Turning 66 in Taos

I always like to treat myself to being some place special on my birthday. Last years train ride across Canada would be hard to top in the best of years. But during these terribly uncertain times, celebrating one’s birthday seems out of the question. Or is it?

Traveling internationally for me now is not an option. While I know others who are getting back on board, I’m just not ready to get back on a plane wearing a mask for eight hours. I can barely make it across the Walmart without sneaking my nose over the edge for a little breather in an otherwise unoccupied aisle when no one is looking. That’s all I need to be written up for breathing outside my mask on United!

There are two roads between Santa Fe and Taos, the High Road and the Low Road. I have driven much of the High Road before, turning around just short of Taos due to ensuing darkness. So I decide to drive the Low Road this time.

The Low Road follows the Rio Grande most of the way.

Following the Low Road is beautiful at this time of year, as much of the river is lined with golden cottonwoods.

There are a lot of people fishing along the banks of the river, and even a few swimming.

There are quite a few pull-outs long this road, none with a “No Overnight Parking.” I wonder if one could overnight along here.

I honestly thought about doing another dream bucket-lister this year…the rafting trip on a Dory down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. I even went so far as to send an inquiry, thinking “I just may do this!” Then I got back the response, “ATTENTION: At this time, the National Park Service does not recommend backcountry travel for anyone over the age of 65 or at high risk for COVID-19.” While I certainly don’t believe myself to be at any risk, I don’t want to be under the watchful eye of a young river guide simply because my booking is flagged “over the age of 65.” (blank) THAT!!

So here I am in Northern New Mexico under lots of self-imposed pressure to do something memorable. My eldest niece sends a FB message to ask, “Did you spend your birthday ALONE???” She is an extrovert after all, so her reaction makes it sound like being in an ICU ward with the COVID would be preferable to spending one’s birthday ALONE. At least you would be surrounded by some doctors and nurses and not ALL ALONE for goodness sake! It’s funny, I’ve been alone for so long that I never consider the stigma until someone points it out to me. I enjoy my alone time. Only way to be guaranteed of spending the day however I want.

The main square of historic Taos is pretty quiet.

This is the historic Alley Cantina, the oldest building in Taos, occupied by the Spanish government from the 17th to the 19th centuries. A few of the original walls are believed to be over 400 years old. Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill were reported to have been frequent visitors. The property became a restaurant in 1944.

The chocolate shop just closed, but it was quite busy.

If I couldn’t do something special to celebrate, at least I wanted to go some place I’ve never been before. Taos is just such a place. I have had so many “near misses” with Taos. I always thought I might ski here one day, but always chickened out at the trail map and went to nearby Red River instead. I got close again when I was here in 2012 for the Balloon Fiesta. But I only ventured as far as Ojo Caliente Hot Springs, and got no further.

So this year, I was determined to make it to Taos. What better weekend than my birthday! I would make it a day filled with “a few of my favorite things” in hopes that I wouldn’t feel so bad about the situation we find ourselves in these days.

As I rolled into Taos, I observed that the time leading up to a major election day is a good opportunity to scout out places one might like to live one day based on political yard signs. It really does seem to be a litmus test as to whether one is in “friendly territory.” Take the small down where my family farm is located in Texas. There are not just yard signs, but full blown flags waving on regulation sized flag poles. While I didn’t see any Biden-Harris flags waving in Taos, I did see more Biden-Harris yard signs, fence signs, bumper stickers in this one town than I had in all my previous travels combined. I guess that’s to be expected in a community that is known for inventing the “Earthship,” a community of earth-centric homes off the grid.

Earthship community is made up of a group of homes built off the grid with natural and repurposed materials. Tires serve as structural walls, while cans and bottles serve as brick walls.

Earth-filled tires make up the walls on three sides, while the south side is lined with windows to allow sun to heat the floors and walls. In summer months, cooling is enhanced with natural ventilation through buried cooling tubes and vent boxes. Utilizing natural resources for heating and cooling reduces Earthship’s electrical needs to about 25% of that of a conventional home.

The Taos Earthship Community was founded by Michael Reynolds when he came to Taos after graduating from Architecture School in 1969. He began making building blocks from used tin cans, back in the day before recycling. Earthship communities also exist in Montana and Alberta, Canada.

Earthships collect all of their water from rain and snowmelt on the roof, storing this water in cisterns. (Each inch of rain collected from a square foot of roof equals 2/3 of a gallon of water.) Gray water is used to water plants which serve to filter the water before it is collected in a well for toilet flushing. Black water goes into a septic tank. All water collected on Earthships roof is used four times.

If you look closely, you will notice the structural walls around the windows look like small dotted material built from recyclables.

The Earthship community is a gated community. Only residents and their guests are permitted entry. However, they do have a Visitor Center that conducts tours of some structures in the process of construction.

