We'd already visited both Denver and Taos several times, so on our most recent visit built around a family event in Denver, we focused more on some of the less traveled attractions—including lots of excellent (and easy hiking) at both cities and along the way. Here's what we explored:
Castlewood Canyon State Park, south on Parker Road about half an hour out of Denver.
On October 14 (a Sunday), there was still quite a bit of color in the trees. Not, for the most part, the flaming crimsons and scarlets of my own New England (except for a few non-native maples and a few other trees, but lovely pastel shades of yellow, orange, red, and light brown.
The sky was a beautiful blue, and we chose a four mile walk along the canyon, following the East Nature Trail. Shifts in altitude were moderate, and much the trail was marked only by stone cairns—so different from eastern hiking. The park was not crowded; in two hours of hiking, we saw only about 15 or 20 other hikers. The scenery was pleasant, though not spectacular, and the hiking was relaxing, not particularly strenuous.
There are several other trails as well, including a six-mile loop around the canyon rim.
Kenosha Pass, south about an hour from Denver on 285
The trailhead for this section of the Colorado Trail is at 10,000 feet, and climbs quite a bit higher—but so gradually, it’s a shock to get out to the clearing and see Route 285 far, far below. On this October day, many sections of the trail had a bit of snow, and most of the aspens had lost their leaves. However, some of the remaining ones glowed like yellow fire—much more brightly than the aspens we’d seen the previous day.
Princeton Hot Springs
Just off Route 285, along a lovely creek.
A soaking pool at 104°F, a lap pool at 95°, and shallow pools in the creek that were significantly hotter. Day passes are $18, plus $2 each for the optional towel and locker. That’s a good price to spend the day, but a bit pricy if, like us, you’re passing through for an hour to break up the six-hour scenic-backroads drive between Denver and northern New Mexico. On the day of our visit, the men’s dressing room was filled with backpacks and clothing; plenty of people were choosing not to rent a locker. We were among them, hiding wallets and camera in the car.
Night had fallen by the time we reached Taos, nine hours after we left Denver—six hours of driving, two hours of hiking and picnicking, an hour at the hot springs. We got settled quickly at the lovely adobe Old Taos Guesthouse B&B, parts of which date to the 18th century, and then headed back the mile into town for dinner—where we were lucky to stumble on Lambert’s of Taos, 123 Bent Street, right off the Plaza. We shared an astonishing wild mushroom risotto with truffle oil, extremely tasty though oversalted, a very tasty roasted beet salad, with marinated beets cooked until tender. And then a divine “chocolate pate”: mousse on a bed of clotted cream, with raspberry sauce. All three dishes were quite good, and even though both the risotto and the salad were on the appetizer menu, portions were big enough that we felt satisfied sharing a single order of all three (and that kept the price down to just $28 before tax and tip for the two of us).
The next day, after a terrific breakfast at our B&B, we headed to the Rio Grande Gorge bridge. In Taos, this mighty river is only a small stream through a deep canyon, though the bridge across is nearly half a mile. This is a very popular spot with tourists and locals, so a small informal crafts market has sprung up. I got into a nice conversation with a guy who makes beautiful turned wood bowls with inlays of semiprecious stones. He told me he taught his trade to his kids, saying “get off your electronic devices and learn to use your hands.” We walked (I couldn’t really call it a hike) on the West Rim Trail, a flat, boring stroll through endless acres of scrub juniper with the occasional canyon view and consistent good views of the mountains. It’s popular, though; we met a number of the local canines and their owners, in particular. The nicer walk was across the bridge itself, and when we did it we were treated not only to great views of the canyon and river, but the antics of a flock of bighorn sheep on the canyon floor.
From the bridge, it’s only about a mile farther to the Earthship Biotecture World Headquarters—something you won’t find in many guidebooks, but well worth a trip. This is a deep-ecology subdivision of some 70 homes, expected to grow eventually to about 130. The houses look like a mating between the Taos Pueblo adobe homes of 1000 years ago (still inhabited, by the way, a couple of miles closer into town—we’ve visited on our two previous trips to Taos and didn’t feel a need to see it a third time) and Starship Enterprise. Visitors can go through a self-guided tour with explanatory video and slideshow and learn how the homes—off-grid not just for electricity but also for water and sewer—are constructed to use very little electricity, water, or heating/cooling energy. Oh yes, and if you’re visiting Taos, you can experience deep-eco living by taking lodging there, a night at a time (we might have stayed there if we’d known in advance). For a more in-depth look at this community, see my article at http://greenandprofitable.com/earthship-redefining-sustainable-housing/ and visit www.earthship.com.
Following a picnic with provisions from Cid’s, the more centrally located of the two natural foods stores, we drove some distance toward Taos Ski Valley, through the funky arts village of Arroyo Seco. About ten miles up the road, we found the Yerba Trail. The trailhead is unlabeled, though visually obvious, with a large blank signboard across from a parking lot. And the trail is excellent. October, with the aspens in many shades and intensities of yellow, is a particularly great time to do this hike, which offers everything I like in both eastern and western US hiking trails: a climb through forests, a dozen crossings of a scenic creek, a delicious absence of tree roots on the actual trail, and spectacular views of giant mountains.
On our way back down, we stopped at Arroyo Seco and perused some of the galleries, as well as Taos Cow’s very rich homemade ice cream. Then some rug shopping in Taos proper before finishing our day at Dara Thai, just south of the plaza. We enjoyed its vegetarian-friendly menu—even that rarity, a vegetarian Tom Yum soup—and very well-prepared food; I’d recommend the masaman curry. Go for fried rather than steamed if ordering tofu. However, if you’re used to spicy food, ask for “native Thai” spiciness. They offered a choice on a 1 to 5 scale, or “10, which is native Thai.” I generally find native Thai blisteringly hot, so we ordered 5 and needed to add a lot of hot sauce.
The next morning started off cold and even a bit snowy, so we headed for the galleries. 2000 visual artists live and work in and around Taos (an enormous percentage of the 8000 town and 20,000 county residents), and dozens of galleries line the streets. Many show local artists, and many others feature Zapotec and Navaho rugs and blankets, or cheaper South Asian rugs using Zapotec and Navaho design elements. Jewelry galleries also abound, with everything from eight-dollar earrings on up to pieces worth thousands of dollars.
By the afternoon, the day had turned gorgeous and the temperature was up into the 50s. Driving east a short distance along Highway 64, we crossed into Kit Carson National Forest and immediately pulled into an aspen-lined parking lot on the right. Crossing the highway, we headed up the Divisadero Trail, which was spectacular. This is a six-mile lollypop loop trail, with amazing views all the way up. Where the lollypop stick joined the loop, we chose the steeper, right-hand fork, and rapidly summited several small mountains, most of which had stunning views of Taos and the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. And the trail itself was a symphony of several different varieties of conifers (mostly juniper and pine) cacti—many in flower—and other desert plants. Although we were probably pretty close to the halfway point on the loop, we were feeling time pressure on getting down before dark, and retraced our steps.
For dinner, we went to Orlando’s, considered by some locals the best in Northern New Mexican cuisine. As soon as we sat down, I realized we’d been there before, on our second trip to Taos 13 years earlier. It’s one of the few places I’ve ever found that does a vegetarian posole, and both the squash enchiladas and the chiles rellenos had a good kick (considerably hotter than the Thai food of the previous evening). The food appeared almost instantly; we had barely dug into our chips and guacamole. They were definitely into quick turnover, yet all the staff were quite friendly. It’s not a place to go and relax, but the food is good, the portions are ample, and the decor is very cool.
We finished the evening with a performance by historian/storyteller Roberta Courtney Meyers, a Taos native who regaled us with fascinating in-character accounts of Kit Carson, his feminist Cheyenne wife, Mabel Dodge, DH Lawrence, and other people from Taos’ colorful past.
On our way back to Denver, we passed through San Luis, which bills itself as the oldest town in Colorado. The highlight is an ancient Mexican-style church atop a small hill, with statues of the Stations of the Cross on the way up, and a monument to priests martyred during an anti-Catholic period in Mexico in the 1920s at the top. We found the walk and the grounds at the top to be unusually serene and peaceful, and there were also nice views. The walk itself takes only about 10 or 15 minutes and is not difficult despite the rapid ascent.
Shel Horowitz is the Editor of Global Travel Review. A specialist in marketing and profitability for green businesses, he is the author of eight books, most recently the Amazon environmental category bestseller guerrilla marketing Goes Green.
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