Road Trip: New Mexico

The most robust portion of the bridge was just about the width of my shoe. In fact, describing it as a bridge feels akin to calling a canoe a yacht with a straight face, but I digress. The slender platform sagged subtly as it crossed the 100-foot span, flanked by a pair of parallel cables to hold for support and another upon which to secure my harness. Precarious appearance aside, the Sangre de Cristo Sky Bridge provided safe passage between granite buttresses as part of the Via Ferrata at Taos Ski Valley (16 Sutton Place, 888-388-8457).

Bridge tour at Via Ferrata at Taos Ski Valley
Via Ferrata at Taos Ski Valley (Photo courtesy Taos Ski Valley)
Climber at Via Ferrata at Taos Ski Valley
Via Ferrata at Taos Ski Valley (Photo courtesy Taos Ski Valley)

The Via Ferrata routes at the resort opened in 2021, traversing the towering Kachina Peak which looms over Taos at more than 12,000 feet. I’d been skiing at Taos Ski Valley before, finding it difficult not to be impressed by the dramatic surroundings. Beckoned back in the warmer months, I was excited to find a Via Ferrata to aid my exploration.

Italian for “iron road,” Via Ferrata is a common sight in Europe, where World War II soldiers unaccustomed to traveling in the mountains used metal bars embedded in the rock to aid their movements. They’re becoming more common in the United States now, especially as increasingly sporadic ski seasons wrought by a changing climate have resorts searching for new revenue streams. Consider it a boon, as Via Ferrata is an accessible intermediary between rock climbing and hiking that allows those without the physical prowess and steely nerve of Alex Honnold to explore the vertical realm.

There are two tour options: the beginner-friendly Sangre de Cristo Skybridge Tour and intermediate K Chutes Tour. The go-getters out there can combine the two, and all options are guided to ensure your safety and enjoyment. So head to New Mexico and take to the hills. Having some air underneath makes views hard to beat. 

TO TRINITY AND BEYOND

It was the Spanish explorers who named the place Nuevo México sometime in the 16th century, two centuries and change before the country of Mexico adopted the moniker. Still, it references the Aztec Valley of Mexico, located in modern-day Mexico, so the name’s lineage is about as convoluted as you’d expect with a colonial origin. Long before the arrival of empires, Ancestral Puebloans, Mogollon, Comanche and Utes called the area home, maintaining an uncommon relative independence amid the machinations of outside influence. The unique identity persists today, putting an indelible stamp on the local culture.

Though the United States annexed New Mexico in 1848, it wasn’t until the 1940s the state came to dominate popular imagination with the Manhattan Project. The Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Trinity Site have etched the image of New Mexico as the birthplace of humankind’s penchant for self-destruction.

Leave that ominous history behind on your visit, and appreciate the magic New Mexico offers. A convergence of culture—Indigenous, Hispanic, Spanish, Mexican and American—lives here in the food, art and natural landscape. One might even call it enchanting.

WHAT TO DO

 As enjoyable as my walkabout in the sky was, my favorite way to spend time outdoors is with rubber in the dirt aboard a mountain bike, so I headed east towards Angel Fire (10 Miller Lane, Angel Fire, 800-633-7463). The resort’s legendary bike park is home to a sprawling network of trails of every type from beginner-friendly flow to the gnarliest rock-filled steeps imaginable. While New Mexico mountain biking may conjure parched images of sand, rock and cracked dirt, the alpine reality is far different. Towering pine trees and vast aspen groves provide deliverance from the summer heat.

Two bikers at Angel Fire Bike Park
Angel Fire Bike Park (Photo courtesy Angel Fire Resort)

The state’s natural treasures needn’t be enjoyed from vast heights or terrific speeds, so after a couple adrenaline-filled and bone-rattling adventures I opted for some more placid exploration. The yawning Rio Grande Gorge is more than deserving of deliberate observation, so I opted to hike to the confluence of the Rio Grande and Red Rivers which cut it on the La Junta Trail. The route loops just over six miles from the stunning overlook trailhead to the water and back along sheer walls, through juniper and past dramatic boulders.

I was anxious to get off my feet the following day but wanted to see the gorge from other perspectives. I drove to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, walking over the chasm on the stunning landmark made famous by numerous films including Natural Born Killers. Next up I hopped in a raft with Los Rios River Runners (4003 NM-68, Ranchos De Taos, 575-776-8854).  

