Known as the “Gateway to the Enchanted Circle,” Questa, New Mexico is the quintessential small town.
Less than an hour from Taos and sitting at 7,500 feet elevation, 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 Rio Grande from what is now Mexico into southern Colorado in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument
What the locals know is that access to the Rio 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 Rio 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, towering 10,093 feet above the surrounding valleys.
If you wake up to snow, throw your cross-country skis in the car and head for the Rinconada Loop Trail in the Rio 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.
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.
The 10-mile roundtrip to Heart Lake, starting from the Cabresto Lake parking lot is a beautiful favorite. Carson National Forest drapes around the east side of Questa and offers many trails and campsites.
Skiing across country
When the snow arrives in Questa, the trails convert from mountain biking to cross country skiing and snowshoeing. The flatter trails at Wild Rivers do not hold the snow for long, but are stunning to play on while they do!
According to questa-nm.com, “Cabresto Canyon is at a higher elevation with more tree coverage. The road is plowed only to the end of the residences; beyond that, snowmobiles can zip through glistening meadows.
Fishing through ice
“The last few winters have brought a couple extended bouts of extreme cold; and the ice-fisherman welcome this chance to stay close to home and fish our small Eagle Rock Lake right in town or venture up to Cabresto Lake,” says the Questa Community website.