Touring N.M.

Churches on the High Road

The golden buttresses of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Nambé shine against a deep blue autumn sky.
Jon Knudsen, November 2017

I was driving north from Santa Fe. My wife asked, “Are we taking the high road to Taos?” We were almost to Pojoaque. Of course we were. I turned onto N.M. Highway 503, the “high road” that meanders east into the hills. Suddenly, we saw the church at Nambé and pulled over.

La Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón, or the Church of the Sacred Heart, was first erected in Nambé in 1610. However, during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the church was destroyed and its priest killed. It has been rebuilt several times since, with the last rehabilitation project started in 1974. Still, with its golden buttresses shining against a deep blue autumn sky, it’s a stunning example of the art of these designers and craftspeople working in adobe.

Fourteen miles along the road, a small chapel was built on the site of El Santuario del Chimayó in 1813. It was replaced in 1816 by the present church. The tin caps on the towers and the metal roof were added in the 1920s. El Pocito, the little well that draws so many pilgrims, offers holy dirt for those who wish to scoop a little out. The adjacent room is full of unneeded crutches, pictures, petitions and letters of thanks.

We continued north from Chimayó on N.M. Highway 76 to San José de Gracias Catholic Church in the village of Las Trampas. This church looks pretty much the same today as it did in 1760, when it was built. Even the exterior finish was done with mud and straw rather than cement-based stucco. About 250 years ago, 12 families started this community. Continuously occupied, it remains a somewhat isolated outpost nestled in these piñon and juniper covered hills.

Continuing our journey, eventually N.M. 76 ran into N.M. Highway 75. We turned right and stayed on N.M. 75 through Peñasco. After about six miles, we made a sharp left to N.M. Highway 518 and followed the signs towards Taos.

Our final stop was at San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos. It’s located near N.M. Highway 68, south of the N.M. 518 intersection. Completed in 1816, the church reached worldwide fame due to photographers and artists like Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe. Huge sloped buttresses frame the front, yet the lone, oddly-shaped buttress in the back of the church is what most people remember.

Just bring your camera. Who knows what architectural drama your trip will discover.

Jon Knudsen is a contributor to and teaches about New Mexico at UNM’s Department of Continuing Education. Email him at


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