Santa Fe, Pecos Wilderness and Taos New Mexico

April 24 – 28, 2015

One of the benefits of choosing to settle down in Golden Colorado is the proximity to some epic parts of the Rockies. Unfortunately the weather was looking bad last weekend, so we drove as far south as needed to get some sunshine and camping-friendly friendly conditions.

Alison and I had driven through Santa Fe on our way out to Golden a month ago and knew we would be back. The town is among the oldest in the country and is surrounded by some surprisingly big mountains.

Boasting over 250 art galleries and hundreds of high quality restaurants, we were looking forward to eating our weight in Santa Fe’s speciality – Green and Red Chile sauce smothered New Mexican food!

Our adventure went something like this for our five-day trip:

  • Day 1: Drive and camp for a night outside Santa Fe
  • Day 2: Do a long day hike in the Pecos Wilderness area within the Santa Fe National Forest and camp for another night
  • Day 3: Stay in Santa Fe for a night. Explore the shops, museums and art galleries. Visit: The Old Plaza Shops, Canyon Road Galleries, The Ark Bookstore and eat a TON OF CHILI SMOTHERED NEW MEXICAN FOOD!
  • Day 4: Start out the day with a hike up Atalaya Peak on the east side of Santa Fe, have lunch at the Blue Corn Cafe, then Visit Ojo Caliente hot springs and Sanctuario Chimayo Church, spend a night in Taos, NM just north of Santa Fe
  • Day 5: Spend most of the day exploring the cool art infused town of Taos, the Hanuman Temple, take in epic views of the Sangre de Christo Mountains, then drive home.

Part of the fun of not having “normal” jobs right now is the flexibility to adjust plans as we wish. We originally planned to stay just 4 days in Santa Fe, but decided to extend our trip for another day and visit Taos, the Ojo Caliente hot springs and Chimayo – we are glad we did!

It’s the most fun to explain our adventures through pictures…here we go!

Pecos Wilderness Hike

The weather was cool with a chance of rain, so we opted to stay in a KOA (with HOT SHOWERS!) outside of the Santa Fe. Temps dropped into the low 40's at night. Campsites in the Santa Fe National Forest were getting snowed on!
The weather was cool with a chance of rain, so we opted to stay in a KOA (with HOT SHOWERS!) outside of the Santa Fe. Temps dropped into the low 40’s at night. Campsites in the Santa Fe National Forest were getting snowed on!
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Duke enjoys eating my ear upon arrival to the campsite!

 

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Camping dinner. Vegan fajitas! This is one of our go-to camping meals. Lots of fried veggies, beans, avocado, salsa and cilantro.
Camping dinner. Vegan fajitas! This is one of our go-to camping meals. Lots of fried veggies, beans, avocado, salsa and cilantro.
Duke LOVES camping!....and sleeping on top of our sleeping bags when he gets the chance.
Duke LOVES camping!….and sleeping on top of our sleeping bags when he gets the chance.
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Our first day featured a long hike in the Pecos Wilderness Area. The weather was threatening to rain or snow, so we dressed well. The drive up the canyon along the Pecos River is gorgeous, even with overcast skies. Our hike started at the Winsor Trailhead, and headed up the Winsor Ridge Trail to Stewart Lake. We then descended via a different trail (post-holing through snow for a mile or so!) to make it a  long 16-17 mile loop hike with bout 2500ft of total climbing.

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HDRtist HDR - http://www.ohanaware.com/hdrtist/
Sawyer Lake, the destination point for our hike. It was super quiet up there, and many people continue hiking onward in the Pecos Wilderness for multi day backpacking trips. From photos I’ve seen, the lake basins past Sawyer Lake are really epic. Unfortunately, there were a lot of snow past this point so we turned around (and were only planning on going this far on a day hike anyway). We plan to go back to the Pecos and do a multi-day backpacking trip when the weather warms up. Dogs are allowed on all trails and there is no permit needed!

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The end of our hike. We hiked up from the Winsor trailhead, but came down a different one. I do not recall the name, but we only had to walk about 1 mile along a road to get back to our car.

Exploring Santa Fe

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There was a winter weather advisory when we visited, and Santa Fe got it’s first precipitation in over a month, in the form of snow! We bailed on our campsite and spent the night in Motel 6 in town. It was the perfect day to visit galleries and museums.
Snow doesn't stop us!
Snow doesn’t stop us!

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St. Francis, the patron saint of Santa Fe. Look at all the animals around him! Very peaceful guy.
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Chili sauce on everything please!!!! Santa Fe is known for its smothered items and Red/Green Chili Sauce. We eventually learned to order our food “christmas style” with a mix of both red and green chili sauces. If you are vegetarian, make sure to check that the sauce doesn’t have meat. Most of the time we found the sauces to be vegetarian. However at one place the server pointed out that their red sauce had “brisket” in it. We found most places had plenty of great vegetarian options. Vegan is another matter….some placed had vegan items…though you would have to order creatively.

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The irony of little trinkets being sold at a place where the greatest scientific minds in the world once gathered en route to Los Alamos (where they worked to build the atomic bomb and stop WWII).

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Santa Fe is very dog friendly!
Santa Fe is very dog friendly!
They are made of chocolate...don't ask me what happens when the weather gets hot!
They are made of chocolate…don’t ask me what happens when the weather gets hot!