Though one could spend a lifetime exploring New Mexico, it’s every bit the artistic haven it is an outdoor paradise. I’d already encountered truly local art in the form of petroglyphs while hiking in the Gorge, and I was inspired to see more contemporary Taos art. First up was the Taos Art Museum (227 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, Taos, 575-758-2690). The museum, which is located in the former house of artist Nicolai Fechin, is devoted to displaying the local, like that from the early 20th century Taos Society of Artists, at home in Taos. Just minutes away the Millicent Rogers Museum (1504 Millicent Rogers Rd., El Prado, 575-758-2462) has extraordinary exhibitions, including a comprehensive collection of Hispanic and Taos Pueblo.

Millicent Rogers Museum
Millicent Rogers Museum (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK

Classic New Mexican cuisine starts foremost with Mexican flavors, which are augmented by hints of Spanish and Pueblo influence, specifically the proud use of the local green chiles in everything from sauces to stiff margaritas. The award-winning food at Orlando’s (1114 Don Juan Valdez Ln., Taos, 575-751-1450) is a perfect encapsulation of the Taos take on the art form. The blue corn enchiladas topped, of course topped with local chile of your choice, are tough to beat.

The strong brewing culture in Taos is paralleled by the community’s creative art scene. The two combine at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership (20 ABC Mesa Rd., El Prado, 575-758-1900). The building is sort of a surrealist take on an airplane hangar sitting on the Hondo Mesa with fantastic views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, outdoor art and a live music venue. The Kachina Peak Pale Ale is a crisp, refreshing brew with a touch of hops that’s ideal for some post-adventure après. The Mothership is reopening summer 2022 after a fire shuttered the doors for a couple years—a very welcome return indeed.

It’s not just the beer that gets the artisanal take in Taos. Stop into the Chokola Bean to Bar (100-198 Juan Largo Ln., Taos, 575-779-6163) for handmade, small-batch chocolate. The unique creations with outrageous attention to detail are well worth the $12 per bar price of admission.

For the full, farm-to-table Taos experience, head to The Love Apple (803 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte, Taos, 575-751-0050). Located in the rustic reimagination of the Placitas Chapel, an 1800s Catholic Church which served up sermons for 100 years before meals today, the restaurant features an ever-changing seasonal menu crafted from fresh, local ingredients. No two meals are the same. 

WHERE TO STAY

Base your trip right in the Heart of Taos at the Sagebrush Inn and Suites (1508 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur, Taos, 575-758-2254). The historic landmark, which opened nearly 100 years ago, is mere steps from restaurants, bars, shops and galleries, and features classic New Mexican touches like the kiva-style fireplaces in every room. You can even get a fantastic margarita onsite.

For a more nature-focused feel, check into the Taos Goji Eco Lodge (1530 Old Highway 3, El Prado, 575-776-3971). Small cabins dot a working 40-acre goji berry farm that sits serenely in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Each cabin is uniquely decorated, but they all share the same fantastic views. The Taos Goji Eco Lodge also has glamping options for those seeking a more immersive taste of the outdoors.  

Really lean into the funky, hipster-friendly kitsch at Hotel Luna Mystica (25 ABC Mesa Rd., El Prado, 575-613-1411). The “hotel” is actually a collection of vintage trailers spread throughout the site, which are all beautifully restored and decorated and very comfortable. Hotel Luna Mystica gets bonus points for being walking distance from the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership with a serene open-air feel and incredible vistas.

ROAD TRIP 1: THE WILDER SIDE OF ENCHANTMENT

Start: Clayton Lake State Park // End: Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

New Mexico’s varied landscapes are filled with opportunities to get off the beaten path and explore the deserts, badlands, mountains, arroyos, gorges and more. Float, hike and swim your way through natural treasures.

1 / Dinosaur Trackways at Clayton Lake State Park

Travel 100 million years in the space of a half mile. More than 500 fossilized dinosaur tracks are preserved in the earth and easily seen from the wooden walkway.

2 / Sugarite Canyon State Park

A wildflower-filled canyon of mule deer, elk, turkey, bear and even the rare mountain lion sits just beyond the prairies east of I-25. Hike the six-mile Soda Pocket Trailhead Loop through Gambel oak and aspen trees to a ridge overlooking Lake Maloya.

3 / Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

Take a driving tour through Northern New Mexico’s mountain passes ringing the state’s highest point, the 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak. Along the way go camp and hike in the Carson National Forest and stop by Red River Ski Area for summer mountain fun.

4 / La Junta Trail At Wild Rivers Recreation Area

Visit two truly pristine protected waterways: the Red River and Rio Grande. Hike from La Junta Point, which overlooks the confluence of the two rivers, into the gorge 800 feet below and back for a round trip of just under three miles.

