People are intrigued by Taos New Mexico. The town has a rich history from the Taos Pueblo which dates back at least a millennium to a rich art scene that goes back over 100 years. For some travelers, it’s a destination, for people visiting Santa Fe, it’s often a day-trip or even an overnight. We have been visiting and writing about Taos for years, seeing the sites that we’ve learned about from tourism sources, travel guides, magazine and newspaper articles and the Internet. On a recent visit to the historic town we were fortunate to get a tour from a local* who took us off the beaten path in Taos.
Going off the beaten path in Taos
San Francisco de Asis
We started our tour at San Francisco de Asis, a church in Ranchos de Taos that has been memorialized by countless artists and photographers including Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams.
Rancho de Taos Plaza
The plaza surrounding it is hundreds of years old and many of the original buildings are still standing. Actor/director Dennis Hopper, a resident of Ranchos de Taos for years (he’s also buried here), shot some of the scenes in his 1990 film Catchfire co-starring Jodie Foster here. If you want to learn about the Plaza’s history, stop into the Two Graces Gallery and chat with owner Robert Caffazo. He’s a wealth of knowledge.
Towns, villages and hamlets in Northern New Mexico are dotted with moradas. These were and are places of worship for the Penitente Brotherhood, a Catholic lay organization. The controversial sect believes in recreating the passion and death of Jesus. At one time they practiced self-flagellation. We visited a few on our Taos odyssey. The first one, close to town, can be seen from the former home of Mabel Dodge Luhan, the doyen of Anglo society in Taos in the early 20th century. Luhan’s house guest Georgia O’Keeffe did a series of paintings of this black cross at the morada in 1929, her first summer in New Mexico. It also appears in D.H. Lawrence’s writings.
From the Morada, we walked a path on a right of way through land belonging to the Taos Pueblo. The Stations of the Cross are laid out along the way. At the end of the path is a second cross. The black cross, according to our guide, symbolizes Christ’s death and the one at the end of the path represents salvation through accepting Christ as your savior. When Dennis Hopper owned Luhan’s home in the 60s, he had both crosses restored and resurrected.
A famous grave
We visited another morada outside the Ranchos de Taos. Jesus Nazareno Cemetery, where we discovered actor Dennis Hopper’s grave, directly behind the Penitente building. His simple grave mound is decked out with colorful tributes including empty liquor bottles. I bet he would have loved it.
We ended our day looking at petroglyphs adjacent to the Rio Pueblo de Taos. According to our guide, this is considered a sacred site by the Pueblo people. These rock carvings used by American Indians to communicate as there were no written languages. They’re an amazing window into the past.
We really enjoyed our afternoon going off the beaten path in Taos.
*Our guide for our off the beaten path Taos tour was Robert Caffazo of the Two Graces Gallery in Rancho de Taos.