Bemoaning the gallerification of downtown Taos? The sheer touristy mayhem? From the old blinking light, head north on Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco, a cluster of buildings at a bend in the road to the ski area, and you’ll slip back a couple of decades.
Sure, there’s some art up here too, but this smaller community, though only a half-hour drive from the plaza , maintains an even more laid-back and funky attitude than Taos  does—if such a thing is possible.
It has been a retreat for decades: Frank Waters, celebrated author of The Man Who Killed the Deer and The Woman at Otowi Crossing, lived here off and on from 1947 until his death in 1995.
“Downtown” Arroyo Seco has grown up around La Santísima Trinidad Church, set back from Highway 150 on the left. Built in 1834, its adobe walls are alarmingly eroded in patches, but it sports a cheery red metal roof; the spare traditional interior is decorated with santos and retablos, but the doors are often locked.
Better to pop in at one of the secular gathering places on the road.
Arroyo Seco Mercantile (Hwy. 150, 575/776-8806) is the town’s former general store, now a highly evolved junk shop that has maintained the beautiful old wood-and-glass display cases. Its stock varies from the practical (books on passive-solar engineering and raising llamas) to the frivolous and the beautiful, such as antique wool blankets.
Across the street, Abe’s Cantina y Cocina is a very old-style bar propped up by locals for countless decades; visit the adjacent lunch counter and peek in the side if you don’t fancy making a dramatic front-door entrance to a crowd of taciturn Spanish-speaking men in cowboy hats.
Taos Cow, the coffee shop next door, known as “The Cow,” is the hangout for everyone who doesn’t fit in at Abe’s—many of them guests at The Abominable Snowmansion hostel down the block.