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A SUEPUR DESTINATION:

THE TAO OF TAOS, NEW MEXICO

by Susan Purdy

Many of the 10,000 residents of Taos, New Mexico say that people traveling through their town on their way elsewhere find themselves delaying their departure for decades. In fact, the majority of the people in Taos come from elsewhere but like the fine threads in a Native American blanket, they are woven together, each thread being as important to the pattern as the next. Perhaps that's why movie actress Julia Roberts enjoys living here and being one of the many people who color this magnificent landscape.

Residents will tell you their town is the spiritual center of the state. Called the 'Soul of the Southwest,' there is evidence that man has lived in the area as far back as 3,000 B.C., and the Native America Pueblo of Taos provides the link from these early inhabitants to the surviving native culture.

As soon as I arrived at the Touchstone Inn, Spa & Gallery, I experienced the spiritual side of Taos. It was a combination of things that made me feel instantly at home and at peace. Perhaps it was because the Inn, located a short distance from the main road, offered the quiet of a green sanctuary. The land abuts that of a medicine man and I felt that his blessings and incantations had caught the breeze and crossed the fence to the Inn's property. It was the labyrinth built of single stones, laid side-by-side that added to the spiritual atmosphere; a simple puzzle that relaxes all who enter. It is Chloe Bren Price, owner, resident artist and grandmother who draws you into the tranquility of Touchstone.

Many of Bren's watercolors hang in the dining room displaying another side of her personality. As an art teacher and traveler, Bren refers to a guiding philosophy in the book of her prose and paintings, "Inside the Wind."

"I believe creative expression is the pathway to human liberation and that liberation and inspiration often comes in the least likely places. While on a visit to the Summer Palace in Peking, a sage looked over my shoulder as I put marks of randomness onto the page to begin a drawing. All excited, he said, 'Ah! I see! You put the confusion in first.' By way of helping me understand my own work, I believe that this is a most precise understanding of the philosophy behind it. First comes confusion, then calm. Life is confusion; we must live one day at a time to bring about order; it is process. Each painting, each drawing, each creative work is a process of living, and living is a process of art. I see art in everything I do."

Her artistic touch has extended to creating a gentle approach to spa treatments at Touchstone -- such as a massage in a garden, a whirlpool under a tree and time spent outside contemplating the stars. I expected something different; I thought the spa at Touchstone would be a large complex with an indoor pool, aerobic classes and a well-appointed locker room. Instead, the adobe room furnished with an antique sofa facing a raised hearth fireplace, Native American blankets displayed on a wall and covering my bed, a Jacuzzi and a tiled floor beneath my feet provided an oasis. Therapists were called in by appointment to give facials, relaxation and detoxifying baths and massages. I unpacked and prepared to stay.

The next morning I wore the soft terry robe provided in my closet and walked to a building where I found Belen, the massage therapist, waiting for me in a room filled with scent and soft music. This young Basque woman was a healer and it was apparent in her touch. As she massaged me, her deep breathing was almost trance-like and as I matched her breathing pattern to my own, I could again feel myself becoming part of this spiritual experience. "Taos," she said, "is a healing center and a well-kept secret. Massage and other holistic practices are very much a part of the Native American rituals here."

That afternoon, I met Rhonda Flemming at Touchstone. A local metaphysician, poet and yoga instructor, she was as tiny as a child with white wispy hair that seem to dart around her face like flying fairies and blue eyes that could have been cold but seemed to shine with the warmth of a fire. She had come to offer me a free tarot card reading. We met at 8am the next day, and my first words were those of the witch in the play, "The Wiz." "Don't give me no bad news!" She said that her readings always concentrated on helping someone see what they should focus on at this stage in life. We shuffled cards and I picked four. Even I could see these were happy cards; nice colors and people doing interesting things. I learned that I was in a new cycle in life and it was time to envision what I wanted. I was to be flexible and follow my intuition, not letting a rational brain change my mind or allowing myself to be stopped by others who might inflict their rules. Joseph Campbell said it best when he advised, "Follow your bliss." Good advice for all.

