Story and photos by Babbie De Derian

Santa Fe to Taos 1

Following the Food and Cultural Trail
from Santa Fe to Taos

Santa Fe, with its very stable economy, continues to be a vibrant shopping and  cultural mecca. Streets are lined with art galleries, museums and stores selling silver and turquoise jewelry. 

I check into the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, a Heritage Hotels and Resorts property; my well-furnished comfortable terraced suite offers impressive views. 

Santa Fe to Taos Eldorado Exec Chef

Executive Chef Jean-Pierre Vincent, or JP as his friends call him, has an amazing background. His old school techniques and classical training have taken him far in the culinary world... and around the world. “When I discover  foods, I appreciate and love to eat, I go to that country to pick their  brains and learn to cook their cuisines the authentic way they were  meant to be cooked”. Jean- Pierre has honed his skills in Morocco,  Egypt, Italy, Germany, France and Spain. His philosophy, “Simple food  done well, and a good glass of wine. I do live my life spur of the  moment; if it feels good, I do it, keeping my integrity with what I have regionally to use...  and thinking in layers”. When we meet, he is busy  tweaking his menu for Eldorado’s Duckhorn Vineyards Wine dinner that  will be held during the Wine & Chili Festival. His five- course menu and wine pairings is impressive, and I regret I will not be in town to  share in the festivities.

Santa Fe to Taos Clarice Ciffey

No visit would be complete without a personal and informative Historical  Tour of Santa Fe with Tours by Clarice Coffey, an energetic blond mover  and shaker who also offers custom group tours; her thriving event  company plans and executes some of the most imaginative soirees in town. The tour begins and ends on the Plaza, and once I board, I am a captive audience to Clarice’s humor and wealth of local trivia.  At the Canyon  Road stop, Taos’ Rodeo Drive, there’s time to explore the galleries and shops.

The Georgia O’Keefe Museum  is but a few blocks from the Eldorado, and I relive this prolific  artist’s life, wandering from gallery to gallery.

Santa Fe and Taos Longworth Gallery

Time to move on

Veronica Martinez, Principal of the Te Tsu Geh Oweenge Community School on the  Tesuque Pueblo, drives me from Santa Fe to Taos, and on the way, we stop at the Pueblo to visit her school. I am intrigued with the afternoon  program and 40 happy faces. When we reach Taos, Veronica extends the  honor of inviting me into her adobe, a beautiful home her father built.

Taos was built on challenges; it is a vibrant living community of Native  Americans, producing artists and gallery owners; its people have  struggled for generations to protect their lands, preserve their  traditions and survive the elements.

The waters of the Rio Grande that flow through these sacred lands have many stories to tell … not all at peace with nature and the sacred spirits  that hover over the hallowed earth, but of blood, sweat and tears shed  to protect ownership.

The Taos  Pueblo Tribe of 2,500, one of the few Sovern Nations in the country, own 130,000 acres of land. The Tribal Council uses casino revenue to repair roads and other maintenance on the Pueblo. Ten families live within the walls without electricity or water... relying on the river, oil lamps and outdoor straw and mud ovens. Most have moved, seeking modern comforts,  but return often to preserve their heritage and keep their homes in good repair.

Santa Fe and Taos Gallery Sculpture Garden

In the 1920s, 30s and 40s many artists were drawn to the Taos area to  pursue a new, truly American art, devoid of industrial influence;  inspired instead by New Mexico’s landscape, light and the traditional  Native American and Hispanic cultures of the area. Mabel Dodge, a friend of Georgia O’Keefe, was one of these women who helped many artists find their way and their freedom.

Santa Fe and Taos El Monte Sagrado Hotel & Spa

El Monte Sagrado Hotel & Spa, another Heritage Hotels & Resorts property, is a paradise waiting to be discovered... a warm and welcoming ode to the essence and spirit of Taos, and a charming sanctuary for the senses. My suite with brown leather couch, fireplace, and huge walk in shower, has two entrances; one off a walkway; the other opens onto a lush garden  and pond with gurgling water.

I  follow a meandering path, lined with cottonwood trees, to reach the  hotel’s Living Spa... presided over by Spa Director Heidi Gates whose goal is to align the potential of massage therapy with the future of  holistic healing. “We provide genuine and heartfelt services to our  guests from the moment they book their treatments; there is no such  thing as a basic treatment here. Nurturing and therapeutic is our  service mission. We are an eco-conscious green environment, placing the  care of the planet in direct alignment with the care of our clientele.  All our services have a healing modality at their core”. Three hours  later, I emerge, like a butterfly from its cocoon, my skin cleansed,  purified and polished; my spirit renewed and soaring.

