We are thinking that a trip to Taos through the Southwest is a religious experience if you let it all in. Massive skies continually compliment the vast deserts bordered in the far distance by an ever fascinating array of mountain shapes along with wild zany rock passages often stacked with one huge artful boulder precariously balancing on the rest.
We commenced through the dainty, hazy pastel landscapes of California. Immense patches of pale buff colored earth whizzed by sometimes populated with countless bundles of dark sage green that in the wind bounced across the highway like clowns. Approaching Arizona, collectives of rock multiplied into a dazzling display of fancy formations sporting pale rose and peach along with sienna and umber. Now and then some passages of yellow ochre. Opening out onto the next desert expanse we met limitless Saguaro Cactus families, some ancient, over 20 ft. with many arms on down to the short single stem newbies that seemed to circle around the elders like toddlers. All the while the earth colors are darkening to rich red Terra Cotta and brilliant orange as we pass Sedona.
Hours have gone by since we stopped early on at Dateland near Yuma and indulged ourselves with one of their world famous Date Shakes and scored some bags of their luscious fruit. The building is like a well stocked warehouse next to the commanding rows of imperial date palms standing like a small country all their own. Inside we found a tasting area similar to a winery where we could try each variety. Zahidi, small dark crunchy and robust. Halawi, larger and noted for a full bodied taste. Honey Dates, ultra plump, gooey and sinfully sweet. Order from Dateland
Next came New Mexico where suddenly the character of the landscape flared brilliantly with color and thrilling formations. There is no denying the magic. Strong unforeseen hands welcoming with native chants and a soft floaty little flute beckoning in the background. We passed the most ancient settlement in North America, the Acoma’s Sky City, sitting camouflaged on the top of a fine mesa. They will take you up there in a rickety Volkswagen bus to visit the legendary potters and see their satiny black and exquisitely patterned pots that now demand shockingly high prices.
We were noticing, all along the roadside, the terra, the earth colors as we passed Albuquerque that looked pale brown and ochre and then to the area near Cochiti and Santa Domingo Pueblos were there is a change in the terra to a soft shade of green. Santa Fe terra delights with a festive fanciful shade of pink that transforms their classic architecture into irresistible castles with such a distinctive personality. When the rains come in the spring, all these colors can be seen as they bleed tracks on the highway.
Soon the road becomes very serious. There is a merry belt of apple orchards that now stand bleak and snow laden. The craggy patchwork of dynamic rock formations begin to loom dramatically around the car seeming to close in on our tiny transport. White, white with snowy pillows tossed light and sparkling on everything. And then the big experience begins. A first sight of the power of the The Gorge, the lightening bolt that cuts through the region of Taos by the mysterious even violent hand of some ancient God, is transforming. It cradles the precious Rio Grand river that now slides frozen except for a mildly boiling deeper grey center. The encounter is so memorable. The sense that something momentous is unfolding is so overwhelming. The mood elevates to a state of elation and excitement. Maybe it’s the altitude that now hovers around 7200? Some say it’s the uranium in the soil? Could have been that we made the trip through predicted blizzards escorted with a miraculous safe passage?
Then onto the Legendary Taos Inn considered by some as one of the crossroads of the Universe. Originally an adobe compound built by the area’s only Doctor it now evolved into a one of a kind experience that features rich architectural styling decorated with signature Indian rugs and artifacts, Spanish embellishments and finally the work of artists that run from famous to simply eccentric.
We have come to the Inn to stay for several days and enjoy the New Year’s Eve Party that draws the most imaginative collection of people from all corners of the world. Top notch skiers and now snow boarders blow in from France and mix with Russians, Japanese and South Americans to form a top note to the mélange. Old time writers originally from NY and beyond sit sipping Scotch or Bourbon next to exotic Asian women dressed as natives with mind blowing turquoise jewelry and glossy black hair streaming down from bright colored bands on the forehead. Famous rock singers arrive with retinue that includes fur hatted groupies all red cheeked, laughing with flashing white teeth. A fine array of locals, outrageously hip while subtle artists, smooching couples melting into one, and families with small children, complete the outlandish blend. Massive doses of beer and good tequila are passed out. Some dance to the Cowboy Band featuring a compelling female base player who moves so well while kids play with the toys that decorate the huge two story great room.
In the center is a gloriously ornamented Christmas tree with thousands of lights that goes from floor to ceiling and is crowned with a bunch of balloons waiting for midnight.
But before all this and after a restorative night’s sleep we arose early and dashed out to Michael’s Kitchen for one of our favorite foodie highlights in Taos, their sublime Huevos Rancheros and Sopapillas with lavender honey butter. Sitting warm inside looking out the lace curtains at the enormous snowflakes that danced lazily down in a sparkling shower and thinking, there is really no substitute for the rich hot and sweet chili produced in this region. Notable is the chili from a tiny town in the hills called Dixon. Order this online for the best of the best. The Chili Shop
So the Huevos at Michael’s does present with a generous slosh of red and/or green chili. If you want both you just say “Christmas”. The frijoles, long cooked pinto beans, are creamy with a taste of savory mellow smoked pork and nested on artful blue corn tortillas. Even the eggs are rich and dark golden, then the whole thing is sprinkled with cheese and passed under a broiler to melt.
All this is set off with an order of the heavenly and renowned Sopapillas. These simple flour fritters swell up so huge and achieve an ultra thin crispy crunchy skin that is said to be due to the extreme elevation? These are pierced and then filled with luscious dollops of lavender honey butter.
Now out and about we traversed the Plaza picking up some pinon incense to take home and savor later, then went again to love the Fechin House with it’s terra blanca adobe and the miraculous interior completed by it’s artist maker who became exalted for his woodcarvings. This is now The Taos Art Museum and houses a superb collection of all the early artists who made this tiny town an important center for American art of the 20th Century.
Next we drove to the timeless Taos Pueblo laying quietly in a giant blanket of glittering lightest beige colored snow. All the lovely farms, leading up to the ancient 4 storied dwellings, look vacant, their brilliantly tended summer gardens have disappeared behind a fierce winter.
The deep chocolate brown of the Taos terra eternally sparkles with tiny flecks of mica. Distinguished portals in the various shades of blue from deep navy to bright turquoise add striking accents. We are told the Indians will dance on New Years Day as is their long time custom starting at 8:30 am. It has been reported that the weather dropped to 18 below overnight? Filing out of the church the men aged 12 years to 100 will be naked to the waist and ornamented with striking feather headdress including some cherished green parrot feathers and a fox pelt at the waist in back. Fine doe skin leggings and lavish anklets of bells complete the outfit and often include a Spanish shawl tied around as a skirt. Carrying rattles in each hand, they perform the Turtle Dance that is a blessing of their Kivas and an honoring of the newly elected elders. It is said that attending this dance does make the new year blessed with good luck?
We take the road past The Pueblo further to the Bridge over the Gorge. Walking this is always a psychedelic experience with out drugs! Suspended high above the Rio with all the majesty of the cut earth now sheathed in powdery snow, the illusion is drastic, almost flying with the eye of the eagle. Worn out now we get some rest and plan to dine at Graham’s Grill well know for it’s gifted Chef, Lesley Fay. More later...