Monday, September 21, 2020

When We Could Travel – VII

This is “Chapter 7” (my seventh post) recapping our 2006 road trip to northeastern Arizona, southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.  We really saw a lot on this trip…and the beautiful weather continued throughout.

We’re very hopeful that we’ll be able to resume our exploration of America’s backroads and byways by mid-2021.

The next phase of our backroads wandering in the southwestern USA took us along the “High Road to Taos Scenic Byway.  It’s a winding road from Santa Fe to Taos.  It’s 56 miles along US Hwy 285 and NM Hwy 76, tracing its way through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and then through the high desert to Taos.  The route provides visitors a glimpse of old New Mexico.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains (Spanish for “Blood of Christ”) are the southernmost subrange of the Rocky Mountains.  All of the peaks in New Mexico are over 13,000 feet high.

Our first stop was in the small village of Chimayo.  The Santuario de Chimayo was built in 1814.  The story is that a villager saw a light coming from the ground and when he dug away at it, he found a cross.  He brought the cross to a local church where it was placed near the altar.  The next morning it was gone…only to be rediscovered where it had been found in the first place.  This happened 3 times…and it was decided that the Santuario de Chimayo should be constructed on the site.  It is alleged that the location (actually the dirt at the back of the shrine) has mystical powers that cure illness.  Close to 300,000 people visit this shrine each year.  It is sometimes referred to as the “Lourdes” of the USA and it is perhaps the most important Catholic pilgrimage center in the country.

The village’s name is derived from a Tewa (Native American) for a local landmark, the hill of Tsi Mayoh.  The town is unincorporated and consists of many plazas or placitas (neighborhoods), each with its own name.  The total population is about 3,200.  The village is known for the weaving traditions of both the Ortega and Trujillo families.  Their fame and craft is complemented by others who are tinsmiths, wood carvers and who make religious paintings.  Tourism is big business in this little settlement…

To learn more about these famous families of weavers and to view some of their creations, you can go to and/or

Rolling on up NM Hwy 76, we came to the village of Las Trampas.  This church is the San Jose de Gracia de Las Trampas.  This beautiful Spanish colonial church was completed in 1776 and it is a National Historic Landmark.  The church is one of the least-altered examples of a colonial mission church, with its adobe walls rising 34 feet high. 

The village itself is a National Historic District.  Las Trampas itself was founded in 1751 by 12 Spanish families with a Spanish royal land grant.  It was called “Santo Tomas del Rio de las Trampas” or Saint Thomas, Apostle of the River of Traps”.  An adobe wall originally encircled the plaza providing security for the community.  By the time the church was built, 63 families lived here.  At that time, the village’s residents were described as “a ragged lot…as festive as they were poor and very merry”.  They spoke ‘local Spanish’ mingled with the language of the Taos Pueblo and most spoke some words of the Comanche, Ute and Apache languages.  The village remained largely isolated until the 1920s.

This is Taos Plaza which is in the center of the Taos Downtown Historic District.  Once a Spanish fortified walled plaza with homes and businesses, it now has a park with shady trees, park benches and retail operations made of adobe that cater to the tourist trade.  Historic buildings include several art museums as well as Governor Charles Bent’s former home.  He was the first United States Territorial Governor of New Mexico.  Taos was the home of the Taos Society of Artists and the Taos Art Colony and it still attracts many artists to the area.

Spanish settlers began colonizing the Taos Valley in 1616.  The town itself was founded by the Spanish in 1795 to serve as a fortified plaza and trading outpost for the Native American Taos Pueblo and local Hispano communities.  The town and the adjacent Taos Pueblo were the terminus points for the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro…or the King’s Highway from Mexico City.  Today the town has a population of about 6,000 residents.

Moving on from the town of Taos, we were off to explore close by Taos Pueblo…after which the adjacent town was named.  This is the Pueblo’s cemetery.  The ruin is the remnant of the original church of San Geronimo that was destroyed in the 1847 Taos Revolt.  The structure had been originally built in 1619 by forced labor.  Then it was partially destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and then later rebuilt only to be destroyed again.

The Taos Pueblo people never turn strangers away from their doors because they place great value on courtesy and hospitality.  However, on All Souls’ Day, they spend a day with their families and close the village to any non-Native American.  Residents of the pueblo are only allowed to visit cemeteries on All Souls’ Day or on the day of someone’s burial.  Visitors are never allowed within cemetery boundaries.


         ·         The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was an uprising of the Pueblo people against the Spanish Colonizers.  About 400 Spaniards were killed and the remaining 2,000 settlers were driven out of the area.  It was 12 years before the Spaniards reconquered the province.

