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Taos is so close and yet so far from the ordinary

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Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Courtesy of Lenny Foster/Taos Pueblo)

Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Courtesy of Lenny Foster/Taos Pueblo)

Feasting at the country’s oldest pueblo, trekking mountains with a llama along to lug the heavy stuff, hiking in 242,500 acres of natural wilderness, and then kayaking the Rio Grande?

What’s not to love about the idea of a summer trip to Taos – be it for a day, overnight or all week?

“We have music every night at different venues. We have galleries, we have museums, we have hiking, we have the mineral (baths at) Ojo Caliente,” says Taos County Chamber of Commerce membership coordinator Lindsey Rowlinson-Elliott.

Some of what Taos has to offer fits into the category of standard New Mexico tourist activities: live music, dining, gallery-hopping and appreciating nature. Some of the options visitors will find in this north-central New Mexico town of about 5,800 people, however, add an extra twist.

Open land

Among the spectacular things to check out: the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, just north of Taos near the Colorado border.

Established as a national monument by presidential proclamation in March 2013, it includes 242,500 acres of land – rugged, open plains averaging 7,000 feet above sea level with a smattering of volcanic cones. The tallest cone is Ute Mountain at almost 10,100 feet, according to the Bureau of Land Management’s website.

There’s trout fishing in the Rio Grande and its tributaries. There’s wildlife watching as well – animals making their homes there include Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and elk, as well as pronghorn, antelope and deer.

Another well-known spot attracting lots of visitors is Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. About 30 minutes from Taos, the spa offers summer specials including a girls’ getaway, a couple’s retreat, and a weekend package with spa treatments and pool time – all at reduced prices.

Luxuriating in the spas can be relaxing, but for a more active experience, trekking can be relaxing as well. And it’s made easy if it’s a llama and not the hiker carrying the gear. Wild Earth Llama Adventures offers customized single- and multi-day excursions to less-visited wilderness areas of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.

Llamas carry the gear, moving at a noncompetitive pace appropriate for all fitness levels.

On overnight trips, guides and hikers set up base camp, then take day trips to lakes and mountain peaks, while guides talk about uses of native plants as well as local wildlife history and ecology, according to the website.

“Hiking with llamas is a great way to get out in nature and explore the outdoors,” says Stuart Wilde, director and head wilderness guide. “Llamas are the perfect low-impact, high-altitude pack animal. Their soft, leather-padded, two-toed feet leave a minimal impact in a fragile wilderness environment.”

Taos Ski Valley offers summer activities such as hiking and chair lift rides to enjoy the mountain scenery. (Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley)

Taos Ski Valley offers summer activities such as hiking and chair lift rides to enjoy the mountain scenery. (Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley)

Ski resort activities

Although it might not be the first destination that pops into one’s mind when planning a summer trip, Taos Ski Valley Resort has summer activities, too.

The summer scenic chair lift ride provides an escape from the heat and an elevated view of mountain scenery.

From the top, there are views of Wheeler Peak and West Basin Ridge. Picnic tables provide a spot to eat a packed lunch, but there are no other facilities there, and through Sept. 1, the resort is open Thursday through Monday only.

Other summer activities at the resort include disc golf, as well as mountain biking through the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. The resort also provides lift access to The Bermnator, a 3.6-mile intermediate biking trail.

On Saturday nights, local musicians play live music at the ski resort, too. “There’s not anybody über famous or anything, but it’s still great,” says Joanie Griffin, president of a public relations and marketing firm that promotes Taos.

San Francisco de Asis Parish in Los Ranchos de Taos has been used as a model by many New Mexico artists. (Courtesy of Los Ranchos De Taos)

San Francisco de Asis Parish in Los Ranchos de Taos has been used as a model by many New Mexico artists. (Courtesy of Los Ranchos De Taos)

Griffin also recommends a stop at the easy-to-overlook San Francisco de Asis Parish in Los Ranchos de Taos, four miles from Taos.

A Spanish colonial church built between 1772 and 1816 with thick, organic curving walls, it has been used as a model by many New Mexico artists. It has been rendered in at least four paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, and it also inspired photographer Ansel Adams.

Also very near the town of Taos is a pueblo of the same name, with close to 2,000 residents. “Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuous inhabited pueblo in the United States,” Griffin says. “Artists sell their artistry right out of their homes. It’s an amazing experience.”

In 1992, the pueblo was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, designating it one of the most significant historical cultural landmarks in the world.

Although this summer’s annual powwow has recently passed, visitors still visit the pueblo for $16 for a day.

Visitors are asked to refrain from snapping photos at certain places on the pueblo because of their sacredness. For more information about arranging a visit, call 575-758-1028.

A llama named Raja licks raindrops off a young hiker in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. (Courtesy of Wild Earth Llama Adventures)

A llama named Raja licks raindrops off a young hiker in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. (Courtesy of Wild Earth Llama Adventures)

On the water

A way to combine river rafting with learning more about pueblo life is to try out Los Rios River Runners’ offering: the Native Cultures Feast & Float.

Los Rios, among the oldest whitewater rafting companies in the state, employs guides whose certifications exceed requirements, according to its website.

While one guide is rowing the raft along a tranquil passage of the Rio Grande, a Native American interpretive guide shares Pueblo history during the 90-minute float. Afterward, passengers eat red or green chile stew, posole, calabacitas, fry bread and Indian tea, served by a Pueblo Indian family. A pottery demonstration or dancing can be arranged to cap off the night.

With all of that to do, Taos is a destination worth checking out.

“There are so many different activities for every age group,” Rowlinson-Elliott says. “It’s a really great way to get a vacation in New Mexico.”

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