Tast of TaoThe New Mexico town is an art and recreation haven for lesbians.

While the Southwest has always appealed to outdoorsy and self-sufficient lesbians, New Mexico in particular has had a powerful draw for women with an artistic bent. And on December 19, 2013, legislation further paved the way for lesbian lovebirds, with the New Mexico Supreme Court ruling unanimously in favor of granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Taos, a vibrant and picturesque town in the north-central region of New Mexico, is set against the stunning backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—a landscape that inspired the painter Georgia O’Keeffe for 40 years.

The Taos Valley, the mountains, and the Rio Grande create a kind of energy vortex that has drawn expressive types to it for many years. The vistas in this region are dramatic, and the vibe feels ancient and spiritual. The Taos Pueblo, an American Indian settlement on the northern border of the town, is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States, and it’s a fascinating place to visit, with its multistory adobe houses, shops, a cemetery built in 1619 by Spanish priests using Indian labor, and the San Geronimo Church, photographed by Ansel Adams.

Over the past hundred years, artists, writers, and thinkers have made a pilgrimage here—to meet, heal, create, or find peace and quiet. Perhaps the best-known artist colony in Taos was established by the bisexual socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan in 1919. Dodge, who was a close friend of Gertrude Stein, was a prominent figure in the art scenes of New York, Florence, and Santa Barbara, but her Taos salon really took off, especially after she married Tony Luhan, a Pueblo Indian, and it attracted Emma Goldman, Georgia O’Keeffe, Willa Cather, Margaret Sanger, Martha Graham, and many others. And remarkable women have tarried in Taos ever since.

Where to sleep and stay

Today, Mabel Dodge Luhan House (mabeldodgeluhan.com) operates as a historic inn, retreat, and conference center. Choose from 22 authentically decorated rooms, some with magnificent courtyards, such as the O’Keeffe Room, which has two twin beds and a private bath, and rents for $130 a night. You can also splurge on Mabel’s own bedroom—with its hand-carved double bed, private bath, kiva fireplace, and private patio, as well as a breathtaking view of the mesa and the Taos Mountains—for only $200 a night.

For something equally charming but completely contemporary, I recommend the Palacio de Marquesa Hotel (marquesataos.com). Managed by the very accommodating and openly gay Chad Ozment, this is a lovely New Mexico inn, recently refurbished to the highest design standards. The beautifully appointed guest rooms, each with a charming kiva fireplace and trendy accent pieces, pay tribute to local identities, and throughout the year enticing packages are on offer. The Woman Artist Package includes accommodation in the Georgia O’Keeffe “Icon” guestroom, souvenir postcards, notecards, and a handbook from The Harwood Museum collection, tickets to the Harwood Museum of Art, a bottle of wine, breakfast for two, complimentary WiFi, parking, plus a Local Treasures 15 percent discount card providing savings at local shops, boutiques, restaurants, and area attractions.

Where to dine, drink, and dance

There’s a lively and professional dining scene in Taos, backed by a sustainable farming and foodie culture. If romance is at the top of your priorities list, I recommend The Love Apple (theloveapple.net), which is my pick for ambience and cuisine that will leave you feeling amorous. The restaurant is housed in a cozy converted Catholic church, and the kitchen turns out beautiful Mexican-influenced dishes featuring organic local ingredients. My favorite—wild quail stuffed with green chile and quinoa, served with a walnut crème fraiche sauce, cilantro, and pomegranate seeds.

For an elegant meal with friends and family, or that special occasion, Martyrs Steakhouse is hard to beat—and it’s not just about the meat, even thought the rib eye and the local lamb chops are delicious. The seafood is seasonal and sustainable, and was excellent when I tried it, especially the piñon-crusted ruby trout. (martyrs-steakhouse.com)

For a hip and happening vibe, book a table at Doc Martin’s at the Historic Taos Inn—and you will need to book in advance, because this spot is popular with locals and visitors alike. The restaurant, named after Dr. Thomas Paul “Doc” Martin, the county’s first physician, is famous for its hospitality, a reflection on the kindhearted frontier doc who was known to accept a chicken or a sack of potatoes as payment from patients too poor to pay him in conventional currency. Adam Kerr, the friendly food and beverage director, says that every effort is made to draw from seasonal, regional produce and local farmers, and the restaurant also utilizes its own kitchen garden for herbs and greens. Must try: the Rabbit & Rattlesnake Sausage.

The tagline of the Historic Taos Inn (taosinn.com) is “everything comes together under one roof” and they aren’t kidding: After your meal at Doc’s, you might find yourself in need of libations (the margaritas are excellent), live music, and even lodgings. Though it’s the place to be on any night of the week, Tuesday is gay night at The Adobe Bar.

