“The sun never knew how wonderful it was, until it fell on the wall of a building.” — Louis Kahn
With all due respect to Mr. Kahn’s architecturally-inspired view of the sun, it was Nature’s skyscrapers, the mountains, that were the sun’s original vanity-mirrors. This is supremely evident in the landscape-defining mountain ranges of northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, especially in the summer, when a mutable run of colors turns the mountains into eye-candy for the soul. Sky, mountains and light comprise the elemental heart of this region, while its spirit—a trickster, shape-shifter and unquantifiable force—moves through everything from sacred festivals to river-rafting romps to the conversational buzz at cafes and bars. How you experience it is a Choose-Your-Own Adventure with limitless possibilities.
Let’s consider Taos in a cinematic context. A maverick indie film with a colorful and offbeat cast, and award-winning cinematography (see: the 2013 designation of the Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument). Its plot would be no plot at all but rather a series of intersecting ambiguities, moods and scenes; an age-old experiment forever in the making. On the tried and true side of things, both the Taos Pueblo Pow-Wow (July 11-13) and the Fiesta de Taos (July 18-20) reflect the cultural roots of the Native and Hispanic communities, respectively. Dancing, singing, ceremony, crafts, food, and communion are at the heart of both events. Taos Plaza becomes the hot-spot on Thursday evenings, with Taos Plaza Live (May 23-September 5) showcasing local bands and musicians on a weekly basis. Dust and revelry will be kicked up cowboy-style at the 45th Annual Rodeo de Taos (June 23 – 24).
After nearly sixty years in the Blake family, the Taos Ski Valley has changed hands and is now owned by business mogul, conservationist, and avid skier, Louis Bacon. Renovations are planned, which will include two new lifts, mountain biking trails, an expanded base area, as well as new restaurants and retail shops. Esteemed for its world-class skiing, TSV is also a summer-friendly high-altitude playground, where disc golf, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, and hot air ballooning can be enjoyed.
Elements at Play
“Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself.” — Mark Twain
Mr. Twain’s quote could serve as tagline for the celestial pyrotechnics set off by the sunsets from which Angel Fire derives its name. Home to a PGA-ranked alpine golf course, a celebrated mountain biking park with invigorating trails, horse-drawn wagon rides, and the immensely popular Zipline Adventure Tour, in which tree-hugging takes on a whole new meaning, Angel Fire is a resort town that thrives on gear-switching. World class epitomizes the timbre and tone of the Music from Angel Fire Series (mid-August through early September), now in its 31st season of bringing chamber music to various northern New Mexico settings. And Friday nights in July means Movies Under the Stars, when families can enjoy free movies and free popcorn on the lawn of the Angel Fire Country Club.
Regarding itself as “Main Street in the Mountains,” Red River combines postcard charm with a Texas-sized appetite for good times. A former gold mining town which drew its fair share of pickaxes and Midas-minded dreamers, some highlights on Red River’s summer calendar include: The Classic Car Show (May 30-June 1), River & Brews Blues Fest (June 6-8), The Fine Art & Wine Festival (June 13-15), and the always spicy Hot Chili Days, Cool Mountains Nights (August 14-16), which showcases a weekend of music and chili cook-offs.
For those angling for a bite, nearby Eagle Nest Lake offers some of the region’s finest fishing, and a pristine setting to boot. Kokanee salmon and rainbow trout are the lake’s main draw, but anglers have also been known to catch glimpses of elk, mule deer, bears, and bald eagles. A lake-side Fourth of July celebration, comes with the fixins’ of a parade, BBQ lunch and fireworks display after dark.
The village of Chama. Late 1800s. Cue saloon piano, as two grizzled gentleman step out onto the dusty road and draw their six-shooters. Gunfire. One hits the ground, the other walks away a small legend. A bustling boomtown way back when, Chama generated a “Wild West” flair while breaking the hearts of many Easy Street dreamers. Another part of Chama’s past, which remains active today, is the Cumbres-Toltec Scenic Railroad. Territorial Days (June 27-29), an event celebrating the arrival of the railroad in Chama in 1880, features: Skits, music, dancing, Jicarilla Apache events, crafts, blacksmithing, and more. To travel even further back into Chama’s past, pay a visit to the Puye Cliff Dwellings. Inhabited by approximately 1,500 Pueblo Indians for more than three centuries (from the 900s to 1580 A.D.) this national monument offers two self-guided tours: The Cliff Trail and the Mesa Top Trail.
Rocky Mountain High Life
(Meta-Editor’s Note: The above title is in no way meant to refer to legalized marijuana, not even as a half-baked pun, nor as a nod to the mountain-inspired movie Cheech & Chong never released: Where the Grass Grows High.)
Pedestrian-friendly, river-hearted and steeped in historic mystique, Durango flaunts its charms in an easygoing and laid-back manner. Formerly a ranching and mining town, Durango (“water town”) was named after the Animas River, which maintains a steady flow of recreational options: fly fishing, white water rafting, canoeing, kayaking. We may live in a cyber-age where the future is upgraded daily, but visitors can hearken back to a bygone era, when locomotives were unparalleled track stars. In operation since 1880, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad—whose scenic complexion has found itself in many movies—plays host to a variety of special events, including: Jim Henson’s Dinosaur Train (July 7-8, 14-15), which features a visit to the Nature Trackers Adventure Area, where families can take part in a fossil dig; and Durango Railfest (August 14-17) an event commemorating Durango’s railroad legacy. As for off-the-rail summer events: Music in the Mountains (July 13-August 2) is now in its 28th year of bringing an elevated slant to classical music performances, while Durango Fiesta Days (July 24-27) celebrates the area’s Spanish and Native American history.
If ghostly lore floats your boat, then drop in at the historic St. James Hotel in Cimarron. With some of its outlaw “interior decorators” leaving bullet holes in the wall as a stylistic statement, the rough-and-tumble past of the St. James Hotel is a sneak-peek into the psyche of the Wild West. Numerous ghosts are said to call the St. James home. Check out Philmont Scout Ranch, largest private backpacking facility in the world.
Known as the gateway to the San Juan Mountains, Rio Grande Country, which includes South Fork, Monte Vista and Del Norte, encapsulates the scenic majesty of the San Luis Valley. South Fork, which is abundant in outdoor recreation, is the starting point for the Silver Thread National Scenic Byway. Birds of different feathers flock together at the Monte Vista Wildlife National Refuge, nearly 15,000 acres of artificially created wetlands. And every July, the agricultural town of Del Norte shifts gears and plays host to the Del Norte Mountain Bike Stage Race.
Located within the sprawling San Juan National Forest, and hemmed in by the cloud-piercing San Juan Mountains, Pagosa is a jewel-of-an-oasis. Pagosa (which comes from “Pagosah,” the Southwestern Ute word for “healing waters”) offers three different hot spring facilities. Tonic-for-the-soul may come in the form of mineral pools, baths, rooftop tubs, and massage treatments. Hiking, biking, rock climbing, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, boating, and disc golf are other activities that keep summer in Pagosa humming along. For more, go to VisitPagosaSprings.com.
John Biscello lives and writes in Taos. His books, Freeze Tag and Broken Land: A Brooklyn Tale, are available through Amazon.