Most visitors to Taos find their way to the historic town plaza, Taos Pueblo and the dramatic Rio Grande Gorge without any trouble. But what about the Great World Earthship Biotecture Tour or Kit Carson Cemetery?
The town of Taos, in an effort to make the area’s unique attractions more accessible and to help tourists on budgets, has put together several self-guided tours that are available online at taossacredplaces.com/tours.
Among the destinations are the earthship visitor center, the historic cemetery, the much photographed San Francisco de Asís Church and what used to be known as Outlaw Hill and now is home to the Stakeout Restaurant.
In addition to the self-guided tours, the town of Taos has added a master calendar of events to its website.
“Taos is one of those places where there’s something going on 24/7 and most of it is free,” says town spokeswoman Cathy Connelly. “We really encourage people to go to the site, access the information and be brave” about new adventures.
Visitors to the state often are told they should head to Taos for a day, but once they arrive in the northern New Mexico community, “they say, ‘Oh my goodness, we should have planned for a longer trip,’” Connelly says.
The self-guided tours can help people organize their days more effectively as well as educate them and guide them to the sites that best match their interests.
“We’re much more than a day trip,” Connelly says. “A week here and you wouldn’t hit it all.”
Earthships, those super-green homes made from recycled materials, are no secret. But not everyone knows there’s a visitor center where they can tour an actual earthship.
It isn’t a house so there are no bathtub or bedrooms, but the building is an earthship in every way, says Ariel Bui, who works at the center.
The building generates its own power, uses rainwater and snowmelt, manages sewage on site and even grows food inside and out.
“It’s really as luxurious as you can get,” Bui says, adding that it doesn’t have the exposed tires or can walls for which earlier earthships were known. Visitors can walk through the building and follow a path outside to see a construction site.
There are plenty of other hidden gems in and around Taos, but the full-day tour starts at Taos Plaza, considered the heart and soul of the old Spanish settlement in the Taos Valley. Visit the shops, grab a bite to eat and pick up a copy of the self-guided Historic Taos Walking Tour brochure and other information at the visitor center.
Next, visitors are directed to Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been continuously occupied for more than 1,000 years; and the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the second highest cantilever bridge in the United States, sitting 650 feet above the river.
Other must-see stops on the tour include the Millicent Rogers Museum. Rogers was an heiress, jewelry designer and art patron who settled in Taos in 1947, and the museum features Hispanic religious and domestic arts, pottery paintings, photography and arts and crafts.
La Hacienda de los Martinez, an early 19th-century adobe that gives visitors a glimpse into the rugged frontier life of the region, also is on the tour as is the San Francisco de Asís Church, one of the most photographed and painted churches in the world.
A separate self-guided Wild, Wild West Tour includes some of the same stops as the basic full- and half-day tours, but highlights the destinations’ colorful frontier history, such as the role of the plaza as a fortified center for homes and trade fairs, and the story of Charles Bent, the first territorial governor of New Mexico and the owner of trading posts and wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail.
Also on the tour are the house that Indian scout and mountain man Kit Carson gave his bride as a wedding present in 1843, the cemetery where he is buried and the vantage point known as Outlaw Hill, where bandits once hid out.
The Taos website also includes itineraries for several specialty tours.
Although the itineraries are designed more as a framework for people planning a group trip to Taos, such as for a convention, individuals can use the information to tailor their own visits, says Joan Griffin, a consultant to the town.
“Your entire party can do the kind of thing they want,” Connelly says.
“We run the gamut, I say, from four stars to under the stars, camping to El Monte Sagrado” resort, she adds.
The itineraries include trips focusing on art patron Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Taos, sacred architecture, alternative technologies and Southwest culture and archaeology, as well as a student’s mountain biking tour and a “spiritual quest encounter.”
The sacred architecture tour, for example, takes people to the convent of Our Lady of Loretto and the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, the home and studio of painter Eanger Irving Couse, a founder of the Taos Art Colony.
The Mabel Dodge Luhan itinerary gives visitors a peek into the life of Luhan and her protégés in Taos — D.H. Lawrence, Millicent Rogers and Nicolai Fechin.