Things to Do Around Santa Fe New Mexico

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.

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Site Seeing Around Flagstaff Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park, as it appears today is no more than a barren, lifeless badland; however, these badlands are a living scientific laboratory which revels that millions of years ago this land flourished with large river systems, forests, prehistoric plants and animals. They are two entrances to the park; The Painted Desert visitor center is at the North entrance and the Rainbow Forest Museum and gift shop is at the South entrance. In between is a 28-mile paved scenic highway full of hills and winding curves, which displays one of the world’s largest petrified wood deposits. Along the highway are pullovers and short drives to areas with walking trails and overlooks which allow for one to get a close-up view. For a different look of the Painted Desert, one should drive North from Winslow on Highway 87 for fourteen miles to the Painted Desert Rim View. The difference in colors are past amazing and worth the trip.

What can we say about the Grand Canyon? We learned about the canyon in school, saw it on National Geography, watched movies that were made in and around the canyon, read books about it; however, none of these comes close to actually standing on the rim looking out over the canyon. Which part of the rim is one standing on, the canyon has miles upon miles of rim to stand upon, with each place giving a person something different to see?

The best way to see the canyon along the South entrance road is by the South rim walking trail, which runs from Hermit’s Rest to South Kaibab and covers just under thirteen miles, most of this trail is paved with only slight inclines and gives excellent views of the canyon. For the person that wishes to venture into the canyon, there are four trails from which to choose. Hermit’s Rest, Kolb Studio, South Kaibab, and Grandview Trail. All four are rated as extreme difficult, with the Grandview trail recommended for experienced desert hikers only.

Leaving the visitor center and traveling Desert View Drive (hwy 64) for the next 22 miles one will follow the canyon rim with pull overs for views of the canyon and four different side roads with lookout points. Between Moran Point and Lipan point, be sure to catch the Tusayan Museum and Ruins on the right side of the road.

Tuzigoot National Monument located in Clarkdale is the remnant of a Southern Sinagua village. The ruin sits on the summit of a long ridge rising 120 feet above the Verde Valley. They are two paved walking trails here for one’s enjoyment. The quarter mile loop trail takes one to the top of the crest where the ruins are located and the other trail is a half-mile one way and takes one along the top of the ridge overlooking the valley.

Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well located near Camp Verde and eleven miles apart are part of the Sinagua people which farmed in the Verde Valley. The visitor center for both locations is located at the Castle site and contains a gift shop and museum with information on both sites. The castle site has a quarter mile paved loop walking trail through a beautiful Sycamore grove along a spring feed creek. Along the trail one will see the ruins of a cliff dwelling and a five-story castle carved deep into the wall of the cliff 100 feet above the canyon floor. The well site has a quarter mile paved loop which takes one to the rim of the well, were 1.6 million gallons of water flow through two vents at the bottom every day. On one side of the rim sits the cliff dwellings of large pueblo ruins. The shaded forest along the trail near the swallet ruins is a constant discharge of 74-degree water which traveled through 150 feet of limestone from the well.

Highway 545 off of highway 89 is a 35-mile scenic loop drive that leads one through the Sunset Crater National Park on the South end and the Wupatki National Park on the North end. Along this drive one will travel through rolling hills in the Coconino National Forest to arid open valleys.

Sunset Crater National Park preserves two volcanoes and with the 6.5 miles of walking trails, one can see the remains of what happened hundreds of years ago when these volcanoes erupted. The A’a trail goes right through where jagged blocks of basaltic lava formed. The Lenox Crater loop climbs up 200 feet in elevation through the forest to the crest of the crater where one can see views of the O Leary Peak and the San Francisco peaks. The Bonito trail leads to an overlook where a river of lava rocks got trapped between two volcanos. The Lava Flow loop travels around the base of Sunset Crater where extraordinary shapes and forms of lava can be seen and a view of a spatter cone, along the trail one can see where new vegetation emerges each year.

The Wukoki National Monument showcases six historic pueblos which can be viewed by the 2.4 miles of walking trails. The 800-hundred-year-old Wukoki Ruins is one of the most impressive masses and is visible from miles away and appears to look like an old castle towering high into the sky. Wupatki Pueblo sits right behind the visitor center and is the largest pueblo with 100 rooms. The half-mile loop takes one by the main formations with the ball court out front and to the blowhole, a fascinating geological feature. The Citadel Pueblo was built on top of a mesa and covered every available inch of space. From the top of the mesa, one can see across the valley for many miles to the mountain ranges. The Lomaki trail will lead one by two box canyon ruins and end at the Lomaki Ruins. These ruins overlook a pair of small canyons.

