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Taos, New Mexico: Rugged and Refined

The heavens look different from Taos. Peer up on a clear, cloudless midnight, and the galaxies aren’t just boundless, they’re mystical.

The same might be said for the biking trails.

I’d come looking for something new. After spending four days mountain biking near Denver, I wanted to return to my birthplace and re-explore the Sangre de Cristo range of mountains near Taos, north of Santa Fe. Armed with a book called “Mountain Biking in Northern New Mexico,” I picked about a half-dozen trails that I thought worth riding, and figured I’d deal with lodging when the need arose.

I pulled into town shortly after sunset, rented a room at the Casa Benavides bed-and-breakfast, and within an hour was walking the streets of Taos, gazing up at a full moon and stars, and drinking in the place: its churches, its tourist shops, its pubs, its solace. Part hippy, part Hollywood, Taos combines a feel of an artist colony, a tourist destination, a haunting, Stephen King-esque middle-of-nowhere overnight stop, and a westward rush for land investors all in one.

At first, honestly, I didn’t think I would find my niche.

During a late-night solo dinner at the Adobe Bar in the historic Taos Inn the first night, I talked with a mother and daughter from out east who were shopping for investment property. They’d heard Taos was hot — Julia Roberts owns a ranch here; Lance Armstrong trained on its mountains — and they had flown out strictly to survey their odds.

I almost didn’t stick around.

The next day, I toured Taos Pueblo, a 1,000-plus-year-old Indian village on the northwest edge of town. Now primarily a tourist destination, the village is still home to some 150 Taos Indians who live in tiny adobe buildings with no electricity or water.


I decided to give Taos a second chance.

From there I called a friend of a friend, who hooked me up with a place to stay — on her couch, last minute — and tips on the best mountain bike trails in the region.

It was there I found a new side of Taos.

Suddenly I was among a group of some 15 transplants from around the country, a community of 20-somethings, all of whom had fled more conventional lives to work low-wage jobs and live in practical communes.

We drank beers at a local brew pup, Eske’s, and ate a southwestern chicken chili that still has me thinking about it. We watched an acoustic concert in the historic plaza downtown, part of a local concert series every Thursday night during the summer, that drew hundreds of locals and could be heard echoing off the downtown buildings well into the night.

We then hit the two-lane highway, out to a dark ranch along the canyon roads southwest of Taos, where we sat around a campfire until 2 a.m. We spent the night gazing at the star-filled sky, passing bottles and pondering the meaning of life.

It made the mountain bike rides the next day all the more fun.

Riding up singletrack canyon trails alone, among wildlife and backdrops of nature’s wonders, I couldn’t help but get lost in those thoughts again. I still am.

This story originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sept. 4, 2005. But if I close my eyes, I can be in Taos like it was yesterday.

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