The Earthship Community is the world’s largest off-grid, legal subdivision on 630 acres. There are approximately 60 homes in the community with space for another 70 more. Lots vary from 3/4 of an acre to 3 acres. There are currently two for sale, one for $515K and another for $775K. I think I’ll stick with my rolling earthship, thank you!

I started my birthday out with slice of Berry Chantilly mini cake from the local grocery store for breakfast. Not something in my normal breakfast line-up, but hey! It’s my birthday!

I caught up on some correspondence, then went for a late lunch at the #1 rated restaurant on Trip Advisor, if for no other reason than they offered patio seating. Dining outside was my one deal breaker.

This adorable little Berry Chantilly “mini-cake” was the best store-bought cake I’ve ever eaten!

My “al fresco” birthday lunch from Antonio’s ” The Taste of Mexico” restaurant. Chiles en Nogada, poblano chiles stuffed with a ground beef picadillo, covered in a creamy walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Chased down with a jalapeno-infused margarita!

Antonios is known for their Chili Relleno en Nogada. This is a celebratory dish from Mexico often served around Christmastime. It’s rare to find it on the menu north of the border. It’s meant to represent the Mexican flag, with poblano pepper representing the green, walnut cream sauce representing the white, and pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top for the red. I’ve had this dish several times in Mexico, but never better in the States, and never better than Antonios.

After lunch, I went on a lovely hike along the west rim of the Rio Grande Gorge. While the bridge crossing was a bit crowded, there was no one on the rim trail, so it was a nice time to reflect on birthdays, both past and future.

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a steel deck arch bridge across the Rio Grande Gorge. At approx 600 ft above the Rio Grande, it is the tenth highest bridge in the United States. (In case you are wondering, the Royal Gorge in Colorado is the highest at 900 ft.)

I found this gorge to be particularly impressive because the land on both sides of it is so flat. It’s just desert scrub brush in all directions, and then suddenly this giant crack opens up out of nowhere. Whenever I see natural phenomenon such as this one, I always like to reflect back to what the first explorers thought when they came upon such an unexpected massive chasm.

Sad to think they needed four of these stations. Good thing I was not here on election night, I might have placed a call to talk me down.

There’s a beautiful 6 mile trail along the western rim of the gorge. Once I left the bridge area, there was no one on it. I came upon this Tibetan Buddhist offering and labyrinth. After circumambulating, I left a small donation. I was surprised to count at a glance $16 in the offering, along with many personal items. I wonder how much the remote location has to do with the money still being there.

The town of Taos is just as “golden” as Santa Fe.

Whereas Santa Fe is more aspens, Taos appears to be more cottonwoods.

The drive up to Taos Ski Area is a gorgeous drive.

As I climb in elevation toward Taos Ski Valley, I start to see more aspens.

I always wanted to ski Taos, but it had a reputation of being extremely “steep and deep,” so we always went to neighboring Red River instead.

Turns out it might not have been as steep as I thought. I often think back to how I did my travel research before the internet. I think it mostly came from travel magazines and brochures which I got from writing to the regional tourist bureaus.

I like the intimate atmosphere of the small ski village.

It was a lovely day with perfect weather. And I enjoyed touring around Taos. The golden fall color was just as vibrant there as in Santa Fe. The town was way too congested, however for consideration for any kind of summer home despite its political leanings.

As birthdays go, I’d give it a “C.” C for COVID.

Another reason to travel the Low Road to Taos is to stop in at Johnnie Meier’s Classical Gas Museum.

Damn fine stuff, indeed! Johnnie has everything from a model of a diner and soda fountain complete with “Big Boy” mascot, to life-sized models of the Blues Brothers.

The owner and museum curator is a retired scientist from the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Look on the back wall for the Flying Red Horse — for Mom.

There is no fee to tour the Classical Gas Museum. Donations are accepted on behalf of the local animal shelter.

Either direction you turn is beautiful at this time of year in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment.

FOOTNOTE: It’s been a month since I blew out the birthday candle. I’ve had this post ready to go for a week now, but I’ve just felt too stressed this past week to think about the blog. However, at 9:30am this morning while hiking through the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge, my CNN alert went off with a “Breaking News” notification. I got my birthday wish! Blessed Relief!

41 thoughts on “Turning 66 in Taos

  1. Happy Birthday! Even if it is a month late! You couldnt have picked a better place in Taos for a birthday dinner! Antonio serves some of the very best seafood as well, if you are ever back that way! We were there about a month ago but unfortinately it was on the weekend and he is closed then!
    I totally get the waiting to talk about any celebrations! We built a pinon fire tonight out side, turned the stereo up, and relaxed for the first time since we were there in New Mexico.
    Now lets just hope and pray this country and ALL of its people, not just as “winners or Losers” but as humans ALL in this together! are willing to work toward some real reconciliation!

