Posted by: Patrick | September 16, 2009

trekkin’ through Taos

 Welcome to Taos!

Welcome to Taos!

We rolled into Taos late in the morning from our previous night in the nearby National Forest.  The city of Taos is nestled at the base of the mountains with wide open plains running off into the distance on one side and rugged mountains on the other.  Our first stop was at the visitor center where we loaded up on maps, local newspapers and brochures.   We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the quality of the visitor centers in most places we’ve been.  Usually there’s a friendly soul in there waiting to tell you all about the best campgrounds, restaurants, attractions, etc; almost always free wifi and clean bathrooms too.

 We toured downtown Taos during the day and thought about our itinerary over some delicious but pricey lunch.  Our main focus was Wheeler Peak; at 13,161ft, it’s the highest mountain in New Mexico.  Before heading closer to Wheeler and the Taos Ski Resort, which is 20 miles north of town, we toured the famous Taos Pueblo, one of the oldest and most intact Native American Pueblos still standing.  All of the architecture throughout New Mexico is heavily influenced by Pueblos, and rightfully so.  They are very well constructed for the climate, with thick mud and straw walls for insulation, and built low to the ground to withstand extreme weather.

Taos Pueblo Graveyard.

Taos Pueblo Graveyard.

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The Taos Pueblo.

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The church at the Pueblo was recently renovated.

That night we checked into the Abominable Snowmansion, a real deal hostel, which is rare in the US.  It was a weird place full of hippies old and new, and a couple of odd balls.  But actually we had a nice time and enjoyed watching a movie in the lounge/communal kitchen.  The next morning we planned to get up early and climb Wheeler via the short but very steep Williams Lake Trail.  Because the Snowmansion didn’t have a decent parking lot to camp in, we had stepped up to a cabin that night.  Well, I guess it was just too comfy in there because we ended up sleeping in and didn’t get to the trailhead until 10am.  That turned out to be a crucial mistake.

We enjoyed the easy two mile climb up to the lake and were sort of dreading the steep ascent up to the peak, but at least the weather was beautiful for now.  Once we reached the lake, the trail climbed to the summit of Wheeler in 1.25 miles, but went up 2,100 vertical feet in that short distance.  Let me assure you that’s extremely steep!  We were tackling it and making pretty good time, but were quite short of breath.  When we were about 250 vertical feet from the summit ridge, about a 15 minute hike max, the weather changed suddenly and started to sleet.  There were dark clouds all around and distant thunder.  We were adding layers until there were no more layers to add and trying to decide to keep going or turn tail and head down.  Just as we thought it looked a little better, a cloud to ground lightning bolt struck one of the peaks across from us.  We immediately descended; it’s unwise to be up high above tree line during an electrical storm, let alone the highest point for hundreds of miles around!

 We made it to Williams Lake.

We made it to Williams Lake.

 Views around the cirque.

Views around the cirque.

Up and up the steep trail.

Up and up the steep trail.

 Almost to the summit ridge.

Almost to the summit ridge.

 Wet marmot, good marmot…

Wet marmot, good marmot…

 Safely back down at the Taos Ski resort.

Safely back down at the Taos Ski resort.

So we hiked back to the car mentally justifying our big effort but ultimate defeat by calling it an ‘acclimatization hike.’  We made plans for a second assault on Wheeler after a rest day.

That night we decided to pass on the Snowmansion and checked into the Taos RV park, which turned out to be a very comfy spot right near town.  We even treated ourselves to a movie, and saw Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.  Totally gruesome and uncouth but entertaining! 

On our rest day we went for an 84 mile scenic drive around the Taos area called the “Enchanted Circle.”  We passed through the towns of Angel Fire, Red River and Questa.  It was a leisurely drive through some beautiful mountains and valleys ending where it began, back in Taos.  Through our great friend Tim Hogan, we were connected with Judy Hofer, his Mom’s cousin.  Judy and her son Marcus welcomed us like family and gave us the run of the house for the night.  Judy cooked us a hearty homemade pesto pasta with chicken and fresh salad for dinner.  Marcus and his buddy actually grilled the chicken, pretty impressive for thirteen year olds!  I’m barely grilling chicken now at 28!  Stuffed full of great food, we hit the sack early after hanging out by the bonfire for a little while with the Hofer’s.  That pesto is actually still with us; Judy gave us a big jar that we’ve been enjoying for a while now!  Thanks again Judy!

 Enchanted indeed.

Enchanted indeed.

 It was a beautiful drive.

It was a beautiful drive.

Almost full circle.

