By Harry Neilsen
Rio Grande Gorge
Taos is a small northern New Mexican town located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. To the west of the sprawling municipality lies a vast plain covered with sagebrush and small conifers. This large expanse of land is dissected by the Rio Grande Gorge, which cuts an 800-foot, meandering chasm across the plateau. From the edge of this gorge, the view of Taos and its towering mountain backdrop is simply spectacular. As a result visitors come here year round to partake in a variety of exciting outdoor activities or simply to wander through town and check the numerous art galleries, curios shops and restaurants. Those who merely want to take a short, easy-paced hike of only several hours duration have many choices. Here are three favorite hiking trails in the area.
Overlooking Taos: A Gentle Climb Up Divisadero
Divisadero Mountain is located a few miles east of Taos in the Carson National Forest. With close to a thousand feet in elevation gain, this hike is by far the most strenuous of the three walks. Yet the climb to peak can be made in an hour by most hikers. Along the way, this trail provides many outlooks of Taos valley, which from this height and with a little bit of imagination looks like a great landing spot for UFOs. The trail head is located at the El Nogal picnic parking area on Highway 64, as you leave Taos and head east towards Angel Fire. The trail is well used by locals, but there is a continuation of the trail network north of the mountain that will take you to higher ground and fewer hikers.
Desert Country: The West Rim Trail
To get to the west rim trail, hikers must drive to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and then park at the rest area located just across the bridge. Here at the south end of the parking lot, there is a level trail that hugs the west rim of this spectacular chasm for ten miles or more. There is no need to walk the whole length, for just a short stroll will take you through incredible country on a trail that your grandmother could handle with ease. The west rim trail provides walkers with a stunning view of the Rio Grande some 800 feet below as well an incredible mountain panorama of the Sangre de Cristos. On your return to Taos, you can stop at the bridge for a walk across the river gorge and an opportunity to sample local cooking from the local food vendors, who sell tacos, burritos and such from their vehicles. This is definitely one place in Northern Mexico you want to visit.
Mountain High: Hiking to Williams Lake
Williams Lake is a high-altitude mountain lake, situated in a glacial cirque at the base of Mt. Wheeler, the highest summit in New Mexico. Fortunately, there is a Taos ski valley parking lot, where a short trail of several miles climbs through an aspen, spruce and fir forest to this beautiful lake. Finding the parking area make take a little effort, for it is located a few miles around and above the main lodge, near the Bavarian Inn. However, once on the trail, most hikers will find the walk to be a gentle ascent to small height of land that overlooks the lake. Summer and fall are ideal times to hike to Williams Lake, as the winter and spring can bring avalanche dangers.
Taos itself has a lot of fascinating activities and things to do for art lovers, history buffs and general sightseers. The Ranchos de Taos church, located just a few miles south of Taos, is a living example of adobe architecture, a practical style of building that has been used here since the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1600s.