though not in Taos). Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical — Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

DO I NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.

Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

HOW DO I CHOOSE AN INSURANCE PROVIDER?
Do your homework — check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

CURRENCY

U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.

Coins in wide circulation include pennies (1 cent), nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents), quarters (25 cents). The 50 cent and dollar coins are seen occasionally.

Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so plan to have $20s or smaller bills in hand.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:

RESTAURANTS:

For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.

To complicate matters, many restaurants in the major metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco — are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.

Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill.

HOTELS:

Most bell staff receive $1-$2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5-$10.

Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2-$3 per day and about $5 per day in higher end properties.

At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets, or simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Current etiquette calls for $10-$20 per person, per day for concierge help. Car valet staff expect $1-$2 for delivering you your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.

OTHER COSTS:

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

Getting There

AIRPORTS

New Mexico has a single major airport, the Albuquerque International Sunport. Travelers from New York City can fly directly to/from the Duke City via JetBlue. Most travelers headed to locales in northern New Mexico fly into Albuquerque and rent a car to drive to their final destinations. If you wish to wing your way to other towns, there are a few options. American Airlines offers daily direct flights from Dallas Fort Worth to Santa Fe Municipal Airport, and United Airlines offers flights to/from Denver. (Santa Fe is closer to Taos.)

Getting Around

With far-flung cities and little public transportation infrastructure, the best way to tour New Mexico is by car. For transport between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, there are two alternates: First, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, a commuter train, travels from Belén (south of Albuquerque) to Santa Fe. Air travelers can transfer to rail service via a shuttle to and from the Albuquerque International Sunport to the Downtown Albuquerque train station.

Background

History

The inhabitants of Taos Pueblo say their ancestors have lived on their land since time immemorial. Anthropologists says the Ancestral Puebloans migrated to the area from the Four Corners region around 1000 AD, the date from which they’ve inhabited their iconic multi-storied adobe on the outskirts of Taos. These native peoples first encountered the Spanish in 1540, when Coronado’s expedition arrived. Settlers followed in the early 1600s. This incursion built to a boiling point in 1680, with the Taos Pueblo allied with all those along the Rio Grande Valley in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. They drove the Spanish from these lands; however, the lands were reclaimed only a dozen years later.

By the mid 1700s, mountain men and French fur trappers had discovered the wealth of beaver pelts available in the surrounding Sangre De Cristo Mountains. In 1821, the Santa Fe Trail further opened the area to Anglo settlement By 1846, the United States had begun taking over the territory. On January 19, 1847, the Spanish landowners and Catholic priests incited a rebellion that included Native Americans. The sought out New Mexico’s first American governor, Charles Bent, gunning him down in his home. The U.S. Army quickly squashed the rebellion.

Taos’s artistic fortunes turned when, in 1898 Bert Geer Phillips and Ernest Blumenschein, two painters traveling from Denver, broke a wagon wheel near town. While the wheel was being repaired the town captured their artistic imaginations and they stayed. The duo, along with others, founded the Taos Society of Artists in 1915. This group attracted other artistic types, including Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy, independent spirit, who decamped to Taos where she married a local, Taos Pueblo member Tony Luhan and set up local art salons. Mabel Dodge Luhan’s encouragement—or perhaps arm twisting—led other notable figures, such as GReta Garbo, Willa Cather, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Millicent Rogers to voyage there.

In the 1960s, Taos’s culture took a counter turn, with communes cropping up on the mesa, a character Dennis Hopper (later a resident) captured in the film Easy Rider. That eco-ethos remains today, with local residents tuning in to sustainable housing design and solar energy.

Etiquette

New Mexico is home to 22 sovereign Native lands, including 19 pueblos, two Apache tribes, and the Navajo Nation (which includes several non-contiguous chapters). Each of these self-governing lands has a set of rules and guidelines that govern visitors. Being respectful is paramount. Here are a few quick guidelines.

Tribal leaders may restrict access because of private ceremonies or other reasons. Call ahead to confirm access and event dates.

Tribal dances are religious ceremonies, not public performances. It is a privilege to witness a ceremony. Remain quiet; don’t applaud; don’t touch the dancers. Do not push for answers to questions, because they might address a sensitive issue or event. Communities do not use the clock to determine when the time is right to conduct ceremonies. Acts of nature, as well as the sequence of events (some not for public viewing), determine start and finish times.

Respect the Pueblos as people’s homes. Don’t peek into windows or enter without invitation. Refrain from climbing on ceremonial buildings (kivas) and ladders, and entering cemeteries.

Photography is a sensitive issue. Follow the guidelines regarding fees and restrictions at each Pueblo and/or activity. It is polite to ask before photographing Native people. Sketching and note taking may also be prohibited. When in doubt, ask.

Do not remove artifacts, pottery shards, or other items.

Do not bring alcohol or drugs onto tribal lands.

Cuisine

With much cuisine in the U.S. skewing all-American modern, New Mexico is a bastion of regional fare. Native American ingredients known as the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash), chile, and Spanish/Mexican flavors have all influenced local tastes. When dining on New Mexican cuisine, you’re sure to be asked the state question, “Red or green?” Referring to your preferred variety of chile, the question has a handshake response: Say, “Christmas.” to receive both. The state’s official state cookie is the biscochito, a cinnamon-laced, anise-flavored number popular during holidays. The most common end to a meal is the sopaipilla, a puffy pillow of fried dough typically drizzled with honey. Hungry New Mexicans voted to create two statewide food trails that can guide your travels: the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail and the Breakfast Burrito Byway, since the humble breakfast offering got its start in the state.

As with any food-centric locale, New Mexico is part of broad trends as well. Though it’s quite small, only 5,000 residents, Taos is a hub for fine-dining restaurants

The craft-brewery craze has also caught on, with more than 40 microbreweries dotting the state, including Taos Mesa Brewing, a local microbrewery, and Taos Ale House, a tap room.

Recommended Reading

This list represents titles written by New Mexican authors about New Mexico’s lands, culture, and history.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
The Milagro Beanfield War By John Nichols
House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford
Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez
Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman