Taos, New Mexico, ushers in a world unto itself where rugged vistas meet cutting-edge biotecture and imaginative Southwest-inspired cuisine. And don’t forget the art. Galleries line side streets and fill the nooks and crannies of this town steeped with Native American, Spanish, and European influences. Anchoring it all, Taos Pueblo exists as it always has: the oldest continually inhabited community in the nation. With all this in mind, here’s how to experience a slice of Taos in just 48 hours.
Living off the grid on Earthship
Rising from the high desert outside of Taos proper, the Star Wars-like Greater World Earthship Community unlocks the secrets of living entirely off the grid. (It’s a slight detour on desolate roads through wide-open spaces of sagebrush framed by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.) Here, passive solar home construction meets eco-friendly practices in what creator Michael Reynolds has called “biotecture.” Sustainable in every conceivable way, these houses are built of natural and upcycled materials — earth-packed tires, glass bottles, and soda cans. Food grows via indoor gardens, and recycled water has multiple uses. A self-guided tour in the visitor center and 10-minute movie explain the design principles involved.
If you’re really interested in living off the grid for a night, rent one or both bedrooms in The Phoenix, a 5,400-square-foot Earthship. Bring groceries because one side of the rental comes with a full kitchen. Lounge on the outdoor patio, and in the evening, put your feet up in front of the waterfall fireplace.
Cross the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Back on Highway US 64 heading into Taos, the mesa abruptly gives way. You’ll drive across the 656-foot-high Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which arches over a spectacular gorge. Stop on either end for a stroll across the pedestrian walkway and a heart-stopping view as you look down onto the river threading through the valley floor. Completed in 1965, it ranks as one of America’s top 10 highest bridges. If there’s time, take the easy West Rim Trail for more mind-numbing views of the steel bridge as it seemingly floats above the chasm.
Visit the oldest community in the nation
Roots run deep in northern New Mexico. On the edge of town, Taos Pueblo remains the oldest continuously inhabited community in the nation — built roughly 1,000 years ago. Its adobe buildings appear much as they did when Spanish explorers first arrived in 1540 and believed the pueblo was one of the fabled golden cities of Cibola. Since there’s no electricity or running water, only five to eight families live in the pueblo full time. But more than 1,900 tribal members live on Taos Pueblo lands and occupy the pueblo’s houses for ceremonial occasions. The poignant graveyard surrounds the remnants of the original bell tower of San Geronimo Church, bombed in 1847 by the US Calvary. For an extra charge, take the 30-minute tour led by a tribal member highlighting the culture, history, and people. Check out the individual curio shops that are tucked into the adobe structure selling mica-flecked pottery, silver jewelry, and bread baked in traditional ovens.
Check into the historic Taos Inn
Directly in the middle of town, historic Taos Inn makes the perfect home base. A national historic landmark since 1982, the inn’s rambling adobe buildings are connected by walkways and courtyards. The spot dates back more than 100 years as the home of “Doc” Martin, the county’s first physician. In fact, his office and delivery room now welcome diners in the restaurant named in his honor. After Doc’s death, his wife, Helen, opened their home to artists and writers, which led to the formation of the Taos Society of Artists. Sip one of the inn’s renown margaritas on the front courtyard patio while noshing on New Mexico fry bread and listening to the night’s local musicians.
Savor Doc Martin’s chile rellenos
Or head to the exceptional Doc Martin’s restaurant where executive chef Nile Marquez has garnered local celebrity status. The stand-out menu features an award-winning wine list, in-house baked breads, regionally sourced beef and trout, and to-die-for desserts. Either way, don’t pass up Doc’s chile rellenos as an appetizer or entrée platter. Blue-cornmeal-beer battered Anaheim chiles come drizzled with chèvre cream and garnished with pumpkin seeds. They’ve inspired devotees to drive for miles just to get their fix.
Begin day two by checking out the local art, then grab lunch
The next morning, across the street from the Taos Inn, pop into the galleries fronted by garden courtyards on Bent Street. Or stroll around the block to the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, commemorating two artists who shared a common vision to bring the European art scene to Taos. You’ll step into one of the loveliest gardens in Taos snuggled up to a huge wrap-around porch, complete with rockers. All looks as it did 100 years ago: the studios of E.I. Couse and J.H. Sharp, their paintings, and original furnishings. Afterward, grab lunch at Manzanita Market, filled with farmhouse-white décor; organic, regionally farmed food; and small-batch ice creams swirled with homemade caramel, local herbs, and fruits.
River raft at sunset, then dine on the river bank
Weaving through the mesas, the Rio Grande is known for world-class river rafting. Declared by Congress as the nation’s first “Wild and Scenic River,” it delivers both tame and thrilling journeys. In the Taos Box, full-day trips plunge through 17 miles of intensity. Mellower Class 2 rapids on the Lower Gorge deliver laid-back half-day floats. Los Rios River Runners, operated by local Cisco Guevara for 48 years, guides a variety of trips. A full day on the river might include the Racecourse with Class 3 rapids, which can swell to Class 4 depending on rainfall. Trip variations add a land-based component of biking or horseback. Guevara’s preferred rafting experience pushes off before sunset when you’re most likely to spot river otter, beaver, eagles, and, if you’re extremely lucky, a bobcat. Dinner, served on the river bank, caps the evening.