in Taos has a story.
© Ken Gallard
these aren't your run-of-the-mill
stories, though. The ones you'll hear from residents
of this northern New Mexico mountain town are the kind
that'll likely raise your eyebrows and in the end, leave
you wondering if fate works overtime here.
a part-time employee at Wabi Sabi (a cool Japanese decor
shop in which I spent too much money), is also a painter,
a welder, a jewelry maker and a mother of a three-year-old
girl. Twelve years ago, she just happened to be driving
through Taos when her car broke down. She sought refuge
in a local bar, and "felt like I'd known these
people all my life." That night, a local family
took her in. The next day, she found a job. And she's
lived in Taos ever since.
will never leave this place," she said with an
air of simplicity and understated determination. It's
something you hear a lot in Taos.
residents will vow the same, and will also make reference
to Taos Mountain, which is believed to either embrace
or reject each newcomer. According to legend, the mountain
will either steal a piece of your soul so that you must
stay in order to feel complete -- or the mountain will
reject you, and you simply won't feel right in Taos,
leading to your departure.
mountain is more of a religion to most people here than
anything else," Sara told me one afternoon over
a cup of steaming tea. "If you're meant to be here,
things just fall in your lap."
© Rachel L. Miller
land, including the famous Taos Mountain, is also sacred
to the first inhabitants of the area, the Native Americans.
And the Taos Indians were also the first artists to
find inspiration in the land. The Taos Pueblo, a series
of multi-storied adobe buildings that have been continuously
inhabited for over 1000 years, is a work of art itself,
rising proudly against the mountain backdrop.
150 people still reside in the structures, which due
to tradition, have no electricity or running water.
The Taos Pueblo was admitted to the World Heritage Society
in 1992 as one of the most significant historical cultural
landmarks in the world.
most rudimentary summary of Taos's colorful past reads
like this: first came the Native Americans, then the
Spanish, then the French fur traders and American adventurers.
then there were the artists. In 1898, two young American
artists -- Ernest L. Blumenschein and Bert G. Phillips
-- were traveling through when a broken wheel left them
stranded on a road north of Taos. This accident led
to the artists spending time in the area -- and falling
in love with it. Sound familiar?
Pueblo and the mountains.
© Rachel L. Miller
two men started to spread the word to other artists
and together they formed the Taos Society of Artists
in 1912. The list is long of those creative types who've
been fascinated (and inspired by) the area -- but just
a few are Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Carl Jung, D.H.
Lawrence and Georgia O'Keeffe.
for those of you who love your art a bit more current
(and in moving picture form), you might remember that
Taos is where mega-star Julia Roberts married Danny
Moder a few years ago -- she has an estate nearby. Yes,
even Julia Roberts has been bitten by the Taos love
clockwork, artists continue to flock to the area. Step
into any of the town's 100 galleries and be prepared
to see a vast array of art in all forms. From Indian
pottery to oil paintings to sculptures to glorious jewelry
and photography, exploring the galleries is a feast
for the senses. And most of the locals (some of whom
are wildly eccentric) will divulge their stories without
hesitation, something I found endearing and fascinating.
best part about Taos," Sara said as she poured
me another cup of tea, "is how open people are
about themselves. We embrace our weirdness."
in Ski Boots
© Ken Gallard
said that most residents were first lured here by the
art, I am now obligated to say that most tourists come
for the skiing.
enough, it was the skiing experience that I dreaded
the most. Having never skied outside of one bad experience
in northern Michigan years ago, I was petrified when
I looked up at the most dominant run of Taos Ski Valley.
I guarded my eyes with a quivering hand and let out
a long breath (which might've sounded a lot like, "Oh
Lord help me" to any passersby).
course, what I was looking at was a double black diamond
run, but the jarringly steep visual made me want to
curl up with a book and a hot chocolate instead of struggle
I gathered my courage, stumbled into the rental facility
and shakily admitted to the staff that I had no idea
what I was doing.
kind employee smiled and said reassuringly, "You're
going to have so much fun, believe me." When I
hesitated, he just kept smiling and helped me put on
my ski boots.
then moved on to Eddie, who adjusted the bindings on
my rental skis. He glanced at me, noticed my apprehensive
expression, and offered, "The number one rule is
to breathe," he winked and shot me a lopsided grin.
