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Taos Storytelling - travel review of Taos , New Mexico

Explore Snow in the American Southwest

by Rachel L. Miller

Everyone in Taos has a story.

taos ski valley
Taos Ski Valley.
© Ken Gallard

But 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.

Sara, 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.

"I will never leave this place," she said with an air of simplicity and understated determination. It's something you hear a lot in Taos.

Many 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.

"The 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."

taos pueblo
Taos Pueblo.
© Rachel L. Miller

The 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.

About 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.

The 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.

And 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?

taos pueblo
Taos Pueblo and the mountains.
© Rachel L. Miller

The 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.

And 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 bug.

Like 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.

"The 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."

Strutting in Ski Boots

taos ski valley
Taos Ski Valley.
© Ken Gallard

Having said that most residents were first lured here by the art, I am now obligated to say that most tourists come for the skiing.

Oddly 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).

Of 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 with skis.

But I gathered my courage, stumbled into the rental facility and shakily admitted to the staff that I had no idea what I was doing.

One 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.

I 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."

And that I did.

The 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.

I, in turn, told her that I learned how to snowplow.

In all fairness, she probably wasn't too impressed.

My 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).

Of 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.

However, 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.

I breathed. And I had fun.

Snowmobile Slowpoke

taos smowmobiling
The author cautiously navigates through Carson National Forest.
© Native Sons Adventures

Since 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.

Not so much.

The 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 Forest.

I wasn't lost, though. Just slow. And plus, the guys at Native Sons would never allow me to get off-track.

Speaking 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.

After 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.

taos smowmobiling
The guys of Native Sons Adventures are persuaded to pose for a photo.
© Rachel L. Miller

Once 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.

We 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.

Soon 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.

So I'm happily able to shift blame for the next twenty pieces I consumed.

As 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 my group.

It was simply exhilarating.

I never expected to enjoy snowmobiling, but I more than enjoyed it, I fell in love with it.

I guess the Taos love bug isn't exclusive to the art world, after all.

A Sense of Peace

Visiting 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.

taos mountain
Taos Mountain.
© Don Laine

But 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.

Be 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 mountain.

Or so the story goes.


Taos Chamber of Commerce
1-800-732-TAOS (8267)
For more information on museums, galleries and other attractions:

Taos Ski Valley

Native Sons Adventures
(also offers whitewater rafting, kayaking in summer)

The Fechin Inn
227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte
Taos, NM 87571
Tel: 505/751-1000

(some of the best food I've ever had - highly recommended)
309 Paseo del Pablo Sur
Taos, NM 87571
(505) 758-1009

Villa Fontana

Old Blinking Light (amazing margaritas and Southwest cuisine)

Grab a drink at the historic Taos Inn, then head to Doc Martin's for a bite to eat.