Taos: crossroads in time

Taos Balloon Rally

by Kerry Dexter

Taos. It’s a small town in northern New Mexico, high up in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. As I write this in autumn, it is a time when cottonwood and aspen take on the their flaming fall colors of red and gold set against the evergreen of pine and fir. Soon will come the snow, but for now the air is clear most days. It’s time for the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, to the south and earlier in October, is justly renown as major international celebration. Though the teams who come to Taos are just as skilled — some of them are the same ones, in fact — and their balloons just a colorful, the smaller gathering has more of the laid back feeling of a county fair than the hustle and bustle of a big event. Watching the crews work to get their balloons aloft and then seeing them sail across the mountain landscape is a fine way to spend an autumn day.

Whether you come to Taos for the balloon rally or at another time of year, there are at least three things I’d recommend you do.

Visit Taos Pueblo. The Pueblo is about three miles north of the town of Taos. You can ride the Chile Line bus there, and it’s a nice walk too, through the quiet tribal lands. It said that the pueblo is perhaps the oldest place of continuous human habitation in North America. It is an active community, whose residents have chosen to create some experiences open to visitors. You’ll find your own reaction and connection to the place and the experience — give yourself time to take it in.

Taste New Mexico cuisine. Blue corn tortillas and green chiles are two major elements of this, along with hot chocolate with cinnamon, apples, roasted pork, spices including comino (cumin) and red peppers. Really, there’s a lot more to it than this and you’ll find plenty of places to try out regional food, from high end restaurants to diners and fast food places. Not feeling so adventurous when it comes to food? Odds are, in Taos even your favorite chain restaurant will offer chiles on the menu in some way.

Spend time on the Plaza and explore the side streets. Taos has been a crossroads of history, geography, and people since people came to live up north of town at the site of the pueblo thousands of years back, They’ve been living in the town area since about 1615. As you watch an evening come in on the plaza, you might get a hint of their ghosts, as you hear children play, as you look at the hotel that’s been here for decades, as you see the art galleries, as you see the hardware store , the bookstore, the people walking by. In summer, there might be a concert; in winter, you’ll see chile ristras and other holiday decorations.

Small town that it is, there are plenty of things to do in Taos — art galleries, book stores, pubs, bars, museums, music sall year around, outdoor fiestas and festivals and hot air balloon rides in warmer weather, and in the winter, skiing up the mountain at Taos Ski Valley and nearby in Angel Fire and Red River. The thing about Taos though is while you certainly may explore all those aspects and enjoy them, perhaps the best thing to do is just — be there.

As a soundtrack for Taos, take a listen to the music of Tish Hinojosa and Robert Mirabal

Mirabal grew up on Taos Pueblo, taking apart wooden flutes to learn how they worked. His work as a musician has taken him down many roads in many countries. For music that was inspired by sources close to his home hear the stories he tells on Taos Tales.

It was in Taos and in Red River that Tish Hinojosa began to write songs and to discover the heart of the vision that would inform her musical imagination of the west and southwest. She recorded her first album, Taos to Tennessee, in Taos.

photograph by Janet Burns, courtesy of Taos Convention and Visitors Bureau

Kerry Dexter is one of five writers who contribute to Perceptive Travel’s blog. You’ll most often find her writing about travels in Europe and North America in stories that connect to music, history, and the arts, and occasionally about such things as butternut squash pizza and fireballs being hurled into the sea.

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