    • Hi, Jim. Thanks for the BD wish. And yes, I was lucky my birthday fell on a Friday, otherwise I would likely have missed that Antonios was closed on weekends. Thanks again for all the great recommendations. I haven’t made it to them all, but they will remain in the list for future reference! (P.S. to answer your previous question, I patronized Tia Sophia’s last visit to Santa Fe. Horseman Havens will have to wait for another day. I’ve got one for you in return, if you happen to like food trucks. “Bang Bite Filling Station on the grounds of the Santa Fe Brewing Co.!)

  2. Happy Belated Birthday. Taos is one of my favorite places and it’s so beautiful in the fall. I’m glad you finally made it there. Is the Pueblo closed due to Covid ? We spent hours there talking to the people and taking in the peace of it. Today was a great day for us ! Thank goodness . Hope to see you on the road sometime.

    • Hi, Annie. Thanks for the BD wishes. Yes, I was gutted to find Taos Pueblo was closed. You couldn’t even get within site of the place! Understandable, but disappointing nonetheless. Just means another reason to return one day. Hope you are having an enjoyable fall!

  3. Happy Birthday. Taos looks very interesting and the Gas Museum is well worth a visit. I think many many people around the world breathed a sigh of relief when they heard the results.

    • Thanks, Dave. And even though the UK put us straight on the Guy Fawkes fireworks the night the election was called, I’d like to keep thinking they were secretly a celebratory sign of solidarity. 😉

  4. Hi, Another belated birthday wish for you from across the pond. Have enjoyed so many of your interesting blogs.Thought it was about time to let you know of my appreciation. Loved your blogs on the train, marvelous with just great pictures. Keep up the good work and keep safe.
    Thank you.
    Kind regards

    • Hi, Douglas. Thank you so much for the birthday wish, and for also commenting to let me know you are following along. It delights me to know you have enjoyed the blog. I really appreciate your kind words!

  5. Happy belated birthday, Suzanne! Wondering where you headed after Bosque. Let me know if you head this way. A dark cloud has definitely lifted.

    • Hi, Kat. After Bosque, I headed to Silver City, but that’s my western turn around point this year. I miss the Tucson area, and hope we can meet up again before long. I thought about you often in the Bosque, as getting up at sunrise reminded me so much of Africa, which made me think back to our discussions following your trip. Hope you are doing well!

  6. Happy belated birthday, Suzanne. New Mexico is truly the land of enchantment. As always, great writing and beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Contessa. I will miss your tales from the Isla this winter, but I am enjoying the snow scenes. Glad you are finding ways to stay warm!

  7. Happy Birthday! Your posts always make me hungry for something exotic! you do those plate photos really well!!! and I never knew about that environmentally-active community in Taos, very interesting. By the way, there’s lots of Trump signs on front yards in Salem, Virginia where I bought a vacant lot to build on next year, but on my future street, no one erected a political sign, not one home!!! Whew! a big relief 🙂

    • Hi, Terri. The “plate photos” are a challenge, only in remembering to snap them before I dig in. LOL! Glad you escaped the trump signs. I was staying in Socorro the night of the election, where there was a huge banner draping the fence across the street, visible straight across my dashboard. I was relieved to see it come down first thing the next morning! Hope all is going well with the lot-clearing.

  8. Sounds as though you had a lovely (and yummy) birthday celebration this year in Taos. I see the mention of Ojo Caliente so I find myself wondering if you made another trip to the Mineral Springs this go round. It was your blog post in 2012 which prompted me to visit Ten Thousand Waves a couple years ago but I didn’t make it to OC. I was able, however, to slide into Riverbend right before closing time in the dark and misty rain. Oh! What a delightful soak I had that night on the river in Truth or Consequences! As ever, I follow your trail like a hunting dog whenever I can, whether in the real or in my dreams. Still trying to make it to northwest Arkansas and Crystal Bridges. “Someday Soon”, as Judy Collins sang…someday soon.

    • Hello, my dearest of virtual friends. Sadly, Ojo Caliente is temporarily closed, not due to COVID, but because of a fire that broke out last August and did some damage to the buildings, so they are taking this time to do repairs. Otherwise, I would have surely been tempted! Your comment reminded me to pull up your “Top Ten Favorites” from your trip and add a few places to my own hunting dog trail! 😉

    • Thanks, Lisa. You may not remember, but we were sharing an email exchange back in 2016 the night the election results landed like a tonne of bricks, so you were in my thoughts when I blew out my birthday candle and did my birthday dance. 😉 Hope you and Hans are having a good autumn!

