Some travelers find the attraction of the High Road to Taos so magnetic that they stop and call the traditional rural New Mexico communities of the Sangre de Cristos, home.
Transplanted British artists Nick Beason and his wife, Lise Poulsen, came to the United States in 1987 and soon flirted with the idea of opening an area gallery.
“We were transfixed. The light, the energy. It doesn’t feel like the rest of the U.S. I feel like I live in New Spain,” says Beason, a printmaker, who shares the Gaucho Blue Gallery in Penasco with Poulsen, a fiber artist, and several local artists. “We came here with the idea of giving back. We’re a tight community.”
|If you go
WHAT: The High Road to Taos Scenic Byway is about 52 miles through traditional communities, national forests and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Exit U.S. 285 in Española, east to NM 76 through Santa Cruz, Chimayó, Truchas, Las Trampas and Peñasco. East of Peñasco, left or north on NM 518 to Ranchos de Taos.
Schedule visits to interiors of outlying mission churches through Holy Family Parish, holychimayo.us.
Camping and hiking: Carson National Forest, Camino Real Ranger District, www.fs.usda.gov/carson.
Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area, U.S. Bureau of Land Management: fishing, picnicking, paddling, camping near Chimayó at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, www.blm.gov/nm.
Beason says he never tires of the natural beauty along the High Road:
“We walk out our door and we’re in national forest. You can walk your legs off.”
His favorite local hikes are in the Santa Barbara Wilderness and around the acequias.
He says that many people discover the area during the High Road Art Tour the last two weekends in September.
Near the beginning of the High Road in Chimayó, biologist and author Patricia Trujillo-Oviedo says her family, original Spanish settlers, has called the area home for seven generations.
Trujillo-Oviedo’s 2012 history book, “Chimayó,” invites visitors to stay at one of the village’s bed-and-breakfast inns to discover and explore. “You shouldn’t have to jam it into a day trip,” she says.
“It’s a land of paradoxes,” she says, describing a favorite 360-degree view from nearby Santa Cruz Lake. “On one horizon you see the old villages and the prehistoric rock gardens and on the other horizon you see Los Alamos and the atomic age.”
In the middle of those landmarks, lies a well of earth at the Santuario de Chimayó that generations of residents, who predate the Spanish Conquest, believe has miraculous healing powers.
“For as long as people have lived here, this has been a sacred place,” she says, recalling a Pueblo origin story of the triumph of good over evil at the spot. According to later legend, the chapel was built in the 1800s when local Penitentes, a Christian brotherhood, saw the flash of a crucifix near the well of dirt.
The influx of pilgrims to Chimayó, especially during Holy Week, buoys some residents and irritates others. “There is definitely a collective energy of all the pilgrims.”
For centuries, the faithful along the High Road have been creating art, carved saints and handpainted altar screens and other panels.
Some religious art is easily viewed in Chimayó, but other art is locked away in the interiors of Catholic churches along the road, such as Nuestra Senora del Rosario in Truchas, built in 1760, and San José de Gracia de Las Trampas, also built about the same time, according to some historians. The church at Las Trampas is classified as one of the best preserved Spanish Colonial churches in the country. Mass is celebrated at the church the first and third Sunday at noon, according to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe website.
Trujillo-Oveido, who is active in her church, the Holy Family Parish, says visits inside nearby churches, outlying missions to her church, are limited, but possible, and must be scheduled though the parish several weeks in advance.
Trujillo-Oviedo and her husband, Marco Oviedo, a biologist and an artist, are committed to area traditions and raise animals with bloodlines that link them to Chimayó.
“People have kept these and other traditions for centuries and found ways to interact with the communities around them.”
Oviedo also does wood carving in the santero style as well as bronze sculptures. Along with other artists, his work is shown at the couple’s gallery, Oviedo Carvings and Bronze.
Wool from their churro sheep is often processed into weavings, blankets and tapestries. Her brother, award-winning artist Irvin Trujillo, carries on the family’s weaving tradition at nearby Centinela Gallery.
Another renowned weaving family, the Ortegas, show their work at Ortega’s Weaving Shop, also on NM 76. Both galleries are on the High Road Art Tour in September.
‘Heal the land’
Sculptor Alexis Elton, who came from New York several years ago to create site-specific art in the high desert, has found another calling on the High Road.
Along with other partners, she farms in Chimayó and Las Trampas at Gemini Farms. The organic farms have a back-to-the-earth ethic, she says. They sell their produce locally and at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market.
Their Chimayó garden farm is part of the Rancho Manzana Bed and Breakfast (www.ranchomanzana.com) at the edge of the village.
“There’s definitely a gravitational pull to this spot. But there’s a greater connection for us,” she says. “In this place of holy dirt, we’re here trying to heal the land.”