Stephen and I have driven what is known as the “high road” to Taos once before but it was about 15 years ago, so we decided this trip that we were due to revisit this scenic U.S. byway. The drive to Taos, New Mexico via the high road takes about 2 hours from Santa Fe and it takes you through several small villages (watch for speed traps!), through the Carson National Forest and gives you many scenic overlooks and mountain and valley views along the way. Below is a map overview of the drive.
The drive starts off through an arid desert landscape with rock formations but shortly becomes much more green and fertile as you near the town of Chimayo.
There really isn’t much to the little towns along the way. Chimayo has a well known church in it that is a pilgrimage spot for many Catholics. The Chimayo Sanctuary is also home to the “healing dirt” which sounds like poppycock to me but what do I know? People come to get the dirt, which is located inside the Sanctuary, and they rub it on their bodies on the location of an ailment. Inside the church there are hundreds of crutches left by people that believe they were healed. Turns out the dirt comes from a local hillside and is simply blessed by the priest – it doesn’t have any magical qualities from what I have read. We didn’t stop there as we had lunch plans in Taos. Past Chimayo, you continue to climb in elevation and as you near Truchas, New Mexico, you get some stunning views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
Truchas is home to another old church built in the 1600s and has several small art galleries you can visit as well. Past Truchas, you enter the Carson National Forest and we were treated to some brilliant fall colors from the aspens and cottonwood trees. The trees here turn a vibrant yellow during the fall but you won’t see a mix of red or orange like you do in New England as there are no maple trees. Coming from Texas where we get zero fall color, just seeing the sunshine colored trees was enough for me.
Shortly after the National Forest, you will reach the ski resort town of Taos. There isn’t much to Taos but it’s a decent enough size town with a main historic plaza, plenty of restaurant options and incredible mountain views. Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico is just behind the town. We had lunch downtown and visited a few shops and a farmer’s market in the main square before heading back to Santa Fe. We didn’t have time to drive over to see the ski valley as it’s another 30 minutes away from the main town. We took the “low road” back which drops down into the Rio Grande River gorge and you follow the river most of the way back. At that lower elevation, the trees were at their peak fall foliage and it made for an equally stunning drive.
It’s definitely an all-day trip to make the high road and low road loop to Taos and back but we thoroughly enjoyed this drive. Mid-October was peak foliage season and mother nature was putting on an incredible show for us. Also, there was very little traffic on both roads so the drive was easy and relaxing. We were so glad that we spent a day on this little adventure!