Road Trip from Denver to Taos: Best Things to Do

Earthship Biotecture, community near Taos New Mexico

What makes a good road trip? For me, it’s the freedom of the open road, a sense of exploration and the possibility of the unexpected. It’s a pit stop at a sinfully delicious local greasy diner, it’s jamming out to your favorite tunes at full blast or discovering a new natural wonder as you cross the countryside on the hunt for adventure.

When it’s possible to drive to a destination, rather than go through the sheer “bliss” of the airport experience, I always opt to just hop in the car and make a road trip out of it. Having recently moved to Denver and tasked with the pleasurable mission of exploring everything within a few hour driving radius, I stumbled upon Taos, New Mexico. An action packed five-hour drive from Denver, Taos promises historic adobe buildings, a wide selection of art galleries, delicious Southwestern cuisine and epic skiing.

While there are many amazing ski resorts close to Denver (Steamboat Springs, Vail and Keystone just to name a few) traffic on highway 70W can be abysmal if you leave during peak rush hour.  Taos Ski Valley, located at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains in Northern New Mexico, is marketing itself as an alternative destination for Denverites where skiers can hit the slopes on an epic mountain, experience the unique culture and avoid the traffic.

A few weekends ago, I set out on a road trip to discover some of the best things to see and do when driving from Denver to Taos Ski Valley in Northern New Mexico. From Denver, I took highway 25, 70 miles south towards Colorado Springs. The second largest city in Colorado, with more than 600,000 residents, Colorado Springs in the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain, has several attractions for the adventure road tripper.

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, Colorado Springs

Photo credit: Julia Dimon

First stop – the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. Embrace the spirit of the West with a visit to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. This museum has exhibits on rodeo history and honors some of the greatest cowboys of all time. Learn about the heritage and culture of this longtime Colorado tradition.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of The Gods Visitor & Nature Center, Colorado Springs

Photo credit: Garden of the Gods, Visitor & Nature Center

From there, a visit to the 1,367-acre Garden of the Gods Park, designated a National Natural Landmark, is a must. Get out and stretch your legs by hiking trails around the iconic red-sandstone formations. These 300-foot towering rocks set against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak makes for some beautiful photo ops.

The Broadmoor

Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs, Luxury

Photo credit: The Broadmoor

After you’ve worked up an appetite hiking, be sure to check out The Broadmoor, an iconic AAA Five-Diamond resort in Colorado Springs. Even if you’re not staying at the actual hotel, day visitors can just stop in for a game of golf, sign up for a relaxing aromatherapy massage, or dine buffet style at the elegant Lake Terrace Dining Room. Sunday mornings the Vegas-style brunch spread offers a wide selection of treats, including their famous Bananas Foster dish. The Broadmoor also has an authentic 19th century British Pub called the Golden Bee serving up a feast of classic pub fare like fish and chips and warm pot pies. Evenings, from 9:30pm to midnight, the Golden Bee offers a ragtime piano sing along where you can belt out some ol’ time tunes and channel your inner American Idol.

Obie’s BBQ

Obie's BBQ, ribs, roadtrip, diner

Photo credit: Julia Dimon

Not quite time for Broodmoor brewskies yet, I decided to push on, get some more miles under my belt and stop for lunch at the under-the-radar roadside ribs spot called Obie’s BBQ. Located at the cross section of highways 25 and 165, Obie’s has a rough restaurant exterior that conjures up images of roadhouse brawls and unsavory characters. But walk through the doors and you’ll be surprised to find an adorable 50’s style diner, complete with red banquettes, black and white checkered floors, an ice cream stand and gift shop selling quirky motorcycle-themed tchotchkes.

Surprisingly, it’s not the nostalgic décor that draws most customers…it’s the authentic BBQ. This place is a carnivore’s dream. Their meats are hand-rubbed, slow cooked and smoked for hours over oak and mesquite wood. Obie’s plate combos come in huge portions with all the fixins from fried pickles, to green chilies and breaded okra.

Obie's BBQ, ribs, meat, carnivore's dream

Photo credit: Julia Dimon

Belly filled with elk sausage, I had a big decision to make. Check out Bishop’s Castle or hit Sand Dunes National Park? With my road trip schedule there wasn’t time enough for both so I carefully weighed my options.

