Twenty-six miles North of Santa Fe in the town of Espanola, one can take the River Road which is sixty miles to Taos and return to Espanola on the High Road which is only fifty-two miles. The Enchanted Circle byway is an eighty-four-mile circle which starts in Taos and takes one North, then East across the Sangre De Cristo Mountains and back down to Taos.
Departing from Espanola to Velarde on highway 68 (River Road) is a four-lane flat road with mountains on each side. Along the way, one will see several historic Pueblo’s native to this area. In Velarde the highway turns into a two-lane highway and enters the Rio Grande Gorge. For the next twenty miles the highway winds through the gorge next to the Rio Grande River with steep cliffs on both sides. As the highway climbs from the gorge near the town of Pilar, the view opens to large plains of grass with mountains in the distance.
While in Taos be sure to take time to walk around the Taos Plaza built 200 years ago, here one will find several National and State landmarks. Just a few miles South is the San Francisco De Asis Church, built in the mid 1700’s. Because of the adobe contours and sculptural buttresses, makes it one of the most photographed and iconic churches in the country. Just a few miles North at the base of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains is the Taos Pueblo Village, home to just under 4,500 people, which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America. Let’s not forget the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge National Monument just ten miles North of Taos near El Prado. At 650 feet above the Rio Grande makes it the fifth highest bridge in the United States. The bridge spans for 1,280 feet and in 1966 the American Institute of Steel awarded the bridge the “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” in the long span category. In addition, the bridge has appeared in several films.
The Enchanted trail starts in Taos on Highway 522 North with views of the flat plains which turns into rolling hills with a forest of Pines, Firs and Aspen trees as one enters the Carson National Forest which covers 1.5 million acres in the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range. Taking highway 38 East from Questa for the next 18 miles will take one over the top of the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range through the picturesque town of Red River at an elevation of 8,650 feet. As one crosses Bob Cat pass at an elevation of 9,820 feet, the decent down to Eagle Nest will take one through lush valleys of grass with the population of horses grazing in the hundreds. From Eagle Nest, take highway 64 back to Taos through the winding roads of the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range back into the valley of Taos.
The High Road from Taos back to Espanola starts on Highway 518 where the climb back into the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range begins. For the next forty miles the High Road route takes one across the upper portion of the mountain range through large portions of the Carson National Forest, providing some of the most spectacular views in Northern New Mexico’s mountains. Just before the small town of Chimayo the road descends back into the valley. In Chimayo one should visit the El Santuairo De Chimayo Church. This small Roman Catholic church was founded in 1816, and is known for its thick adobe walls, two bell towers and six-foot crucifix, which is considered an example of Spanish Colonial architecture.
From the heart of Santa Fe travel scenic highway 475 for sixteen miles to the Santa Fe Ski Basin at an elevation of 10,350 feet, one of the countries’ most diverse and unique destinations. Along the way one will enter the Santa Fe National Forest where Aspen’s grow in an abundance.
Puye Cliff Dwellings National Historic Landmark, features authentic cliff dwellings cut into the face of the cliff on two different levels. The tour starts with a van ride to the top of the Mesa, here one can see the stunning panorama view of Northern New Mexico, as well as a layout of the dwellings built on the top surrounding a courtyard. To get to the second level, one will take the same path as the Santa Clara Pueblo people did, a narrow winding foot path carved into the stone. This level stretched for 2,100 feet along the cliff wall with access into many of the dwellings. From here, a forty-foot ladder takes one down to the first level which reflects an impressive community site and runs the length of the mesa, over a mile long. From this level back down to the visitor center, a steep, but paved walkway is available.
When driving to Bandelier National Monument, one should take the time to stop in the town of White Rock and Visit the White Rock Overlook which features a staggering 270-degree view of the Rio Grande River as it runs along the Jemez Mountains.
Entering Bandelier National Monument from highway 4 can be a treat in itself. The three-mile drive from the entrance to the visitor center is a very scenic drive with a few bone chilling moments. The drive takes one across the top of the mesa by the Frijoles Canyon Overlook with breathtaking views of the canyon below. Just past this point, one can see the drop-off to the canyons on both sides of the highway. Pretty narrow road at this point to the 360-degree turn down to the canyon floor at an elevation of 6,066 feet. Along the canyon floor one will find Pinon and ponderosa pines as well as other types of vegetation. Although Bandelier has only three miles of public roads, there are seventy miles of hiking trails with archeological sites throughout the park.
The closest archeological site and most popular one, is 400 yards from the visitor center. This paved 1.2-mile loop to Tyuonyi and the cliff dwellings allows for one to reach the sides of the mesa for a closeup look of the remains of the Long House, an 800-foot stretch of adjoining rooms with hand carved caves as the back rooms. Add another half-mile, one-way walk along the canyon floor through the pine forest to reach the Alcove House, where one has to climb 140 feet vertical ladders to reach the Alcove site.
