On Monday, April 8, Michael and I decided to drive the Enchanted Circle. Officially called the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, it follows various New Mexico State Highways and U.S. Highways in a large loop connecting Taos, Angel Fire, Eagle Nest, Red River, and Questa.
After breakfast at Rickey’s de Taos, we headed east up U.S. 64 into Taos Canyon. This road tops out at Palo Flechado Pass (9,000 + ft.) before making a steep, dramatic descent into Moreno Valley, and the ski resort town of Angel Fire.
Skirting by Angel Fire, we headed north up the valley toward the little town of Eagle Nest. If there’s a more beautifully situated little town anywhere, I don’t know where it is. Moreno Valley is my idea of heaven. In Eagle Nest, we took an exploratory detour up little dirt road 127, which heads west up into the mountains. A couple miles up, as we started entering the forest, we came upon the Idlewild Community. This appears to be a collection of middle class summer vacation homes, scattered out over twenty or so acres of the forest, on the eastern flank of the massif which includes Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest point. It’s beautifully situated, and I could well imagine spending the summer in this idyllic place.
Back in Eagle Nest, we continued our drive around the Enchanted Circle. State Highway 38 continues on up Moreno Valley, gradually curving to the west, and tops out at Bobcat Pass (9,000 + ft.). From there it is another steep descent into the resort town of Red River. There’s no getting around Red River. The town is situated in a steep narrow valley, hugging its namesake river. About twelve blocks long and four blocks wide, there’s not much town here, but the recreational activities are numerous. Ski, hike, fish, Jeep, horseback ride, swim, motorcycle, bicycle, they do it all here. It was just after ski season, so not much was open, but we did find a great little diner for lunch. The friendly folks running the place suggested a couple of back country drives for us, and we took them up on one of them. Bitter Creek Road follows its creek generally north from town. There are a few vacation cabins near town, then it is just woods, stream and mountains for a while. We went up as far as the Two Lakes community, and the dude ranch there. A nice little side trip.
Continuing on around the Circle, we made it to Questa, where we turned back south on State Highway 522, towards Taos. We were 4/5 of the way around the Enchanted Circle now, but we still had some more exploring to do. After exploring the lower, middle, and upper areas of the Rio Grande Gorge in the last few days, we had become fascinated with it. The La Junta area had especially intrigued us. We had seen across the Red River gorge to the wild land on the other side, and wondered if we might get over there for a look at La Junta from another angle. Consulting our map, we noticed that, about half way between Questa and the little town of San Cristobal, there was a Forest Service road heading west from Highway 522, across the desert scrub, towards La Junta.
We pulled off onto Forest Service Road 9, and put the truck into four wheel drive, low range. The road was well maintained, so we were able to make good time. It’s about four miles from the highway over to a parking area and overlook on the edge of the Gorge. From this point, there are trails leading down into the Gorge, which meet up with the trail leading down from the La Junta overlook on the other side. We were a bit disappointed to discover that the parking area was not directly across from La Junta, but about a half mile downstream. There was another couple there, who had arrived a short time before us. They locked their car and took off hiking down into the Gorge. We decided to try driving over to the spot directly across from La Junta on the myriad twisty little roads branching out from this point. We came across many spots near the edge of the Gorge with campfire circles and empty beer cans, but never found our way to where we wanted to go. We headed back to the parking area, and decided to walk. It was farther over to La Junta than we thought. We never made it all the way, but we did get almost there. Enough to get some good pictures, anyway. The photos above are from our time in this spot. In a couple of them, you can see the switch-back trail leading down from the La Junta overlook on the other side.
All in all, it was another great day exploring the Taos and northern New Mexico area.