Taos to Española

April 25, 2018 • 10:30 am

Yesterday I decided I’d seen enough of Taos (though many will disagree), and I needed to move on. (Like Neal Cassady, I tend to like the moving as much as the staying.) Soon after the sun came up (view below from my motel window), I had some coffee and hopped in the Ceiling Cat RentalMobile:

I wanted to do a circle from Taos around to Española, from where, the next day, I could drive back to Las Cruces on back roads, seeing a famous petroglyph site. Here’s the route from yesterday: Taos to Tres Piedras and then circling around the Carson National Forest on Route 64 to Abiquiu, where I hoped to see Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio, and then winding up in the untouristy town of Española, only about 25 miles north of Santa Fe.

About ten miles west of Taos is the famous Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a marvel of engineering spanning a 565-foot-deep canyon that contains the Rio Grande River. Built between 1963 and 1965, the 1265-foot steel span gives you a distinct sense of vertigo if you look down while driving over. I waited till I got to the other side, where there’s a rest stop that gives you a proper view. I couldn’t take a good photograph; the one below doesn’t show how bloody deep that canyon is:

This photo from Wikipedia shows it better:

I’ve heard that bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), which are usually very shy and hard to see, sometimes brazenly cross the road by the rest stop on the west side. Though I’ve been in bighorn country many times, I’ve never seen one, and so stopped in the rest area to see if I could descry the elusive ovids.

How many times do you see a “watch for bighorn sheep” sign?

I spied no sheep, but got very close to a cottontail rabbit, probably a desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii). It was grazing peacefully and paid me little attention, so I could get quite close. Isn’t it cute? Lagomorphophiles might verify my identification:

A bit further along is the strange Greater World Community, also called the Greater World Earthship Community, an “Earthship” being, according to Wikipedia, “a type of passive solar house that is made of both natural and upcycled materials such as earth-packed tires, pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds.” Principles of such housing include solar heating and cooling, solar and wind-generated electricity, natural and recycled materials, self-contained sewage treatment, water harvesting and storage, and some production of food.

This is a real self-regulating community of 75 houses; sadly, most are on roads to which you’re not allowed access. (There are two other and smaller Earthship communities in the area.)

The Washington Post has a nice piece about it , showing photos of the weird and wonderful domiciles. You can even rent one or stay for a few days (minimum $140/night in 2016). I couldn’t find out when the community was built, but it had to be after 1988 when Reynolds constructed his first Earthship house.

Here are some of the houses I photographed from the highway or at the “go no further” points on the roads:

Here’s a short video about this Earthship Community. It’s the ultimate hippie haven, and I felt quite nostalgic seeing it. I wouldn’t mind living in one of these beautiful “off-grid” houses, but I’m a city boy.

Here are some of the lovely views of the drive around the Carson National Forest. It was cold up there, and patches of snow remained by the road.

A geologist’s paradise:

This is near the Ghost Ranch, a retreat and recreational center where you can stay cheaply, take horse rides or hikes into the desert, or just chill. Georgia O’Keeffe rented a place here when it was a dude ranch for rich folks (built in the late 1920s). She later bought her own place in nearby Abiquiú, where she moved for keeps after the death of her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Many of her paintings of the desert were made at the Ghost Ranch.

I drove into the tiny town of Abiquiú hoping to get a tour of O’Keeffe’s home and studio, but, sadly, I was there on a Monday, the one day when tours aren’t given. This is the thing I most regret about my visit here, but one miss isn’t too bad.

Her house is surrounded by a tall adobe wall, so this is the best view I could get. Pictures of the interior aren’t easy to come by (they want you to pay to see it, and tours aren’t cheap), but you can see some of the outside and inside here as well as via a Google image search here.

Sadly, I drove on, stopping for the day in the small town of Española.  I read on the Internet that there was a good restaurant there, and after a bit of searching I found La Cocina (“The Kitchen”). And it was good.

The menu had a lot of stuff on it, so I asked my waitress, who was really nice, what she’d recommend. She told me to get the guacamole and chicken tacos, which she said described as “da bomb” and her favorite dish there. For $9.75 you get “two grilled tacos served with chicken and guacamole. Topped with cheese, lettuce and tomato. Served with posole and beans on the side.” They also throw in a sopapilla, Hispanic fried bread which is traditionally served in this state with honey, either as an appetizer or as dessert (I had mine postprandially). It was delicious, tasting a bit like a churro.

Here’s my meal (squeeze bottle of honey to the left). There were also chips and salsa.

And the interior of the luscious soft tacos, brimming with fresh guacamole and big chunks of chicken. I recommend this place if you’re ever marooned in Española.

And the obligatory self-portrait in my motel room.

I have at least one more post to go, including the best burrito I’ve ever eaten and a visit to a stunning local Indian petroglyph site, so stay tuned.

43 thoughts on “Taos to Española

  1. (Like Neal Cassady, I tend to like the moving as much as the staying.)

