Top 5 things to do in Taos, New Mexico

Posted by Ariel Zimmerman in New Mexico, Top 5

New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment

A big part of traveling, I find, is allowing your experience to change a small part of you, give you perspective, and clarity. To place you in a new situation, and see what you find. Conversing with people who choose to live where you’re visiting can be an eye opening experience and leaves you thinking. On my annual Tripbound trip to none other than Taos, New Mexico, my travel partner, Garrett, and I met some inviting and open people, who led happy simple lives–very different from back home. The experience as a whole was one to remember. The landscape and hikes were expansive and the time spent with my travel partner and friends was energizing. Dare I say New Mexico was enchanting? So for our adventure & alpine lovers here are my top 5 things to do in Taos, New Mexico.

1. Explore the City & Meet the People

The city: In Taos, everything is located on one main road that travels through town and ends in the ski valley. There are big mountain views every direction you look, it’s amazing. The center of town you find a cluster of shops and restaurants you can meter park by and walk through. When you stay at the Wyndham Taos, this area is only a five minute walk down the road. I found it refreshing that big industry had not yet touched Taos, the town is made up of locally owned shops, restaurants, and even grocery stores. And no, there is not a Starbucks for miles and miles. Most paint their doorways turquoise, in the tradition of keeping evil spirits away, and hang ristras from both sides, a tradition that involves drying the chili’s in the sun, and saving the them for later use. The shops open from 9-11. There is a very relaxed feeling the owners have for opening and closing. You will even see signs saying, “We open at 10, but it’s a miracle if I’m here at 10.”  They all have one thing in common, I found, after talking with locals– they absolutely choose to live in Taos and they love it. The people: Luckily my travel partner and boyfriend Garrett come with me. He sparks up conversations with new people all the time, and is happy go lucky and relatable. We had the opportunity to met some interesting people, most were transplants–visited Taos and never left. Some grew up in Taos, moved away, but hated it and came back. We met people form London, Hawaii, Colorado, L.A., Minnesota, and New York– who all loved the pace and everything Taos had to offer them, and so they stayed. One referred it to the “Land of Entrapment” jokingly going off of their state motto as, “The Land of Enchantment.” Their relaxed manner was refreshing, and people there seemed to be wonderfully eccentric – a contrast from where I live, wearing artsy/bohemian clothing. Most everyone has more than one tattoo or piercing and cowboy hats and hiking boots are the norm. Where to work out: Crossfit Taos – We thought it would be a fun experiment to see how our bodies were effected at such a high elevation to see just how it felt. And yes, during the barbell warm up we were heaving. Luckily we did wall balls and rowing, so nothing cardio at all–sarcasm here. It was a great workout! The owner was originally from Colorado and moved here and opened a gym, he was friendly, personable and walked through the movements with everyone. The people were friendly and easy to get to know. A great experience. Back in my running days, I would have been all over a run through Taos ski valley. Although we did not see many runners, we saw a few cyclists. My guess is that the roads are fast and winding, which makes running a bit dangerous. But it would be a #raverun. Where to get coffee: The Spot was very convenient on the mornings when we got up early. It opens at 6:00am, cooks breakfast, and is on the way to the Taos Ski Valley. The atmosphere like many places in Taos, very eclectic, with a puzzle piece fence and abstract/surreal paintings inside the shop. Elevation Coffee, the shop with the giant red coffee cup out front, became our every day coffee spot. They were open at 6:00am and served great coffee and espresso! The owners also was very talented in making wonderful froth designs. Where to enjoy a great breakfast: Our favorite spot was in the downtown plaza, called Bent Street Cafe & Deli. We sat on the heated patio at a bright colored table. They had friendly service, good portions and delicious breakfast topped with Christmas (In New Mexico you order “Christmas” when your waiter or waitress asks you what kind of chili you want on/in your meal. This is simply red and green chilis, hence Christmas.) My bland german taste buds withstood this assault with a side of sour cream. Where to grab a good meal: I loved the Alley Cantina, they had great chili, great service, and live music every night. This is where we met Aaron, who skied the terrain of Taos and then never left. Taos Mesa Brewery Tap Room is the place to go if you need a break from chili. They had handmade artisan pizzas and of course their  selection of craft beers. Friendly service, industrial-modern atmosphere, and a great place to hang out for the night. I recommend the Three-Peaks IPA, although some locals say that is the beer that makes the tourists sick…I did get sick our first night in Taos, but I believe it was the altitude. Where to get groceries: Cid’s Food Market – was like a Whole foods. We stocked up on some healthy hiking snacks here. There is also a Walmart a few miles down the road going toward Santa Fe.

