Tuesday, September 27, 2016

new mexico: aztec to taos

Up and at 'em the next day as we were moving on from Aztec - but not before we stopped in at Aztec Ruins National Monument, right there in the middle of town.  The ancestral Puebloan people who constructed the settlement there were a little later than the Chacoans, building and residing in the complex from the late 1000s until the late 1200s.  The architecture and engineering was very similar to Chaco but there were some flourishes that set it apart, like a decorative band of green stones built into the walls of some of the buildings.

Basically right in the middle of town

More of those structurally-complex corner windows

We explored there for about an hour and a half, walking through lower level rooms still with their original ceilings, climbing down into the reconstructed kiva.  The site is pretty expansive, with the fully excavated West Ruin, with over 500 rooms, as well as the partially excavated, and less (or not at all) accessible to the public, tri-wall sites, mounds and East Ruin.

Original ceilings

The decorative stripes are unusual and not found at Chaco

We had studied our gazetteer closely to figure out how best and most scenic-ly to get from Aztec to Taos, our next stop.  We didn't study it quite closely enough for the first bit of road, however, which ended up being several miles of rather rough dirt and shot-to-pieces signs (County Route 585, for the record, with sightings of a jackrabbit and some desert cottontails).  After that, however, it was smooth sailing.  We were pretty close to the Colorado border so we took a detour up there, following an old narrow gauge railroad from Chama, NM, up over Cumbres Pass, and pausing to admire the views and wet our whistles a bit.

That river is way the way down there

After that scenic interlude, we headed back south, driving through the Jicarilla Apache reservation, over the impressive Rio Grande Gorge bridge and past the truly bizarre Earthship Biotecture compound (fully sustainable, off-grid, science fiction-meets-fantasy-meets green building homes just outside Taos, some available for rent).  

Excellent place to stay in Taos

We checked into our home for the next two nights, Casa Benavides - a wooden floored and ceilinged room (with a truly tiny bathroom) in a former trading post, located within easy walking distance from the Taos Plaza.  Taos was busier than we expected; it is an old town, mostly adobe with a heavy Spanish influence, with narrow streets and heavy "rush hour" traffic on the main drag, and scores of restaurants, art galleries and knickknack shops.  The current town was established in 1615 but the neighboring Taos Pueblo predates it, built between 1000 and 1450.

We walked around for a while, checking out Kit Carson's house and grave, cruising the Taos Plaza and sort of following a self-guided tour I had printed off the internet.  When our stomachs started growling, we found ourselves at the Taos Ale House and bellied right up to the bar.  We had NM micro India black ales, a burger each (green chile cheeseburger for me and a BBQ bacon cheeseburger for H) and shared an order of green chile cheese fries and succulent house-made pickles.  The green chile was milder than what I'd had in Aztec but those cheese fries were so good - we practically inhaled our food.

Pretty local place even on the main street

Good beers and food, a friendly bartender and a chatty local next to us, and when we walked back to the inn, the crowds had cleared out and we had the place to ourselves.  We had one more beer on the porch in front of our room, listening to the raucous crickets and thinking that we'd had another good day and a pleasant introduction to Taos.

Window detail, Kit Carson House

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