Nestled in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, Taos is known for its spectacular desert and mountain landscapes, but it also boasts a rich heritage and vibrant culture, making it a fantastic getaway for art enthusiasts, foodies, and museum buffs.
Over centuries, the state has been shaped by the Native American, European, Spanish and Mexican cultures, and you can see these influences throughout the area, whether you’re sampling local food, visiting museums, taking in the sights at the Taos Plaza, or meandering through the charming little town of Arroyo Seco. Visitors to the Taos Ski Valley will discover that its rich history makes it an especially intriguing and entertaining place to explore.
The History of the Taos Area
The storied past of the Taos area dates back more than 1,000 years to a time when local Native tribes chose to make their home in the mountains. The Native people of Taos have continuously inhabited the area for more than 1,000 years, constructing adobe villages and towering Taos Pueblo structures that have become a staple in New Mexican architecture. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark, Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community to have both of these designations.
The Spanish came in 1540, and for the next few centuries the opposing cultures of the Taos Pueblo and the colonial Spanish combined (not always peacefully) to create a truly one-of-a-kind, uniquely New Mexican culture in Taos. The Native American and Spanish cultures have continued to coexist over the centuries, resulting in a truly diverse place to live and explore.
Additionally, in the late 1800s, this area saw an influx of artists who were drawn to the colorful desert landscapes and awe-inspiring mountains. Known as the Taos art colony, this group created countless works of the local scenery and people, some of which are still on display in local galleries.
Part of what makes the Taos area so special is the adobe structures, traditional churches, and unique homes that showcase the varied cultural influences of the region. Many come to Taos to photograph or paint these structures, and exploring them is a wonderful way to get a taste of the region.
The Taos Pueblo Church, San Geronimo de Taos, was built in 1850 and is named for St. Jerome, the patron saint of Taos Pueblo. As far back as 1598 the first Catholic priest arrived in Taos Pueblo, and today the majority of pueblo members identify as Catholics, though they maintain strong ties to their Native-American culture. The San Geronimo de Taos structure actually replaced the original church that the U.S. Army destroyed in 1847 during the War with Mexico. On the west side of the village you can still see the remains of that original church, which was constructed in 1619.
The Hacienda de los Martinez, located in the town of Taos, is one of the few remaining “Great Houses” of the late Spanish Colonial period. Built in 1804, the hacienda was the final stop on the Camino Real trade route connecting Northern New Mexico to Mexico City and was also the headquarters for an extensive ranching and farming operation. Today, it sits on the National Register of Historic Places and provides visitors with a rare glimpse of frontier life in the early 1800s.
In 1954, Taos Ski Valley was founded by Ernie Blake, who hailed from Germany and Switzerland. Over time, the town he established would adopt some of the Swiss- and Bavarian-style architecture reminiscent of European mountain towns. Even though the valley is constantly evolving, the new developments stay true to these roots. The Blake, for instance, is the newest ski-in, ski-out hotel in Taos Ski Valley, and provides a luxury lodging experience that reflects the cultural atmosphere of the region — a perfect blend of European and Native influences with views of the mountains from every window.
Culture and Cuisine
Each restaurant in Taos takes local culture and ingredients into consideration while crafting its menu and atmosphere. Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite or settling in for a multi-course meal with loved ones, you’re bound to get a taste of what makes the region unique. For instance, The Bavarian, a cozy Alpine-style lodge at the base of one of the mid-mountain ski lifts, serves up traditional German-style fare and steins of refreshing beer (reopening after renovations this December). The nearby Stray Dog Cantina is known for its spicy New Mexican cuisine, gigantic margaritas, and festive atmosphere. It would be a mistake to leave the area without sampling a serving of the restaurant’s famous green chile.
Down in the town of Taos, there are even more dining options, ranging from casual to upscale. The iconic Taos Inn has been serving locals and visitors (including some celebrities) since 1936 and is made up of several adobe structures that date back to the early 1800s. Many choose to stay here during their trip to get the full experience, but if you choose other accommodations (there are so many great lodging options), you should at least stop in for a meal at Doc Martin’s restaurant located on-site. De la Tierra at El Monte Sagrado uses local ingredients to create tasty entrees such as pan-roasted tenderloin and pan-seared trout.
From pizza at Pizaños to barbecue short ribs at Common Fire, there are plenty of wonderful dining options throughout the Taos Ski Valley that are sure to delight, no matter what your taste buds might be craving,
The Taos area’s local events allow visitors to experience the vibrant culture of northern New Mexico up close. From full-moon hikes to live music performances, wine festivals, and traditional ceremonies, there is always something going on. During the warm-weather months, must-attend events include the 4th of July in Arroyo Seco and Taos Ski Valley, Taos Lilac Festival, the Bacon and Brews Festival, the Summer Wine Festival, and Oktoberfest.
When the weather cools off, don’t miss the Winter Wine Festival, the Taos Ski Valley Christmas Tree Lighting, and the Taos Christmas Eve processional that surrounds the San Geronimo Church. On New Year’s Eve, a Torchlight Parade and fireworks show light up the night, and in March there’s another torchlight parade and fireworks display to celebrate the birthday of Ernie Blake, founder of Taos Ski Valley. Plan your visit around one of these events and you’ll get a deep sense of local traditions, as well as a sampling of the area’s best music, food, and artwork.
No matter what season you visit the Taos Ski Valley, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to delve deeper into the cultural influences that make the place unique. Whether you venture to the valley to attend a festival, ski, or simply enjoy a relaxing mountain escape, you’ll find that the diversity of the food, the architecture, and the local arts give the place a unique flavor that makes a lasting impression and compels people to return for more.
Written by Sarah Strohl for RootsRated Media in partnership with New Mexico.