Taos, New Mexico

Remote and resplendent Taos, a diminutive town of about 6,500 nestled beneath New Mexico’s highest peaks, has long been a haven for artists, bohemians and free spirits. The percentage of gays and lesbians in the population is likely far less than Santa Fe or Albuquerque, but Taos nevertheless pulls in a considerable number of GLBT visitors. It’s a perfect long-weekend destination, just 90 minutes from Santa Fe and a little over four hours from Denver. The town abounds with exceptional art galleries, notable restaurants, gay-friendly B&Bs and an almost endless supply of cultural and outdoor diversion.

In choosing a place to stay, go with either of two strategies: If you’re here more for relaxation and romance, and to soak up the 50-mile views, opt for one of the gay-friendly inns 10 miles north of town in the spectacularly scenic village of Arroyo Seco, which also has a couple of superb restaurants. If you’re more the type to explore art galleries and museums and sample as many restaurants as possible, pick one of the excellent properties right in the heart of Taos’s small downtown.

Among downtown properties, the swanky El Monte Sagrado ranks among the most stunning small resorts in New Mexico. This sumptuous compound—built with revolutionary environmental technology that makes it one of the “greenest” hotels anywhere—has individually decorated rooms, suites and casitas in all sizes, with international themes and priceless art and furniture; most have fireplaces and some have private decks with hot tubs. The hotel’s Living Spa offers a wide range of fabulous treatments, and El Monte’s elegant De la Tierra restaurant serves superb, globally influenced cuisine, such Moroccan lamb with harissa and barbecue eggplant, and crispy Onaga snapper with a Russian caviar beurre blanc sauce.

Another great pick right in the heart of Taos is historic—and allegedly haunted—Taos Inn.

Some of the retro-cool rooms in this atmospheric hotel open onto a small courtyard, while others are inside the 1930s main building. Even if you don’t stay here, enjoy margaritas in the classy Adobe Bar, or on the adjacent patio—it’s the top perch for people-watching in Taos. Hotel La Fonda is another excellent, upscale option—it’s right on Taos Plaza and is home to the phenomenal Joseph’s Table restaurant, where you might sample such creative fare as soy-cured duck breast with ginger sauce and a sweet-potato tamale. Rooms in this rambling adobe inn come in a good range of configurations and prices and have attractive Southwestern furnishings—some have kiva-style gas fireplaces and separate sitting rooms.

An enchanting, reasonably priced option that’s just a short drive south of downtown, the gay-friendly American Artists Gallery House consists of 10 charmingly furnished rooms and suites, all with wood-burning fireplaces and knock-out views of the Sangre de Cristos. Each unit has a private entrance, but guests can also mingle over a hearty full breakfast each morning in the sunny dining room.

Up in Arroyo Seco, the luxurious, light-filled Adobe and Stars B&B offers stunning 360-degree vistas of the surrounding countryside. This contemporary house is surrounded by decks and patios and filled with big windows, high ceilings and elegant furniture; some guest rooms have Jacuzzis and fireplaces. Nearby, Salsa del Salto is an inviting inn with spacious rooms, some in the main building and others in a more private wing. The best rooms have jetted whirlpool tubs and fireplaces, but all are handsomely furnished.

With an especially peaceful and hidden-away location on a mesa a few miles west of Arroyo Seco, the moderately priced Little Tree B&B affords panoramic views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and Rio Grande Valley. The four simple but refined guest rooms in this authentic adobe house open onto a flowery garden usually buzzing with hummingbirds.

Taos is a vibrant mix of the region’s Indian, Spanish and frontier legacies, further influenced by the legions of artists, writers and creative spirits who have settled—or at the very least passed through—among them Ansel Adams, D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe and Aldous Huxley. You can tour dozens of art galleries in the center of town, which also contains quite a few funky specialty shops, selling everything from Day of the Dead figurines to New Age crystals.

Downtown also has four superb art museums of the caliber you’d expect of a much larger city. Start with a tour of the Taos Art Museum, a striking adobe house that was once the home of famed Russian portraitist Nicholai Fechin. Here you get to explore Fechin’s life and see his portraits, and you also get a good sense of Taos’ early master painters and the history of this fabled art colony.

Two other excellent art museums—the Blumenschein Home and Museum and the Harwood Museum—are just a few blocks away. Ernest Blumenschein was one of the founders of the Taos art colony, and his stunningly restored 1797 hacienda contains original furnishings, vintage photos and paintings by him and his many prominent colleagues. A few doors down, the prodigious and prestigious Harwood Museum contains a mix of items, from Spanish Colonial religious iconography to stark and provocative modern works by such 20th-century notables as Marsden Hartley (who was openly gay), John Marin and Agnes Martin.

