living room area at the Phoenix Earthship at the
Greater World Community.
todayís information onslaught, smartphone appendages and
retail profiling, getting off the grid may seem like a
uniquely 21st century desire. But the northern New Mexico
town of Taos has been a go-to physical and spiritual oasis
for people looking to escape since the early 1900s.
Ernest Blumenschein, novelist D.H. Lawrence and arts
patron and salon hostess Mabel Dodge Luhan were among the
first wave of creative types to head to the remote area
once occupied by Native Americans and Spanish colonials.
perhaps no one did more to popularize Taos than Millicent
Rogers, the Standard Oil heiress and fashion icon whose
life was a fast-moving swirl of exquisitely decorated
homes, haute couture dresses, European vacations and
handsome paramours, before she escaped to New Mexico in
1947 following a messy breakup with Clark Gable. Rogers
took to the town immediately, renovating an adobe home
called Turtle Walk and collecting chunky silver Pueblo
jewelry, which she wore with broomstick skirts she had
specially commissioned in New York by her lifelong
collaborator, designer Charles James.
spring, while I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Artís
"Charles James: Beyond Fashion" exhibition, in
which nine of Rogersí incredible James evening gowns
were displayed, I started thinking about Taos and
wondering whether it still had the same allure it had for
Rogers and many others all those years ago. So one weekend
in June, I flew to Santa Fe and took the 52-mile scenic
drive through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to Taos.
approached Taos on New Mexico 68, it wasnít the beauty
that first struck me but the string of fast-food
restaurants and the Wal-Mart. Clearly, getting off the
grid wasnít going to be as easy as it was in Rogersí
day. Which is why after stopping for the best chile
relleno lunch of my life at the Taos Inn, I drove 14 miles
northwest of town to Earthship Biotecture, a planned
sustainable community with 75 homes, five of which are
available as nightly rentals. I wanted to try a day of
living contemplatively in a structure built of natural and
recycled materials, with thermal solar heating and
cooling, renewable energy and integrated water systems.
community is the brainchild of architect Michael Reynolds,
who for 40 years has been researching, developing and
building Earth-friendly housing in Taos and around the
world for what he calls "radically sustainable
living." (His efforts are chronicled in the 2007
documentary "Garbage Warrior.")
off U.S. 64 and into the 650 acres of mesas known as the
Greater World Earthship Community is like driving onto the
set of "Mad Max," with dirt structures,
futuristic-looking turrets, solar-paneled roofs and
supporting walls made of recycled tires and glass beer
bottles glinting in the sunlight. What had I gotten into?
Then I reminded myself that this was off-the-grid lite,
with all the modern conveniences ó running water, an
indoor bathroom, even Wi-Fi and Apple TV.
a tour of the visitors center, which has an exhibit and a
couple of short films explaining the Earthship design
principles (as well as cheeky gift shop items such as a
bumper sticker that reads, "Climate Change? Bring It.
Earthship.com."), I followed one of the college-age
guides down a dirt road to check into my Earthship, a
structure that had been christened the Lone Tree II.
looked a bit like a Hobbit hole nestled into the side of
the mesa, with a north-facing wall of windows and an
indoor greenhouse with skylights. The decor? Rustic modern
with a full kitchen, living room, bedroom, bath and modest
furnishings. I plugged in my phone and settled on the
couch for a nap, letting the shadows dancing on the
mountains outside lull me to sleep.
ventured out for dinner, though I could have cooked at my
home sweet Earthship, as some of the rentals even have
indoor vegetable gardens.
the way to Taos Mesa Brewing, I stopped at the Rio Grande
Gorge Bridge, two miles east on U.S. 64, to gaze at the
water cutting through dramatic slices of earth, and to
take in the scene along the side of the road, where locals
had set up tables to sell jewelry and crafts and where an
enterprise called the Bus Stop Ice Cream and Coffee Shop
was operating out of an old yellow school bus.
watched a cool character streak by on a motorcycle,
"Easy Rider"-style, with what looked like all
his belongings, including a guitar, strapped to his back.
I could see why Dennis Hopper, who visited a commune here
to prepare for his role in the 1969 film and lived here on
and off afterward, loved Taos. "It was the place that
gave him the creative freedom he desired throughout his
life," his daughter Marin said on the occasion of the
first Dennis Hopper Day, held May 17, 2014, in Taos, and
featuring a bikers rally at the site of Hopperís 2010
funeral at Rancho de Taos, an "Easy Rider" ride
and a screening of the film.
Mesa Brewing is housed in an old converted airplane
hangar, four miles east of the bridge on 64. Outside on
the patio, strung with electric lights, tourists mixed
with locals, bicyclists and boozers. I ordered a beer
sampler and chuckled at the names on the menu (the
"Fungus Amungus" mushroom burger, for example).
The sunset was so sky-sprawling that no iPhone pic could
capture it, and the sounds of the eveningís live music
filtered out on the cooling breeze ó someone singing Bob
Dylanís lyrics: "Any day now, any day now, I shall
night, I shared the Earthship with a particularly
boisterous mouse, which was OK, I guess. After all, this
dirt mound was really more his than mine. Turning on the
Apple TV didnít feel right, so I picked up a book
instead. I canít say I slept soundly, but at least I had
the chance to catch the celestial light show outside,
brighter than any Iíd ever seen.
a gray water shower the next morning, I headed back to
Taos to explore and, later, experience more luxurious
accommodations at El Monte Sagrado resort. I stopped at
Taos Diner for a breakfast burrito "Christmas
style," with red and green chiles, that was big
enough to feed a family.
the empty roads in the early hours, it was easy to see how
Rogers and Luhan, women who had seen the world, could be
charmed by this corner of it. "There was no
disturbance in the scene, nothing to complicate the forms,
no trees or houses, or any detail to confuse one,"
Luhan wrote in her 1937 autobiography, "Edge of Taos
Desert." "It was like a simple phrase of music
or a single line of poetry, essential and reduced to the
and her Native American husband, Tony, built a home that
backs up onto Taos Pueblo land, just off Morada Lane. You
can stay in the beautiful, rambling white adobe structure,
now a bed-and-breakfast, where Mabel Dodge Luhan hosted
Ansel Adams, Martha Graham, Georgia OíKeeffe and Carl
Jung. Or you can just stop for a quick visit and a cup of
coffee, like I did. The building was also home for a while
to Hopper, who is remembered in a series of photos on a
wall in the living room, a warm space with a kiva
fireplace and Mabelís and Tonyís portraits sitting on
soon as it opened at 10 a.m., before the day got any
hotter, I toured Taos Pueblo. Bordering the town on the
northern side, itís a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where
the Taos-speaking tribe of Native Americans has been
living for more than 1,000 years. The puebloís
multistoried structures are impressive against the
backdrop of wide sky, and the stark white San Geronimo
Chapel is majestic in its simplicity. But even though it
may look tranquil, the church has a violent history. Built
in 1619, it was destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt
against the Spanish, rebuilt and then destroyed again in
1847 by U.S. troops in retaliation for the assassination
of Charles Bent, New Mexicoís first territorial
governor, who was killed by Pueblo and Mexican attackers.
The current church was built in 1850. On most days,
residents are on the grounds selling jewelry, totem
animals and fry bread.
picked up a pair of silver earrings and got back in the
car, ready to venture into the heart of town. Taos is just
shy of 6,000 residents and counts tourism (and nearby ski
resorts ) as its primary industry. The center of the
Downtown Historic District is Taos Plaza. But I didnít
find the assortment of shops and restaurants there to be
nearly as appealing as the ones on Bent Street, just off
the square. Among the Bent Street offerings are FX18,
which features locally made gifts and accessories;
Chocolate (plus) Cashmere, which has homemade chocolates
in flavors such as lavender and honey, plus cashmere hats,
socks and baby booties; and Coyote Moon, which offers
colorful Mexican folk art and Indian jewelry.
