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Taos calls itself the “Soul of the Southwest,” and like most good souls, it has many appealing parts. Here are five reasons to discover, or rediscover, this New Mexico gem.

RELATED: Santa Fe is a city we can’t stop loving and here’s why

The great outdoors

A desert dotted with piñon, framed by mountains dotted with pine, pink and turquoise sunsets over both, will inspire you to get outside.

For skiers and snowboarders, Taos Ski Valley is as good as it gets, with nearly 1,300 acres of skiable terrain, including legendary powder, steeps, moguls and gladed runs. When the snow melts, there is hiking and mountain biking on the trails, including on formidable Kachina Peak, which tops out at a breathtaking (literally) 12,491 feet.

New Mexico, Taos, Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is the second highest bridge in the US highway system, 650 feet above the water below. An adjacent park offers marked trails for stunning views. Or, if you have the nerve, walk across the bridge to one of the platforms that jut into space.

Photo courtesy of Evelyn Kanter

Take a llama to lunch. Llama Adventures offers day hikes and multi-day trekking. These sure-footed woolly creatures haul your gear, leaving your hands free for photos, and for puppy-like nuzzles.

One-of-a-kind art & design

Taos has been attracting artists since the turn of the last century for its scenery, incredible light and laid-back vibe, and it has more art museums and art galleries than most cities its size.

Photo courtesy of Evelyn Kanter

The Harwood Museum of Art,  housed in a 1916 Pueblo-style building, focuses on contemporary art and traditional Hispanic art. One featured artist is Dennis Hopper, who settled in the area after filming “Easy Rider” here. He is buried a few blocks away.

The Taos Art Museum at the Fechin House is the former home and studio of Russian-born artist Nicholai Fechin, featuring his own artwork and hand-carved furniture, along with other local artists.

The Blake is a new upscale hotel (opened January ’17) located steps from the Taos Ski Valley chairlifts, featuring a multi-million dollar collection of artwork, including sculptures and pottery, all by local artists and photographers. Galleries are concentrated downtown, mostly around the Historic Taos Plaza and Ledoux Street.

Meanwhile, design buffs will love El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa, an eco-conscious property set right at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that blends elaborate Southwest, Native American, Mexican and Moroccan design elements. The resort features colorfully decorated, wood-beamed rooms and casitas, plus four acres of gardens including a Sacred Circle, plenty of lush greenery and waterfalls.

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Native American culture

Archeologists say people have lived in this valley since before Europeans emerged from the Middle Ages, and their continued influence is a great part of the history and charm of Taos.

Taos Pueblo |Flickr CC: Larry Lamsa

Taos Pueblo has been inhabited continuously for more than 1,000 years, and is the only Native American community that is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a US National Historic Landmark. Today, many residents are artists, with studios where you can watch them work creating pottery, sculptures, weavings or jewelry. There also are regular festivals of traditional music, dance and storytelling.

There are six smaller pueblos between Taos and Santa Fe, also open for visits.

Millicent Rogers was a Standard Oil heiress, socialite, fashion model and fashionista, who began collecting Native American jewelry and art when she moved to Taos to recover from a broken romance (with Clark Gable). The Millicent Rogers Museum contains one of the world’s largest collections of arts and crafts, spanning 2,000 years, from all the cultures of the Southwest. The museum is housed in a historic Adobe-style hacienda with panoramic views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Delicious dining

Flickr CC: Jennifer Grimes

Taos restaurants serve up dishes reflecting Native American, Mexican and Spanish influence and the German heritage of ski resort founder Ernie Blake.

The Bavarian is a traditional-style log cabin that looks like it was air-lifted intact from the Alps. Menu items include goulashsuppe—a hearty beef dish that’s halfway between a stew and a soup.

Old Martina’s Hall is the new name of the Adobe-style bar and restaurant where Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda often recovered from a day of filming. Find everything from traditional pollo Yucatan, baked in banana leaves, to modern veggie burgers. There’s also a dance hall for live bands and two-stepping, and for local theater performances.

Chokola Bean to Bar is a chocoholic’s paradise, serving up artisanal sweets. Lavender-scented hot chocolate in winter becomes an ice flavor in warmer weather, and there are “flights” to sample single-bean chocolates made in the shop.

Day trips for miles

Even though there’s more than enough to keep you busy in Taos, there’s plenty to lure you away for the day, too.

In spring and summer, there’s gentle (Class II) rafting on the Rio Chama. Or, opt for the adrenalin-charged Class III and IV rapids on the Rio Grande, including the white-knuckle whitewater section known as the Taos Box.

Photo courtesy of Cumbres Toltek Scenic Railroad

It’s a scenic 150-mile drive to Chama, or board a historic steam train for an equally scenic 65-mile sightseeing trip through the Chama Valley, to Antonito, Colorado and back. The Cumbres/Toltek Scenic Railroad operates daily June through October.

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History is a few miles from Los Alamos, where the atomic bomb was developed and first tested in the 1940s. It’s a sobering look at modern warfare and its implications, with bombs, gas masks and historic newspapers and products with nuclear names on display, along with a hopeful glance into the life-saving potential of nuclear medicine.

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Tagged: New Mexico

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn Kanter

Evelyn is an NYC-based travel writer who would rather ride a chairlift, river raft or zipline than the subway. She's a regular contributor to major publications, including airline inflights, and has written more than a dozen travel guidebooks. Evelyn's website is www.ecoxplorer.com
Evelyn Kanter

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