"Number two is to have fun."
that I did.
best part about Taos Ski Valley is that there are lessons
available to all skill levels -- from the yellowbirds
like me to the most advanced skiers on the slopes, everyone
has something to learn. I met a seasoned skier who,
after taking a morning lesson, said that she ended up
learning a whole new style. She told me her skiing had
improved dramatically -- and she couldn't shake that
grin from her face.
in turn, told her that I learned how to snowplow.
all fairness, she probably wasn't too impressed.
instructor, Jan, was kind, attentive and most importantly,
patient. Our group had about six skiing newbies and
we conquered all the basics, including the ski lift
(cue ominous music, please).
course, this was the children's ski lift, so we sat
on the miniature chairs and awaited the dreaded moment
when we'd have to disembark. And if things went to plan,
we wouldn't fall.
this plan went awry the moment I noticed my other classmates
toppling like dominoes at the end of the lift. My heart
pounded, I gripped my poles...and sailed past my fallen
comrades. I didn't fall. And darn it, I was proud.
breathed. And I had fun.
author cautiously navigates through Carson National
© Native Sons Adventures
my lack of experience on the slopes made it relatively
impossible for me to be a speed demon on skis, I thought
perhaps I could make up for that on a snowmobile.
reason being? It turns out I'm a slowpoke. Yes, it's
true. During the first hour or so on my morning snowmobile
tour with Native Sons Adventures, I was the second-slowest
in our group, lagging so far behind at one point that
I feared I was somehow lost in the wilds of Carson National
wasn't lost, though. Just slow. And plus, the
guys at Native Sons would never allow me to get off-track.
of Native Sons, I really must mention what consummate
professionals they are -- I felt completely safe and
confident during the entire tour. Joseph Quintana and
his team were a delight; I enjoyed spending the morning
in their company.
learning a bit about our machines, we started our way
uphill, around tight curves on the mountainside with
nothing but a steep drop-off on one side. As far as
the eye could see -- pure wilderness. No roads or buildings.
Just trees, snow and those magnificent mountains.
guys of Native Sons Adventures are persuaded to
pose for a photo.
© Rachel L. Miller
we reached the top of the mountain, we stopped for photos
(with our cameras and Native Sons resident photographer
Carlos Quintana), marveling at the view.
hopped back on the snowmobiles and immediately drove
through a grove of aspens. The slender trees looked
as if they were propping up the sky, heavy with snow.
We moved slowly through the area, savoring the crisp
air and the pristine surroundings.
it was time for a break. We munched on treats brought
by our guides - grapes, chocolate, crackers and more
chocolate. I managed to resist everything chocolate
(because once I have one piece, it's a slippery slope)
until Joseph unwrapped a small Hershey bar and popped
it in my mouth.
I'm happily able to shift blame for the next twenty
pieces I consumed.
we zoomed down more twists and turns through the forest,
I found my confidence growing. So much so that I was
picking up a little speed and easily keeping up with
was simply exhilarating.
never expected to enjoy snowmobiling, but I more than
enjoyed it, I fell in love with it.
guess the Taos love bug isn't exclusive to the art world,
A Sense of Peace
Taos brought me a sense of peace that left me serene
and smiling until my plane touched the ground in Detroit.
And then, like they so often say, all bets were off.
© Don Laine
this quiet, passionate town at the base of the Sangre
de Cristo Mountains is a wonderful getaway, even for
those who don't live and breathe art.
forewarned, though. You'll be captivated by the its
beauty, awestruck by its complex history and perhaps
you'll even have a bit of your soul stolen by its famous
so the story goes.