Pecos National Park is a place where the west was won and lost, a place of history, and scenic views, as it stands today, one will find a very peaceful place. The Pueblo people and Plains Indians were the first to settle here and due to the valley’s rich fertile soil the Spanish settlers followed. As the push to move West became stronger, the Santa Fe Trail opened and along with it came the traders. The park has two trails for one to enjoy and to see firsthand some of our country’s history.
The Ancestral Trail starts at the visitor center and is a 1.25-mile loop. The trail takes one through the forest of Pinyon and Ponderosa pines into the valley of the Pueblo ruins and the Mission church. While venturing around the trail the beautiful vistas of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains and Glorieta Mesa are pretty spectacular. Just over seven miles from the visitor center one can hike the second trail, the Glorieta Battlefield Trail, which is a 2.25-mile loop with a 500-foot climb to the top of the Mesa. Without the trail guide book from the visitor center, this is just a leisurely walk through the woods. With the trail guide, which explains every marker along the trail in detail, one can picture the intense battle that lasted for days between the Union soldiers and the Confederate soldiers to win this territory.
The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a remarkable outdoor laboratory, offering an opportunity to observe the geological processes that shape natural landscapes. The cone tent shaped rocks were formed millions of years ago due to volcanic eruptions from the Jemez volcanic field. As a result of uniform layering of volcanic material bands of gray with beige and pink colored rock formed along the cliff face. Over time, rain and wind cut into the deposits creating canyons. The tent formations found throughout the canyon vary in height from a few feet to as high as ninety feet. The monument covers 5,610 acres of public land with an elevation of 5,570 feet to a height of 6,760 feet.
They are two trails for one to hike. The cave trail is a 1.2-mile loop which takes one along the base of the cliffs and by the cave. Here one will walk through the ponderosa and pinon-juniper woodlands which provide habitat for big game such as Elk, Mule deer and Turkeys. The canyon trail is a 1.5-mile hike in each direction with the first half mile being part of the cave trail. Over the next mile, one will gain 630 feet in elevation. As one walks the trail through the canyon floor there is a gradual rise in elevation with places only wide enough for one person to walk through. In the open spaces look high up in the crevices and cracks on the cliff walls where the vibrant green leaves of the manzanita shrub with red bark which stand in sharp contrast with the colors of the cliff walls. The last quarter mile becomes more difficult as the path becomes very steep and rugged with the finale 300 feet gain in elevation.
At the top of the mesa one will find very little room to move around for the mesa top is very narrow, yet the views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, Jemez mountains, Sandia mountains and the Rio Grande valley are spectacular. The ranger stationed at the top is there to answer any questions and give assistance as needed. The ranger informs everyone as they reach the top, “for bragging rights one must travel to the overlook at the end of the mesa”, this is an additional 100 yards with a decent of 100 feet. After the long hike up, very few people take on this challenge, I for one did. Unfortunately, one must make the walk back up to the crest to start the hike back down.
Sixty miles Northwest of Santa Fe, at an elevation of 6,493 feet, is Ghost Ranch surrounded by towering scenic cliffs reaching as high as 600 feet. Come for the day or spend a week, there is plenty to do. The nine hiking trails range from moderate to difficult and can be as long as four miles round trip. All the trails take you higher up into the cliffs. In addition, they provide horseback rides as well as movie tours. Yes, quite a few blockbuster movies had scenes filmed here such as, All the Pretty Horses, Indiana Jones Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 3:10 To Yuma, Young Guns and many more.
At 8,400 feet Hyde Memorial State Park is New Mexico’s highest elevated state park. The park covers 350 acres of heavily forested land and is open year-round. The Three hiking trails cover 3.7 miles. Although this state parks trails are known for the views of the valley and surrounding mountains, they are far more valuable for the strenuous workout.
The East trail is one mile and considered an easy trail with elevation gains of 200 feet. This is a pleasant hike with the trail being several feet wide with sure footing and takes one above the campground and cottages. Midway is the Waterfall trail. This half mile round trip is a rocky trail that follows the creek to a wall of bedrock where the water cascades over it. At the end of the East trail as well as the West trail is the Piggyback trail, this is an easy half mile trail which takes one back to the parking lot. The 2.2-mile West trail has an elevation gain of 1,000 feet, due to the trail itself and the elevation gain this trail is considered difficult. The rugged trail is very narrow and is covered with loose mountain rocks, not to mention the roots and fallen tress across the trail. For the first mile, it’s a steep winding incline where one will gain 1,000 feet in elevation at 9,440 feet. The hike down is somewhat a little easier.
The Old Santa Fe Trail takes one right through Historic Santa Fe. Located here is The San Miguel Chapel, the oldest church in the United States. The Cathedral Basilica and the Loretto Chapel are within a few blocks. The Santa Fe plaza sits in the center of the historic district with an abundance of shopping and dining for one to enjoy.
Canyon road, just a few blocks from historic Santa Fe is a place where one can find most any type of art the heart desires. The road is a half mile walk one way, and here one will find 100 galleries and restaurants.