Less than a half-hour north of Taos on U.S. Highway 522, Questa is known for its quiet charm, and the beautiful protected lands that surround this tiny village. Sitting at 7,500 feet, Questa is the northern gateway to the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, which surrounds Wheeler Peak, the highest summit in the state. Questa is one in a long chain of tiny towns that popped up along the Río Grande from what is now Mexico into southern Colorado in the 18th and 19th centuries.
What the locals know is that access to the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, just west of Questa, never closes. The monument is comprised of rugged, wide open plains at an average elevation of 7,000 feet, dotted by volcanic cones, and cut by steep canyons with rivers tucked away in their depths. The Río Grande carves an 800-foot deep gorge through layers of volcanic basalt flows and ash. Among the volcanic cones in the monument, Ute Mountain is the highest, reaching to 10,093 feet.
If you wake up to snow, throw your cross-county skis in the car and head for the Rinconada Loop Trail in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument for 6 miles of flat skiing with stunning gorge views. The trail can be entered at any of the campground parking lots and it’s easy to create smaller loops to match your time or stamina.
Hiking into the gorge in this Wild Rivers area of the national monument is a favorite Taos outing. On a clear winter day, these steep 1-mile trails are a pleasure, with the reward of a sparkling river and hidden petroglyphs.
On the other side of Questa are trails along State Highway 38 toward the town of Red River. Columbine Canyon is not only a favorite for dry-weather hiking, but is a wonderful place to strap on your snowshoes and trek as near or far as your heart desires. The higher altitude here and thick surrounding pines hold the snowpack well, and a whitetail deer may await you in the meadows.
If one stays along the ridge on Cabresto Road and continues into the Carson National Forest, beautiful vistas come into view. This corner of the forest is a favorite for long snowmobile rides. Cabresto Road is not plowed very far beyond the uphill turn-off to the lake. Adventurers should drive as far as possible and continue into the wild on foot, skis or snowmobile. And for another challenge, see if you can find the remains of Midnight Mine.
In the heart of town is the San Antonio de Padua church, which was built soon after the permanent village was established in 1842. This historic adobe structure underwent an all-volunteer renovation and was reconsecrated. Artists and craftspeople have been at work in Questa for hundreds of years. Devotion refined the artistry, and continues to do so, as evidenced in the artful restoration of the church.
For further information regarding winter and spring activities go online to questa-nm.com or phone tourism staff at (575) 613-2852. You can reach the Questa Ranger District of the Carson National Forest year round, Mon.-Fri., at (575) 586-0520. The BLM Wild Rivers Visitors Center can be reached at (575) 586-1150 (reduced hours off-season, but informative phone messages are posted).
For more, go online to visitquesta.com.