Summer and fall in Taos
Bienvenido a Taos! Taos is an ancient settlement, and as can often happen, interpretations of the history regarding an old place can vary and are debated.
One often-noted account of the origin of the town of Taos dates back to Aug. 29, 1540, when Capitán Hernando Alvarado — as part of the expedition of Spaniard Francisco Vasquez de Coronado — first arrived in the Taos Valley. A document shows the name Taos inscribed in 1598 by Juan Belarde, secretary to Mexican-born conquistador Don Juan de Onate, when he penned, “This day, after mass, we went on to the province of the Taos, which they also called Tayberon and others.” The story goes, Belarde had heard the Picuris Indians pointing toward the northeast and state that their relatives, the “Tao,” lived in that direction. By 1760, according to online references, the village was renamed “Don Fernando de Taos” by the Spanish settlers. Some historians believe the name is attributed to Capt. Don Fernando de Chavez, a prominent settler and subsequent land owner who arrived before the Taos Rebellion of 1847 (American occupation of New Mexico). After the rebellion, Don Fernando never returned to Taos.
Other local oral traditions hold that it was Coronado’s expedition that came to Taos first in the mid-1500s, and the name “Taos” was already being used by the 1570s. Further, by the time Onate’s expedition came to Taos, Coronado was already dead and “Taos” was already being used. Onate, this oral tradition also maintains, came across Picuris and it was he who gave them their name.
There is an added account of the name “Taos” coming from the Tewa language (San Juan/Ohkay Owingeh and Santa Clara pueblos) meaning “North,” which may be why Coronado sent an expedition here and why they referenced that name.
The people of Taos Pueblo, however, call their home “Tuah Tah,” or “Place of the Red Willows.”
But regardless of Taos’ origin, the Native, Hispanic and European cultures have together shaped this special place, influencing the arts, architecture and traditions — all of which are very near and dear to our hearts, and their true meanings are never lost.
Modern Taos has been described by travelers as “quirky,” “quaint,” “casual” and “historic.” And that’s all true. We embrace originality and individuality. We do such things as have a celebration in honor of the life of an old, dead cottonwood tree to be cut down in the Plaza (after which two trees were planted in its place — anything less would be unacceptable). We have a highly attended outdoor fashion show that features ensembles made solely from recyclable materials.
We chuckle when witnessing a visitor looking surprised to see a protest in progress along the main drag. We are a helpful and friendly people, but are not typically quiet when it comes to causes — political or otherwise.
Taoseños like a good festival, especially if it involves tradition, costumes, pageantry, live music, dancing, art and green chiles — and most of our festivals do.
We know how special the natural environment is here. We don’t like tall buildings, giant signs or anything that obstructs views. We know the peaks, wildlife, waterways and mesas intimately and we defend them at all costs. The more preserved natural environment areas around here, the better.
If we could make all of Taos run on solar power, we would.
And no matter how many breathtaking sunrises and sunsets we have taken in, we’re always ready for the next one. Now that you have a little better sense of who we are, it’s time to acquaint yourself with our town.
Welcome and we hope you enjoy your stay!
— Scott Gerdes, special sections editor