‘THE AREA’S MORE OUT-THERE FARE’
By Cody Hooks
Cerro Azul is a small outcropping of bluish-grey quartzite that are among the oldest rocks in all of Taos County. Photo by Steven Bundy.
Everybody loves a good adventure on the cheap, and Taos has plenty of them. When you’re done with the usual touristy things or live locally and want to see something new, feast on some of the area’s more out-there fare. From an easy drive to a serious trek, check out some of the best and cheapest thrills around.
— Dixon driving tour
If you’re looking for an easy day adventure on the cheap, simply head to Dixon. Dixon fits the bill of a quaint little Northern New Mexico village, right on the edge of Río Arriba County, replete with food, art and ravishing red landscapes — badlands-esque views you just don’t get in Taos. Stop off at the Dixon Cooperative Market, a perfect place to pick up a drink and snack or even get lunch. On the outside wall of the market is a serpentine ceramic mural of the Embudo Valley created by a team of local artists and school kids. And check out the book barn right behind the co-op. Among the used books, there’s usually a gem or two.
GETTING THERE: The whole drive is just a loop from Taos to Dixon and back up the Río Grande Gorge. It only takes about an hour and a half if you blaze right through. From Taos, head south and take State Road 518, heading toward Peñasco, where you’ll see stunning views from the heart of the Sangre de Christo Mountains before dropping down into the Peñasco Valley — a world all its own, the sky dominated by Jicarita Mountain. Head east on State Road 75, passing through Peñasco and Picuris Pueblo, both worthy day trips in their own right. From Dixon, head back north to Taos through the gorge on State Road 68, where you can stop off at the Río Grande del Norte National Monument Visitor Center in Pilar.
The small village of Dixon has some surprises. Photo by Cody Hooks.
— Fish and hike Latir Lakes
The 17th-century Japanese poet Bashō took to that country’s Deep North for inspiration for some of his finest and most famous haikus. Whether you’re writing poetry, snapping the perfect photo or just simply enjoying some solitude, there’s no better local “Deep North” than Latir Lakes.
Latir Lakes are a series of nine high-elevation lakes in a remote part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, near the Colorado state line. The top lake lies at more than 13,000 feet, and nearly all of them are filled with native trout. In fact, the lakes don’t open to the public until around mid-June in order to give the fish their space during spawning season. You can drive to the first and third lakes. A beginner hiker can make it to the waterfall between the third and fourth lakes. But to get up to the top (above tree line), you’ll want to be an avid hiker and be familiar with all the usual dangers of hiking in the summer.
The lakes are part of the Río Costilla Park, owned by the Río Costilla Cooperative Livestock Association. The park is open from May through Labor Day. Using the lakes does cost money, but the fishing is worth it. A day pass for fishing and access to the lakes is $10 per person per day, and camping and a new RV park are available if you want to stay out under the stars. ATV tours are available by appointment. The Valle Vidal, a part of Carson National Forest, lies farther into the Sangres.
GETTING THERE: Head north on State Road 522. It’s about an hour drive between Taos Plaza and the Río Costilla Park headquarters in Costilla, New Mexico.
Call (800) RIO-PARK or (575) 586-0542 for more information.
— Cerro Azul
If you’re up for finding a challenge, head to Cerro Azul.
Cerro Azul is a small outcropping of bluish-grey quartzite that are among the oldest rocks in all of Taos County. It’s not far from Ojo Caliente, and Cerro Azul offers unparalleled views of the whole Taos Valley and Taos Plateau from a totally novel vantage point. You just need a full tank of gas and a sense of adventure.
No official trails mar the mountain, and climbing around on Cerro Azul can get into bouldering territory very quickly. Be warned: You need a 4×4 vehicle, hands down, as the forest roads used to get there are very sandy and occasionally washed out. And be careful once hunting season starts in the autumn.
GETTING THERE: From Taos, head north on U.S. Highway 64 and take it across the Gorge Bridge to West Rim Road. Take a right on State Road 567 to Carson. Just before you get to the intersection with U.S. Highway 285, take a left on Carson National Forest Road 557, going about five miles. You’ll intersect with Forest Road 556D. Take a right. When you intersect with Forest Road 556, take another right. You’ll be able to drive half a mile to the base of Cerro Azul. You’ll see it, so just start walking.
For more information on safety and road conditions, or to get hooked up with a map of the area, call the Carson National Forest Tres Piedras Ranger District at (575) 758-8678.