Ride Report: Taking the High Road to Taos from Santa Fe
On our recent vacation to Santa Fe, NM my girlfriend and I were lucky to be able to rent a Harley Davidson Road King for three days with which to explore the beautiful desert landscape of northern central New Mexico. Prior to arriving in Santa Fe I hit the web and the bookstore to research good motorcycle roads that we would both enjoy and I found a great route in Great American Motorcycle Tours. The book actually suggests riding from Taos to Santa Fe, but since we were staying in Santa Fe we modified the route somewhat and had a great time.
So, here is the route we took starting from the Santa Fe Plaza:
- Take St. Francis Drive to Rt 285/84 North from Santa Fe through Pojoaque to Espanola and turn right onto Rt 76 N.
- Follow Rt 76N through Santa Cruz, Chimayo, Truchas, Trampas and Chamisal
- Just past Chamisal Rt 76 intersects with Rt 75. To continue to Taos, turn right towards Penasco. However, if you have the time, turn left and follow the signs about 1.5 miles to Picuris Pueblo which is one of the least visited pueblos in the area and is known for amazing pottery.
- Continue on 76 through Vadito until you get Rt 518. Make a left onto 518.
- Follow 518 through Kit Carson National Forest and turn right on Rt 64 to go through commercial, downtown Taos to the historic Taos Plaza.
The ride starts out on 285/84 North, a 2 lane highway that is undergoing construction at the moment, but the New Mexico drivers are some of the most courteous I’ve ever experienced and the trip up to Espanola is a breeze. More importantly it gives you a chance to get some miles under your belt on nice straight roads before you hit the meat of the High Road, the winding twisties that snake from ridge to ridge and circle up and around the Sangre De Cristo mountain range.
Turning right onto 76, you’ll quickly fade further and further away from busy commercial streets as you head through sleepy little Santa Cruz on your way to Chimayo. The road starts to gain some elevation as you get into Chimayo and if you feel like a rest I suggest following the signs for the Santuario de Chimayo less than a mile off of 76 and worth a quick trip to visit the church and learn about the legend of miraculous events that have taken place there.
Once you’ve made your way back to 76, you’ll keep climbing higher and higher until you get to Truchas, the location where The Milagro Beanfield War movie was filmed. Truchas sits on a mesa with incredible views of 13000 foot Truchas Peak and the valley below the mesa.
Continuing on you will enter the Kit Carson National Forest on your way to Las Trampas. As you enter the small village, be sure to stop and take a look at the San Jose De Bracia Church on the right side of the road as you enter town.
Not more than a mile from the church as you climb yet another snaking section of road into the hills keep your eye out for a unique hand hewn wooden aqueduct carrying water from the peak down into the town below. From this point you’ve got another 25-30 miles ahead of you, most of which will wind and turn through the national forest.
The views on either side of the road are so breathtaking at times during this section of the trip that you really need to be careful that you keep your eyes on the turns ahead. Its easy to get caught daydreaming as you take the in surroundings, but as technical as the roads get at times you would be well advised to pull over to the side of the road when you want to take it all in.
Enjoy your time in the park because within 5 or 6 miles of leaving the park and turning right ont Rt 64 you’ll be rudely surrounded by commercial downtown Taos with its strip malls, fast food restaurants and big box stores. However, just keep your cool, cruise through town and follow the signs to Taos Plaza. There you’ll find some great spots for lunch and plenty of shops and galleries to browse through.
After you’ve refueled your body, refuel your soul and continue down 64 following signs for the Taos Pueblo. The pueblo usually stops accepting visitors after 5:00 so be sure to leave at least an hour for the tour. Unless something at the pueblo really catches your interest and you still have an hour or so of daylight left, leave the pueblo and get back on 64.
Continue northwest out of Taos for about 5 or 6 miles and you’ll find yourself gazing in wonder at the 800 foot deep Rio Grande Gorge from the observation area on the bridge crossing the gorge. The views of the gorge and the surrounding mountain ranges will likely stay with you for the rest of your life. The sheer scale of the world that surrounds you when you are standing on the bridge is awe inspiring.
The trip is a decent haul for one day but the scenery is so varied and the mountain roads so incredible to enjoy that I’m sure you’ll have a blast.