5 / Rio Grande Gorge

When you’re ready for some water-based adventure, hop in a raft with New Mexico River Adventures to see what the gorge looks like from the bottom. Gaze up at the deeply cut volcanic rock of the Taos Plateau, lined with pinion and juniper trees.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

6 / Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa

Soak in four varieties of sulfur-free hot springs—iron, soda, arsenic and lithia—each of which is ascribed unique physical and mental benefits long revered by local Native American tribes.

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa (Photo courtesy Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs)

7 / Bandelier National Monument

Descend into a colorful canyon housing ancestral pueblos built between 1150 and 1550. The mile-long main loop trail passes through the remnants of a lost city, where ladders provide access to some of the cavates, dwellings carved directly into the volcanic tuff.

8 / Valles Caldera National Preserve

The remnants of what was once a supervolcano is now a glorious creek-filled basin, which is a lush habitat for wildlife. The preserve is also home to a network of over 80 miles of trails perfect for hiking and mountain biking.

9 / Bisti Badlands

The 45,000-acre wilderness in the San Juan Basin is an endless expanse of hillsides stained red, black, orange and beige. The otherworldly landscape is dotted with improbably-shaped spires and balanced rocks. There’s a reason Georgia O’Keeffe wandered here in search of inspiration.

Bisti Badlands
Bisti Badlands (Photo Adobe Stock)

ROAD TRIP 2: ARCHITECTURAL ADVENTURES

Start: Taos Pueblo // End: Spencer Theater

From iconic adobe architecture—which has endured through the centuries—to the shadowy installations at Los Alamos, New Mexico’s history is told through the buildings showcased in this cross-state adventure.

1 / Taos Pueblo

The stunning Taos Pueblo is a piece of living history, preserving a Southwestern culture that’s centuries old. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the five-story Pueblo is built in an adobe style predating the arrival of Spanish explorers to New Mexico in 1540. Taos Pueblo consists not only of the two multi-story structures containing numerous private homes, but also seven kivas and a track for traditional foot races.

Taos Pueblo
Taos Pueblo (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

2 / Taos Earthships

The eclectic Earthships are artistically styled embodiments of sustainability. The buildings use thermal and solar heating and cooling techniques supplemented by photovoltaic and wind power systems for electricity. Recyclable water systems catch rain and snowmelt. An education center lets you experience the methods first hand.

3 / Origin Art Cave Tour

Subterranean surrealism lives in the Origin Art Cave. Dug by Ra Paulette, the hand-carved chamber is dug into a sandstone butte with towering designs and 20-foot windows.

4 / Fuller Lodge

Famously a dining hall for scientists working on the World War II-era Manhattan Project, the Fuller Lodge is a massive pine log structure that’s been transformed into a cultural center open to the public.  

5 / Santa Fe Opera

The Crosby Theatre is an open-air wonder allowing visitors to take in sunsets over the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains while enjoying the opera. The curved roof enhances acoustics for the audience while doubling as rainwater catchment for the surrounding landscaping.

6 / Loretto Chapel

Early French immigrants to Sante Fe brought along Parisian architecture influences, resulting in a towering Gothic structure. The spiraling staircase inside the chapel is a remarkable feat of engineering, appearing as a helix without any means of central support.

Interior of Loretto Chapel
Interior of Loretto Chapel (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

7 / Old Town

Albuquerque’s Old Town was founded in the 1700s. Today ten blocks of historic buildings in the Pueblo-Spanish style stand as remnants of the era, punctuated by the San Felipe de Neri Church.

8 / Old San Miguel Mission In Socorro

Built on the foundation and frame of a church Franciscan missionaries constructed some 400 years ago, the Old San Miguel Mission was resurrected in the 1800s in the classic California Mission style.

Old San Miguel Mission in Socorro
Old San Miguel Mission in Socorro (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

9 / Spencer Theater in Alto

A striking limestone wedge rising out of the Mesa, the Spencer Theater was designed by architect Antoine Predock to stand directly between Sunset and Sierra Blanca peaks on the summer sun’s axis on Fort Stanton Mesa. The $22-million arts center is home to theater, music and dance.  

ROAD TRIP 3: TOURING SOUTHWESTERN CUISINE

Start: Cooking Studio // End: La Posta de Mesilla

You may think you have Southwestern cuisine pegged, but no two green chiles are alike on this culinary exploration of New Mexico. Rest assured, you won’t be going home hungry.  

1 / Cooking Studio Taos

Before hitting the road to try the local fare, learn to make some at home from James-Beard-recognized chef Christopher Maher. His varied background allows him to teach classes focused on French, Spanish, Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, and he’s even cooked for the Dalai Lama. So he’s got that goin’ for him.

