Written on 08/28/2019



Penasco History

The area of New Mexico north of Santa Fe where the High Road to Taos is located, has been inhabited by Native Indian Pueblos for centuries prior to the first Spanish settlement in 1598.  Pueblos like Tesuque, Pojoaque, Nambe, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Ohkay Owingeh located along the Rio Grande, would trade with the more northern Pueblos of Picuris and Taos.  One of the largest arroyos in the Chimayo valley known as the Cañada Ancha which comes from the northeast, became a trade route to reach Picuris and Taos Pueblos, and evolved into what is now known as the “High Road to Taos.” 

Following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and the peaceful re-entry of the Spanish into Santa Fe, the first Spanish settlement established north of Santa Fe by Governor Don Diego De Vargas was at Santa Cruz de la Cañada in 1695.  Seventeen families first settled at Santa Cruz, but a few of these families moved seven miles east to the area of Tsi Mayoh named after a hill that the Tewa speaking people considered sacred and for them had cosmological significance with the dirt having healing properties. 

The first settlement in “Chimayo” (hispanized name for Tsi Mayoh) was the  Plaza del Cerro and was established in 1700.  Later other plazas in the Chimayo area were settled by different family groups and included the Plaza del Potrero, Plaza de Abajo and Plaza de la Cuchilla.  Some families from Chimayo and La Cañada moved even further east as part of two Spanish land grants, Nuestra Señora del Rosario San Fernando y Santiago de las Truchas and Santo Tomás Apóstol del Rio de las Trampas.  

The land grants were established by Governor Tomas Vélez Cachupín to build fortified frontier plazas in order to protect communities against raids.  Some of the families that had moved from La Cañada or Chimayo settled communities in the mountains in the area of Cordova and Truchas, and 12 families from Santa Fe settled in Las  Trampas and surrounding areas establishing the communities of Ojo Sarco, El Valle, Chamisal and further north through Peñasco. 

In the 1940’s, a road that began in Española from State Road 68 following the course of the Rio Grande that led to Taos, was built and designated as State Road 76. State Road 76 went eastward passing Santa Cruz and Chimayo towards Truchas, then north to Ojo Sarco, Las Trampas, Chamisal, and Peñasco.  It follows more or less the path of the Cañada Ancha arroyo to Truchas (the original trade route to the mountain communities), and then veers northward through Ojo Sarco, Chamisal, Las Trampas to Peñasco.  In Peñasco, State Road 76 connects to State Road 75 coming eastward from Dixon after connecting to State Road 68 just north of Embudo.  

Past Vadito, State Road 75 then meets State Road 518  that traverses west to east from Ranchos de Taos to Las Vegas.  This route from 76 to 75 to 518 towards Taos was designated the “High Road to Taos.” 

State Road 4 East from Nambe to Cundiyo and Rio Chiquito where it joins State Road 76 was built the 1960’s.  The designation of State Road 4 East was later designated State Road 503 in the 1980’s.   Later in 1998, a program that established New Mexico Scenic Byways designated the “High Road to Taos Scenic Byway starting at the west end of State Road 503, to Santa Fe County Road 98 (also known as Juan Medina Road) north to State Road 76, then eastward to Truchas, Ojo Sarco, Las Trampas, Chamisal, and Peñasco, to the intersection of State Road 75.  The Byway continues eastward to junction of State Road 518.  From this point the Byway goes west and north to Talpa until it reaches the junction of State Road 68 at Ranchos de Taos.  

This route originating as a trade route, continues as such, and is commemorated by the High Road to Taos Artisan Tour in September of each year.