Wednesday, September 28, 2016

new mexico: around taos

Let me tell you about the amazing breakfasts at Casa Benavides: coffee, juice, homemade muffins, the most incredible chewy homemade granola with peaches and yogurt, and your choice of pancakes, waffles or a baked egg dish served with red or green chile and homemade tortillas.  All included with your room.  Wow.  Absolutely delicious.  (They also have afternoon tea with a variety of homemade cookies and dessert bars.)

Taos looked SO steep (I mean, not right here)

After calorie-loading, we drove up to Taos Ski Valley.  The canyon up there looked a lot like Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons at home so the drive felt familiar.  The resort's base area is a mix of old chalet-style and new buildings; there was a huge construction project going on so we didn't get to walk around there much, plus it's shoulder season and everything was closed except for an espresso stand.

Bold jays

We followed the signs to the Williams Lake/Wheeler Peak trail head up a crazy-steep dirt road, which is apparently open in the winter although we don't see how you could possibly get up there with any snow on the road if you weren't in a snowcat.  Wheeler Peak is the tallest mountain in New Mexico at 13,161 feet of elevation but we were just going up to the lake at 11,022 feet.  Perhaps next time we'll tackle Wheeler.

And pikas that let us get within ten feet of them

The path was rocky where it followed an old road but smoothed out further on, wide and obviously well-traveled.  There were a fair number of small critters: Canada jays, marmots, chipmunks, chickadees, ground squirrels and the bravest pikas we've ever seen.  There were some other hikers out there and we spotted some up above us, heading for Wheeler.  It ended up being a 4.7 mile out-and-back, taking 2.5 hours including standing around looking at stuff.

Williams Lake

After our hike, we kept an eye on the cloudy skies and decided to go around the Enchanted Circle, a scenic drive that loops around all the Taos area ski resorts.  First stop was Red River Ski Area, a wonderful throwback where the whole town is the resort, with lifts right off the main street.  It looked tiny and very old fashioned.  It looked great.

Established 1959

We continued around the Enchanted Circle, over a very high mountain pass and then through a beautiful wide open valley to Eagle Nest.  At that point we weren't far from Cimarron, which is where the Philmont Scout Ranch is located.  Established in 1939, it is truly an impressive operation, encompassing 137,000 acres.  H had been a camper there many years ago so we drove out there.  It wasn't in session but you could tell that it probably hadn't changed much from when he was there, once upon a time.

Campers' meeting area

Our last stop was Angel Fire Resort, a bigger mountain than Red River, and a world-class mountain biking facility.  Strangely, it didn't seem to have a base lodge so we weren't such how much of a locals' mountain it is - it seemed like it was more for destination skiers as opposed to daytrippers.  We returned to Taos on County Route 64, another narrow, winding canyon road that climbed and dropped quickly.

Pretty long chair at Angel Fire

There was a Mexican place I had intended for our dinner that night but as we were walking there, we spied Eske's Brewpub (which had also been on my list of possibles).  For us, when in doubt, go to a brewpub.  Eske's is a half-block from the main street through Taos and, as such, gets scarcely any tourist business.  We sat outside on the large patio, patting the local dogs as they cruised through, looking for bellyrubs.  H had a couple American pale ales and I had first an English pale ale and then a local hard cider; the beers were not quite as good as some we'd had earlier in the trip.  H's dinner was a burrito smothered in green chile and I had a fantastic bowl of green chile stew, fairly spicy and with lots of chunky vegetables.  It was definitely a weird little place, very local, but being able to sit outside with decent beers and good food made it a good choice for us.

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