It’s the Millicent Rogers Museum, however, that’s often the top highlight of arts-minded visitors. This rambling adobe house overflows with thousands of decorative arts and crafts, mostly of local Hispanic and Native American origin. You can find everything here from Navajo blankets to turquoise jewelry to fine pottery. It’s an excellent place to gain an overview of New Mexico’s rich arts legacy, which dates back many centuries. If you have time, leave the museum by continuing north on U.S. 64, turning left (still on U.S. 64) at the traffic signal, and following the road about 7 miles west to the vertigo-inducing Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which rises some 650-feet above the wild river below—it’s a terrific photo op.

If museum-hopping isn’t your thing, consider the town’s wealth of outdoor activities. A favorite draw is white water rafting through Taos Box, a dramatic 17-mile span of the Rio Grande River that cuts through a deep gorge of steep, black-basalt cliffs. Mountain-biking and fly-fishing are similarly popular diversions, and Taos Country Club (which is open to the public) offers 18 holes of golf out along a magnificent high mesa south of downtown. Surrounding Taos is Carson National Forest, much of which sprawls across the 13,000-foot Sangre de Cristo mountains; this is prime hiking territory. Finally, in winter, Taos Ski Valley—about 20 miles northeast of downtown—is a huge attraction. It’s consistently ranked by top ski magazines as one of the most difficult and exciting facilities in the country.

Taos may be small and informal, but it enjoys an excellent reputation for outstanding—and highly sophisticated—restaurants. Two of the musts for foodies are Joseph’s Table and De la Tierra, mentioned above. Another top pick, up in Arroyo Seco, is Sabroso Restaurant and Bar, which occupies a romantic hacienda-style building and serves delicious Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. It’s known for its stellar wine list (lots of hard-to-find Spanish and Italian varietals), and there’s live music in the bar many evenings. Taos has no gay bars per se, but the bar at Sabroso (as well as the one at the Taos Inn) both have something of a GLBT following.

On Taos’ south side, the Trading Post Café has made a name for itself serving hearty contemporary American and Italian fare; the walls here are hung with local art. A favorite with locals, Byzantium occupies a discreet courtyard a short walk south of the Plaza and serves up unusual, globally inspired creations, such as lobster potpie with artichoke hearts and sweet corn, simmered in a brandy bisque. The Apple Tree, in an 19th-century Territorial-style house near the Plaza, offers an eclectic mix of Southwestern and American dishes, from smoked trout to veggie green curry. It’s especially popular for Sunday brunch.

For lighter, healthful fare, head to the Dragonfly Café & Bakery, a European-inspired eatery with a lovely courtyard and a convenient location near shopping and galleries. A popular venue for breakfast or lunch, the Dragonfly serves such memorable fare as fennel pancakes with orange syrup, and udon noodle bowls with fresh shrimp. If you’re passing through Arroyo Seco, be sure to visit Taos Cow, a lively cafe serving tasty deli sandwiches and iconic house-made ice cream (pinon-caramel is a favorite flavor). It’s the perfect spot to soak up local flavors, people-watch, and enjoy the magnificent views of the high desert and soaring peaks that surround Taos.

Andrew Collins covers gay travel for the New York Times-owned website About.com and is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA. He can be reached care of this publication or at <[email protected]>.

The Little Black Book

Adobe and Stars B&B (575-776-2776 or 800-211-7076, <www.taosadobe.com>).

American Artists Gallery House (800-532-2041, <www.taosbedandbreakfast.com>).

The Apple Tree (575-758-1900).

Byzantium (575-751-0805).

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery (575-737-5859, <www.dragonflytaos.com>).

El Monte Sagrado and De la Tierra (800-826-TAOS, <www.elmontesagrado.com>).

Hotel La Fonda and Joseph’s Table (575-758-2211 for hotel, 575-751-4512 for restaurant, <www.lafondataos.com> and <www.josephstable.com>).

Little Tree B&B (575-776-8467 or 800-334-8467, <www.littletreebandb.com>).

Momentitos de la Vida (575-776-3333).

Sabroso Restaurant and Bar (575-776-3333, <www.sabrosotaos.com>).

Salsa del Salto (575-776-2422, <www.bandbtaos.com>).

Taos Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau (575-758-3873 or 800-732-8267, <www.taoschamber.com>).

Taos Cow (575-776-5640, <www.taoscow.com>).

Taos Inn (575-758-2233 or 800-826-7466, <www.taosinn.com>). Trading Post Café (575-758-5089, <www.tradingpostcafe.com>).

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