As the most otherworldly place in America, Taos appeals to people who love landscapes like Tatooine's more than Telluride's. "It's the closest place you can go to feel the farthest away," says one local. Taos is a mystical place with a deeply rooted native presence and imperfectly rendered adobe architecture. The rich red Sangre de Cristo Mountains, towering 6,000 feet above town on three sides, stand beneath an intensely blue sky.
Skip the central plaza unless you need a T-shirt – the Taos Inn, a block north, is the real heart of town. Hole up for a Cowboy Buddha margarita (none of that mix crap – we're talking silver tequila, Cointreau, and real lime juice) and the grilled rattlesnake-and-rabbit sausage appetizer. Get in touch with the town's spiritual side at the Taos Pueblo, a village northeast of town whose adobe structures have housed the Taos Indians for more than 1,000 years; the Unesco World Heritage Site is open to visitors, except during tribal rituals.
Experience true Southwest wilderness by hiking or trail-running on Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in New Mexico, at 13,161 feet, or rafting the Rio Grande Gorge, 800-foot basalt cliffs spanned by the dramatic Gorge Bridge. The Taos Box stretch is a full day of intense Class III and IV whitewater in a narrow canyon teeming with eagles, coyotes, and mountain lions. Ask for head guide Cisco Guevara, a font of lore and a great storyteller. "The power of that river is intense," he says.
Getting There: Fly to Santa Fe; drive an hour and a half north.
• Remote & Refined