Walnut Canyon National Park has two walking trails which gives one an opportunity to look back into the past to see how these people adapted to the land. The one-mile Island Trail descends 185 feet into the 400-foot-deep canyon, where a loop trail winds around an island in the center of the canyon. Along the loop trail one can experience 25 cliff dwelling rooms carved into the sandstone bluff, with views of other dwelling dotted all along the cliff walls across the canyon. The.7-mile round trip canyon rim trail goes through mixed Juniper and Pinion forest where two canyon overlooks provides scenic views of the canyon below and cliff dwellings. Set back from the rim is a partially restored pit house and pueblo.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Byway on highway 89A is about a 28 mile stretch of road from South of Flagstaff to Sedona. The early stretch of the highway from Flagstaff is rolling hills through a Ponderosa Pine Forest where herds of Elk frequently cross the highway. The 14-mile stretch of road from the Mogollon Rim through Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona, with its 4,500-foot change in elevation is a breathtaking stretch of beauty and has been rated as one of the top 5 scenic drives in America by Rand McNally.

At the Summit of the rim is Oak Creek Vista overlook, which allows for one to see parts of the road winding along the cliff walls, as well as the beauty of the canon with the towering cliffs on both sides. Initially one will snake their way down the canyon around switchbacks and hairpin curves that hug the canyon walls, with picture perfect colors of yellow and gold.

As one descends the steep winding road turns into a gentle decline along Oak Creek Canyon which opens to the foliage of oaks interspersed with evergreen pines. Due to the crystal-clear Oak Creek which flows throughout the year allows for lush greenery throughout the spring and summer. Throughout the canyon floor the creek and highway run parallel to each other with the creek being at the same level to a hundred feet lower.

A few miles into the canyon, one will notice the cliff walls changing from yellow and gold to red-faced rocks and cliffs, with the cliffs hugging the road on one side and the forest on the other side. All through the canyon, one will see the width going from very narrow to hundreds of feet wide where the canyon floor below the highway is dotted with cottages, lodging, and small campgrounds.

Red Rock Scenic loop just South of Sedona is a short 10 miles; however, it can be time consuming. Entering from the lower portion one will see the valley on one side and hills of Ponderosa Pines on the other side. After about three miles going around a curve the red-faced cliffs appear. For the next seven miles one will travel a hairpin and twisting highway across the side of a cliff with excellent views of Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte, and Bell Rock. If time permits, stop at Crescent Moon picnic area for a swim in crystal clear Oak Creek and Red Rock State Park.

Oatman is a little town off the beaten pass, but well worth the time and effort to see. Entering Oatman from the East, take historic route 66 off of I-40 just West of Kingman. For the first twelve miles the road is through flat arid land with several old homesteads along the way. The road itself is pretty neat with all the little humps in it, like a small child’s roller coaster. At Cool Spring Station, a historic building, now a museum and gift shop with antique Mobile gas pumps out front, is worth spending a few minutes at. At this point the road starts the climb through the Black Mountains along one of America’s dangerous roads.

Over the next ten-miles the narrow two-lane highway menders along the cliff walls with hairpin curves and switchbacks with very limited amount of guard rails to protect one from driving off the road and plunging down the cliff. Unfortunately, if one looks close enough, there are cars sitting on the cliff walls that took the plunge. At an elevation of 3,550 feet passing across Sitgreaves Pass the road starts the decent to Oatman, a former mining town, now a living ghost town, where the elevation is 2,710 feet.

Pulling into town, one will see why so many people come here, take away the modern vehicles parked along the store fronts, and one will feel as if they went back 100 years in time. Most of the store fronts appear early 19th century right down to the wooden walk ways along both sides of the streets, just like the old western days. The historic buildings along main street that once was the home to saloons, banks, and hotels are now museums, giftshops, and restaurants. With main street being the only street in town, visitors and wild donkeys wander freely along the highway, slowing vehicles passing through to a crawl. When noon approaches, be prepared to witness a re-enactment of a bank robbery ending in a gunfight between two costumed gunfighters, Billy the Kid would have been no match for these two gunslingers.

The Jerome State Historical Park has been an eye-catching site since 1916 when the home was originally built by James Douglas on a hill just above his Little Daisy Mine. The home is now a museum devoted to the town of Jerome and the Douglas family. The museum displays minerals, mining equipment, and artifacts from the copper mining boom around the town of Jerome. To get here, one will travel historic route 89A up the side of a cliff along a narrow steep winding road to the town of Jerome established in 1876, with spectacular views of Verde valley. At Jerome’s peak 15,000 people lived here, now just over 400 people reside in this historic town. Today art galleries and small wineries dot the downtown area.

Red Rock State Park, just South of Sedona located along the Red Rock scenic loop is a 286-acre nature preserve with stunning scenery of the red-rock formations. The five-miles of family-oriented hiking trails is a network of interconnecting loops to vistas of red rock or the lush greenery of Oak Creek, with the Eagle’s Nest loop being the highest with an elevation gain of 300-feet. The parks wildlife consists of mule deer, javelina, coyotes, bobcats and many species of birds.

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