The entrance to El Monte Sagrado takes its cues from Indigenous architecture and was designed to resemble the round kivas found in the region.

Western Landmark: El Monte Sagrado

Visitors choose Taos, New Mexico, for a combination of reasons. Some come for the mountains and to ski at one of North America’s steepest resorts. Others want to hike to the tallest point in New Mexico, Mount Wheeler, rising more than 13,000 feet. Some choose to explore the area’s arts community, with galleries and museums providing a creative ambiance around the Plaza. Or they are drawn to the Taos Pueblo, a National Historic Monument and designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, inhabited by the Tiwa people for the last 1,000 years. Whatever the reasons travelers arrive in this high-desert destination, El Monte Sagrado offers comfortable, luxurious, and environmentally conscious accommodations for those eager to explore the many facets of this singular community.

The indoor pool at El Monte Sagrado offers a relaxing saltwater soak amid plants and flowers.

El Monte Sagrado was founded by Thomas Worrel Jr., a visionary developer who was enthralled by the small Southwestern town and its myriad old adobe buildings. He wanted the resort to offer a “world-class sanctuary for those seeking refuge from a hectic world.” The luxurious and eco-friendly hotel opened in 2003. 

Purchasing acreage only a few blocks from Taos’ historic Plaza, Worrel assembled teams of professionals for each facet of the project, hiring only those who shared  his vision for an eco-friendly resort. His company, Dharma Living Systems, thanked these professionals in an ad in The Taos News when the hotel opened, citing more than 450 individuals involved in the project. Architect John Szerdi, a former partner in Dharma Living Systems, was among a team of architects who coordinated activities with Worrel. Landscape architect William Hutchinson participated in designing the resort’s surrounding environment. Living Designs Architecture Group was involved in the comprehensive recycling water system that’s a hallmark of the resort’s eco-centric identity. This living system of water includes an underground cenote that is temperature-controlled. They also designed a saltwater pool in a grotto-like space constructed with the first vertical wetland utilized on the property. 

The menu at De La Tierra Restaurant is prepared by Chef Cristina Martinez, who honed her skills at Le Cordon Bleu in California.

Much of the resort focuses on the beauty of the natural world, a personal passion for Worrel. Many guest suites include courtyards, and hotel patrons are encouraged to rest and renew at the property’s waterfalls, ponds, and gardens. Guests often choose to unwind in the sculpture garden, where three monolithic sculptures made from New Mexico basalt create waterfalls. The surrounding ponds and a spring-fed stream give the space an air of serenity.

Sargent Design Associates, an interior design firm specializing in LEED-certified spaces, was selected to plan the resort’s main building. They utilized unique architectural components like a 90-pound citrine crystal in the center of the two-story kiva-like lobby that reflects light from nearby windows, casting different colors throughout the day.

The landscaping was an important component of the resort’s design. Green areas abound as ponds, waterfalls, and streams keep garden areas lush.

In 2007, El Monte Sagrado was purchased and updated by the Florida-based company Kessler Hotels, which took it through phase two of construction. Living Designs Group, who had been instrumental in the first phase of construction of the hotel, built an additional 48 hotel rooms, a banquet center, and a spa. 

In 2015, Heritage Hotels, a New Mexico-based resort company devoted to “embodying the culture, spirit, and tradition of New Mexico,” purchased the property, adding it to their upscale portfolio that includes four historic hotels in Santa Fe: The Inn at Loretto, Eldorado Hotel, Hotel St. Francis, and Hotel Chimayo.

The Global Suites feature two luxurious bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a private courtyard. Photos courtesy of El Monte Sagrado

Today, El Monte Sagrado offers a range of accommodations, from single bedrooms to luxurious suites that span 1,100 square feet. The different rooms incorporate themes, either Southwestern, mountain, or globally inspired. The Casita Suites, for example, are decorated with artwork by local Taos artists.

The resort’s award-winning Anaconda Bar is another notable attraction and has long been a favorite of guests and Taos residents, with its giant anaconda sculpture snaking throughout the space. Sargent Design Associates designed the sculpture to feel like the anaconda is moving. Its scales are made of gold mosaic tiles from Italy, and gelled LED lights illuminate its belly. Ebonized ash and gold mica arranged in an anaconda pattern complete the serpentine bar. 

The Casita Suites include artwork by local Taos artists to immerse guests in Southwestern culture. Photo courtesy of El Monte Sagrado

The Living Spa has also earned accolades among visitors, offering two hydrotherapy pools and a saltwater pool. Warm lighting, fresh air, and abundant plants invigorate the ambiance. Its nine treatment rooms include two for couples, and only organic products are used at the spa.

Wherever a visitor might look, luxury abounds at the hotel. Even still, says Doug Patterson, president of Living Designs Group Architects, “Many of the sustainable design practices that went into El Monte Sagrado will be unnoticed by most guests. Yet those practices contribute greatly to the resort’s soothing and welcoming atmosphere.”

WA&A Senior contributing editor Shari Morrison has been in the business of art for more than 40 years. She helped found the Scottsdale Artists’ School and the American Women Artists and directed the Santa Fe Artists’ Medical Fund for some years.

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