El Santuario de Chimayó
Published November/December 2013
Taking the High Road
Relive northern New Mexico’s history through art, religion, and pueblos on a drive between Santa Fe and Taos
The 1969 cult classic Easy Rider brought the counterculture of Taos to the silver screen, but Taos was counterculture even before it was cool.
The High Road to Taos, a scenic byway that connects Santa Fe to Taos, reveals northern New Mexico’s intriguing subcultural diversity — from offbeat towns with curious names that speak to long Spanish legacies, to the ancient roots of many pueblos, some still inhabited by tribal people today.
Check Out Chimayó
Begin your journey 27 miles north of New Mexico’s capital city, in Chimayó at the famous Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante. Here it’s easy to order a traditional New Mexican specialty (there’s a delicious variety on the menu), but it’s difficult to choose between fiery red or savory green chile to top your order. If you can’t decide, order like a local and say, “Christmas,” which means both.
Depart the restaurant on County Road 98 (Juan Medina Road), head half a mile southeast, and turn left on Santuario Drive to El Santuario de Chimayó. Take a step back in time as you push open the heavy doors, smell the burning candles, and admire the colorful retablos (devotional paintings) and bultos (religious figures carved out of wood). These forms of artistic expression were popular in Spain, and early Spanish conquistadors brought their religious practices to New Mexico in the 1600s.
From El Santuario, backtrack on Santuario Drive to Highway 98. After about a mile, turn right onto State Highway 76 and drive east for just over 2.4 miles to Oviedo Carvings and Bronze. Many art galleries dot the High Road to Taos, but here you’ll have the opportunity to tour the gallery and studio and meet the artist, Marco Oviedo, and (if you’re lucky) chat with his wife, Pat, whose family has lived in these parts for more than three centuries.
Scenic Side Streets
When you return to Highway 76, drive just over two miles northeast to County Road 80. Here you can decide to stop in Cordova or continue on, as this is a town of tangled, narrow, medieval-like streets and alleyways, where even the 1832 adobe St. Anthony’s Catholic Church is difficult to find. But if you’re adventurous, this Quemado Valley community, known for its santeros — carvers who fashion saintly figures from piñon wood — is reminiscent of villages in Spain. However, if you are not so daring or are driving a long vehicle, skip this stop and continue on.
Country Road 80 stretches 2.4 miles before reuniting with Highway 76, and less than three miles from this point you’ll reach Truchas (Spanish for trout). It was here that Robert Redford filmed key scenes of The Milagro Beanfield War, a story about the struggle to preserve New Mexican culture. This village is known for traditional crafts, including weaving and local pueblo pottery.
Driving through the countryside you’ll pass small villages, including Las Trampas. Stop by the San José de Gracia Church — the 18th century adobe’s buttresses and wooden belfries make perfect photo ops against mountainous skyline.