2. Indulge in Christmas Chili

The chili pepper, red and green is a staple food in the diet of a New Mexican and especially a Taoseno. And so we ate local–chilies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We learned this when we stopped in the small mining town of Madrid along the Turquoise trail, a National Scenic Biway from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. We had our first taste of “christmas” at the quirky The Mine Shaft Tavern. At this spot water was scarce so there was no running water in the bathroom. It also seemed to be a very local restaurant, with gray-bearded cowboys wearing chaps and dusted hats leaning up against the weathered wood, drinking at 1:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday. It was like something out of a movie! This tavern introduced us to life/time in New Mexico.

3. Hike Taos Ski Valley

  • Photo taken right after hearing the bear...omnious!

Exploring Taos ski valley is a must do at whatever time of year you visit Taos, there is always something happening. After a beautiful 15 minute scenic, aspen and rock lined drive from the center of town you arrive at the end of the road, the Taos Ski Valley Resort. Along the way to the resort, there are multiple trail heads from two mile long Williams Lake trail #62, a challenging Wheeler Peak Trail #90 – 7 miles long (one way). The trails’ elevation climb up to 13,131 feet. The gym owner at Crossfit Taos recommended we hike the Gavilan trail #60, 2.4 miles to the top, beautiful aspens, three meadows, and 11,200 feet above sea level. We started our moderate day hike at a 12:00, which seemed almost too late. I recommend going earlier during the Fall. From the trail head to the first meadow, it was steep, with a lot of switchbacks, which we bypassed on the way down due to my irrational fear that a bear may come after us (panic as Garrett would rightfully say). The aspens we’re bright yellow and the sun was just warm enough. It was perfect. Along the way we met three other groups of hikers who gave us updates and how far until the first meadow – yes I did ask if they had seen any wildlife. We made it to the first meadow, it was beautiful, expansive, and worth the steep climb in elevation. As we we’re walking through the meadow I heard an unmistakable bear sound. I am told that bears are more afraid of us, but I believe at the end of the day it’s and animal who I have a 80/20 chance against. So we decided to turn back and go get some coffee in town. (Side note: The locals say seeing a bear up there is a rarity, that they don’t have a high population, and the black bears are frightened of us. So far there has not been a bear sighting on the Ski Valley trails, yet we are in their land so, respect them.) We made it back to the trail head around 3:00. My advice is wear layers, it becomes colder at the top and if you are paranoid about bears like I am, purchase some bear spray from Mudd N Flood.

