Sunday, September 2, 2012

Taking the High Road to Taos

The High Road or the Low Road: that is the question:
Whether 'tis bolder in the mind to endure
The curves and climbs of mountainous roads,
Or to take byways along a river of rapids.

We chose the curves and climbs of the High Road, a 70-mile scenic
back road from Santa Fe to Taos that passes through old Spanish villages and the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The drive starts at the junction of NM Highway 503 about 15 miles north of Santa Fe on U.S. Highway 84/285 and continues on NM 503, NM 520, NM 76, NM 75, and NM 518.

Soon after leaving 84/285, the road soon climbs out onto dry, eroded hills dotted with juniper and piñon pine. In about ten miles, the highway reaches Chimayo, a small village shaded by large cottonwoods.

At some points on the drive, the road took on the appearance of the track of a roller coaster approaching a steep drop.

The views along the way were somewhat obscured by clouds and haze, but they hinted at the presence of some stunning vistas.

One of the villages that we passed through was the tiny settlement of Las Trampas, founded in 1751 by twelve Hispanic families. The villagers financed and built their church by contributing a sixth of their annual earnings as well as performing all the work themselves. The church with its massive four-foot-thick walls and two towers was completed in 1776.

"The church that they built, San José de Gracia de Las Trampas, has been called 'the most perfectly preserved Spanish Colonial church in the United States.'

"In 1966 parishioners, citizens, and historians saved San José de Gracia from bulldozers when NM 76 was widened. Its mayordomos (church stewards) and parishioners received national recognition for maintenance of their church. Every two or three years the community remuds the structure, assisted by volunteers from near and far.

"Its outside choir loft and wooden bell towers are particularly notable" ( The church was not open, so we had to leave without seeing the beautiful altar screens, painted by well-known artisans.

The village, like others along the High Road, have become the homes of artists and their galleries.

We soon came to the village of Peñasco and the San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church.

We continued on to Taos, passing through the Carson National Forest.

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