This splendid road through the valley floor served Spanish explorers as the gateway into Colorado from the south. Since Chama is featured in the Tracks Across Borders Scenic Byway, this trip begins in Taos for an introduction into a combined Hispanic and Native American cultures. Starting in Taos where the Sangre de Cristo mountains ring a valley that seems to stretch into an infinite horizon. After exploring the multi-cultural dimensions of arts and heritage in Taos, on Day Two you’ll be headed for Antonito and up into the Rio Grande National Forest. At Antonito, explore the murals painted on many historic properties along Main Street. Moving on to Conejos, visit Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Colorado’s oldest congregation and stop at Conejos County Museum and Visitor Center. After spending the night in San Luis, where Colorado began and where historic sites are everywhere. Visit the Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center and check out the murals here too. On Day Three, after your complete your exploration of San Luis, you’ll be heading up to Fort Garland, where the Fort Garland Museum is a must see.
From there, it’s time to spend the rest of the day at Great Sand Dunes National Park before staying at Zapata Ranch, with luxury accommodations on a working ranch complete with bison and cattle. Your trip ends in Alamosa, a tightly knit community which serves as the central crossroads of commerce and travel in the valley. Squeeze in a trip on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad if you can and top off the day with dinner. If you choose to close the loop return to your starting point of Taos.
Few know that there is a 30 square mile sand dune field in North America. Against the backdrop of rugged 14,000′ peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the natural system of Great Sand Dunes National Park ranges from great sand dunes to forests, from cottonwood groves to majestic mountain peaks and tundra. As the tallest dunes in North America, they are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Experience a starry sky on moonless nights, sand board or sled down the dunes, or take a surreal walk on the dunes under bright full moonlight. Begin your visit with the short film on the history of the dunes and exhibits showing the unique formation of the great sand dunes. Your van view the dune field from the parking lot and explore Medano Creek, sand sled down the dunes, or take a four wheel drive tour through the dunes.
Fort Garland, manned by a garrison of over 100 men, was commanded by legendary frontiersman Kit Carson. Today, you can explore life in the 19th century fort, walk the parade grounds and tour the original adobe buildings. Learn about the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry who were stationed at the Fort from 1876 to 1879 and discover Colorado’s role in the Civil War. Exhibits also highlight the women and children who brought a bit of home to the fort. Also visit Pike’s Stockade, where Zebulon Pike and his men camped in the early 1800s.
The Rio Grande Scenic Railroad is Colorado’s newest leisure train offering steam powered excursions through breathtaking mountains and over legendary LaVeta Pass. Board the train’s authentically restored railroad cars at Alamosa and travel to the quaint mountain town of LaVeta, enjoying Colorado history and mining stories along the way. You may even catch a glimpse of wildlife–including bears! Morning and afternoon departures are available.
The Sangre de Cristo Heritage Center, the centerpiece of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, is home to the San Luis Museum, Community Theater, and a Community Kitchen. It also features contemporary murals, historic “Santos,” wooden carvings by local Hispanic artists and a replica of a Morada; utilized as a place of worship before churches were built.
Taos Pueblo is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited Native American community in the nation. It is a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. As a member of the Eight Northern Pueblos, Taos is one of the most private, secretive, and conservative. Residents almost never speak of their religious customs to outsiders and their language has never been written down. The ancestors of the Taos people lived in Pueblo long before Columbus discovered America and hundreds of years before Europe emerged from the Dark Ages. The major buildings were most likely built between 1000 and 1450 A.D. The first Spanish explorers arriving in New Mexico in 1540, believing that the Pueblo was one of the fabled golden cities of Cibola. Two structures: Hlauuma – the north house- and Hlaukwima – the south house are said to be of similar age.
Since you are in Taos, you have the opportunity to drive the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, which circles 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. The route, which begins in Taos, travels for 83 scenic miles through mountains, valleys, a mesa and forest land in absolutely captivating landscapes.
Taos is a one-of-a-kind art colony with ancient rock art on canyon walls and pottery from the Pueblo people, coexisting with creative pieces from the Taos Society of Artists and other visionaries working today. Art galleries feature traditional art and contemporary fine art, Native American art, Southwest art, Indian art and pottery, glass art, prints, sculpture, fine art photography and other types of visual art and on the first Saturday of each month, feature demonstrations, artist receptions, and other events. Other arts locations include the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, the home and studio of E. I. Couse, the Taos Artist Collective, Enchanted Circle Pottery, Wilder Nightingale Fine Art and 203 Fine Art.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, the oldest parish in Colorado was founded in 1858. The original church built as a log jacal of vertical logs lashed together and plastered with adobe, was central to spreading Catholicism throughout Colorado. It was later replaced by Our Lady of Guadeloupe Church, a larger adobe structure with prominent bell towers, built around the original building in 1863. A statue of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, brought by the first settlers to the area, sits above the entrance.
Sitting above La Mesa de la Piedad y de la Misericordia (the Hill of Piety and Mercy) in the center of town, the Stations of the Cross encompasses a series of ¾ size bronze statues at each of the 15 stations of the cross, the final hours Jesus Christ. Created by internationally known artist Huberto Maestas, the walk ends at the top at the chapel, La Capilla de Todos Los Santos (The Chapel of All Saints).
Take a free guided tour through the 1800’s replica buildings and Native American dwellings of the White Mountain Trading Post. After getting a brief overview of the settling of the west, browse the gift which features handmade Native American jewelry, rugs, and pottery, hand carved wood and hand forged metal wares, homemade lye soap, blown glass pieces, elk antler tables, jam, and more.