About 28 miles north of Santa Fe on NM 76/285 is the historic weaving center of Chimayo. It's approximately 16 miles past the Pojoaque junction, at the junction of NM 520 and NM 76 via NM 503. In this small village, families still maintain the tradition of crafting hand-woven textiles initiated by their ancestors seven generations ago, in the early 1800s. One such family is the Ortegas, and Ortega's Weaving Shop (tel. 505/351-4215; www.ortegasweaving.com) and Galeria Ortega (tel. 505/351-2288; www.galeriaortega.com), both at the corner of NM 520 and NM 76, are fine places to take a close look at this ancient craft. A more humble spot is Trujillo Weaving Shop (tel. 505/351-4457) on NM 76. If you're lucky enough to find the proprietors in, you might get a weaving history lesson. You can see a 100-year-old loom and an even older shuttle carved from apricot wood. The weavings you'll find are some of the best of the Rio Grande style, with rich patterns, many made from naturally dyed wool. Also on display are some fine Cordova woodcarvings. Also check out Centinela Traditional Arts, 946 NM 76 (tel. 877/351-2180 or 505/351-2180; www.chimayoweavers.com), for a good selection of rugs made by weavers from up and down the Rio Grande Valley. Watch for the chenille shawls by Scarlet Rose.
One of the best places to shop in Chimayo, Chimayo Trading and Mercantile (tel. 505/351-4566), on Hwy. 76, is a richly cluttered store carrying local arts and crafts as well as select imports. It has a good selection of katsinas and Hopi corn maidens, as well as specialty items such as elaborately beaded cow skulls. Look for George Zarolinski's "smoked porcelain."
Many people come to Chimayo to visit El Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas (The Shrine of Our Lord of Esquipulas) (tel. 505/351-4360; firstname.lastname@example.org), better known simply as "El Santuario de Chimayo." Ascribed with miraculous powers of healing, this church has attracted thousands of pilgrims since its construction in 1814 to 1816. Up to 30,000 people participate in the annual Good Friday pilgrimage, many of them walking from as far away as Albuquerque.
Although only the earth in the anteroom beside the altar is presumed to have the gift of healing powers, the entire shrine radiates true serenity. A National Historic Landmark, the church has five beautiful reredos (panels of sacred paintings) -- one behind the main altar and two on each side of the nave. Each year during the fourth weekend in July, the military exploits of the 9th-century Spanish saint Santiago are celebrated in a weekend fiesta, including games and music. The Santuario is open March to September 9am to 6pm and October to February 9am to 5pm. Please remember that this is a place of worship, so quiet is always appreciated.
A good place to stop for a quick bite, Leona's Restaurante de Chimayo (tel. 505/351-4569) is right next door to the Santuario de Chimayo. Leona herself presides over this little taco and burrito stand with plastic tables inside and, during warm months, out. Burritos and soft tacos made with chicken, beef, or veggie-style with beans will definitely tide you over en route to Taos or Santa Fe. Open Thursday through Monday 11am to 5pm. Right next door to the Santuario, look for El Portrero Trading Post (tel. 505/351-4112), a great place to buy rosary beads and votive candles, and, most notably, local wood carvings. During a recent visit there, I found the owners roasting piñon nuts, the scent blending with that of the local red chile they sell. I bought a bag of nuts to crunch on as I headed higher into the mountains.
Nearby Santa Cruz Lake provides water for Chimayo Valley farms and also offers a recreation site for trout fishing and camping at the edge of the Pecos Wilderness. During busy summer months, trash might litter its shores. To reach the lake from Chimayo, drive 2 miles south on NM 520, then turn east on NM 503 and travel 4 miles.