Then followed that beautiful season… Summer … Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood. — Henry Longfellow
A Midas-touch talent combined with geological flair make New Mexico a magical summer playground. Rivers run through it, mountains silently hold vigil, ancient traditions sew it together, and the dust holds its secrets. Timelessness, as something resonant and palpable, is a defining characteristic of the region. That being said, numbers will be crunched in honoring Our Lady of Enchantment. July 6, 1912: the date New Mexico was incorporated as the 47th state of the U.S. August 28, 2011, the kick-off date for New Mexico’s centennial celebration, continuing throughout 2012, with 33 counties participating statewide. Yet the pre-centennial vibe will be just as celebratory with an abundance of summer-friendly festivals, markets and activities. The question then becomes one of where, when and with whom?
If you were to think of Taos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque—three key destinations in New Mexico— as siblings in a large family, Taos would be the most rugged, quirky, and right-brained of the three. Recently designated one of the official ecotourism hubs of New Mexico, Taos continues to draw and hold a varied assortment of nature-enthusiasts, modern-day mavericks, guided-by-the-light-seekers, adrenaline junkies and artists of all disciplines.
The Pueblo natives have long been spiritual and physical caretakers of this region, and active contributors to its distinctive culture. The Taos Pueblo Powwow, featuring ceremonially-inspired American Indian dances, takes place July 22-24. Red or green? (a question you WILL be asked regarding your chile preference) is but one in a long line of elements reflecting the area’s traditional Hispanic influence. Honoring the Patron Saints of Taos, Santiago and Santana, the Fiestas de Taos (July 23-24) features music, food, crafts and more. And while we’re on the subject of celebrations, the Taos Inn, a favorite watering hole among locals and an historic hotel, will be celebrating its 75th birthday on June 22. The Taos Pueblo Drum Group and Grammy-award-winning musician, Robert Mirabal, headline the event. Recreationalists, take note: rafting the Class IV rapids of the Rio Grande’s “Box,” mountain-biking rigorous trails with stunning scenery, fly-fishing for trout, or teeing off on a PGA-rated gold course are all options du jour on the main menu.
Angel Fire, whose name deservedly comes from the sunsets which transform its mountain peaks into celestial arsonists, is a resort town which continues to flourish and expand. The Angel Fire Resort Golf and Country Club has established itself as a player’s paradise. Horseback riding, hot air ballooning, mountain biking, and a sky-climbing chair-lift provide different ways to take in the area. And if you want to get your classical on, there’s the 28th annual Music from Angel Fire Series, featuring world-class musicians playing chamber and classical music (August 19-September 4).
If Yosemite Sam were the spokescartoon for Red River, he might say it’s the rootin’est, tootin’est, hootin’est little town in Northern New Mexico. Affectionately known as “Little Texas,” Red River is chockfull of western fixins’—a rodeo, hoedowns, saloons, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Society For Starstruck Girls (okay, the last one I made up, but who’s to say it couldn’t happen)—which parallel Red River’s past as an old mining town. Nearby, in the quaint village of Eagle Nest—a hub for outdoor treks—Eagle Nest Lake serves up some of the state’s best trout fishing. And don’t miss the Fourth of July fireworks over the lake.
Santa Fe, who along with the King James Bible, Lake Champlain, and Joan Rivers, recently celebrated a 400th birthday, has never looked better. As the nation’s oldest capital Santa Fe has plenty of classic charm to flaunt, including the “Oldest House in the U.S.A.” and the 400-year-old Cathedral of St. Francis, yet her style-conscious character has allowed her to sashay into the twenty-first century. International cuisine, a top-tier art market, diverse nightlife, and a revitalized and thriving Santa Fe Railyard (surrounded by parks, shops and galleries) have helped keep the “City Different” one of the most popular travel destinations in the U.S. Summer means market-driven-activity: Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, the largest of its kind in the world (July 8-10); Traditional Spanish Market, featuring Spanish Colonial arts made by more than 200 local and regional artists (July 30-31), and Santa Fe Indian Market, where over 1,0000 Native American artists from around the country will be peddling their pottery, jewelry, weaving, basketry and more (August 21-22). The world-renowned Santa Fe Opera opens on July 1st, with the hell-raising-classic, Faust, and its season runs through August 27.
Hispanic culture is everywhere in the region, with missions, churches and landmarks dotting the scenery, and with eight northern Pueblo reservations in the area, the region is truly a mecca of our land’s original peoples.
To really get into the spirit of the Wild West—this town looks like an Old West movie set—pay a visit to the legendary St. James Hotel in Cimarron. A consortium of ghosts, each with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, are alleged to haunt the premises, and bullet-holes in the wall tell the tale of the hotel’s rough-and-tumble past. Clay Allison, Black Jack Ketchum, Jesse James and Buffalo Bill Cody are some of the renowned figures who once bedded down at the St. James. Also, Philmont Scout Ranch hosts herds of roaming kids seeking out their dose of the wild. Over 20,000 Scouts show up each summer.
Speaking of a living past, Las Vegas does it with an architectural bent. It has over 1,000 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which has earned the town the distinction of “one of the best preserved outdoor museums.” Nearby Storrie Lake conjures up some mean wind surfing and fishing; or go pick raspberries up the road at Salman Ranch.
Sometimes the back road is the best route to take, especially when it runs between the cities of Raton and Clayton, where the panorama includes volcanic cones, buttes, mesas, and grass-covered lava flows. Clayton is famous as the site of Black Jack Ketchum’s infamous hanging.
A lovely summer day lends itself perfectly to the romance of train travel. Hop aboard the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad that rumbles between Chama and Antonito. The village of Chama looks much the same as it did in the 1880s. Take a stroll down Terrrace Avenue and throughout the railroad depot yard to bring history to life.
Just north over the border, Colorado’s Rio Grande County, which is the setting for part of the “green giant” known as the Rio Grande National Forest, includes South Fork, Del Norte and Monte Vista. Each destination offers a bounty of outdoor sports and activities.
— John Biscello, Taos poet/playwright
This article appeared on page 13 of HighCountry 2011.