Taos is in the northern New Mexico mountains, a two-and-a-half hour drive from Albuquerque and five hours from Denver. Wedged between a 13,000-foot-high mountain range and a 700-foot-deep gorge, it’s a place where jeans are worn at five-star restaurants. Maybe because of the famous artists and writers who made their home here (D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Georgia O’Keeffe), or maybe because of the Pueblo, it’s a spiritual place where travelers say they feel the special energy of the earth. Like Alaska, it has relatively cool summers, strong Native American ties, stunning mountains, wildlife, and untamed wilderness.
Eat Smart: At Orlando’s New Mexican Cafe (575-751-1450), try the carne adovada plate: grilled, marinated pork medallions topped with chile caribe and served with posole, pinto beans, and a tortilla. Northern New Mexicans pride themselves on their chile peppers, and many dishes can be ordered with the signature red or green chile, or “Christmas-style” with one of each.
Be Fit: Taos is a haven for outdoor exercise. In the winter, the mountains become a famous ski resort; in summer, they are a great place to hike, climb, or bike. The scenic West Rim Trail, which runs along the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge in the Orilla Verde Recreation Area (575-758-8851), is a favorite for bicyclists. Other affordable activities include river rafting and horseback riding. Relax afterward in Ponce de Leon Hot Springs, a natural hot spring.
Live Well: Visit a traditional Native American home where residents still live like their ancestors did at the Taos Pueblo. Sample the fresh bread and biscochitos (cinnamon-sugar cookies) baked in a horno (beehive-shaped oven).
Where to stay: Taos has a plethora of adobe architecture. The Old Taos Guesthouse Bed & Breakfast is a restored 190-year-old adobe hacienda about two miles from the plaza. The historic Hotel La Fonda de Taos has an incredible location on the town’s central plaza, with great views to catch the action. Don’t miss nine of D. H. Lawrence’s 13 paintings inside. Another lodging option: Stay in your own house―a casita made of handmade adobe bricks―and have a barbeque out back.