New Mexico calls itself the Land of Enchantment, and with good reason. There's something so inspiring about the desert. Maybe it's the blend of Pueblan, Spanish, and American culture; or perhaps it's the beauty of the desert, with its hot springs, forests, and mountains; it could even be the rich history and strong, visceral ties to the past. Whatever draws you here, it's sure to inspire. Towns like Santa Fe and Taos have reputations for incredible arts scenes, boasting galleries, boutiques, stunning architecture, museums, great restaurants, and more. The best way to immerse yourself in the atmosphere is to take the scenic High Road to Taos from Santa Fe, and experience the enchantment for yourself.
Start in Santa Fe, New Mexico's capital and cultural center. It's been a Spanish colony since 1610, so the history here runs deep. The Pueblo architecture and central Plaza are distinctive, and beyond just being home to countless art museums (like the Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum) it's also a center for the creative-minded to work. You can find loads of world-class galleries and shops; the Gerald Peters Gallery features major works from various movements from European impressionism to American modernism and has a sculpture garden, Turner Caroll Gallery specializes in displaying works from the world's most compelling contemporary artists, and Nedra Matteucci Galleries has a massive sculpture garden and is a great stop for those looking to immerse yourself in Western and Southwestern art.
If you only stop into one museum in Santa Fe, make it the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Her influential modernistic renderings of everything from flowers and bones to city skylines and desert landscapes are iconic and well-known. She traveled a great deal, from Chicago and New York to West Texas and South Carolina and beyond, but she felt a special draw to Northern New Mexico, moving to the state after the death of her husband to paint the high desert in her simple but refined style. The museum has over a thousand works done by O'Keeffe, the largest collection of her art in the world (O'Keeffe had a prolific career, as she lived to be 98 and painted until she lost her eyesight shortly before her death). It's a great place to see how her works changed over the course of her lifetime, and to see what was inspiring her along the way.
After you leave Santa Fe, you'll make your way into the Sangre de Christos Mountains. Nambe Pueblo is the first settlement you'll encounter. The pueblo was established in the 13th century, and the plaza is a National Historic Landmark, so take the time to explore. The pueblo refers to the fact that the town is "a self-governing sovereign Indian Tribe duly recognized by the federal government; and in the exercise of its Tribal sovereignty, remains organized in accordance with Pueblo tradition", which is pretty special. The pueblo encompasses stunning Nambe Falls, if you're up for a short hike, and they've also traditionally been known for their pottery and weaving; both crafts are being revived.
The Pueblo Indians in this area near the Rio Grande are also known as the Tewa tribes. The Poeh Museum is dedicated to the art, history, and culture of the Tewa. It contains the tribal archives, a permanent collection of cultural objects and artifacts, historic photos, offers classes, and hosts an art program, all with the goal of preserving their culture, and educating others. The Smithsonian Museum recently returned pottery from its collections back to the Poeh Museum, so that's now on display as well. It's an in-depth and fascinating and personal look at a culture that's incredibly special.
El Santuario de Chimayo is a fascinating little chapel that is a must-see along the High Road to Taos. The church was built in 1816 by Don Bernardo Abeyta, who had a special devotion to Christ of Esquipulas, a pilgrimage site in Guatemala where the clay from the ground is said to be holy. As the legend goes, he dug up a cross on the hill here, and saw it as a sign to build the church here. In the early 19th century, it was said that miracles occurred to worshippers here, and although the Catholic Church doesn't take a stance on whether or not anything miraculous happened here, pilgrims come from across the globe to visit the sanctuary and take a bit of the holy dirt from the hole in the Pocito Room. Holy Week and the feast of Our Lord of Esquipulas (the Sunday closest to January 15th) are popular times to visit. Check out the prayer room, decorated with testimonial notes and discarded crutches, and collect some dirt for yourself. The whole church is decorated with folk art and historic touches and is an interesting stop for anyone, no matter how spiritual you are.
Another beautifully preserved historic church is San Jose de Gracia, in Las Trampas. It was built in 1780 in the town's central plaza, so it's truly an example of Spanish colonial architecture. It was fully restored in the 1970s, and remains an active parish, but it's worth visiting the town and church.
Grapes actually grow pretty well in the high desert of New Mexico. La Chiripada Winery takes advantage of the conditions to make some pretty tasty vino. La Chiripada is New Mexico's oldest winery, and with 20 different kinds of wine, they definitely have something for everyone. Rieslings, ports, rhone-style reds, blushes, cabernets and more can be found on the tasting menu. Grab a bottle of the Primavera to go... locals love it because it pairs well with New Mexico's signature, spicy green chile sauce!
The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge was built in the 1960s and remains one of the highest bridges in the country. It's won awards for being beautiful, and is even the bridge where Mickey and Mallory got married in Natural Born Killers. Take some time to walk across it and enjoy the scenery of the Rio Grande River and the canyon. You can also explore the gorge at the state park nearby, which has some nice hiking trails. It's a side trip that's well worth the time!
Taos is the final destination. Another historic and artistic stronghold in the high desert of the Sangre de Christo Mountains, Taos has a funkier vibe, and is also popular with people looking to ski, raft, and get outside. Visit Taos Pueblo, charter a hot air balloon ride, and dive into the Spanish and Native cultures here at the museums and galleries. There's also usually a festival, concert, or event going on as well, so check and see what's happening around Taos for inspiration.
These are the best scenic routes in America. From white-knuckle, cliff-hugging, hairpin roads to smooth, lazy coastal drives. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.