The High Road to Taos

SUBMITTED march 2015

The High Road to Taos

Like many of us Fenn treasure hunters, I can’t wait to get out there again and head to my new primary search area in the mountains north of Santa Fe. However, it seems like the calendar pages are turning in extra slow motion this winter and that spring-time will never arrive. To try to satisfy the desire to search, yesterday I went out to the Battleship Rock/Little Bonita Falls area in the Jemez Mountains to re-search an area I’d been to several times prior…however,  I found this to be disappointingly unsatisfying.  So upon waking this morning, I decided to drive to my primary search area high in the Sangre de Cristos to check out the snow depth there, with hopes of heading there in a week or two…

Since I had lots of time today, I decided to travel to my destination via the scenic byway called The High Road to Taos, one of the most spectacular routes in the Southwest, winding through the rolling hills of the high desert mesa, through tiny hamlets and villages, and eventually through part of the Carson National Forest, before dropping back down to Taos.

a1 high road to taos sign (800x533)

The beginning of The High Road to Taos at Nambe.

Winding through the hills with the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the background.

Winding through the hills with the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the background.

I have driven The High Road to Taos many times, and never tire of its beauty…my eyes can’t seem to absorb the splendor quick enough to fill my brain, just as pictures cannot capture the exquisite uniqueness and enchantment of this high desert landscape. As I was driving along in awe and stopping here and there to take pictures (add another 100 photos from today’s trip to the hundreds I already have), the village of Cundiyo popped into my head…where Eric Sloane had drawn a picture of the church there, and Forrest published that drawing in Seventeen Dollars a Square Inch. I had never been there but after seeing Eric’s drawing, it was on my list of places to see, someday…and today was that day.

a3 cundiyo sign (800x533)

Entering Cundiyo from the south.

As I entered the little village, the road abruptly went from two lanes to one lane, with the buildings built right along the twisting, narrow street…making it seem like a quaint little European hamlet, but not…some of the places probably hadn’t seen new paint for decades, and it was obvious there wasn’t a designated crew for litter pick-up…but, nevertheless, it was worth the visit.

Main Street through town

Main Street through town

Main street through town

Main street through town

The tidy Cundiyo Church…the gate was not in Eric’s drawing, nor were there any trees in the background.

The tidy Cundiyo Church…the gate was not in Eric’s drawing, nor were there any trees in the background.

 I had parked in a small area across from the church and decided to walk the dogs through this quaint little town to take more photographs, only there was a large dog, unleashed, standing in the middle of the street, intently watching us as we got closer. I stopped to contemplate the situation…my dogs are friendly but …about this time a car began to drive by so I sort of waved…the car stopped, a lady rolled down her window, so I asked her where the road went if I kept going north…she asked where I wanted to go…I explained anywhere, I didn’t care…I had stopped to photograph the church, and oh what a lovely little village this was. She and her adult daughter seemed more than happy to chat…they explained where the road went, if I went left or right at the t-intersection, and that there was another church in Rio Chiquito just before getting back up on the High Road to Taos. I also asked if they knew the dog that was still staring at us from the middle of the street (they obviously don’t have leash laws there)…they didn’t know, and the lady said that even if we got past that dog, there were more unleashed ones to venture past if we went farther. I made the decision right then to forget the walking and do more driving for pictures…so back in the truck we went. Not far from there, we encountered these two places, across the street from each other, both unique in their own way…

I loved the bright colors

I loved the bright colors

a unique place but I probably wouldn’t want him to be my neighbor

a unique place but I probably wouldn’t want him to be my neighbor

That's a lot of cow skulls…

That’s a lot of cow skulls…

Traveling on, we soon came to the village of Cordova…Eric also made a drawing of a church in Cordova so we took the main road through town, only I never saw a church…but we did find a cemetery…one of the most colorful ones I’d ever seen.

a10 cordova sign (800x533)

a11 cemetery (800x533)