Martina’s Dance Hall (oldmartinashall.com) is a great place for live music and dancing too, and has an authentic, old-timey Wild West feel. It’s directly across the road from the town’s famous much-photographed and -painted adobe church, San Francisco de Asis.

For a lunch adventure, take the winding and picturesque road from Taos to the Sugar Nymphs Bistro (sugarnymphs.com) in the township of Peñasco. It was opened 14 years ago by a lesbian couple, Kai Harper Leah and Ki Holste, a chef and pastry chef, respectively. Enjoy a homey meal made with love, and end it with possibly the world’s most decadent carrot cake. You’ll also relish the fact that these women support the social fabric of the area by collaborating with local farmers, mentoring emerging foodies, and often giving young folks their first job opportunities.

While on your country drive, stop in at Vivac Winery’s tasting room in the nearby town of Dixon in spring, summer, and fall (vivacwinery.com). Be sure to sample their in-house cheese and chocolate while sipping the fine wines of New Mexico, such as the distinctive Dolcetto, a smoky red.

Things to do and see

At the top of my list when I travel is relaxing, and at Ojo Caliente (ojospa.com), an hour’s drive from Taos, you can soothe your tired muscles and soak your aching bones in a private outdoor mineral pool, complete with kiva fireplace. What a treat on a starry night! The public pools are also great for an all-day stay. Choose from 11 pools, each fed by the millennia-old geothermal mineral waters that spring from a subterranean volcanic aquifer. Ojo is the only hot springs in the world with four different types of mineral water, including lithium, iron, soda, and arsenic—said to relieve ailments such as depression, immune deficiency, stress, arthritis, and skin conditions. After all this hydrotherapy, have a massage or a healthy meal at Artesian Restaurant.

Sightseeing and activities in Taos depend on the time of your visit. The county experiences four full seasons and around 300 sunny days per year, so outdoor adventures, from hiking in the Rio Grande Gorge State Park to alpine skiing, are possible throughout the year. Drive the high road to take in the little historic villages and observe the buffalo, the church, and the Pueblo of Picuris, and do spend some time at the Taos Pueblo perusing the reasonably priced and authentic native Indian wares—I was tempted by the spirit animal carvings, corn necklaces, and distinctive pottery polished with horsehair and river stones (taospueblo.com). Taos is also an art collector’s paradise, with beautiful pieces such as canvases, rugs, and hand-carved furniture for sale at Wilder Nightingale Gallery (wnightingale.com), DAFA (davidanthonyfineart.com), and Los Comadres, the women’s co-op gallery on Bent Street (loscomadresgallery.com). For jewelry—perhaps a distinctive engagement or wedding ring—Emily Benoist Ruffin, a brilliant goldsmith on Bent Street, may have an award-winning, handmade ring perfect for popping the question (emilyruffin.com).

While Taos is easy to navigate, and its beauty obvious, consider engaging a guide to take you off the beaten path and to surprising places. You won’t find a better guide than Robert Cafazzo of Two Graces Plaza Gallery (twograces.com, email r2c2graces@gmail.com). An accomplished artist and Taos resident, Robert knows every nook and cranny of the county and will create an itinerary to suit your tastes—whether that’s suggesting where to stay, the best shopping deals, and the must-see galleries; or dishing historic gossip; or taking you hiking, scouring the land for petroglyphs and pottery shards, or finding the best vantage points for picture-perfect photo opportunities. I was grateful to Robert for his itinerary and recommendations, for taking me to the very sites where Georgia O’Keeffe set up her easel, and for introducing me to many remarkable women of Taos.

Today’s remarkable women of Taos

Strong and stylish celebrity women such as Ali McGraw, Lauren Hutton, and Julia Roberts have made Taos their home, and last spring, Edible Santa Fe magazine ran a special Taos Women and Food issue and The Taos News came out with Taos Woman: Celebrating the Feminine Spirit. These publications, full of fascinating profiles of notable women of the region, indicate that there is a rich and tightly connected feminist and lesbian network in Taos, including Kathleen Brennan, the filmmaker and photographer (brennanstudio.com), and her partner Kat Duff, the author of The Secret Life of Sleep; Nancy Stapp, radio talk show host at 1340AM KVOT; the acclaimed sculptor Candyce Garret; Heather Pipkin Stapp, local pharmacist and a coordinator of the Taos Gay Pride Parade (taospride.org); filmmaker and part-time resident/vacation rental owner Melissa Howden; and numerous LGBT allies such as fine art photographer Pattie Traynor, and Mary Domito, local personality and retailer at Taos Lifestyle. With such a cool group of women thrilled to come out and meet us, it was hard to leave Taos and I will most certainly return one day.

For your official Taos Vacation Guide go to taos.org

 

*This article originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Curve

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