Galleries, museums draw artsy crowd to Taos

Travel Weekly editor Michael Ardizzone recently toured Taos. His report follows:

t's hard to define Taos, a place that attracts no less than three different types of niche travelers and has several distinct personalities.

For some, Taos is a ski resort. For others, it's a history lesson on Native Americans and frontiersmen like Kit Carson.

Taos also is a community where artists, including Georgia O'Keeffe, Ansel Adams and D.H. Lawrence, have congregated for decades, and where wonderful pieces of art are on display at every turn.

And if none of those interests appeals to clients, then they can sit back and enjoy the stunning backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountains or partake in the variety of attractions Taos has to offer.

Multiple personalities

For awhile, Taos was something of a hippie town -- inspired by the movie "Easy Rider," which was filmed here by former resident Dennis Hopper.

But it also has a more glamorous side. With its typical Southwestern topography and adobe architecture, Taos looks like a western movie set.

So it's only natural that several major films have been shot here, including "Valley of the Sun," starring Lucille Ball, and "The Milagro Beanfield War" (based on the book by Taos resident John Nichols and directed by Robert Redford).

Despite all the phases it's gone through -- ranch town, art community, hippie colony, movie-star retreat -- Taos retains the feel of a frontier town.

The Native American influence is great, as is the legacy of the Spanish, who controlled and settled this area.

The heart of Taos

The center of the town is Taos Plaza, a square of stores and gift shops and a good place to use as a starting point for exploration. A block away is Bent Street, the place to shop for quality local crafts and original artwork.

In and around Taos Plaza is the historic district, where 65 galleries and shops are located. Five of Taos' seven museums are within a five-block area.

High on the list of must-sees is a visit to the Indian Pueblo, three miles north of Taos Plaza, and home of the Taos-Tiwa Indians. This visit was the most memorable outing on my trip to Taos.

The 100 or so people who live in these pueblo dwellings (some structures are more than 1,000 years old) do not have electricity or plumbing because they want to retain the lifestyle of their ancestors; they do drive cars, however.

Several residents have stores selling high-quality crafts and souvenirs. Guided tours are available.

Four miles south of Taos Plaza is the San Francisco de Asis Mission. Built between 1710 and 1801, it's one of the most painted (including O'Keeffe) and photographed (including Adams) churches in the Southwest.

At 650 feet, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the second-highest suspension bridge in the U.S. About 11 miles north of the plaza is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, at 650 feet, it's the second-highest suspension bridge in the U.S. and a great photo opportunity.

Farther north is the Taos Ski Valley, with 73 trails and 12 lifts. The ski season is from November through April.

After a day on the slopes, visitors during late February will appreciate the annual Taos Winter Wine Festival, a major event that features nationally recognized winemakers and sommeliers.

Museums and galleries

Taos has a rich history of resident artists and, naturally, several excellent museums. The migration of artists began with the Taos Society of Artists, founded around 1912.

Writer Mabel Dodge Luhan was a major figure in forming the artistic character of Taos; she enticed artists, including O'Keeffe, to live and work in the area.

Luhan, whose house is open to visitors and also serves as an inn, entertained the likes of Lawrence; "Brave New World" author, Aldous Huxley; and screen legend Greta Garbo.

Also responsible for luring artists to Taos was Millicent Rogers, a granddaughter of one of the founders of Standard Oil, who was drawn there by its landscape and history.

A museum of her holdings, the Millicent Rogers Museum of Taos, showcases Native American artifacts, including jewelry, textiles and paintings.

Meanwhile, the Harwood Museum of Art, which is within walking distance of Taos Plaza, has a gallery devoted to the Taos Society of Artists and features primarily 20th-century art.

Another memorable outing was the Fechin Museum, dedicated to Nicolai Fechin, a Russian-born artist who came to Taos in 1927 and became one of its most influential artists.

Fechin renovated his adobe home himself; it now serves as a museum of his works. In addition to his paintings, his hand-carved furniture and artistic home design are part of the attraction. Admission to the museum is free to guests of the Fechin Inn, located behind the museum.

Galleries are numerous and can be found on almost every street. Art festivals and special exhibits are frequent; consult the Chamber of Commerce for details.

A different kind of museum, the Kit Carson House and Museum, displays period rooms and personal artifacts from the guide and frontiersman who called Taos his home. Carson is buried in Taos.

Taos also has a modern convention center and there are several hotels with meetings facilities. Call the Taos Chamber of Commerce for details.

Contacts :Taos Talk

Taos Chamber of Commerce
Phone: (800) 732-TAOS

Taos Ski Valley
Phone: (505) 776-2291

Taos Convention Center
Phone: (505) 758-5792

Taos Pueblo
Phone: (505) 758-1028

Taos Association of Bed & Breakfast Inns
Phone: (800) 939-2215

Lodging options run the gamut of tastes

TAOS -- When the sun sets, Taos is ready with a variety of accommodations. While the smaller properties don't have standard commission structures, most said they will work with agents.

• Once a hippie hangout, the Laughing Horse Inn is an ideal accommodation for the young and adventurous. This bed and breakfast is famous internationally for its informal, communal atmosphere, but it's not for everyone. Bathrooms are shared and some of the beds are in lofts. Call (505) 758-8350 or visit

• Called an "Earth ship" because of its dedication to environmental principles, but looking more like a spaceship, the Dobson House is a B&B that features two rooms in a home that's solar-powered and was built with recycled materials. Call (505) 776-5738 or visit

• An artist's vision of a small inn is realized in Touchstone, a retreat-type accommodation featuring a wonderful gallery of artist Bren Price's work and her decoration throughout. Call (800) 758-0192 or visit

• Art lovers also will appreciate the impressive art gallery at the Kachina Lodge and Meetings Center. Call (505) 758-2275 or visit

• Don Fernando de Taos is a Holiday Inn property with 126 guest rooms, meetings facilities and a bar that creates a social atmosphere. Call (505) 758-4444 or visit

• Casa de las Chimeneas, located just outside Taos Plaza, offers eight private rooms and suites with first class amenities. There is a wellness center with a menu of spa treatments. Virtual tours are available on its Web site. Call (877) 758-4777 or visit

• Dharma Properties offers luxury guest homes with fully equipped kitchens and fireplaces. Some of the units are themed. Goldie Hawn has even stayed here. Call (800) 828-TAOS or visit -- M.A.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI