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When the conquistadors first spotted Taos glittering on the high plains of the Rio Grande Valley in 1540, they thought they’d stumbled upon the mythical golden city of El Dorado. For the easy-riding hippies who drifted in centuries later, Taos was a peace-lovers’ paradise-a hallucinogenically beautiful mountain town full of Indian mystics and sweat lodges, not to mention a communal groove between the Pueblo people, the Hispanics, and the Anglos.
Today, both the beauty and diversity still thrive. And while Taos has grudgingly evolved with the times-plans to put a Super Wal-Mart on the main drag have locals protesting loudly-this tiny (population: 4,500) adobe hamlet has managed to hang on to its charm. The nearest major airport is three hours away, which tends to weed out Hollywood commuters and cell-phone junkies, leaving a low-glitz community of artists, ranchers, tourist entrepreneurs, and outdoor enthusiasts. A New Age vibe permeates nearly every element of life. Herbalists and polarity therapists have moved into the historic town plaza. Unload your U-Haul in Taos and you may well find an L.A. transplant turned shamanistic, cattle-wrangling lift op named Soaring Eagle living in the adobe next door.
Taos Ski Valley sits 18 miles up the road, which makes for easy access, but rescues the town from utter ski dominance. And jobs? The tourism industry prevails, but painters, writers, and therapists of all stripes manage to flourish here, too.
BUSINESS MOST NEEDED: locally owned, spiritually rich version of a Super Wal-Mart.
DON’T FORGET TO PACK: your ylang-ylang oil.