The grounds at Rancho de Chimayo
The grounds at Ranch de Chimayo (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)
Food at Rancho de Chimayo
Food at Rancho de Chimayo (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

2 / High Road to Rancho De Chimayó

The Jaramillo family runs a James Beard Award-winning restaurant, Rancho de Chimayó, out of their ancestral home in the village of Chimayó. Family recipes featuring local pinto beans and chile are cornerstones of the menu.

3 / San Marcos Feed Store

This local favorite is housed in a classic adobe adorned with murals. Stop in for the famous brunch, and don’t forget to say high to the flocks of peacocks, turkeys, ducks and other animals roaming around the five-acre property.

4 / Craft Beer Bike Tour in Albuquerque

Stop into Routes Rentals for an Albuquerque Bike and Brew Tour. Two different tour options allow thirsty attendees to pedal between six stops sampling a dozen tasty local microbrews along with appetizers.  

A bike with a basket of tickets to the Craft Beer Bike Tour in Albuquerque
Craft Beer Bike Tour in Albuquerque (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

5 / Farm & Table

The name is literal at this restaurant, where 80% of ingredients come from local providers, much of it from the two-acre garden out the back door. Former Executive Chef Carrie Eagle was even a winner on Food Network’s Chopped, so you can safely set your expectations sky high.

6 / Tequila Tasting at La Posta De Mesilla

If a tequileria has been in business since 1939, it’s for good reason. La Posta has more than 100 tequilas available for tasting, including ultra exclusive options like the Herradura Private Reserve Double Barrel Reposado, which is hand harvested and roasted in clay ovens. Stop in for a few sips.

ROAD TRIP 4: ENCHANTED ROUTE 66

Start: New Mexico Route 66 Museum and Sculpture // End: El Rancho Hotel

The curious, the eccentric and lovers of the open road have plenty to explore along Route 66. The enchanted side of The Mother Road awaits in New Mexico.

1 / New Mexico Route 66 Museum and Sculpture

Start things off at the monument memorializing Route 66. There’s a signed Loretta Lynn guitar, vintage jukebox, gas pumps from another era and a towering sculpture of tire, road, tread and chrome that’s a tribute to the golden era of automobiles.

Three girls sit at the Route 66 Monument
Route 66 Monument (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

2 / Tee Pee Curios

All the Route 66 kitsch you could ever want in a vintage curio shop that’s still operating today.

Tee Pee Curios
Tee Pee Curios (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

3 / Blue Hole

An 81-foot-deep sinkhole filled with crystal-clear blue water near Santa Rosa long restored Native tribes and travelers of all strips headed for the Pecos. These days it’s still a literal oasis and is even a destination for scuba divers and swimmers who want to cool off in the 60-degree waters.

Santa Rosa Blue Hole
Santa Rosa Blue Hole (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

4 / Whiting Brothers Service Station

Four brothers opened a company in 1926, the same year Route 66 was created, eventually running 100 filling stations, many along Route 66. This Moriarty service station is one of the last of its kind still running, replete with its original sign.

5 / Midway Trading Post

Interstate 40 opened in the 1970s, rerouting Route 66 traffic and leading to the closure of the historic Midway Trading Post. It was resurrected in 2013, recalling the area’s 1950s glory days with curios and good eats for weary travelers.

Richardson's Trading Post
Richardson’s Trading Post (Photo courtesy New Mexico True)

6 / Enchanted Trails RV Park and Trading Post

Stop for the night as this 1940s relic, originally called Hill Top Trading Post. Hook up your own RV or rent a vintage trailer for the night, whether a ’69 Airstream, a ’63 Winnebago or a ’56 teardrop.

7 / Richardson’s Trading Post

An old-school trading post in a modern era, Richardson’s is home to painted kachina dolls, more than 3,000 Navajo rugs, pottery, contemporary Native jewelry and more. They even do a bustling pawning business.

8 / El Rancho Hotel

Once the height of luxury on Route 66, the El Rancho Hotel has housed Hollywood stars like John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Katherine Hepburn over the years. That vintage glow still shines for visitors, whether they stay for the night or just for a fresh-squeezed margarita at the 49er Lounge. 


For more travel ideas visit NewMexico.org.

Tony Gill
Tony Gillhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Tony Gill is the outdoor and Park City editor for Salt Lake Magazine and previously toiled as editor-in-chief of Telemark Skier Magazine. Most of his time ignoring emails is spent aboard an under-geared single-speed on the trails above his home.

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