Refueling Creatively in Beautiful Taos, New Mexico

Guys…I miss the mountains.

Last week I returned from a long vacation in New Mexico, where I had a chance to unplug, take a break from writing, and feed my soul creatively with some of the wonders of Dixon, Taos, and the surrounding area.

First I’ll say that New Mexico is by far one of the most beautiful and underrated places I have ever been. I’ve always loved the mountains, but I’d never been to New Mexico before, and I was astounded at how gorgeous the high desert can be. What made the trip even better was that my boyfriend and I stayed in a couple different Airbnb properties that added a unique sense of wonder to our trip.

The Tower Guest House in Dixon
The Tower Guest House in Dixon

The first was a “tower” guest house on a garlic farm in Dixon. Interestingly enough, the farm was owned and operated by a writer named Stanley Crawford, whose work I’ve been enjoying immensely since we returned.

He and his wife settled on the land in 1970 and have become a fixture in the community as farmers market mavens and water rights advocates. What was fascinating to me is that they built their own home and the house we were staying in. (Although Stanley’s wife admitted they had some help from hippies who were happy to work for a hot meal — her words, not mine.)

Balcony overlooking garlic farm
Balcony overlooking garlic farm

Staying on the farm was an extraordinary experience. The guys who worked there showed us around, let us pick all the vegetables we wanted, and even procure our own eggs from the chicken coop. (This was my first time gathering eggs, and it was a little intimidating. It sounds weird, but I had no idea how heavy a chicken is. I swear this hen weighed more than my cat.)

Our spoils from the farm
Our spoils from the farm

There were a few nice wineries in Dixon, a co-op, and plenty of beautiful spots to take a dip in the Rio Grande, but the tour of the farm was definitely the highlight of our stay.

Enjoying some wine in Dixon
Enjoying some wine in Dixon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our tour guide wandered between the rows, pulling off flavorful leaves for us to try, biting into radishes with pieces of dirt still clinging to them, and offering me a handful of raspberries straight off the bush.

After a few days on the garlic farm, we moved on to Taos, where we were staying at a place I can only describe as a compound. (Compound in the hippie sense of the word, not compound as in The Fringe compounds.)

The "ship" house across from our casita
The “ship” house across from our casita

We had rented a little casita across from this huge four-story house that looked like a boat. There were chickens here, too, which produced some of the best eggs I have ever tasted.

Happy chickens
Happy chickens outside our door

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was even a hammock hanging between two trees for me to lounge on.

Taos Pueblo
Me at Taos Pueblo

Taos is a truly awesome town. It’s filled with artists, great food, unique shops in the Plaza, and lots of New Mexican charm. While we were there, we paid a visit to Taos Pueblo, which is the largest surviving multistory pueblo in the United States. We also took a dip in the natural hot springs along the Rio Grande after a long and hellish hike off the main trail. (I considered this my “breaking in” hike for our main hike later that week.)

After a couple days in Taos, we moved up in elevation to Taos Ski Valley. We passed through Arroyo Seco, which is this tiny town that’s about the cutest place you’ve ever been. There you’ll find a few awesome restaurants, gift shops, a hostel, and a little natural market.

Unfortunately, the famed Abe’s Tacos was closed for the week, but we were pleasantly surprised by Aceq Restaurant, a tiny farm-to-table spot with a wide selection of wine and some truly amazing and offbeat menu offerings. Some of the specials included something with lettuce picked that morning from an employee’s mom’s garden and out-of-this-world French toast. I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re ever in the area, or stopping by Taos Cow for breakfast or ice cream (located in Arroyo Seco despite the somewhat misleading name).

At 9,000 feet, our house in Taos Ski Valley was completely isolated, with no cell phone service and spotty Wi-Fi. This would serve as our base camp for the treacherous hike up to Wheeler Peak — the high point of New Mexico that comes in at 13,159 feet. We were hiking up on Ben’s birthday, and the prospect of the climb had been looming over me for the entire trip. I’m in good shape, but I’m no hiker, and it seemed a little ambitious for my first “real” hike.

That morning, we trundled out in light layers armed with Camelbaks and lots of snacks. (Ben knows I’m at my worst when I’m hangry.)

The initial two-mile jaunt up to Williams Lake was easy and gorgeous. This part of the hike is misleadingly benign — especially when you pass families with little kids and think, “If they can do it, I can do it.”

DSCN0026
Me at Williams Lake

When we got to the lake, there was a scurry of chipmunks waiting for us to take our peanut butter sandwiches out of the bag. They’re so used to hikers that they will literally eat out of your hand.

After Williams Lake, the hike gets hard pretty fast. The terrain becomes progressively steeper and rockier, and you really have to watch your footing on the unstable rocks. The scenery was absolutely stunning, though — like Lord of the Rings‘ Middle-earth stunning.

However, that view literally took my breath away. When we got above the tree line, I had to stop frequently to rest and catch my breath. My heart was beating the way it would if I were sprinting simply due to the lack of oxygen. But Ben was super patient, and when a descending hiker told us we were almost there, I felt invigorated enough to keep going.

Once we made it to the last switchback, the wind kicked up, and we kept cresting hill after hill thinking we were at the top. By now we were in the clouds, and it was tough to see where the peak was.

We finally made it, and I don’t remember the last time I felt so accomplished. I’d just climbed a mountain!

We sat down, ate some jerky, and just drank it all in. At the peak, there was a small pack (herd?) of hungry marmots. Like the chipmunks down at Williams Lake, they were tame enough to approach us and even climbed into our laps to get a piece of our peanut butter sandwich!

On the way down, it started to sprinkle a little, but it was much easier than the ascent. I’d say the worst part of the descent was the walk from the end of the trail to where we’d parked the car.

Our last day in Taos was bittersweet. We checked off the last few things on our trip to-do list: find the other hot springs near Arroyo Hondo, get coffee at World Cup Taos, visit the local bookstore, and check out the winery near the Plaza.

If you ever go to Taos, I highly recommend visiting Black Mesa Winery. The proprietor was so passionate and knowledgable about wine that he spoke to us for two and a half hours — literally. He taught us how to taste and evaluate wine — though we probably only retained about 5 percent of what he told us — and helped us sharpen our palates a little. When the wine really started flowing, he told us about Aikido (Japanese martial arts). Oh, yeah: He also runs the local dojo. Cool, right? Suffice to say we had a great time.

new 070When the sun rose over the mountains the next day, I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed a little longer to delay our return to Missouri.

During our week in New Mexico, I’d fallen in love with the high desert, the traditional adobe houses, the people’s zest for local food and art, and all the friendly, interesting characters we spoke with. Everyone there has a unique story to tell, but it’s clear to me that they share a common understanding of what’s really important: good food, good drink, making connections, exploring, and living responsibly to preserve the natural beauty all around us.

If you’re looking for an invigorating vacation that helps you reconnect with what it means to be human, look no further than Taos. It’s unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been, and I can’t wait to go back.

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