High Road from Taos
northern New Mexico
This route connects two of New Mexico’s top tourist towns: Taos and Santa Fe. Officially, the scenic byway is called the High Road TO Taos but I drove it FROM Taos for this story. And while I went onto Santa Fe, I stopped recording in Española because the highway between the cities is essentially four lanes through suburbs. That said, this drive from
Española to Taos is gorgeous either way. The area has been special to humans for at least a thousand years. Ancestral Puebloan people settled in what is now Taos around 1000 AD. Their descendants have lived continuously in Taos Pueblo since and visitors are welcome. Modern-day Taos is also known for its prominent art scene, nearby ski resort and adobe architecture. This ride starts with a drive around Taos Plaza before continuing to the outskirts of town and San Francisco de Asis Church. Built by the Spanish in the early 1800s, it was a favorite subject of artists Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams. It’s also the only original church that’s still intact in the Taos area. At 7,000 feet, Taos sits very high in the northern New Mexico desert. The scenic byway leaves Taos and climbs higher into the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It’s a relaxing drive through pretty alpine scenery and small towns. About 33 miles later, NM 76 curves through Las Trampas and another church appears on the left. San José de Gracia was constructed between 1760 - 1776. It’s one of New Mexico’s best-preserved examples of Spanish Colonial architecture and a National Historic Landmark that’s still the heart of the surrounding farming community. Down the byway is Truchas, a pretty town perched on the side of a valley. It was once the setting for Robert Redford’s film, The Milagro Beanfield War. The last stop features the byway’s third major church, the charming El Santuario de Chimayó. Known for its “healing soil,” the church is an important Catholic pilgrimage center with 300,000 visitors a year.
Route & Map
This byway is considered the backroad from Taos to Santa Fe and the most scenic part runs from Taos Plaza to El Santuario de Chimayó.
Length & Time
It’s 50 miles from Taos Plaza to Chimayó so plan on a half day with stops.
Best Time to Visit
The byway is open year-round but the elevation is very high so winters can be tricky.
Visit Taos is very useful and includes a section on San Francisco de Asis Church. The National Park Service also has info on San Francisco de Asis, San José de Gracia and El Santuario de Chimayó. And El Santuario de Chimayó maintains a website with news and schedules.