Taos goes deep into the wild with mule deer (pictured), elk, eagles, hawks, coyotes, big horn sheep, bobcats, mountain lions, bears and more. If you’re a wildlife fanatic, there’s no worse tease than constantly seeing elk crossing signs or “don’t feed the bears” posters and never witness any creature more feral than a pack of loose dogs.
When seeking nature’s inhabitants, some are certainly more elusive than others. Care should be taken when setting out to spot a mountain lion or bear, for example. A wily suggestion for seeing a mountain lion — that is meant to be taken with a grain of salt — would be to perfume yourself with deer urine, take to the lonely cliffs and travel in short, running bursts from one spot to another. You might also spot a bear by smearing yourself with honey and then sit quietly next to a Dumpster in Red River.
Joking aside, you don’t want to be bait and there are safer ways and places to see Taos’ wildlife.
1. Río Grande Gorge: big horn sheep, bobcat, coyote, birds of prey such as bald eagles and red-tailed hawks. The Río Grande around Pilar just south of Taos is home to many large birds including osprey, peregrine falcons, great-horned owls and wild turkeys. Big horn sheep are a common site in this area as well. There are three access routes into the gorge. Pilar is about 20 minutes south of Taos on State Road 68 toward Española/Santa Fe. From SR 68, turn west onto State Road 570 and in about 2 minutes you’ll be in the lower gorge area paralleling the river.
A second entrance is at the John Dunn Bridge in Arroyo Hondo, which is about 10 minutes north of the U.S. Highway 64/State Roads 150 and 522 traffic light north of Taos. Take State Road 522 toward Arroyo Hondo/Questa and turn west onto County Road B005. The third entrance is the Wild Rivers Backcountry Byway near Questa, 26 miles north of Taos on State Road 522. This is about 2 miles north of Questa and is a 13-mile closed loop, double-lane, low speed paved road.
2. Eagle Nest/Moreno Valley: This is another favorite spot that rarely disappoints for elk sightings. Herds can be seen on private lands surrounding Eagle Nest Lake and in the Valle Vidal near the Middle Ponil Drainage.
3. San Antonio and Ute mountains are more great places to spot elk. San Antonio Mountain is approximately 10 minutes past Tres Piedras where elk migrate in December. It’s about an hour’s drive via U.S. Highway 64 west and U.S. Highway 285 north. Look for elk on the west side and herds of pronghorn antelope to the east. To get to Ute Mountain, follow U.S. Highway 64/New Mexico State Road 522 north through the village of Questa and then just over the state line into Colorado. Turn left on County Road B toward the village of Jaroso, Colorado. Turn south and follow the signs into the Ute Mountain Area.