A few hours Northeast of Santa Fe and nestled amongst the Sangre de Cristo Mountains lies Taos, a quirky little town with an interesting history and a thriving art scene. We spent our last week in New Mexico boondocking in the Carson National Forest, right outside of Taos, and this was by far our favorite stop in New Mexico. Considering how much we enjoyed our stay here, it’s hard to believe that this stop almost didn’t happen.
After spending a full month in Albuquerque, with multiple day trips taken to Santa Fe, our original plan was to leave New Mexico and head straight for Durango, Colorado. You see, we didn’t choose the best time to be in central New Mexico, as it is typically quite warm there by the late spring months. The days were typically between 95 and 100 degrees in temperature, and, needless to say, we were very ready for cooler Colorado weather by the end of the month.
Imagine our surprise when we discovered that there were wildfires raging throughout the Durango area and that the entire San Juan National Forest, where we had hoped to hike and explore while in Southern Colorado, was completely closed. Wanting to see this area at its best, instead of at its half-closed, smoke-filled worst, we decided to abort our original plan and instead head into central Colorado (instead of Western, where Durango is located). This meant that we would be passing through Taos on the way to Colorado, and we figured this would be a great place to stop for a few days to break up the drive. And, boy, were we right!
We originally only planned to stop for a couple nights, but we loved our campsite and the area so much that we extended it to six nights. While there, we explored a lot of the Taos county area, and may even consider calling these mountains home one day. Here’s a breakdown of our stay in the Taos area:
WHERE we stayed:
The closest spot we could find to the actual city of Taos was about forty minutes away. It was about ten minutes north of Ojo Caliente, the famous mineral hot springs resort. While we didn’t visit the hot springs (womp…), we did utilize the Ojo Caliente post office a few times.
Our site itself was amazing. Tucked beneath and between the trees, it provided the perfect amount of shade and sun. Our solar panels had bright, direct sunlight for at least twelve hours a day, and we had shade around our campsite most of the day as well. We set up our hammock, table and chairs and spent much of our time outdoors, working, reading, playing with our dogs, and more. It was perfect. It was significantly quieter than many of our sites, as we only saw a handful of cars pass by in nearly a week’s time. Here is a link leading to more information about our site: https://www.campendium.com/taos-junction-dispersed.
WHAT we cooked:
We didn’t! Just kidding, but we avoided cooking while in the Taos area because of the heat! It was typically mid to upper 80s inside the RV, but cooking while the sun was shining would have heated our home, so we opted for cold foods instead. We mostly ate salad, and I grilled chicken for our salads outside on our little Webman grill.
WHERE we dined:
We didn’t eat out in the Taos area, but we did stop at a cute coffee shop in the Taos Plaza. There we enjoyed iced lattes and the cute and brightly-colored cafe.
WHAT we did:
We did a lot of exploring around the Taos area, but most of it was actually accomplished within one day. We planned Wednesday as our exploring day and did the following:
This was our first stop of the day. It is a museum located about twenty minutes from Taos, so we made the stop on the way to the city. The earthships themselves are very interesting. They are small homes (typically one or two bedrooms) that are built entirely off-grid and constructed with entirely recycled materials. The walls are made of tires and adobe, and no heating or cooling is required because of their efficiency. These homes collect and clean their own water, as well as creating their own power through wind and solar. There are several communities of these earthships throughout New Mexico (and the world), and we were able to tour the model located at the Earthship Biotecture World Headquarters. Seeing the interior and exterior of the home was very interesting and well-worth the quick stop.
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Our next stop was at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, about ten minutes up the road. This is simply a bridge build over the Rio Grande Gorge, but it offers a beautiful view of the gorge and the river, which was looking pretty empty when we stopped. We walked both sides of the bridge for good measure and snapped some pictures before continuing on.
Taos Plaza and shops
Next, we continued on to the Taos Plaza, which is basically just the historic downtown area of the city. Here, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and museums, all made of adobe and welcoming all passers-by. We strolled around for awhile, pausing at a few shops to admire the local art. We then stopped for coffee (mentioned above), before heading out to drive the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.
Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway
After visiting the actual city of Taos, we decided to drive the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. This drive ascends further into the mountains and through the nearby ski towns in an almost-perfect circle that begins and ends in Taos. We heard it was pretty and offered scenic mountainous views, so we figured we might as well drive it and quell our mountain craving.
After leaving Taos, we passed through the little towns of Arroyo Hondo and Questa, then began ascending higher and higher, until we arrived at a small aqua-colored lake called Eagle Rock Lake. We stopped for a quick stroll and continued on, through the tiny towns of Red River, Elizabethtown, and Eagle Nest. Looming mountains and ponderosa pines lined every inch of the drive thus far, all seen as we drove beside the rushing Red River. We decided to make a stop at Eagle Nest State Park, which mostly consists of the lovely Eagle Nest Lake. Lastly, we passed through the towns of Angel Fire, Valle Escondido, and Shady Brook, before ending the drive back in Taos. The entire thing was about eighty miles in length, and took less than three hours to complete, even considering all of our stops. This was my favorite activity of our stay in Taos County.
Black Rock Hot Springs & John Dunn Bridge
Before visiting Taos, I was scrolling through the Visit Taos Instagram feed, when I stumbled upon a photo of a girl at a beautiful hot spring in the Rio Grande River Gorge. I instantly knew we needed to visit these springs, and we made the time on our last full day in the area. A short, easy hike takes you directly to the springs, which are a comfortable upper-90s temperature. They are located just beside the Rio Grande, while a beautiful view of the river and the gorge can be seen while soaking in the warm, mineral waters.
As if this could not get any better, a hot air balloon company was flying overhead and descended into the gorge, flying directly past us. It was a magical moment I will surely never forget. Before leaving, we stopped at the John Dunn Bridge just down the road for another view of the gorge and the river.
A few more miles down the same road lies another hot spring along the Rio Grande, called Manby Hot Spring. We have heard it’s very similar to Black Rock and is likely also worth a visit.
Things we didn’t get to but still recommend
During our one or two week visits to beautiful places, we almost never have the time to do all the things we would like to do. It simply isn’t possible. However, the following activities were on our list, and, if we find ourselves in Taos again one day (likely), we will be sure to make at least some of these activities happen.
St. Francis de Asis Church
A bit south of Taos lies a historic Catholic church built in 1772. The architecture is in a lovely, Southwestern style, and the church is still in use today. It’s a popular destination for photographers and history lovers alike.
We heard of Taos Pueblo several times prior to visiting Taos, as it is home to a modern Puebloan Native American tribe. The pueblo, which is Spanish for “village,” is considered one of the oldest inhabited communities in the US, and about 4,500 people still live there today. Parts of it have been made into a tourist attraction to drum up income for the community, but it is entirely authentic. It has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Regrettably, we did not visit any of the Taos art and historic museums during our visit, but we have heard that they are each a great place to stop, observe many styles of art, and learn even more about the community of Tos and its artistic culture and history. These museums include Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, Harwood Museum of Art, Milicent Rogers Museum, La Hacienda de los Martinez, Blumenscheim House, and Kit Carson House. Each charges an admission fee of of $7-$10 per adult.
Taos is a lovely, vibrant community in Northern New Mexico. Many visit in the summer to escape the heat of central and southern New Mexico, and still more come to ski in mid-winter. No matter what season you decide to visit, there is sure to be plenty to do in Taos and in the areas surrounding it. We are so glad we stayed in Taos, even though it was not in our original plans. We will surely be back one day to experience the magic of northern New Mexico once again.
Have you been to Taos, New Mexico? How was your experience? Is there anything we missed?! Feel free to share in the comments below!