Friday, August 24, 2012

Off the Beaten Track: Architectural Jewels of Chimayó, Taos, and Abiquiú

Our guest this week is Gerhard Bock, a translator, photographer, and avid gardener based in Northern California. He is also an occasional contributor to Novel Adventurers. This new travelogue describes one day of Gerhard’s recent road trip through the American Southwest with his family. It originally appeared on his gardening blog, Bambutopia.

Today was all about visiting historic churches and buildings in northern New Mexico. In the morning we took the High Road toTaos which crosses the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and winds through a number of small Spanish villages.

Our first stop was in Chimayó whose main attraction is the Santuario, a Catholic church often called the “Lourdes of America” because it attracts scores of faithful who believe in its healing properties. Check out this Wikipedia article for the whole (hi)story.

Santuario de Chimayó
Shrine in the square at the base of the Santuario de Chimayó
Wall detail of Santuario de Chimayó
At the top of a mesa is the even smaller village of Truchas. Its church, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, is very modest but beautiful in its lack of ornamentation. Robert Redford’s 1988 movie The Milagro Beanfield War was filmed in Truchas.

View from Truchas
Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Truchas
Las Trampas comes on the High Road. Its church, San José deGracia, was built between 1760 and 1776 and is a prime example of adobe architecture. Unfortunately, the church was closed (as was the one in Truchas) but I enjoyed looking at the exterior details, especially the exquisite door.

San José de Gracias in Las Trampas
Door of San José de Gracia
Adobe wall detail
After another 30 miles we finally reached Ranchos de Taos, home of the most famous church in the southwestern United Stages. The SanFrancisco de Asís Mission Church is breathtaking. It has been photographed and painted by master artists ranging from Ansel Adams and Paul Strand to Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived an hour and a half away in the village of Abiquiú (see further down below in this post).

We parked in the dirt lot right off the main highway so the first thing we saw of the church was its back. As beautiful as the front is, I think the back is my favorite aspect because of the unbroken expanses of adobe and the simple geometric lines.

San Francisco de Asís Mission Church--rear
San Francisco de Asís Mission Church--rear

San Francisco de Asís Mission Church--architectural details
Walking around the side, I finally made it to the front of the church. After checking out the inside (no photography allowed), we had a great lunch at a family-owned restaurant right next to the church. The New Mexican food they served was among the best we’ve had to date on this trip.

San Francisco de Asís Mission Church--front
San Francisco de Asís Mission Church--front
Our next stop was the Taos Plaza in the heart of town. It’s much smaller than the Santa Fe Plaza we saw yesterday, but it was also much less busy.

Taos Plaza
Taos Plaza
Taos Plaza
Ristras (chili pepper wreaths) and kiva ladder on top
of a building in the Taos Plaza
One of the most anticipated stops on this entire trip came next: Taos Pueblo. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the oldest continuously inhabited place in the entire country. Some of the multi-storied adobe structures date back to the year 1000.

Here are some photographic impressions of Taos Pueblo:
Church of San Geronimo
Church of San Geronimo
Multi-storied adobe building
Multi-storied adobe buildings
Wahlea's Taos Pueblo Gallery
Ladder against an adobe wall
Panoramic view of Taos Pueblo
The final stop on today’s itinerary was the village of Abiquiú, about an hour and a half from Taos and less than thirty minutes from Española where we’ve been staying for the last three days. Abiquiú is where American painter Georgia O’Keeffe lived from 1949 until her death at age 98 in 1986. I expected it to have at least some tourism, but the small plaza in front of the beautiful church of Santo Tomás El Apóstol looks much like it probably did 100 years ago. The road and plaza are unpaved, and the houses—some adobe, some more conventional—look forgotten by time. The plaza was quiet and deserted, quite a contrast from Santa Fe and Taos.

Architectural detail
I knew Georgia O’Keeffe’s house adjoined the plaza but I had a hard time finding it; it’s by far the largest property but it’s well hidden by trees and completely surrounded by a thick six-foot adobe wall. The best view I could get was from the entrance, which was chained off. Tours can be arranged through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum but they require advance reservations and are expensive ($35 per person).

Georgia O'Keeffe House in Abiquiú
On our way back to Española, we saw a double rainbow with really vibrant colors. Within minutes we were in the middle of a summer monsoon squall, complete with lightning and thunder. I loved it.

Double rainbow near Abiquiú


  1. What a delightful essay and spectacular photos. Thanks for sharing them with us. A little personal footnote: my sister used to run that restaurant in the plaza next to the Saint Francisco de Asis church! A long time ago.

  2. Oh Gerhard, how I missed your photos! Superb pics (particularly love the one on architectural details and the view from Trucho). What an amazing journey, one I hope to take myself someday! (you've certainly seen more of the States than I have!)

  3. New Mexico is never ending wonder of beauty. Around any corner there can be a surprise and the sky and light seem somehow different. the soul takes flight at such beauty.