Almost full circle.

Some pretty country.

Some pretty country.

 We remembered to get a photo with our fantastic host this time!

We remembered to get a photo with our fantastic host this time! Russell, her lab, made an appearence too.

 Judy’s neighborhood was extremely photogenic.

Judy’s neighborhood was extremely photogenic. Taos is in the background.

The next morning we woke up before dawn to a light drizzle. It wasn’t the weather we wanted to make our second attempt at Wheeler Peak.  But determined to have a go, we packed up quickly and were off to zee mountains again.  Hoping the rain would clear up we drove back to the Williams lake trailhead, but by that time the drizzle had turned into a full-on monsoon.   Very discouraged, we drove the two miles back to the Taos Ski Valley base area and found an open café with wifi.  The Williams Lake trail is super steep and would be downright dangerous when slick.  We downed a spectacular breakfast burrito and danish at the café and checked the weather online.  From the weather radar it appeared that the storm was passing, and it looked clear after that.  As soon as the rain stopped we hiked up the alternate (actually primary) route to Wheeler Peak, the Bull of the Mountain trail.  This is a 7.5 mile one way around the backside of a couple mountains that approaches Wheeler from the opposite direction of Williams Lake.  We would have to hike for a few miles above tree line very exposed along the ridge, which we were uneasy about as there were no bailouts if the weather suddenly changed again.

Bull of the Mountain turned out to be a great hike; we climbed those 7.5 miles and 3,000 vertical feet in just under three hours.  We were highly motivated to get up and back before any thunder and lightning arrived.  We actually ran a half mile of the trail that was a slight descent at around 11,500ft, acclimatized indeed! 

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Caro's charging up Bull of the Mountain!

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Weather was iffy the whole hike, but got sunny at the summit.

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A view off the backside of Wheeler Peak, looking towards Horseshoe lake.

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Miles along the ridge.

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Exposure!

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We were so happy to finally summit on the second try.

After our successful summit we hiked down the Williams Lake trail to cut a few miles off the return hike and to avoid being high on the ridge when the afternoon storms rolled through.  We got soaked on the hike back to the Jeep but warmed up at a restaurant in the base area of the ski resort and enjoyed a post-hike feast.  From there we stopped back at Judy’s house to clean up and said our goodbyes, then headed northwest towards Colorado.  Before sunset we stopped at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is well hidden until you actually drive over it, and then you realize you’re 600 feet off the ground.

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Rio Grande gorge.

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Caro's not a huge fan of high bridges.

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Looking south into the gorge from the bridge.

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The bridge and mountains near Taos in the distance.

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Awesome sunset from the bridge.

We spent our last New Mexico night at another free National Forest spot high in the mountains.  The next morning we drove through charming Chama NM and eventually crossed the border and pulled into Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  Judy recommended we visit the Springs Resort which has 18 naturally fed hot spring pools in which to soak our sore muscles.  It’s a fantastic resort; we spent 5 hours relaxing in all of the different hot spring tubs.  Each tub was slightly different and varied in temperature from 93 to the 112 degrees “Lobster Pot.”  There were waterfalls, showers, jets, bubbles, infinity pools; pretty much every variation of hot tub/pool you can imagine, and all built right on the side of the river.  We’re already making plans to return in the winter to enjoy the hot springs and the nearby ski resort Wolf Creek, which gets 450 inches of powder a year, the most in Colorado!

A Cooper's Hawk.

High vistas driving into Chama NM.

High vistas driving into Chama NM.

I spotted a Cooper's hawk.

The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs CO.

The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs CO.

For our first night in Colorado we asked one of the folks at the Spring Resort where to camp in the nearby National Forest.  We got a great recommendation to go to the West Fork campground which was high up close to a mountain pass.  We’re loving Colorado, next stop Durango!

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Our first stop in Colorado.

We were right on the West Fork of the San Juan river.

We were right on the West Fork of the San Juan river.

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West Fork campground in the San Juan National Forest.

After a request from Caroline's uncle François, we've uploaded a short video on the About Page which shows us opening and setting up the roof top tent. Enjoy!

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Responses

  1. We used to have a cabin in Red River growing up! My papaw used to talk about hiking Wheeler Peak in cowboy boots with no water 🙂 Looks like y’all are having a great time

  2. Hey Brother,
    Pick out a good spot for the Moloney family ski vacation. Luke is ready for his Uncle Pat to teach him how to snowplow!

  3. I think that Austin and I are going to stay at Finca Bellavista for a week in mid October! Thanks for the tip!


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