Yes, yes. To be sure, the art galleries, museums and old town of Taos, New Mexico are worth your time. Taos abounds in fine art, ancient native America, 400-year old Hispanic culture, a lively music scene, great food and a slew of lively bars. But for those of us with a slightly adventurous side who love to be outside the best kept secret about Taos is the one you can’t miss but may never consider – the land that cradles this small mountain town…
Top 5 Best Kept Secrets About Taos, New Mexico
1. The Rio Grande Gorge – One of the wildest places in all of the southwestern United States can be found in Taos County. At the New Mexico state line, the river is 200 feet down, the gorge 150 feet across. A bit further south, just west of the village of Questa, where Big Arsenic Spring bubbles from the rock and pinyon jays heap in the winter, the river is a glinting green ribbon eight hundred feet down. At John Dunn Bridge the river enters The Box, an 18-mile stretch of 900 foot cliffs, famous among rafters and kayakers. This is also one of the great migratory bird routes in the world. Eagles, falcons and hawks make the basalt walls of the Gorge their nesting homes. Ospreys, scaups, hummingbirds, herons, avocets, merlins and willits all traverse the Gorge. Numerous hiking trails lead into the gorge, the Cebolla Mesa Trail and La Junta trail being the best in my humble opinion. Ancient petroglyphs, hidden hot springs and outstanding fishing opportunities abound. If you’re lucky, you just might catch a glymps of the recently re-introduced river otter.
2. Gold Hill – This 11-mile hike into the heart of the Colombine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area takes you to one of the highest peaks in northern New Mexico. You’ll gain over 3000 feet in elevation on this hike – and every inch is worth it. Head up the non-technical Bull-of-the-Woods trail through the dappled sunlight of ponderosa pine stands and into the flowered meadows just above tree-line. The view is stupendous. Watch out for summer thunderstorms and be sure to be back below tree-line by noon. After this stunner you’ll feel you earned every bite of that green-chile burrito served up for dinner.
3. Fishing – The Rio Grande, the Arroyo Hondo, the Red River, the Cimarron, Eagle Nest Lake….the list goes on. The Taos region is, perhaps, not as famous as it should be for the outstanding fishing opportunities. For both fly-fishermen and bait fishermen, the hundreds of miles of streams, rivers and lakes around Taos is a paradise. Any of the numerous fly shops in Taos can set you on the right path with expert advice and guided fishing tours. A lot of this great fishing is so secret you’ll have whole stretches of river all to yourself.
4. Valle Vidal – The 100,000-acre mountain playground of the Valle Vidal is home to some 2,000 elk – the largest herd in the state – bears, deer, coyotes and amazing bird-life. This “Valley of Life” sits in a high mountain basin of the Carson National Forest, about two hours north of Taos. Elevations here range from the 8,000 foot grasslands to more than 12,000 feet on Little Costilla Peak. The Valle’s massive open meadows dotted with ponderosa pine, radiant groves of aspen and streams lined with cottonwoods. When you include the nation’s largest stand of bristlecone pines and streams sheltering rare Rio Grande cutthroat trout you understand why the Valle Vidal is an outdoor paradise not to be missed.
5. Ute Mountain – Perhaps the crown jewel of the Taos area is Ute Mountain. Not for the faint-of-heart (or body for that matter) this 10,093 foot high volcanic cone rises nearly 3,000 feet above the surrounding plain. Ute is something you can’t miss. Located about ten miles west of the village of Costilla and about 30 miles north of Taos, the steep slopes of Ute are covered in pinyon pine at the base, as well as pockets of ponderosa, aspen, white pine and Douglas Fir in the higher elevations. From grassy meadows of blue grama, western wheatgrass and Indian ricegrass where the trees thin, the Rio Grande Gorge below is a jagged, inky slash dividing Ute from its sister cones to the west. Snow-capped Blanca rises to the north, just across the state line. The whole Sangre de Cristo range falls to the east, terminating, view-wise, at Wheeler Peak.