Taos is an exotic mixture of cultures that co-exist in harmony. When I visited the Taos Pueblo just north of town, I discovered that in the Tiwa language, "Tao" or "Tua-tah" means Place of the Red Willows" and when the Spaniards arrived in 1540, they added the 's' and thus the name Taos. Guests must pay and admission and additional fee to use cameras while Pueblo residents sell crafts from small adobe houses. The church is cool and the altar statues are dressed for the four seasons. Another church to visit is San Francisco de Asis, built in 1710 and said to be the most painted and photographed church in New Mexico. 'Laying on of hands' takes on new meaning each June as parishioners and visitors all help to refresh and restore the adobe exterior with a new coating of mud from the hills. This jewel of a church is in desperate need of a new roof. If you are interested in learning more about this, log on to www.laplaza.com, click on 'community,' then 'Taos area churches.' The young priest, up to his elbows in mud when I spoke with him, will also tell you how to join the June mudslinging.

One cynical resident said, tongue-in-cheek, that not everyone who stayed in Taos years back had a choice. He claimed that some who wanted to leave started out but soon encountered the 1,000 ft. deep, 50 mile long Rio Grande Gorge and the thought of climbing down these steep cliffs and crossing the river soon sent people back to town. To get a bird's eye view of this magnificent site that cuts through the earth exposing the geological history of the area, I walked across the Gorge bridge built in 1965 and said to be the second highest suspension bridge in the US A little scary, especially when huge trucks rumbled past, causing the bridge to shake.

Like a freshman college cheer, I walked around Taos thinking, 'art rules!' Galleries and museums abound, each more interesting than the next. The Millicent Rogers Museum houses an excellent collection of folk art, jewelry and weavings. Navaho artist, R.C. Gorman's bronze sculpture, "Winona" is set in a particularly small and lovely garden. A must-see is the 3 1/2 lb. turquoise necklace worn by Millicent Rogers, a woman who only weighed 97 lbs. I suggested that I be given the necklace as I weighed substantially more than Ms. Rogers and could carry it with ease. I was ignored. Other places to visit include the Mabel Dodge Luhan House where I was fortunate to enjoy local dramatist, Roberta Meyers, perform as Mabel and who lectured about frequent guest Georgia O'Keefe making the house and history come alive.

With all this cultural mix, good food is easy to find in Taos. For Native American fare, stop in at the Tiwa Kitchen at the Pueblo and try the buffalo. For more traditional fare, Lamberts Restaurant offers delectable lobster wantons and pepper encrusted lamb. In the evening luminaries called farolitos light the roof line making this one of the area's most beautiful dining places. Visit the Stakeout restaurant but don't be fooled by the name -- this is no chuck wagon. Enjoy elegant food seated inside or on the terrace of this white building situated on a hill overlooking a sage covered desert. Don't neglect the Old Blinking Light Restaurant and Doc Martin's at the Historic Taos Inn.


A few books to add to your enjoyment of Taos include:

New Mexico -- Off the Beaten Path, (Globe Pequot Press), by Todd Staats

Traveler's Tales American Southwest (Traveler's Tales) true stories edited by Sean O'Reilly and James O'Reilly

When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away -- Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico 1500-1846 (Stanford University Press), by Ramon A. Gutierrez.

Taos County Chamber of Commerce -- 800-732-8267

Touchstone Inn and Spa -- www.touchstoneinn.com

Museum Association of Taos -- www.taosvacationguide.com/MAT/

Mabel Dodge Luhan House -- www.mabledodgeluhan.com

Stakeout -- www.stakeoutrestaurant.com

Lambert's Restaurant -- (505) 758-1009

Old Blinking Light Restaurant -- (505) 776-8787

Doc Martin's at the Historic Taos Inn -- www.Taosinn.com

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