It has been said that the San Francisco de Asis church in Rancho de Taos, NM, above, is one of the most photographed churches in the world. I don’t know if that is true — somehow I think St. Peter’s in Rome or Notre Dame in Paris might lay claim to the title — but I’ve added to the photo total with these images. It has been a busy couple of days as we wind down our 12-day trip to the Southwest. The church is a classic example of the adobe structures common to this part of the U.S. The walls are thick enough to double as a fort, and people were known to hide there during troubled times in the past.
We wrapped up our stay in the artists’ enclave of Taos with a good dinner on Friday night at a popular local spot called Love Apple after our day of touring Ghost Ranch, covered in the prior post. On Saturday morning Pat and I opted to walk 10 minutes from our hotel to Taos Plaza for coffee and a light breakfast only to be pleasantly surprised there was a farmers’ market that day. The quality of the produce made me wish I had a kitchen to use! But we were able to grab a non-spicy vegetarian breakfast burrito from a vendor that was quite tasty and enjoyed the scene. I also picked up a few Mexican style sugar cookies. It’s these types of unplanned experiences that make travel worthwhile for us.
After that we made the stop at the church pictured at the outset before setting off to Santa Fe via the very picturesque High Road to Taos. On the way we stopped in Chimayo, home to a small church known as the Santuario de Chimayo. (If you are sensing there is a theme to the day’s travel you would be correct.) An example of Spanish colonial architecture the church is best known for the supposed healing powers of the “holy dirt” found in the sacristy to the left of the alter. On our visit one family was scooping up paper bags full of the pharmaceutical-grade earth. But who knows, can’t hurt to rub some on a trouble spot can it? The sanctuary has often been referred to as the Lourdes of North America and the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
Also worth a stop is the nearby Santo Nino Chapel seen above. It’s all walkable in a small area. This chapel is dedicated to children and contains iconography made by area youngsters in years past that is also very colorful folk art. Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted inside the chapel but the outside offers some sense of the whimsy within.
We have been traveling since Taos with our friends Judith and Mark, but in separate vehicles as they started out in Arizona. We met again in Chimayo and enjoyed lunch at a nearby restaurant popular with visitors to the sanctuary before we all pressed on to Santa Fe. We agreed that the countryside we had driven through felt more like being in Old Mexico than new, dotted with smaller communities with names like Rio Chiquita and Cordova. Santa Fe itself is as charming as we thought it would be, very compact and walkable. It was also unusually bustling as over the past weekend it was home to the Fiesta de Santa Fe.
The fiesta has been held annually in autumn for more than 300 years, making it one of the oldest continuously held street fairs in the country. It has many of the same components of all such affairs, such as a variety of vendors and local musicians. It commemorates Spain’s reoccupation of the city in 1692. Native American tribes in the area had organized and driven the Spaniards off about 30 years earlier. It is interesting that when the Spanish returned they were a bit more humble and unlike what happened to other indigenous people in the Southwest, the various Pueblo tribes were largely allowed to continue to live in the same places they had occupied for centuries: they weren’t forced on to reservations as later happened to the more nomadic tribes such as the Navajo or the Apache under the U.S. government’s Manifest Destiny policy. The brief video below captures a bit of the local color.
After checking into our hotel, the La Fonda, we did a brief walking tour of the old downtown area, starting off with a stroll down Canyon Road, noted for its many art galleries. Later was a stop at, drum roll please, another church! The Loretto Chapel, located about a block from our hotel, is home to the famed “Miraculous Staircase.” It features two 360 degree turns and has no visible means of support. It is believed to be held together by wooden pegs, not nails. It is a bit of an engineering marvel. Roman Catholic mythology holds that it was St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, who actually built the staircase. The church is also unique in that it has a vaulted ceiling akin to those found in European churches that is atypical for the area. Whether it is worth the $5 per person entry fee is up to the individual.
It was another busy day. Next up is a visit to Bandelier National Monument, home to native people who likely moved there from Chaco Canyon after an extended drought dried up its water source. We also will visit the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory. Below are some images of the La Fonda hotel, which we would recommend if you visit Santa Fe.