Santa Fe and Taos El Monte Sagrado Hotel & Spa Path

Christina Martinez, Executive Chef at El Monte Sagrado is the Mother Earth of  cooking; drawing on what she learned in her grandmother’s kitchen; her  dishes, a poem to the changing seasons, are aromatic, sensual and  satisfying in their vibrancy of flavors and textures. “I add a little  spice and earthiness to all my dishes. As much as I like simplicity, I  tend to go more complex with a lot of detail and layered depth”. Her  medium rare lamb chops, served with a zingy cranberry sauce and green  tomatoes roasted with cayenne peppers were but two of the many ingenuous dishes she graciously prepared to please my palate.

Bill Hartig, executive chef at Doc Martin’s Restaurant in the historic Taos  Inn, serves me a perfectly cooked medium rare hanger steak with sides of red, white and purple roasted potatoes and crunchy chimichurri broccoli rabe. Stopping to chat, he tells me “I never stop trying to improve and work hard to keep moral high in the kitchen”.

Santa Fe and Taos - Taos Plaza

The Taos Plaza is a gathering place for locals and visitors. Manzanita Market, owned  by Jennifer Hart, is an organic farm-to-table health food market, open  for breakfast and lunch. Featuring home cooking, and working with local  farmers, its mission is to create good & simple nutrient dense food. I order a bowl of corn chowder, thick with corn, tortilla chips and  vegetables, and a warm turkey sandwich with chipotle spiced fig jam,  creamy rosemary, Spanish chévre and balsamic greens...  absolutely  delicious. In addition to an organic food menu and homemade ice cream,  the shop sells craft napkins, aprons, and essential oils.

Dean Little Lake Johnson greets me when I enter his Smoke Signals Native  Peace Pipes Shop. and shares a little history. “Before talking of holy  things, we prepare ourselves by offerings, one will fill his pipe and hand it to the other who will light it and offer it to the sky and  earth; the smoke tendrils that dance toward the Heavens carry prayers to the Great Spirit; they will smoke together and then be ready to talk”.  The ceremonial pipe has always been the very semblance of tranquility  and harmony that all those that truly walk the road seek amid a world of confusion. It is an honor to own a Native-made pipe; it comes with  great responsibility; ceremonial pipes are for meditation and prayer,  giving the “keeper” of the pipe great powers as long as he or she lives an “honorable life”.

The Historic  Taos Trolley Tour takes me out to the Taos Pueblo. I watch a  100-foot-high pole being erected for a climbing contest … a highlight of tomorrow’s sacred San Geronimo Festival. It begins to rain; the  deafening roar of thunder and bolts of lightning electrify the sky;  perhaps the spirits are cleansing the earth for the celebration of  prayers and feasting.

The Harwood Museum of Art has brought the arts of Taos to the world and the world’s art to Taos since 1923. In 1918, artists Burt and Elizabeth Harwood moved from France to Taos and purchased a property with several small adobe buildings. It  became the town’s only library, and then from 1924 on, it was given over to exhibitions. Today, it continues to embrace new trends in American  Art. Its 12 unique galleries tell a comprehensive story of art in Taos:  from the Taos Society of Artists to the Taos Moderns, from Pueblo to  Hispano and from traditional to cutting edge... representing not only  diverse artists and cultural traditions, but also how they influenced  each other.

The complimentary hotel  shuttle takes me out to the Millicent Rogers Museum; I wander for hours, enthralled with the life and collections of this amazing fearless  woman. Many strong women found their voice hiking the mountains, skiing, fishing and capturing Mother Nature at her purest: sketching and  painting, inspired by the  freedom to express their inner fears and  passions.

Gallery owners David Mapes and Robert Parsons share the magnetism that has shaped their lives and  livelihood in Taos. Robert Parsons, owner of the Parsons Gallery of the West and the Kit Carson Gallery, came to Taos in 1980 selling and collecting antique rugs. He tells me “the  mountains and land of manana have accepted me. Being here is conducive  to feeding the spirit; to being more creative. Young people who came in  the 1900s set the stage for what Taos is now; you weren’t judged and  you still aren’t. Taos is an incredibly social town; something happening every night. Every artist hanging in this gallery is known; and when  buyers come through the door they know we’re established. I have left  many times, but always come back. The magic is still here”.

Santa Fe and Taos David Mapes in front of “Torches” by artist Peter Opheim

David Mapes, originally from LA, followed his heart to Taos 32 years ago. As a highly creative furniture maker, his designs blend art deco and art  nouveau with New Mexico styles and history. Reclaiming 1860s floor  boards, he recently turned them into an elegant embossed headboard. And  as the owner of the David Anthony Fine Arts Gallery, David hangs  the works of local and International artists. He tells me “I wouldn’t  trade my life for anything; being here close to nature, the authenticity of personal relationships, and being surrounded by loving people who do not judge you for what you wear or the car you drive, nurtures my soul. It’s easy to live off the grid and not part of society; Taos is immune  to happenings in other parts of the country. We share our love of place  with our Native American neighbors, and respect their heritage and role  as community builders”.. His latest challenge, mastering the art of  animated videos as an innovative way to get people excited about art.

I too feel myself drawn to the powers of Taos… like a moth to an open  flame, and will long remember the magic that touched my heart.

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