Bishop’s Castle

Bishop's Castle, unique architecture, Colorado, road trip

Photo credit: Colorado.com

Bishop’s Castle, a cool spot about 1.5 hours away from Colorado Springs is said to be pretty remarkable. A 60-year project built entirely by one man, Bishop’s Castle is a stone and iron fortress in the middle of the Colorado countryside. An incredible feat for one dude, this structure combines the look of Gaudi Gothic architecture with a dash of Tim Burton. Visitors can check it out anytime for themselves since it’s open year round during daylight hours and admission is free. Mr. Bishop, who is often seen on-site, calls his work a “a monument to hardworking people” and “America’s biggest, one-man, physical project.” All sounds pretty rad.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Photo credit: Julia Dimon

Or, should I check out Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, with the tallest sand dunes in North America? Sand dunes in the middle of Colorado, huh? The choice was clear…. Standing at the base of the sand dunes, the site felt very strange. A combination of volcanic activity, natural forces and storm winds created these spectacular formations. It is said they began forming about 440,000 years ago, and standing at 750 feet tall, they’ve been dubbed the highest sand dunes on the continent.

With minimal signage and no single footpath along the dunes, you feel free to explore and create your own path, carving your way breathlessly through the thick sand. Day hiking around the dunes and up to the main attraction called “Star Dune” can take anywhere from two to five hours. Best of all, you can sand board and sand sled down the dunes! Overnight camping with dogs (as long as you have a permit) is also allowed. Out of breath, shoes filled with sand, I took in the spectacular scenery. Great Sand Dunes National Park is my new happy place and is certainly my #1 must see when driving through Southern Colorado.

Earthship Biotecture

Earthship Biotecture, community near Taos New Mexico

Photo credit: Julia Dimon

With the late afternoon sun sitting low on the horizon, I continued driving through the Colorado countryside, past small, rundown towns that looked like real life backdrops of a Western movie. Then suddenly, from my car window, I saw a bright pink, post-apocalyptic looking castle with antenna-like statues, followed by an adobe brick house made from old tires and recycled wine bottles. This was Earthship Biotecture, a fascinating community of sustainable buildings that offer artistic Mad Max style off-the-grid living.

My curiosity got the best of me and I pulled over to explore. Earthship offers daily tours of the compound and fully-furnished nightly rentals in several of their buildings. As their website states, staying overnight is the best way to “learn more about what it is like to live in a carbon zero, sustainable, green building.” Nightly rates range from $185-450 depending on the size of the accommodation. Inspired by the out-of-the-box way of living, I hopped back in the car and hit the road…just a little bit longer before I arrived at my final destination – Taos Ski Valley.

Blake Hotel

Blake Hotel, Luxury, Taos Ski Valley

Photo credit: TSV, Taos Ski Valley, The Blake Hotel

For a luxurious ski experience at the base of the mountain, the newly opened Blake Hotel is where it’s at. Part of the extensive revitalization of Taos Ski Valley, this $60 million hotel that opened in February offers 65 rooms and 15 suites. This environmentally friendly LEED certified hotel is five-star luxury at its finest but boasts a casual elegance. With ski-in/ski-out access, The Blake Hotel is five-star fancy and certainly worth the $360-$1500 average nightly price, but it prides itself on not being high-maintenance or pretentious.

The architectural design elements at The Blake pay homage to the local history of the area, drawing much of their inspiration from Native American culture. Their attention to detail and commitment to authenticity is impressive. With New Mexico Pueblo textile designs to large scale black and white photographs depicting traditional tribal dances, all the elements work together to create a unique and inviting atmosphere. It’s as if the hotel captures the character of Taos Ski Valley herself, a bit under the radar with an easy going style. Devoid of big brands and corporate lodging conglomerates, Taos Ski Valley feels far more laid back than your average ski resort.

Bloody Mary Bar in Martini Tree, Taos Skil Valley

Photo credit: Taos Ski Valley

My time at the Blake was spent enjoying the Spa and Wellness center, (treating myself to an invigorating signature massage) and dining at 192, their main restaurant that serves up delicious wood fired pizzas, locally sourced shared plates of spring lamb chops and charred Brussels spouts, and creative craft cocktails.

All in all it was a successful road trip, an immersive experience, a memorable journey filled with good food, inspired design and unique accommodations. As the Confucius saying goes “Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.” So drive on….

What are some of your favorite road trips? Feel free to share below…

This article was recently published on Travelocity, for other articles I’ve written check out: travelocitygnomads.com.

 

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