a sandwich at the Bent Street Cafe & Deli, I drove to
the Millicent Rogers Museum, which was founded by her
family in 1956 and contains her considerable collection of
Spanish and Native American art and jewelry. The most
impressive piece is a hulking turquoise necklace by Zuni
artist Leekya Deyuse that Rogers bought in 1947 at the
Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, N.M. It has 294
irregularly shaped pieces of blue and green turquoise and
a huge pendant, weighing a total of 4 pounds. There are
also pieces of jewelry Rogers made herself, which are
quite abstract and modern-looking.
must-see is the Harwood Museum of Art, which features
works that speak to the Anglo, Latino and Native American
heritage of New Mexico, as well as the role Taos has
played in the American art scene. The Agnes Martin
Gallery, an octagonal room featuring seven of the Taos
artistís serenely minimalist canvases, and four Donald
Judd-designed benches for sitting, rivals the Rothko
Chapel in Houston as a spiritual art experience.
the art theme, I spent an hour strolling the galleries on
Kit Carson Road. At Living Light Gallery, Taos
photographer Lenny Fosterís images of hands ó cooking,
writing, praying and loving ó were uplifting. Mission
Gallery and the nearby Robert L. Parsons Fine Art had
impressive collections of works by early Taos artists. I
also popped into a store called Horsefeathers to check out
the vintage cowboy boots. But I didnít buy much in Taos;
the town is not about shopping. Itís not Santa Fe.
a day of sightseeing, I was ready for El Monte Sagrado, a
hotel with 48 rooms, 30 suites and six casitas, leafy
grounds with rambling brooks, and a spa with globally
inspired treatments. While I was there, an upstairs
gallery was featuring an exhibition of works by Hollywood
actor, Taos artist and Hopper pal Robert Dean Stockwell,
including his witty cross sculptures made of dice. The
hotelís luxurious design and decor are inspired by
Native American heritage, and many of the rooms are named
after prominent Native American figures. (I stayed in the
Chief Joseph suite.)
the late afternoon, I had a glass of wine outside, sitting
at the base of a green meadow laid out like a carpet below
the Taos Mountains. I wished that Iíd had time for
another nap, or even just a little more time to waste.
Maybe it was the altitude (Taos is nearly 7,000 feet above
sea level). Or maybe I was, as Dylan wrote, being
dinner, I drove north of town to sample Spanish cuisine at
El Meze, which is in a historic hacienda with a lovely
outdoor patio. Chef Frederick Muller prepared rustic
comfort food with fresh regional ingredients, including
New Mexico bolita beans and sharp white cheddar spooned
onto grilled flat bread, grilled whole trout and lavender
creme brulee, with a nice selection of French and Spanish
wines to wash it down.
night came on, the waitress passed around blankets to keep
diners warm. And when the sunset began to splash across
the sky like the watercolors on one of Blumenscheinís
canvases, I resisted the urge to pull out my iPhone. I
wanted to stay off the grid just a little bit longer.
ON TAOS TIME
to Stay and Eat: Green lodging, craft beer and a breakfast
burrito big enough for a family of seven.
Biotecture, 2 Earthship Way, Taos, N.M.; (575) 751-0462,
earthship.com. From $130 per night, depending on the unit.
Monte Sagrado, 317 Kit Carson Road, Taos, N.M.; (575)
758-3502, elmontesagrado.com. From $169 per night.
Martinís Restaurant at the Taos Inn, 125 Paseo Del
Pueblo Norte, Taos, N.M; (575) 758-1977, taosinn.com.
Mesa Brewing, 20 ABC Mesa Road, El Prado, N.M.; (575)
758-1900, taosmesabrewing.com. Craft brewery and concert
space with gourmet bar food.
Diner, 908 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, Taos, N.M.; (575)
758-2374, taosdiner.com. An old-fashioned diner with a
good menu of Mexican favorites.
Street Cafe & Deli, 120 Bent St., Taos, N.M.; (575)
758-5787, bentstreetdeli.com. Family-owned cafe in the
Taos Downtown Historic District.
Meze, 1017 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, El Prado, N.M.; (575)
751-3337, elmeze.com. Rustic comfort food inspired by
Spain and the New World.