Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten - High Road to Taos


The High Road to Taos is a scenic mountain route that wanders through old Spanish villages high in the foothills of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. (Map) From Santa Fe we went north to Pojoaque, and then northeast on route 503, and on up state routes 76 and 75, and finally up 68 to Taos. On the way we stopped at Santa Cruz Reservoir; Chimayo with its famed weavers and Santuario de Chimayo, the Lourdes of America; Truchas and Las Trampas with their lovely mission churches and charming B&Bs; Alicia's Restaurant near Picuris Pueblo for lunch; and finally at Rancho de Taos with its world famous mission church.

View of the High Road to Taos Looking Back Toward Chimayo (September 16, 1999)

This view of the High Road to Taos is an example of what I call New Mexico's "manageable splendor." It is the kind of grandeur one can grasp, unlike the Grand Canyon which is too vast to really comprehend.

I took this picture mid-morning on a fine September day. We are looking south southeast. You can see the mountains on the horizon and the state road winding down the center of the picture. In the center foreground is a dry arroyo running below and along side the road.


September 16, 1999

Santa Cruz Lake (Reservoir)

New Mexico was filled with unexpected joys, and Santa Cruz Lake and state park was one of them. I had not planned to stop there or even known it existed. And driving across the high desert plateau as we were, I certainly did not expect to find a lovely lake as we started into the mountains east of Cuyamungue. But we saw a sign and took a chance on a washboard dirt road.

I am standing at the edge of a camping area, which was empty except for one camp trailer.

Unlike your rear view mirror, everything in the West is more distant than it looks.


Weavers of Chimayo

Driving north from Nambe, we passed through an area of affluent homes and then up onto dry, rocky hills dotted with juniper and piņon pine. A few miles further, we reached Chimayo, a small village (pop. 1,400) shaded by large cottonwoods, and which someone has ungenerously described as "a dusty junkyard clinging to both sides of the road."

Founded by the Spanish in 1598, Chimayo has long been known for its weavers. In the early 1800s, residents of Santa Fe petitioned the King of Spain to send over skilled weavers to teach the craft to the frontier settlers. Two skilled weavers, the Ortega brothers, made the journey and settled in Chimayo where they have taught their craft for the ensuing eight generations. Chimayo has since been known for weaving and Ortega is one of the best known names in the field. Irvin Trujillo is a 7th generation Cintinela Weaver.


The Cintinela Weavers of Chimayo

September 16, 1999

Somewhere on the High Road to Taos

The strange and wonderful wind carved rock formation behind me caught my attention.

Similar formations are common in Arizona (see My Sedona or My Monument Valley for example) and Colorado (see Garden of the Gods for example), but they are relatively rare in New Mexico.




Nuestra Seņora del Sagrado Rosario Mission Church
Truchas, New Mexico

Built about 1805, Nuestra Seņora del Sagrado Rosario is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, and contains a treasure of Santos, Bultos and other artifacts collected by generations of worshipers.

Truchas is a strikingly beautiful little village (pop 1,000) that sits on the edge of a canyon high up in the Sangre de Christo Mountains at 8,400 feet. Settled in 1754, the community prospered almost immediately. It is home today to many artists, weavers and wood carvers.


September 16, 1999


Photo courtesy of Vicky Markley

A Pretty Little B&B near Truchas

While exploring Truchas, I learned that the movie, Milagro Beanfield War, was filmed there.

We also found the Rancho del Llanos, a pretty little B&B. I wish I had known about it because I would have liked to stay there. Perhaps next time.

[I was impressed that owners Vicky and Mark Markley will bunk your well mannered mare if you happen to be riding by and want to stay over night. How many Hiltons offer that level of service?]


San Jose de Gracia Mission Church
Las Trampas, New Mexico

Dedicated to Saint Joseph and complete about 1776, San Jose de Gracia is a National Historic Landmark, and has been called "the most perfectly preserved church in the United States."

"Erected between 1760 and 1776, this is one of the best-preserved and most representative examples of the Spanish Colonial churches in New Mexico. Interior decoration includes paintings on carved wooden reredos and sidewalls and under the balcony."

Visits may be scheduled by calling Holy Family Parish at 505-531-4360.


September 16, 1999



The Altar
San Jose de Gracia Mission Church

Las Trampas, New Mexico

For some reason, this church had a special appeal.

I know I was taken by the exterior balcony, a rarity among the mission churches I visited. Authorities differ as to its purpose. Some claim it was for the choir during outdoor ceremonies. Others are less sure. The role of the ladders is also uncertain.

Across the way is a Southwestern art shop, La Tiendita, which is owned and operated by David Lopez. Senor Lopez recommended and I bought a wonderful book on Southwestern mission churches. Also, he recommended Alicia's Cafe for lunch. It is run, he said, by "this big Canadian." We ate there.


Alicia's Cafe
Highway 75, Penasco, New Mexico

Standing with me is Marvin MacAuley, the owner of Alicia's Cafe and a perfectly delightful and entertaining host. You can probably tell, I liked Marvin.

"When in the Southwest you should eat Southwestern," Marvin said, and recommended his Taco Burgers. He admitted they are a lot like fajitas, but he said, he doesn't sell fajitas; he makes Taco Burgers.

According to Marvin, he is a full blooded Cree Indian who was born in the Yukon and worked in the mines before he quit drinking and moved to New Mexico in 1971. The restaurant is named for his daughter, who, like his son, is a college student.


September 16, 1999


September 16, 1999

Penasco from the High Road to Taos


Email: Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten