Even more confusing than the patchwork of interlinked towns and highways is the fact that you can drive straight through Taos and completely miss its historic center if you’re not careful.
Guadalupe Plaza, enclosed by adobe buildings with deep shading is just west of the main intersection of Kit Carson Road and Paseo del Pueblo Sur.
In the center is a monument to New Mexicans killed in the Bataan Death March of World War II; the U.S. flag flies day and night, a tradition carried on after an incident during the Civil War when Kit Carson and a crew of his men hoisted the flag and guarded it to keep Confederate sympathizers from taking it down.
In front of the historic La Fonda hotel, a large bronze statue of local hero Padre Martinez gestures like a visionary—his enormous hands suggest his vast talent and influence.
On the plaza’s north side, the old Taos County courthouse contains a series of WPA-sponsored murals painted in 1934 and 1935 by Emil Bisttram and a team of other Taos artists. The door isn’t always unlocked, but definitely try to get in: Enter on the ground floor through the North Plaza Art Center and go upstairs, toward the back of the building.
If you’re curious what Guadalupe Plaza looked like before the souvenir-shop economy, stroll down Lower Ranchitos Road and turn on Valdez Road to reach La Loma Plaza. The center of a smaller farm settlement in the 1780s, the ring of adobe homes around a central open space is dusty and little changed through the centuries.
Exit the plaza by continuing uphill and bearing right—this takes you past La Loma’s tiny old chapel and onto the paved San Antonio Street, which leads downhill and back to Lower Ranchitos.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition