POPULAR PURSUITS FROM RAFTING TO LLAMA TREKKING
By Cindy Brown
Rafters arrive at Souse Hole after a day of rafting on the Rio Grande. Photo by Tina Larkin.
People come from all over the world to raft in Taos. Cisco Guevara of Los Rios River Runners says that “Fifteen years ago, French Vogue ran an article with color pictures on Los Rios. To this day, we get people from France who book with us. In addition to rafting, the article also featured fly fishing and two stepping and that’s what the French visitors want to do when they come.”
The raft trips take place in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument where visitors get the chance to see wildlife along the river and the dramatic basalt cliffs of the river gorge. Inflatable funyaks, as well as rafts are used, depending on the water conditions. Trips range from calmer floats in the Orilla Verde area to the legendary narrows known as the Taos Box. The people at Los Rios say, “The Taos Box is the ultimate thrill. You don’t need experience, but you do need a good sense of adventure. This is not a trip for small children or the faint of heart.”
Other Taos-area rafting guides include Big River Rafts , Cottam’s Río Grande Rafting, New Wave Rafting Company and Far Flung Adventures.
Taylor Streit of the Taos Fly Shop has been taking people fly fishing for a long time and is recognized as a legendary guide by the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. Even when not guiding, he makes sure to wish people well before they set out from the shop with another guide, such as Emily Roley.
Streit says that often sees a couple in which one of them, usually the man, has more experience fly fishing than the other, often the woman. He warns such couples: “She will probably outfish you.” And this turns out to be true many times. Guide Roley says that one reason for this phenomenon is that the less-experienced fly fisherperson sticks close to Roley and takes advantage of her knowledge, whereas the more experienced person sets off on his own. Roley makes sure that by the end of the day, everyone has a chance to catch some fish. Roley says that this experience is ideal for everyone, because if the new fisherperson does well and enjoys her first experience, she may be a great fishing partner for life.
Another option is Blue Yonder Fly Fishing Guide Services; offering all-inclusive fly-fishing excursions around the Taos area. “Simple, easy and hassle-free is our motto,” says Joey Phillips.
“We put quite a bit of emphasis on beginners and people that are just curious about the sport. We specialize in teaching and getting folks started, as well as very much catering to the experienced angler.”
Blue Yonder supplies everything needed for fly-fishing: including rods, reels, waders and flies and will pick you up and drop you off. Phillips has fished all over the world including Tierra del Fuego, Argentina and in Kamchatka, Russia, along with nine years at Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. It is Blue Yonder’s ninth year in business and Phillips says, “The best thing about our operation is its emphasis on teaching. We have helped a lot of people get their very first trout on a fly rod and that’s one of my favorite things about what we do.”
“Llama trekking is a great way for hikers of all ages and fitness levels to explore the outdoors in the Taos area,” says naturalist Stuart Wilde of Wild Earth Llama Adventures. “On the trail, gentle and sure-footed llamas carry the gear, leaving you unburdened to explore and enjoy New Mexico’s diverse wilderness landscapes.”
Wilde says that the llama (pronounced “yama”) is native to the Andes of South America and as a “high mountain camel” is well-suited to the rugged terrain of the high desert and the mountains of Northern New Mexico. He says that their soft, leather-padded feet leave less of an impact on fragile wilderness trails, making them a low-impact, eco-friendly pack animal.
Wild Earth Llama Adventures leads hiking and camping trips into the wilderness areas of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The trips include learning about ecology, plants, and the natural and human history of the area. Day trips, as well as multiday excursions are available. All gear and backcountry gourmet meals are provided.
Another way to get outdoors on the trails is horseback riding. Río Grande Stables leads hour-long rides appropriate for kids, as well as half- and all-day rides. “Whether out on the sage-covered mesa, up in the wooded pine canyons, on the hills overlooking historical villages or high above the tree line, your seasoned wranglers from this veteran operation, we will host you and yours to an exceptional horseback riding experience,” say the folks at Río Grande Stables.
First-time riders often start out on La Vista De Questa Trail, north of Questa. The ride begins with a flat section and then moves to a slow climb on a hillside surrounded by sage and juniper. The lower sections allow the new rider to get to know their horse and practice their skills. As the trail moves through the forest and approaches the overlook sections, big views open up toward the Sangre deCristo Mountains.
Cowgirl picnics add some flavor to the rides. Described as “a full-on, trailside lunch of smoked meats, gourmet snacks, fruit, imported cheeses, crackers, cookies and all the trimmings,” the picnic stop provides time to talk to the wranglers and learn some local history.
For a view from up high, nothing beats a hot air balloon ride over Taos. Pueblo Balloon Company, Eske’s Paradise, and Taos Balloon Rides offer balloon excursions. Says Keith Fear with Pueblo Balloon Company, “Our balloon experiences provide guests with beautiful panoramas of Taos and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, before we drop down into the gorge and kiss the historic Río Grande, as it gently flows south toward the Gulf of Mexico. This is the most thrilling balloon excursion anywhere.”
Be warned that balloon adventures usually start pretty early in the morning to take advantage of the best weather. Pueblo Balloon Company pilots are experienced FAA certified commercial pilots who also know a lot about Taos.
The flight usually concludes with the traditional champagne or sparkling cider toast, snack and the presentation of the official “Flight Certificate.” Visitors go up in the air via hot air balloon to celebrate everything from a marriage proposal to a 90th birthday.
One guest reports, “If you are afraid of heights don’t worry. This ride is like sitting still; like being a bird. My husband who can’t even walk over a tall bridge was leaning out of the basket on our ride taking selfies! It was smooth, peaceful and beautiful.”
Taos is surrounded by public lands full of hiking trails. Each summer, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offers guided hikes. According to Ranger Randy Roch, “The hikes range from two-hour interpretive hikes on La Vista Verde Trail to all-day excursions with the BLM archeologist and others to the top of Ute Mountain, the highest point in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.”
On the guided hikes you may see a variety of wildlife, plants and maybe even petroglyphs — ancient rock carvings. By hiking with a ranger, you have a better chance of seeing some of the hidden rock carvings and learning about the rich history of the lands near the Río Grande.
For high country adventures, explore the many trails in the 1.5 million acres of Carson National Forest (CNF) that surrounds Taos. Trails take you along high mountain streams to tall ridges and the tops of peaks. Wheeler Peak is the highest point in the state at 13,161 feet. The trail begins at the Taos Ski Valley.
Be sure to check in with local outfitters and the offices of the BLM and CNF for trail recommendations and current conditions. Dress in layers and come prepared for afternoon thunderstorms.
“Taos could be considered the best kept secret for mountain biking with hundreds and hundreds of miles of riding available,” says Darren Bond of Gearing Up Bikes. He says that Taos offers amazing scenery, both on the mesas and in the mountains.
He points out that South Boundary Trail (CNF #164) is the most famous trail in the Taos area, with its 22 miles of epic terrain through aspen forests and high altitude meadows. Mountain bikers riding the whole length of the trail often begin at the far southeast end in order to enjoy the scenic descent into Taos. South Boundary is one of three trails in the CNF designated as a National Recreation Trail, recognizing its local and regional significance.
A new addition to the mountain trail inventory is Lost Lake Loop (CNF #91), which takes the rider to beautiful Lost Lake at approximately 11,550 feet in elevation.
For mesa rides, the Rift Valley Overlook trail system, just south of town, offers loops of sage-covered terrain leading to overlooks of the Río Pueblo and the Río Grande. Cyclists also enjoy the relatively flat trail along the west rim of the Río Grande that begins at the rest stop near the Río Grande Gorge Bridge.
Climbers conquer mountain faces with guidance from Mountain Skills Rock Climbing Guides at Taos Ski Valley. Photo courtesy of Climb Taos.
If you want to touch some of the most dramatic parts of the landscape, climbing might be a good choice. “For visitors, who have never tried the sport or seasoned veterans, the Mountain Skills staff will create the adventure of a lifetime and teach the skills to enjoy rock climbing for years to come,” says Jay Foley. The goal of the Mountain Skills Rock Climbing Adventure team is to keep their students comfortable and secure while teaching the fluid and natural skills of outdoor rock climbing. The staff has been teaching climbing for more than 25 years and is able to accommodate climbers at all different levels of skills.
One participant from Texas commented, “Can’t say enough good things about Mountain Skills and our day of climbing. My teenage daughter and I were beginners. Our guide, Dan, was very patient and helpful and did a great job of letting us experience all aspects of climbing. He answered all our questions and walked us through all aspects of climbing.”
After an active day outdoors, you may want to consider a soak at the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. Ojo Caliente translates as “hot eye” or “hot springs.” The springs were said to be sacred to the early Pueblo Indians for their life-giving water and warmth. A spa was established here in 1868, making it one of the oldest natural health resorts in the U.S. You can soak in the hot iron spring that bubbles up from under a huge boulder or any of the other 10 pools located outdoors at Ojo. There is an extensive list of spa services available, including the popular hot stones massage.
Often described as a magic place, Ojo Caliente has the combined charm of its historical roots, pueblo architecture and tranquil natural setting. Care is taken to keep the springs quiet and soothing. Private pools with outdoor kiva fireplaces are available and the Artesian restaurant has New Mexican specialties, along with their agave wine margaritas. As one guest said, “We chase hot springs all over the world, and this one is great.” There is lodging at Ojo, along with daily yoga.
Even if after a soak you haven’t had enough exploring, there are nearby trails to the site of the ancient Posi Pueblo where you can still see pottery sherds and the Mica Mines, long used by native peoples to make sparkling pottery.
Big River Rafting Trips
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org bigriverrafts.com
800-748-3760 (575) 758-9711
Cottam’s Río Grande Rafting
Contact email@example.com cottamsriogranderafting.com
800-322-8267 (575) 758-2822
Far Flung Adventure Tours
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org farflung.com
800-359-2627 (575) 758-2628
Los Ríos River Runners
Contact email@example.com losriosriverrunners.com
New Mexico River Adventures
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, newmexicoriveradventures.com
800-983-7756 (505) 983-7756
New Wave Rafting Co.
Contact email@example.com newwaverafting.com
800-984-1444 (505) 579-0075
Blue Yonder Fly Fishing
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org blueyonderflyfishing.com
Cut Throat Fly Fishing
Contact email@example.com cutthroatflyfishing.com
Doc Thompson’s High Country Anglers
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org flyfishnewmexico.com
Dos Amigos Anglers Fly Shop and Guide Service
Contact email@example.com dosamigosanglers.net
Ed Adams Fly Fishing
866-502-1700; (575) 758-5653
Tailwater Gallery & Fly Shop
Taos Fly Shop
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org taosflyshop.com
El Paseo Llama Expeditions
Contact email@example.com elpaseollama.com
Wild Earth Llama Adventures
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org llamaadventures.com
AA Taos Ski Valley Wilderness Adventure Trail Rides
Río Grande Stables
Contact email@example.com lajitasstables.com/taos
888-259-8267 (575) 776-5913
Eske’s Paradise Balloons
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org taosballooning.com
Pueblo Balloon Company
Contact email@example.com puebloballoon.com
Taos Balloon Rides
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org taosballoonrides.com
Bureau of Land Management
Taos Field Office
blm.gov (575) 758-8851
Carson National Forest
USDA Forest Service
Angel Fire Bike Park (and lessons)
Gearing Up Bicycle Shop
Mountain Skills Rock Climbing Guides
Contact email@example.com climbtaos.com
Also see Far Flung Adventure Tours and New Mexico River Adventures under “Rafting.”
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org ojospa.com