After a less than a perfect night's sleep, we planned to head North from Santa Fe to take the scenic drive to Taos. The evening before I digested the thick Official Santa Fe Visitors Guide and decided a drive through the countryside would be a pleasant way to spend our first day.
Before leaving town, we drove along side the famous old plaza just to have a look in preparation for a visit later during our stay. Traffic was crazy and I couldn't believe the city would allow cars and people to mix freely in the narrow streets. We survived the encounter and finally found our way to Espanola where our scenic drive took us off the beaten path into the hills.
The unique beauty of the dry landscape and proliferation of charming adobe and faux adobe buildings made us feel like we were not just in a different state, but virtually a different country. Only yesterday we were surrounded by green - today our world was umber, sienna, sage, and terra cotta accented with turquoise or purple. If there is an opposite of where we live in Oregon it is New Mexico.
At Espanola we followed the signs to Chimayo and Truchas. We found ourselves traveling on a narrow two lane road almost alone. A view point parking area along the twisting mountain road was empty except for us. The vista of desert below and a vast sky above fringed with rolling thunder clouds was spectacular. Road work further up put us off onto a hard pottery colored dirt detour which seemed smooth compared to our experience outside of Lewistown, Montana last autumn. Signs warned of possible "water on the road" when storm drainage rushes down well worn gullies. With an occasional rustic looking house or old church, the scene could have easily been a backdrop for a Western.
There were no real towns or services along the way - just a few small collections of buildings now and then. Because restrooms were in short supply, I finally stopped at what looked like a community center although I wasn't sure because the signs were all in an unfamiliar native language. Rebecca hopped out to ask the older women congregated around the front door if she could use their facilities. A kind woman who managed the building, which turned out to be a local senior center, invited her in and even suggested she stay for lunch.
Back on the ever climbing road, we began to notice a change in the landscape. Much to our surprise, real trees were sprinkled across the hills and green vegetation filled the gullies. Not long after, a sign announcing the entrance to Carson National Forest appeared. By now the hills were covered with pine trees and the landscape looked like the East side of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. After a few miles and a drop in elevation the arid terrain and vegetation returned.
When we rejoined the main highway, we soon arrived at the narrow crowded streets of Taos which we quickly navigated to reach the Taos Pueblo just beyond the North end of town. This pueblo made of real adobe has been occupied by native people for more than 1,000 years. A thick wall surrounds the apartment like groupings of buildings arranged around a large central open area divided by a crystal clear stream. The famous church documented by well known photographers such as Ansel Adams stands just inside the wall. Signs by doorways announce the wares of native artists as well as native food baked in outdoor ovens that look like beehives. The pueblo is only open to visitors during certain times of the year and for festivals. We were pleased to be able to visit this fascinating native community.
In search of lunch, we returned to Taos where we found a delightful open air cafe called The Dragonfly. All through our meal on the sunny terrace, thunder clouds threatened around the edges of the sky. We didn't let the prospect of rain keep us from wandering the quaint old streets after lunch, but with an upcoming festival at the Taos Pueblo there were a few too many tourists for us to stay long.
While driving back to Santa Fe on the "Low Road," the vast landscape and sky took our breath away. Rebecca clicked off hundreds of photos to save the effect of the ever changing light caused by sun, clouds and rain showers.
Just before returning to Santa Fe, we drove by the tent covered open air opera perched on a hilltop. "Perhaps tomorrow night we could take in an opera," I suggested. Standing room for the performance of the Magic Flute starting after sunset at 9 pm was only $10. Rebecca didn't want to commit to anything knowing the visit to The College of Santa Fe would take most of our day. . . and energy.