         ·         The Taos Revolt of 1847 was a popular insurrection by Mexican and Pueblo allies against the United States’ occupation of present-day northern New Mexico.  While US troops were victorious the struggle did result in the New Mexico Territory forming with proper representation and recognition for the local citizenry through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Catholicism was forced on the people of the Taos Pueblo by the Spanish in 1540.  It is the most practiced organized religion of the community.  The current San Geronimo church was built in 1859 and it is still used today for Sunday mass, weddings and other religious ceremonies.  This church is a great example of northern New Mexican architecture.  Its continual use alongside ceremonial kivas marks the continuation of traditional practices along with new ones… It’s said that the majority of Taos Indians still practice their ancient indigenous religion although 90% of them have been baptized in the Catholic Church.

FYI…a kiva is a room used by Pueblo peoples for rites and political meetings.  In most cases kivas are a large room that is circular and underground, and are used for spiritual ceremonies.

This is part of the Taos Pueblo.  This ancient home belongs to a Taos-speaking Native American tribe of Puebloan people.  The pueblo lies about a mile north of the modern city of Taos.  This pueblo is a member of the Eight Northern Pueblos and its one of the most private, secretive and conservative of all the pueblos.  Natives will not discuss their religious customs with outsiders, and since their language has never been written down, much of their culture is a mystery to the outside world. 

Taos Pueblo is an American National Historic Landmark as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Puebloan families have lived here continuously for more than 1,000 years.  The main portions of the structures are thought to have been built between 1000 and 1450 CE or AD, whichever term you prefer. 

The settlement was built on either side of Rio Pueblo de Taos, also referred to as Rio Pueblo or, more commonly, Red Willow Creek.  The creek’s headwaters originate in the nearby mountains.  Red Willow Creek is the direct and only source of water for the community.  All water that’s used for cooking, washing and personal hygiene must be carried by pail from the creek to each home.

Taos Pueblo includes about 95,000 acres of tribal owned land.  More than half of that land had been taken by President Theodore Roosevelt and it was made into a National Forest.  However, in 1970, President Richard Nixon signed a bill that returned the land to the pueblo.  About 4,500 people live in the area. 

Like many tourists, I suspect that I only took photos of the larger ‘North House’ which is named “Hlaauma” and neglected taking a picture of the South House, aka “Hlaukkwima”.  They are on opposite sides of Red Willow Creek…  Both of these apartment style pueblos are quite impressive but the North House is the larger of the two.

Hlaauma is the largest multistoried Pueblo structure still in existence.  Its adobe walls are often several feet thick.  Originally its primary purpose was for defense.  As late as 1900, access to the rooms on lower floors was by ladders on the outside to the roof…and then down an inside ladder.  When attacked, the outside ladders could just be pulled up.

An historic rivalry exists between the people on the South side of Red Willow Creek (summer people) and those on the North side. (winter people) Foot races, which have a significant religious meaning in the tribe, are a common practice by which the two groups express their rivalry. 

This photo is of Garita Ramirez, a Taos woman who was operating a little shop that sold bread, pie and Indian jewelry.  Shops like hers are part of the resident’s homes… Homes in the Pueblo usually consist of 2 rooms, one for general living and sleeping and the second for cooking, eating and storage.  Each home is self-contained as there aren’t any passages between homes. (Photos of tribal members may not be taken without permission)

As I noted previously, the only running water and actual water source in the Taos Pueblo is Red Willow Creek.  In fact, electricity, running water and indoor plumbing are prohibited in the Pueblo. 

Laurie and I both loved the colorful doors that are scattered here and their throughout the Pueblo...and across northern New Mexico.  It is such a big contrast to the adobe color that the windows and doors become an artistic statement.  Blue indicates one of the 4 sacred directions of Pueblo life…the direction of the Southwest.  The general notion is that blue doors keep evil spirits away.  On the other hand, red doors indicate the direction of the Southeast…

There are a variety of shops throughout Taos Pueblo.  Traditional and contemporary art and craft work as well as food items are available for purchase.  Shops are clearly marked with signs and only homes with signs stating that they are open for business can be entered.

Of course, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, both Taos Pueblo as well as the area immediately around it are currently closed to all visitors.  In ‘normal times’, the Pueblo is open 7 days a week.  Adult admission is $16.00.  Tour guides are recommended.  As they are unpaid volunteers, they rely on gratuities from visitors to the Pueblo.  To learn more, you can just go to     

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by and helping us relive one of our most enjoyable road trips!

Stay Safe and Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. You must be feeling pretty well if you are back to blogging. We didn't have time for the pueblo when we visited the area so I enjoyed your tour.

  2. buildings are simple in the village .... look like in the developing nations.

    But, nature sound beautiful.

    Glad to read your story about your trip to Pueblo.

  3. Awesome post, friend David ... but wanna know how you are doing right now ... please and thank you, hmmm? Love, cat.

  4. Hi ^.^ - Doing OK but as expected recovery from knee replacement isn't much fun! Lots of pain and drug side effects. Getting all of it under manageable control now. Do you have snow yet? It was in the high 70's F here today. Stay Safe and Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

  5. Thanks, Dave, for another great armchair visit to a part of the country we have not visited and since future travel is so uncertain, it's nice to "see" more os the USA that we may get to see up close in a future year. I know that the knee surgery may be tough going for awhile, and hope things will get better over time.