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Even newer buildings adopt the Adobe style architecture.
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Saw this place on TripAdvisor as a top attraction for Santa Fe, and we were glad we went. It is a small chocolate shop with very high quality sipping and eating chocolates.
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Sipping and eating chocolate at Kakawa Chocolate House. The salted caramel square is amazing. We had the Americano chocolate – it is made with almond milk and 72% dark chocolate. There are vegan options here, but the kind we enjoyed had dairy in it.

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The Museum of International Folk Art is worth going to. I am usually not a big fan of museums, preferring to spent time outdoors, but this one is awesome. It is full of very cool trinkets, toys and keepsakes from a variety of world cultures. Much of the collection was donated by a collector during his travels to over 100 countries! It is impressive!

This is the gallery inside the Museum of International Folk art. This entire warehouse is PACKED with all kinds of stuff from around the world. You could spend a day in here...we chose to spend about 2 hours.
This is the gallery inside the Museum of International Folk art. This entire warehouse is PACKED with all kinds of stuff from around the world. You could spend a day in here…we chose to spend about 2 hours.

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They encourage photography in this museum!

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An epic metaphysical and spiritual bookstore in Santa Fe. It has been around for like 35 years and they have some great books and gift items here for the spiritually inclined.
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OK, if you insist!
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Sante Fe has several areas with galleries, and surprisingly, the majority of them are NOT located around the old town plaza. Visit Canyon Road (about 2 miles from the old town plaza) and you will see dozens of galleries and tons of street-side art like the works you see in this photo.

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Hiking up Atalaya Mountain

Before leaving Santa Fe we wanted to do another shorter hike. Atalaya is easily accessible from the east side of town. Just park in the St. Johns college parking lot and head out. It is 6 miles round trip with about 1500 feet of climbing. You can stop part way up if you don’t want to go to the top, and on a clear day have amazing views. We didn’t have clear weather, but hiked to the top anyway.

Duke went with us of course….and after the first half-mile we kept him off leash the entire way with no problems.

 

Hiking up Atalaya Mountain hear Santa Fe.
Hiking up Atalaya Mountain near Santa Fe.
'Atalaya' trailhead in the front of St. John's College. This trail is about 3.1 miles each way (6.2 miles roundtrip) to the top of a mountain with epic views of Santa Fe and the surrounding mountains. It was a rarely cloudy day so we didn't get great views. The hike has about 1500 ft of climbing to the top. The trail starts gradual then gets steeper. It took us 3 hours roundtrip moving at a good pace.
‘Atalaya’ trailhead in the front of St. John’s College. This trail is about 3.1 miles each way (6.2 miles roundtrip) to the top of a mountain with epic views of Santa Fe and the surrounding mountains. It was a rarely cloudy day so we didn’t get great views. The hike has about 1500 ft of climbing to the top. The trail starts gradual then gets steeper. It took us 3 hours roundtrip moving at a good pace.

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Use your imagine, there is an epic view right there!
Use your imagination, there is an epic view right there!

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We chose the easier route...which was still sorta steep.
We chose the easier route…which was still sorta steep.

Sanctuario de Chimayo

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The fence of crosses as we entered the Sanctuario. People leave memorials for people who have passed away or are in need of prayer.
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There are several sculptures in the gardens surrounding the church.
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Frito Pie? Apparently it is a specialty of the Santa Fe area. They cover a bunch of Frito’s corn chips with chili and other toppings. Sometimes it is served in the Fritos bag!
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The Sanctuary! It was built in the 1800’s, and inside is a hole in the earth that is said to have once contained a cross. The cross was found by an early explorer who took it as divine providence. The church has an entire room filled with crutches and walkers from people who claim to have been cured by visiting this holy site.

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Ojo Caliente

We didn’t take any photos of the Ojo Caliente hot springs. It is definitely worth a visit! They have private and public natural hot spring fed pools. The private pools were of varying temperatures and mineral contents. They even had a mud pool! Worth spending a few hours here on a lazy afternoon or evening. There is also a bar, restaurant and accommodations for the well-heeled traveler.

An image I stole off the internet....We spent a lot of time in this particular hot pool, though there are 7 pools to choose from!
An image I stole off the internet….We spent a lot of time in this particular hot pool, though there are 7 pools to choose from!

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Taos

We had heard a lot about Taos and were excited to check out this mountain town known for great food, cool art and spiritual pursuits. The drive up to Taos from Santa Fe is stunning. We did not take the HIGH ROAD TO TAOS, as we were coming from Ojo Caliente (a different direction). However, the high road is supposed to be a MUST DO ACTIVITY when visiting the area. We will try that next time!

Sangre de Christo Mountains fall right into the town of Taos.
Sangre de Christo Mountains fall right into the town of Taos.
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One of many old churches in the area.
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The Taos Plaza is surrounded by galleries and locally owned shops and cafes.

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This area, known as “Bent Street” is super cool. More shops and galleries  are located here.
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Sangre de Christo mountains in the background!
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Hanuman Temple grounds. The temple itself is very small, though there are plans to build a larger one at some point. This is the Ashram for Neem Karoli Baba. If you are familiar with Krishna Das or Ram Dass, he is their guru. He has passed away but devotees keep his message of love and compassion alive. The ashram has a neat little bookstore, a small worship area with a Hanuman murthi (idol) and there are kirtan, satsang and meals served periodically.
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Our last meal in New Mexico, with more chili sauce!!!!
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Very cool book store in the Bent Street area in Taos.

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The Drive Home

Driving from Santa Fe to the Denver Colorado area via Taos and the northern route is very scenic. We didn’t stop to take many photos, but it was awesome. Take our word for it!

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Wild horses along the road!
Wild horses along the road!
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