Somewhere between this cemetery and Truchas, I noticed a van at an odd angle off the side of the road…a young man leaning against the side eating an apple looked at me and sort of waved…I stopped, rolled my window down, and looked curiously at him. He wondered if I could pull him out of the dirt embankment his front wheels were immersed in…I thought for a moment and said I’d pull off the road to see…happily, I found the heavy duty tow chain I carry beneath the back seat, assuming that some day I would be the truck needing pulled out of a snow drift or mud-hole. Out of all the times and miles I carried this, I never used it, so was delighted to finally be able to rescue some poor soul from his misfortune…and misfortune it was. Seems it was unlucky John Gray’s first day of work as a delivery man, and he wasn’t familiar with the area…he thought he could make a u-turn there in that muddy turnout  and soft dirt bank…not. It didn’t take long to attach the chain to his back bumper and my tow-hooks. He asked me to go slow, so as to not pull the  bumper off his employer’s van…it made me nervous…he watched as the chain grew taut…hollered when it was good, jumped in the van and put it in neutral, and gave the go-ahead to proceed. I was so pleased when his 4 wheels were on solid ground, and I smiled since the van’s bumper was still attached. He was grateful…I felt like a hero.

Continuing our journey, we soon started the uphill climb to Truchas…made famous in Robert Redford’s movie, The Milagro Beanfield Wars. I love this picturesque-in-its-own-way little village.

The Truchas Peaks in the background

The Truchas Peaks in the background

Loved the fire hydrant…very spiffy in an otherwise non-spiffy environment.

Loved the fire hydrant…very spiffy in an otherwise non-spiffy environment.

I love this mural...and photograph it every time I drive past…today the traffic was kind enough to wait for me as I took the picture from my window.

I love this mural…and photograph it every time I drive past…today the traffic was kind enough to wait for me as I took the picture from my window.

We traveled through many other small villages as we made our way to the Carson National Forest stretch of the High Road to Taos. The higher in elevation we went, the more snow we encountered…these kids looked like they were having a blast…

a15 kids sledriding (800x533)

a16 mountains coming down to taos (800x533)

Finally we got to Taos…as I was waiting for the light to change, I decided to take a picture through the windshield of Pueblo Peak aka Taos Mountain.

a17 taos mountain from the intersection (800x533)

At this same intersection, I turned here to head over to my route. I noticed an old, skinny, hippie-looking guy standing on the corner,  hitchhiking in the direction I was headed. I didn’t give it much thought since I NEVER pick up hitchhikers. Well, I pulled into the Visitor’s Center parking lot to send a text…when I pulled back out onto the street five or so minutes later, he was still standing there holding his plastic grocery bag containing a couple cans of Fosters, smoking his cigarette down to the filter. I rolled my window down and asked him where he was headed…he said one and a half miles up the canyon…I said I was going that way if he’d like a ride…I asked if he minded sitting beside a big dog…he did not mind…I asked him if he minded putting out his cigarette (hell, it had to be burning his fingers and lips by now)…he said no, he didn’t mind and tossed the butt on the ground. I pulled Molly out of the passenger seat beside me so the fellow could get in…despite missing most of his teeth, he was a chatty fellow and wondered where I was from…we chatted, he offered that he is a poet but never published, and wondered if I’d like him to recite a poem to me while I drove..I said that would be nice. He had a pleasant voice and nice delivery…it was a poem about the old days, and buffalo that roamed, and Indian spirits, automobiles and new highways. I wish I would have asked him if I could record it on my phone…it was delightful. I asked him if he had heard of Forrest Fenn, a famous poet and author who lives in Santa Fe who has published several books, mostly about the Taos Society of Artists from a century ago…sorry, Forrest, he did not know you. We reached his destination and I dropped him off…he was the icing-on- the-cake, so to speak,  of my pleasant day…his name was John Mason, just in case he ever gets published…and I will always look for him on that corner in case he needs a ride home.

