It’s happened to people you know. They visit Taos to ski or raft the Rio Grande. Next year they’re back looking at land. Just a little property, they tell you, something for an investment, the prices are quite reasonable now.
Next thing you know they’ve built a house-maybe just a little house, a ski cabin-or maybe an adobe mansion. What is it about Taos, New Mexico, that calls us so seductively?
Superb outdoor recreation such as skiing, hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, fly fishing, even a decent golf course – these activities draw still-young retirees, entrepreneurs seeking relief from noise and congestion, even families with school-age kids. There is no doubt that the spectacular daily show staged across the sky can’t be as dramatic in any other setting.
Snow-tipped mountain peaks soar above the Rio Grande Gorge, a 650-foot-deep crack in the pine-studded mesa. The smoky scent of sage on your clothes lingers after your hike just long enough to make you get out your BLM maps and plan the next outing. Yet, while other Rocky Mountain towns offer natural beauty, outdoor recreation, good restaurants, and interesting shops, Taos has something more.
It’s not only a fascinating cultural heritage with first-class sites such as Taos Pueblo and the Ranchos Church and age-old ceremonies such as Las Posadas during the holidays. It’s not just the energetic arts and crafts scene, the affordable live entertainment, free summer concerts on the Plaza, a vibrant children’s theater. Taos has an essence that goes beyond these things.
Above and beyond these attractions, Taos is first and foremost a community of fascinating, outgoing people. Stronger than the sum of its other well-known attractions, this community embraces the newcomer and keeps a firm grip on the old-timer so that despite a lagging economy, people sacrifice and change their avowed direction just to stay. Young and not-so-young wanderlusts arrive with spring winds and linger as long as they can.
The Desire to Remain
You’ll find them bagging your groceries, posting ads for house sitting services, or hiring out as laborers to plant trees or pound nails. Self-employed couples sit at their computers in an unfamiliar, off-the-grid home, intent on continuing a high-tech consulting business with clients in Detroit or Dallas. The most persistent of both of these groups manage to stay.
The luckiest pilgrims arrive with a substantial savings account, fully retired, and within the first six months quickly become involved in every nonprofit corporation in Taos. Within a few years, they’re writing plays to be held backstage at the Taos Community Auditorium or they’ve booked archeological tours to Belize, and they’ve narrowed their volunteer commitment to three board spots and one day a week as a docent at the Millicent Rogers Museum.
What they share with the other ‘newcomers’-going back a century or so-is an enthusiasm and a sense of participation that puts everyone on an equal footing, in spirit at least. The result is that everyday aging actors, young artists, and retired Texas oil executives rub shoulders with Hispanic woodcarvers, spiritual practitioners of every sort, massage therapists, real estate brokers, software engineers, Native American sculptors, country musicians, produce growers, university professors, and teenaged poets, and nobody feels out of place.
Rubbing Shoulders as Peers
You can sit two rows behind movie star Julia Roberts-a part-time Taos resident-at the TCA and nobody gives her a second glance. You can stand next to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his family warming their hands at a Pueblo bonfire on Christmas Eve, and no one asks you to move along or stand back.
You’ll see actor Dean Stockwell shopping at the local Raley’s or Dennis Hopper in the crowd at the annual Solar Music Fest in Kit Carson Park. A few years ago, it was a common experience to dine across the room from legendary Navajo artist R.C. Gorman (who passed away last year). John Nichols, the author of The Milagro Beanfield War, reads at meetings of SOMOS, the local writers’ club.
Just about everyone you meet in Taos becomes your friend. You run into people often enough that soon one of you is asking the other to join a small group for a potluck. Groups expand and contract, depending on the size of the host’s or hostesses’ kitchen or patio; who is hosting guests from out of town; and who is away visiting their family in another state.
A Feeling of Belonging
You meet people with stories: a retired government worker turned actor, a former ad agent who now exhibits and sells brilliant pastel paintings, a couple who gave up their garden in a New York suburb to raise and sell organic fruits and vegetables at the local farmers’ market.
You see your friends at the Santa Fe Opera, at a Southern Methodist University concert, watching the Arroyo Seco Fourth of July parade, on the ski slopes, waiting their turn at the meat counter in Cid’s Market. You see each other so often it becomes a joke. After you’ve lived here awhile, you feel an urgent desire to be creative in some way. You take art courses at the University of New Mexico, study jewelry making, weaving, or fashioning pottery from the local micaceous clay.
Although you’ve left most of your family in other states, in Taos you are never lonely. You step outside to watch the sunset, feeling that you have never been more at peace. A strange thought comes to you: Taos has a heart, you think, or maybe Taos IS a heart. It’s the community you cherish and that cherishes you back; the landscape you dream of when you are away. It is where your heart has found a home.
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