Taos, New Mexico

Taos was a cool little town, and our first introduction to New Mexico, and in many ways, to the Southwest. We got to put another state sticker on our map- woohoo! Even more exciting, our friend Brad came to visit us for a few days, which was really nice and sorely lacking in our lives.

First Impressions

Architecture

So we had seen pictures of Southwestern architecture, most notably adobe buildings. I was under the impression, though, that this was probably just the historical sections of town or maybe the tourist areas. I was SO wrong! It is everywhere. There are the historic buildings, yes (and you can hardly tell a 200 year old building from a 30 year old building), but it’s also most every home, office, and store. Even apartment complexes, grocery stores, and banks were styled to look that way! This is probably pretty obvious to anyone who has spent time in the Southwest, but it was very new to us.

People

Taos is a town of artists and activists. It definitely has more starving artist types than your average town. We also had a few very odd camping experiences, like coming back from hiking to find a family using our (obviously occupied) campsite like a picnic spot. Weird, but I think that had more to do with the campground than Taos as a whole.

Taos is also is an awesome melting pot of cultures. I went to the Farmer’s Market and most people were at least bilingual. The town was primarily a mix of Native Americans whose families have lived there for the tribe’s entire history, Hispanics who are descended from the Conquistadors, and white folks who are descended from early settlers. There is a really rich, and not always pretty, history to the place that it was fascinating to learn about.

Food

New Mexican food is SO. GOOD. I could eat their green chile forever and on everything (It’s pretty different than what Coloradans call green chile. Coloradans should stop and ask forgiveness from the Hatch Chile gods.). I had so much mind-blowingly delicious food.

Once we had a day or two to explore, Brad arrived! Yay!

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Hi Brad!

Biking

There is a National Monument not far from Taos protecting the Rio Grand gorge. And it really is a GORGE. We spent a day mountain biking along the rim- a 9 mile, mostly flat trip that was perfect for this beginner. We’d gotten some heavy rains, so we had to contend with a fair bit of mud. I learned the hard way: don’t try to ride through it, get off and walk. Other wise you will end up in a bush. Oops. At least it wasn’t a cactus.  Thanks to Brad for all the tips! For the record, he did not tell me to fall into a bush.

Earthships

Taos has a whole community (a subdevelopment, more or less) of Earthships. Earthships are super sustainably built homes that require no heating or cooling, even in the worst weather. They collect and filter rainwater as well as recycling grey water to make your water needs independent of wells or city water. In short, they are off-grid homes. They are built from recycled materials (tires, cans, and bottles) and local materials (dirt, straw). They have huge greenhouses incorporated, and some are even self-sustaining in their food. These greenhouses are warm enough in high-altitude snowy Taos winters to grow banana trees, but super comfortable and cool when we visited midday on a 85 degree day. And, on top of all that, they are beautiful!

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Earthship greenhouse
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Adobe walls decorated with glass bottles
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View of the development
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This one was a sustainable building method they were collecting data on. Check out the walls!

We got to tour one and Nik and I are totally sold. We have enjoyed reducing our impact on the environment through the use of solar and conservation of water during our time in the RV, and an Earthship would take that to a new level. It would also make us feel more prepared in the face of climate change. Now the only issue is finding a place that lets you build these things, a way to get around the water catchment rules in Colorado, and a big ‘ole payment for a house that you can’t build with a mortgage. (For the record, New Mexico is the exception to all of these issues, if we have peaked your interest in doing this yourself. We’d prefer to stay in CO if we can is all.) Hmmm… We are creative people! Stay tuned for our blog in 2030 on Earthship life!  😉

Taos Pueblo

Brad and I went here, but Nik had to work and unfortunately couldn’t join us. Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years by the Red Willow People. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it isn’t ancient history at all, it is very much alive. The tribe was kind enough to invite us into their home and teach us about their heritage and way of life, and we were very grateful. We learned so much!

Taos Pueblo
Five story pueblo. Taos Pueblo is thought to have inspired Southwestern architecture. Each room in the pueblo is a family dwelling, handed down generation to generation.

The tribe still lives more or less in the same way that they did centuries ago. They gather water from the stream, which they treat with reverence and have no need to treat even today. Indeed, the stream is highly respected: the name “Red Willow” comes from the plant that is indigenous to the stream. The stream flows from Blue Lake, which is sacred.

The pueblo still does not use electricity and is only heated with fireplaces in the home. There are earthen wood-fired ovens outside that can reach temps of up to 1000 degrees and are used for everything from baking cookies to firing pottery.

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Oven

The tribe speaks a language called Ti’wa. The language has never been written or recorded, it is passed down orally from generation to generation at home. The Ti’wa dialect is one of five major dialects spoken by the pueblos in New Mexico.

There was a Catholic church that dates from the time of the Spanish conquistadors. I found it very interesting that the tribe sees the Virgin Mary both in the traditional Christian sense, but also as Mother Earth.

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Exterior adobe wall of the St. Jerome Church

The Taos Pueblo is also the site of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when all the pueblos in New Mexico gathered together in an attempt to remove Spanish reign from the territory. The pueblos were successful: the revolt was the only time in U.S. history that a tribe was successful in removing a large group of foreign inhabitants. In 1692, the Spanish conquered the area once again. However, the revolt is part of the reason that the tribe is still on their own land rather than having been forced onto a reservation.

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Ruins of the original St. Jerome Church, destroyed during the U.S. war with Mexico. The ruins are surrounded by the tribe’s burial ground.

I learned a lot of other things, as well, and I hope I am conveying all this accurately and respectfully. You should definitely try to visit Taos Pueblo if you can (and take the tour) and learn from someone who is actually part of the tribe. Their feast days and celebrations, too, are open to visitors. The biggest of the year is coming up on September 30th if you are in the area!

Conclusion

So, yeah, the melting pot that is Taos culture was really neat. I think that it is easy to assume in the U.S. that the only places to visit to explore human history are places like Boston, and that’s totally not true! I really enjoyed learning more about Taos and I’d love to hear if anyone has book recommendations on the history of the area. Plus, anywhere with green chile and biking can’t be bad. 😉

P.S. We miss you already, Brad!

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Taos, New Mexico

    1. Yeah, there is a ton of cool stuff there! It wasn’t really hot, but they were at the tail end of their monsoon season so there was more rain than sun. It’s also at fairly high altitude, so it gets cool at night and in the mornings, which helps. We stayed at a forest service campground just outside of town, which was cheap and pretty, but rough around the edges. We wouldn’t stay there again. We were happier once we moved to Taos Valley RV Park.

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