Tuesday, September 25, 2012

In Love with Northern New Mexico: Villages, Folk Art and Mountains

When you go to New Mexico, you must travel to Santa Fe and on to the mountain villages of northern New Mexico. Many of the towns and farms were original Spanish land grants and many of the original families have descendants living there.
Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch
When you travel the winding roads of northern New Mexico you will find surprises at every turn. With mountain views, clear blue skies and old adobe churches, the vistas will keep you entranced and pulling out your camera to capture the beauty. But you will also find surprises. Northern New Mexico is home to many artists ranging from traditional carvers to world class artists who have escaped from such art-rich areas as New York and southern California. I love northern New Mexico. Here are some highlights that may just get you thinking about a trip to this beautiful, often untouched area of the United States. 


Georgia O'Keeffe fell in love with the Abiquiu area and you will too. The verdant valleys and fascinating rock formations captured her artistic interest. You can visit Ghost Ranch and take a Georgia O'Keefe "Landscape Tour" to see where she painted. By appointment, you can tour her Abiquiu home. It is simple adobe, traditional for the area. Her studio and home has been left much as it was when she lived there.  Abiquiu can be reached by driving north from Santa Fe to Espanola. Follow signs to Highway 84 to Chama. More on Georgia O'Keeffe's New Mexico.

Fun at Elkhorn Lodge in Chama


The drive to Chama via Abiquiu is a beautiful one, especially in the fall. Whether you want to ride the Cumbres and Toltec excursion train and see golden aspens or relax at the ElkhornLodge and enjoy the sounds of the river, you'll enjoy a getaway to the Chama area. More on Chama.

Santuario de Chimayo


The main draw to the village of Chimayo is the world-famous Santuario de Chimayo, a fascinating little chapel where miracles are said to occur. At Easter, Chimayo becomes a destination for the faithful. The Good Friday procession, the Easter Pilgrimage, is an amazing sight. During Holy Week thousands of pilgrims journey to Santuario de Chimayó.  They leave from their homes, or their cars parked on the roadside, to walk 10, 20, 30, or even 100 miles to reach Chimayo.

Chimayo is also home to traditional weavers who have been there for many generations. Their art is found on walls of homes, vests and coats, and even on tables as runners and placemats.  You'll have the opportunity to visit weavers' studios. We drove down a country path, parked next to an orchard and enjoyed visiting the studio of Irvin Trujillo and his wife, Lisa (Centinela Traditional Arts). 

Ortega's Weaving Shop in Chimayo
Irvin, a seventh-generation weaver, descended from Don Gabriel Ortega, the first Ortega in Chimayo. The Trujillos have been in the area since the latter part of the 18th Century. Weaving has been an important part of Chimayo history and economy since the early 19th century. 

Another great stop is Ortega's weaving shop. Ortega's is probably the best-known weaving shop in the area. Many visitors don't realize that the original family homestead is part of the current building complex.

In the early 1900s the Ortega family opened a general store on the site. They sold weavings as well as everyday items. As more people discovered Santa Fe and the beautiful traditions of New Mexico, the demand for the weavings increased and today, the once general store, sells only the Ortega weavings along with area jewelry and pottery. The business has evolved so that the Ortegas now employ other local weavers to weave garments with their designs.

Truchas Church

High Road to Taos

One of the best ways to experience northern New Mexico is to drive the High Road to Taos. You'll be following Highway 76 most of the way. Map

On the High Road you'll encounter mission churches, little villages, farms and art studios. One of the best times to drive the High Road is in September during the High Road Art Tour. Many of the destinations I am highlighting in this article are along the High Road.

Getting to the High Road from Santa Fe (one way): Coming from Santa Fe and heading north on Hwy. 285/84 turn right (east) onto SR 503. Turn left (north) onto SR 98 (520). Turn right (east) onto SR 76. Continue along SR 76. Turn right (east) on to SR 75 in Penasco. Continue along SR 75. Turn left (north) on to SR 518 and continue along SR 518. The byway ends in Rancho de Taos where SR 518 junctions with SR 68.

Ortiz Carving Shop

Cordova Wood Carvers

If you travel the High Road to Taos, you'll leave Chimayo and travel higher and see a sign for Cordova. Head down into the valley to enjoy this traditional village and their traditional wood carving craft. There are two main shops that are usually open. First, you will come to the shop and home of Sabinita Lopez Ortiz. Follow the sign to the side of the home and a family member will greet you. Once in the shop, you will be wowed by the beautiful carvings done by this family. My favorites are the Nativity scenes.

Farther up the little road, you will find a sign to Gloria's shop. Follow the road up to her home and shop and ring the bell. Hopefully someone will be home so you can enjoy her shop, her award-winning carvings and, perhaps, buy a piece or two to take home.

Leaving Cordova and returning to the main road will put you back on the High Road to Taos. Truchas will be your next stop.

Truchas Buildings


Truchas (Spanish for trout) will surprise you. It is a little village of, perhaps, 1,000 people. The inhabitants seem equally divided between local land grant families and accomplished artists. They live amicably together in a beautiful, untouched, village on the side of a valley with views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

You can visit galleries, photograph the quaint adobe homes and church and walk along the road that will make you feel as though you are hundreds of miles from civilization as we know it. Don't be surprised if a little herd of goats (and one sheep) amble down the road in search of a patch of green to nibble on.

Low Road to Taos (The Rio Grande Gorge)

Taos Gorge
Sometimes in the high desert, you crave rushing water. And a drive along the Low Road to Taos will provide you with just that. The stretch of NM 68 from Espanola to Taos will take you through one of the most scenic areas of northern New Mexico. The Rio Grande Gorge is a deep volcanic canyon running through the rugged high desert of northern New Mexico.

You'll encounter white water rafters and kayakers as you travel. Boating within the Recreation Area can be extremely hazardous. All boaters must register or obtain a permit at the Visitor Center or Little Arsenic Trailhead prior to launching. (BLM). There are outfitters in the Taos/Pilar area.

You'll also find beautiful vistas, a winery or two and fruit stands where you can pick up some fresh fruit from the local orchards.

More Information on Northern New Mexico

New Mexico Tourism
Discovering Santa Fe and New Mexico

Photography copyright: Elizabeth Rose Photography

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful survey of art beyond Santa Fe in northern NM, Liz. I miss my fall trips by motorcycle to these regions. Whether by bike or car, the fall colors can be stunning and it is so stimulating to see the high level of creativity in each of these communities. Thanks for the reminder--