On up the canyon we ventured…my dogs Molly and Emma and me…I was still hopeful of a search next week in this area…the snow was minimal, until I got here……………

a18 first snow (800x533)

a19 second snow (800x533)

I think it might be April until this snow has melted and we can find the blaze…

Until next time…Cynthia (and Emma and Molly)

a20 dogs (800x533)



54 thoughts on “The High Road to Taos

  1. Gorgeous area! Thanks for sharing the story…John Mason sounds like an unintended treasure. Good luck Cynthia.

  2. Very nice Cynthia. The photos are spectacular.
    They make me feel like I was along for the adventure. I wish I had been!
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. the canyon down from Truchas is a beautiful site. Also Santa Cruz lake is a nice spot to picnic, above Chimayo, near Cundiyo. The high road to Taos is the best road to take in New Mexico. For its beauty and culture.

    • Santa Cruz was one of my side trips for entertainment a couple of years ago. I hear that Parks Service is upgrading the area this year…great fishing and fun picnic area!

  4. Your stories have shown us so many interesting places we want to visit & photograph on our next trip to NM in June!

  5. John is a nice guy. I believe I’ve given him three rides. Is he from Pilar? I enjoyed the story. I thought you drive a Liberty. Your tru k looks familiar. I’ll keep an eye out for you in case you get stuck. I’m spending yesterday and today in O’keefe country below El Vado. Happy hunting!

    • Slurbs, No, John the poet is not from Pilar, or at least now he’s living in Taos. Don’t drive a Liberty…if I take my dogs, I drive the pickup truck…if I go alone, I drive an FJCruiser with license plate TTOTC. This is so other searchers can follow me, and I can show them where the chest isn’t…Good luck in O’Keefe country…another beautiful location in NM.

      • Cynthia, you’re dogs look like good company for the search. You’re a good egg for helping all of those people along side the roads.

        The High Road to Taos is my favorite place to drive. Love your photos.

  6. Cynthia, great story and pics! I’ve never been there so love it when people take pictures of places that I haven’t been so I can see what they see. It’s almost like being there. Your weimaraners are very pretty. I bet you feel blessed living around there. Thanks again for taking me along.

  7. What a wonderful time you had yesterday. Thanks for the pictures & story. Like you, I am now even more anxious for the snow to melt so we can go to the mountains North of Santa Fe.
    Do you know the altitude in the picture where the dogs are walking in the snow?
    Happy Sunday, talk to you soon.

      • I am waiting for Spring but it looks like thinks are warming up in the Rockies… Can’t wait to go searching!!! Thanks again for sharing Cynthia!

  8. Thanks for the story and wonderful pictures. I especially love the tour thru the little towns. I hope you share other pics and tours. More please!

  9. Wonderful pictures and story Cynthia! I haven’t made it to Taos yet but sure do want to take a road trip like yours to get there – looks like you had a fun day with Emma and Molly. 🙂

  10. I’m completely speechless 🙂
    Awesome adventure
    It seems as though I have seen something like this, maybe it’s Déjàvu or maybe it was a dream.
    The bright blue building looks powerful 😉

    Thanks for sharing 🙂
    I can’t wait to post mine

  11. Cynthia, good story and pictures. Enjoyed very much….Thank You.

    Mr. Finn has probably done more for the ‘Land of Enchantment’ or New Mexico tourist trade, than any other person. Along with MT, WY, and CO.
    He should be given official recognition by these states.

  12. Cynthia, I enjoyed your story and great photo’s. It has been year’s since I have been in this area. You brought back pleasant memories for me. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Thank you Cynthia, for sharing your wonderful story.
    I love the photo of the towns main street. So inviting. This is not to discount the other photos, you captured the flavor of the area. As I savor every photo with with a longing that only a trip will satisfy. I can not help but to think how lucky anyone that lives near wide open spaces are.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂
    Best of luck on your chase.

  14. Cant wait..I have gone from counting months to counting days. So envious of you living so close that you can jump in a truck and just go to check on weather conditions.Thanks for sharing.

  15. Thanks Cynthia. I’ve added ‘the high road to Taos’ to my bucket list of beautiful drives, special places, museums, artists, poets, and authors…inspired by Forrest, Dal and other Chasers.