4. See the Rio Grande Gorge & Earthships

Boy was it Gorge-ous! (Got that zinger from my travel partner…) The Rio Grand Gorge Bridge, is a crazy-big desert bridge. It spans a giant slice in the earth with small amounts of green water at the very bottom and a steep rocky side, where mobs of Big Horned Sheep roam. There are signs warning about big horned sheep, which Garrett desperately wanted to come in contact with. I feel more confident taking on a big horned sheep than a bear. But to his dismay we did not see any. The thing about the desert is, without understatement, it’s so dry you need to drink water before you think you need to drink water and those of you who don’t need to put lotion on, you need to reconsider. A few friends from Boulder, Colorado met us that day to explore Taos. We ended up hiking about a half mile out on a path by the Gorge, the view was stunning, stark contrast to the greens and blues of the east coast, to which I’m accustomed to. The breeze was cool, but the sun was very hot. I ended up suffering from casual heat exhaustion. Moral of the story, fill the camel back to the top and wear a hat. I recommend going earlier in the morning to avoid tourists, sun and lack of parking. We thought we would stop by the hand painted Solar Ice cream Bus Co parked in the parking lot of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. for the famous coffee smoothies. A platinum-haired girl with tattoos and pigtails made us the famous coffee smoothies, they were delicious and refreshing. I definitely recommend you stop there when you visit the gorge! The Earthships This self sustaining colony was a sight to be seen. When you think about the 75 households that span the 650 acres of desert making it largest earthship colony in the world you gain some respect for people choosing to live in such a drastically alternative fashion. The colony is about 12 minutes from where we were staying, right across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. On first approach, the movie Mad Max: Fury Road  and Star Wars immediately came to mind– it looked like it belonged in these movies. We were led by signs to the visitor’s center where there were films, pamphlets, and an “earthship” resident you could talk to. They charged $7.50 for a tour. I don’t recommend taking the tour because they lead you about 50 feet to one house and then it’s the end of the tour, unless you have a keen interest, then you may enjoy it. If you get to a piece of higher ground, and there are no fires that day, you can see just how many earthships span that part of the desert. It looks surreal. If you did not know much about earthships up to this point, like myself, they are self sustaining buildings made of natural & recycled materials with thermal/solar heating & cooling. They harvest their water and electricity and have their own contained sewage treatment. Their goal is to live in a world of self-sufficiency like their founder did in 1969. It’s fascinating! We had just been to the Coffee Bus by the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and a friend had a plastic cup where her coffee smoothie used to be, which she asked to recycle. Ironically enough they did not have a recycling, only trash. So we left perplexed, speculating at what the earthships are really up to. We decided to step out of our normal lives and to get out of our comfort zone to see what a “Full Moon Party” at “The Mothership” is all about. This is something we normally wouldn’t attend. There were fire swords, light up wings, and lots of whomp whomp all around this giant fire.

5. Visit Tent Rocks

The religious site of the Chchiti Puebla and the National monument of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks was my favorite hike we completed while in New Mexico. The National Monument is about a two hour drive from Taos. Driving distances in New Mexico proved to be an enjoyable experience, so contrary to our drives up and down the east coast on 85 or 95. The amount of desert that is visible is extraordinary. Arriving at Tent Rocks at 8ish a.m. there were only a handful of people’s cars in the parking lot and in the slot canyons. They had restroom and picnic tables, it was well taken care of. A man originally from Colorado who found himself living in Taos after his first ski season there recommended we complete both trails that Tent Rocks has marked. We started the 3 mile trail through the slot canyons, to to flat top. It was a wondrous twist through the canyons carved by water contrasted by the pointy layered tent rocks caused by a volcano. The hike was relatively easy, as we were leaving the canyon, 4th graders were climbing up, passing us. I don’t believe they went to the top, as there are narrow walkways and steep cliffs when you climb higher to the top, but the slot canyon portion is pleasant/beginner level hiking and stunning. So worth the drive. On your way back to Taos you can stop by Santa Fe.  

Stay at Wyndham Taos

The location of the Wyndham Taos was a tastefully decorated resort that honored the culture of the area. In a 5 minute walk you could walk downtown, it was nice not having to meter park. We stayed in a Studio unit on the first floor, equipped with a kitchenette, and porch and windows that opened. I always appreciate a nice relaxing breeze. The room had a cozy feel and was nicely decorated with functional furniture, clean towels & sheets, and free of any unwanted scents. The murphy bed, pulled down with ease and we could quickly retract it back into the wall during the day for more floor space. It was very comfortable. The Lobby and upstairs common room were tastefully decorated with the inspiration of the area. It was a beautiful resort, friendly helpful staff and can’t rave enough about the convenience of the location. We will be going back!

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