    IIRC, only time Sal & Dean got near New Mexico was on their second trip west, the southern swing that went through New Orleans and Texas.

  2. I looked for a shorter -phile word than “lagomorphophiles” but failed to find one. Of course, “rabbit-lover” works but not if we want to sound all sciencey and educated.

  3. I’ve eaten a little hamburger joint in Española in the past. No mustard or Ketchup.
    Green or Red Chile.

  4. … the famous Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, a marvel of engineering spanning a 565-foot-deep canyon that contains the Rio Grande River. Built between 1963 and 1965, the 1265-foot steel span …

    Seems for the last year and a half, every other week in the US has been entitled “Infrastructure Week,” but nuthin’ ever gets built. Something like this would be the kind of making-America-great-again program even I could get behind.

  5. Great pix. Funny. I always thought that La Cocina was an off-off broadway play written by George Costanza. I guess I was wrong. Mexican food always looks appetizingly fresh. Do you prefer metric or imperial units? I’m guessing you work in metric, but everyday practice you probably have to deal with imperial.

    1. “I’m guessing you work in metric, but everyday practice you probably have to deal with imperial.”

      This is likely true of scientists.

      Aside from the volumes of soft drinks (and hard drinks), metric is rarely seen in the USA.

      For engineers in the USA, it’s generally inches all the way.

      I have no feel whatsoever for GPa and many other metric units. M, mm, and cm (and cc) are OK. N are OK.

      1. Wow! I just assumed that in the sciences it is metric all the way. So what are the base units for the newton equivalent to? Poundfoot/secondsquared. Seems rather complicated. Metric rules.

  6. There is a good movie about Michael Reynold’s and the Earthship community, called ‘Garbage Warrior’. I recommend it.

    The houses were all built by their owners, with assistance from Reynold’s and the other Earthship community members. A lot of the materials are essentially free (tires, empty cans, etc.)

  7. I can never see that one geological shape without thinking of mashed potatoes and Close Encounters of the Third Kind!

  8. I remember back in 1960 right after the Presbyterians were gifted Ghost Ranch … as a kid there for a couple weeks with family, we were warned to stay away from the old lady if we saw her walking around. I didn’t know from O’Keeffe then, but realized it later. I think I remember seeing a skinny “old lady” near the road when we were off to Abiquiu to pick up the mail. Presbyterian Church still has Ghost Ranch, and it remains a wonderful place, although their retreats and seminars have a dose of woo these days.

  9. You might want to come to Los Alamos. Check out the Bradbury Museum (it’s free) and an odd museum as it’s about nuclear weapons. The Manhattan Project has some very interesting history nonetheless and that is all here too.

  10. If you make it to Albuquerque I am told by my family that Mac’s is the place to find the best taquitas (not taquitos). I was too young to know when we moved but they still talk about Mac’s.

  11. Ghost Ranch is a nice place to chill out. I have been to a couple of events there–a training class and a music fest. It is owned by the Presbyterian church. Many of their retreats are based around New Age woo.

    At one time, there was a proposal to create a Georgia O’Keefe National Historic Site that would include her house. The National Park Service did a study and it include a lot locations where she stood while making some of her famous paintings of the area. However, O’Keefe, while initially in favor of the idea, ended up nixing it.

  12. It’s been fun watching a stranger go over ground I’m very familiar with (except SF…I mostly just drove through there to get to Taos and beyond).

    Waiting impatiently for you to reveal the best burrito ever. Doubt it’s in my top 10, but we’ll see!

      1. Perhaps another entry for NM Magazine’s “One of Our 50 is Missing”. This reminded me of an article in Science a while back that made a statement regarding “the border between Arizona and Texas.” Little did we realize that Texas’ encroachment on NM had been complete!

  13. Marvelous! The mention of Ghost Ranch reminded me of a neat book I have, The Dinosaurs of Ghost Ranch, which describes the excavation of a mass grave of Coelophysis dinosaurs. These are little bipedal carnivores, transformed into impossibly nasty little bastards in the Jurassic Park movies.

  14. New Mexico is really a great place as shown in your travels. Most of my life, it was just one of those states I drove through on the way to Arizona. Should spend more time down there.

  15. JAC’s travelogue is like a trip down memory lane – I have been to nearly all of the places he has mentioned, including eating numerous times at La Cocina in Española. Kevin Henderson mentions visiting Los Alamos – a worthy suggestion, and not only for the museum by for historical places such as Fuller Lodge, Bath-Tub Row, etc.

  16. Nice to read your narrative, and specially the phrase

    — I tend to like the moving as much as the staying —

    because it reminded me of my lucky rent-a-car trip three years ago through a few European countries without fixed plans. Except for three appointments in those 20-days, I tossed a coin at breakfast to go somewhere else – and if so, a second time on where to head for – or spend the rest of the day in the neighborhood. An unknown pleasure until then!

  17. What a piece of human ingenuity that bridge is. We often forget that sort of thing since it seems so simple compared to cellphones and wondrous beans and chicken dishes.

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