  16. What a great day Cynthia! Thanks for sharing I like all the great pictures! I don’t want to sound like your mother but what were you thinking picking up a hitchhiker!!!! It is a good thing that Mr. John Mason was a nice man…. You must be a good judge of character IMO 🙂

    • Dear Mom, Thank you for caring about my safety…I never pick up hitch-hikers, but something about this old guy seemed to say he was ok…plus I had an 80 lb dog between us and another 80 lb dog behind him…as I stated in the story, he was the highlight of my day…and I will always look for him when I drive that stretch of road. cynthia

  17. If you go at the right time the yellow Rabbit Brush (Chamisa) and the red dirt alongside the Hwy 518 (High Road to Taos) that always reminded me of the Lemon Pepper and Saigon Cinnamon spices post.

  18. If you go up unimproved roads like 114 to far, then do take a chainsaw. I’ve seen a handful of down trees in there after big storms.

    If you don’t want the trouble of a bad road or getting stuck follow your dogs, they look pretty smart to me!

  19. Hey Cynthia, great pics and story. I drove up the Pecos Road to Cowles today to check the snow on that side of the mountain. Beautiful drive but Forrestry gates are locked at Windsor Creek and Iron Gate with minor snow. Did stop at Apache Canyon/Johnson Ranch to look around and contemplated the Civil War squirmishes/battle through the area. I feel truly blessed to live in Santa Fe. Going back to Orilla Verde. Good Hunting to you.

    • Are you searching in the Orilla Verde area? I did a search/story on the Slide Trail a year or two ago…I didn’t find the treasure but I found a delightful drive and easy access to slop around in the Rio Grande where it is calm.

    • Radcrad, I forgot to thank you for the info on the Forestry gate closures. Most of the gates were still closed on all the Forest Service roads along the High Road to Taos, too. Today I drove through the Jemez Mts to go to the Gilman Tunnels…not to search…just to enjoy a picnic in another gorgeous setting. But the road was closed at the tunnels because a movie was being filmed there today. So I drove to Jemez Falls…the forest gate is still closed there, too, despite minimal snow and it’s a long walk back to the parking area and picnic tables. Continued on to Las Conchas Trail…no gate there…hike at your own risk when it’s snowy or icy like today…The trail back the canyon was spectacular and not too treacherous, if you were careful on the icy parts. Does anyone know when the forest service road gates open in NM?

  20. Yes Cynthia I am doing the whole Taos Box for the umpteenth dozen time. I did the Slide a couple of years ago too and concentratrated on the owl blaze you described in your story. I want to access Cisco’s Grotto which is about 5 miles north of the Taos Junction. Using the Bat Caves on the ridge above for my HOB.
    Anyway I’m close to exhausting this area for now and will do at least one YNP search this summer. I have followed your post in the past to compare with my trips and we have a lot of search location similarities. I wish you the best of luck and peace and safety on your quest. Go get um Cynthia!

    • The same to you and all Fenn treasure searchers…good luck and be safe. And to reiterate for the umpteenth hundred time to everyone searching in New Mexico…bring drinking water…bring triple or quadruple the amount you think you will need. If you are searching in an area that for sure has water, like the Rio Grande Gorge, carry either a filter or iodine pills…dehydration can be fatal. (sorry for the lecture)

  21. Nice story, and nice trip. seems like you had a great time. if I understand it correctly you are from Jemez. I would very much like to diskussion my views on FF in Jemez. As I am from Denmark it is unlikely that I will get the chance to go look my self Any time soon… Send me an email if you wasn’t to know more 🙂

    • Due to the elevation being so high it is not within the search area. Maybe by the parking lot or down stream would work if you want to poke around. As for me, I have passed through Truchas many times but did not see the road.

    • Wow, truly gorgeous…I will go see these falls in June…even if there’s no hidden chest there, I believe the scenery itself will be a treasure. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Hey Cynthia, loved your story and the pictures! It’s a good idea to do some reconnisence during this time of the year. Too bad you don’t have more time to invest in searching for the treasure – I think you may be on to something!

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