  9. Knowing how you like international travel, when I read your title I was thinking “She flew to Thailand?!?!? Looks like you had a great birthday, I would give it more than a C. We too would like to raft down the Colorado at some point!

    • Jim and Barb, hope we both get to cross that Colorado River trip off at some point! (And as much as I am enjoying New Mexico this fall, I could have my sarong and flip flops packed for Thailand by sunset! And I did a similar double-take on your blog when I read “Bob” had picked up a new Farmall tractor…which I first read as “Barb!” LOL!)

  10. It is great that you made your birthday into such a wonderful adventure. Belated birthday wishes! Hope to see you before too long. Where will you spend the holidays?

    • Hi, Linda. Thank you for the nice birthday wishes. I plan to head back to Texas for the holidays. Hope you have some comforting times ahead during the holiday season with friends and family!

  11. Your sense of humor cracks me up! Glad you had a perfect birthday in solitude!
    Funny because when someone comments to me with comments like “What do you do all alone all the time?” I just smile and say, “As little as possible!” Keeps them guessing.

    I’ve driven that low road when I used to go the Corn dances at many reservations. Taos is a favorite place of mine. Long story, some day I’ll share. Taos is a favorite over Santa Fe for me. If you haven’t been to Chalma or Abiquiqui hope that you got there. Both charming in different ways.

    Good taste in food! Had the same meal here in San Miguel in September during our mini celebrations!

    Glad you are still being cautious. I watched carefully when they showed the counties in Texas and which ones were blue and which ones were red. Just in case I ever have to come back to the USA! ha…….just in case.

    Ecstatic about the election! Exhaling………..Sure was a stressful week, to put it mildly.

    • Thanks for the news from my “winter home,” Barb! My brother is still wandering around the areas of Colonial Mexico, and I know he was feeling the stress of the week as well. I think we all felt a collective exhale!

      Not sure when I will be able to make it back down again, since the numbers are once again on the rise. But it will be one of the first places I go when all of this is behind us! Hope you continue to stay safe and enjoy sunny San Miguel!

  12. Happy day of birth! I cannot think of a more beautiful, friendlier place than Taos to celebrate that event. Deede and I loved the short time we spent there and it looked as though we ate on the same patio. We had an awesome, delicious lunch there. If it weren’t for our needs for exotic medical support to continue celebrating our days of significance we would have moved to that lovely town for our remaining celebrations. We shared your angst last week, but now we await to see if the party we supported this time can “make it happen” at last. We look forward to your next story, this one will be hard to beat, but you seem to always manage to excel at your photojournalism.

    • Thank you for your continuing supportive comments, Allen. Your reference to photojournalism is a high aspiration for me, so I am always appreciative of your praise! Hope you and Deede got to enjoy some of the autumn color this season!

  13. Happy Birthday! Wanted to recommend an old album to you. Chris Williamson and Tret Fure’s 1997 folk album, Between the Covers, references Taos and Northern NM in a couple of songs. Think you might enjoy. When I moved to ALbuquerque in 1989 I fell in love with NM. Glad you enjoyed your time here.

    • Thank you, Kathy, both for the kind birthday wishes as well as the music recommendation! I have had a listen several times on youtube, and it is indeed lovely!

  14. I’ve followed your travels for a few years with great enjoyment! I want to add that it is the best news you got your birthday wish. Election nite my thoughts began to turn to foreign shores. In fact you crossed my mind… I thought you’d be able offer great advice as to the best countries for very, very extended stays! I’m not kidding.

    • Thank you so much for the nice comment, Mo. It pleases me to know you have enjoyed the blog! And I do admit, my thoughts were rapidly scanning those same foreign shores on election nite! While my brother has made a happy home in Mexico, if I had to spin the wheel, I would likely land in Portugal. I really loved it there with its beautiful beaches, quaint villages, healthy food, public transportation, and affordability. And they have one of the easiest paths to citizenship, I have heard. But shhhh, we won’t let the secret out. 😉

      • Thank you Suzanne for your advice and will tuck that information away for the time being. Sleeping better than I have in months…well really years i think! I always look forward to seeing your next stop on the map. I’ve found New Mexico to be one of my favorite states. As I’ve thought of possibly moving from the central coast of California due to the cost of living and growing population, I’ve given serious thought to NM , possibly an area near a college with a liberal bent. Might help me get over living near the ocean! It really is the land of enchantment!

  15. Happy belated Suzanne! What a wonderful place to celebrate!

    I was right there with you on election night, keeping track of which state might be a friendlier place to be instead of Ohio. Let’s hope we can survive the next 70 days.

    Safe travels!

    • Hi, Char. Thanks for the kind birthday wish. I have some friends from Ohio, and sadly we are friendlier less and less these days, so I feel your pain. Hopefully you are getting in some good time outdoors to bask in nature’s restoration!

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