We were a little bummed last week when we found out our friends had a family emergency and we would have to cancel our trip down to Santa Fe for the weekend. Since we’d already scheduled time off from work for that Friday, we started thinking about alternative things to do or places to go.
With a clean slate, pretty much everything was in play. I scoured the internet travel sites looking for cheap airfare to places like Portland, Phoenix, Spokane, Boise and a couple of others but nothing popped out as a screamer deal. We considered staying put and getting some early season skiing here in Colorado since the some of the resorts have opened their “white ribbon of death” (one trail open with hundreds of people jamming it) but that held about as much appeal as it does every season. Moab sounded pretty good too until we found out that some kind of testosterone laden motorhead event was going on so that was quickly crossed off the list. We also thought about Jackson Hole but it was pretty cold and windy up there and we could easily get that down here.
After a couple of days of thinking about it, we finally decided we’d just do a mini road trip to Taos. We hadn’t done a trip down there in a while, it was close at only about 4.5 hours away, we could ride mountain bikes on warm, uncrowded trails, it was a ‘tweener season so the town wouldn’t be jammed with people working themselves into a turquoise buying frenzy and we could get our fill of New Mexican fare, which we were really looking forward to in our original plan. We thought we definitely had a winner!
We thought about camping but came to the conclusion we wanted “not cold”. We called around looking for cheap places to stay and discovered that because it was in fact the ‘tweener season, some of the places we’ve stayed in the past were closed. Then the idea of staying at the Taos Inn hit us. We’ve had an embarrassing number of margaritas in the Adobe Bar and heard countless bands there over the years, but only now realized we’d never actually stayed in a room there. Fortunately there were plenty of discounted rooms available so we booked a couple of nights, loaded the bikes and readied our GI systems for a weekend in the Land of Enchiladas.
The majority of the drive down to New Mexico from the Boulder Valley is pretty dull. First you have to fight your way through Denver, then there is the Indianapolis 500-esque, free-for-all stretch of highway between Denver and the Springs followed by the 100-year highway construction projects in the Springs proper. From the Springs on down to Walsenberg, where we turn west to take the back roads into Taos, it is pancake flat, barren and always windy…always, always windy. We had all day to get there so we decided from the start to kick back, dial up the iPod, drive in the slow lane and let the relaxing commence from the time we backed out of our driveway.
Let me clarify that the relaxing part actually started once we left REI where I had to buy a new lockset for our bike rack. I guess the last time I took my bike rack off, I laid the hitch mount’s lockset on my bumper and forgot about it. I’m sure it fell off somewhere along my route to work one morning and now it’s lost forever. I wish I could say this was the first time this has happened, but I can’t.
Once we got off of I-25 in Walsenburg and headed due west, we were immediately reminded why we love escaping to the desert from time to time. The sun was starting its final descent for the day and the colours of the desert, normally muted in the harsh midday sun, started to explode and the optical kaleidoscope commenced. It’s always a toss-up whether the sunsets or the food is the biggest allure of road tripping to New Mexico. Instead of debating that question for very long, we feasted solely on the sunset for the next hour knowing that the food and beverage part was not too far away.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the first thing we ate that evening was an appetizer of rattlesnake and rabbit sausage with a chipotle sultana sauce! Dee-freakin-licious. This of course was washed down with what Doc Martin’s Restaurant calls their “Perfect Margarita”…and it was. We won’t mention how many we had, but I will say they were all indeed “perfect”. Great food, great live music, great company…great day all around.
I’m always stunned by the lack of people on hiking or mountain biking trails in New Mexico. I’ve ridden down there many, many times and seldom have I ever seen more than two or three people during a full day’s ride. It’s not like the riding is terrible either…it’s actually AMAZING. Maybe people are too interested in buying cheap turquoise trinkets to hop on a bike and explore the landscape? People certainly aren’t shy about packing the ski areas, but hiking and biking trails go pretty much unnoticed. I’m definitely not complaining here.
As we figured, there were only two other cars at the trailhead when we showed up at 10:30 a.m. This was late for us but we’d been busy stuffing our yaps with delicious huevos rancheros at the Bent Street Café while we waited for the temps to warm up. Keeping with our “just relax” theme for the weekend, we took our time getting our things ready knowing there was no need to beat the rush or worry about fighting through the throngs of other bikers on the trails. Also, before we left Colorado, I had realized that this ride would be my 100th ride of the season and I couldn’t think of a better way or place to commemorate it.
I love desert riding in and around Taos. Typically there are no long, protracted, painful, high altitude climbs like here in the Central Rockies. It’s still usually fairly warm during the day and even as people are skiing just a few miles away, I can generally still ride in shorts and a light jacket. And unlike riding in the desert around Moab and Fruita (which I love), riding around Taos and Santa Fe isn’t generally overly rocky, which can turn a half day on the trails into an exhaustion-fest. I’m not saying there aren’t some techy areas where you need to be on your game, but a lot of the trails out west of town are pretty straightforward, low stress riding.
We wound up only riding about 12 or so miles in and around the Taos Overlook Trail System. The Rift Trail, rated easy to moderate, pretty much encircles the entire area, with various other trails intertwined within it. I’d never ridden there specifically so was pretty excited to check it out. While riding we saw a grand total of one mountain biker (cool local guy named Roland), two hikers, one cute dog (named Moxxy), one bighorn sheep, one tarantula, a Redtail hawk, some mutant-sized crows, an ocean of sage, an epic view of the snowcapped Sangre de Cristos to the east, mind-blowing views into the Rio Grande Gorge and a bluebird blue sky that was immense beyond comprehension. It’s just crazy how places like this aren’t jam packed with mountain bikers and hikers, especially on such a typically beautiful New Mexico day. Again, no complaints whatsoever.
For us, there is no outdoor activity in Taos complete without a stop at Orlando’s New Mexican Café afterward. We’ve been to Taos more times than we can count and eaten at tons of places, but Orlando’s is by far our favourite — bar none, hands down. Orlando’s has a genuinely friendly staff, consistently amazing home style, authentic, non-froofy food and a relaxed atmosphere perfect for reliving a day on the bike or skis. You may have to wait a few minutes for a table since it’s a small place with limited seating, but you can always grab a beer and sit out by the fire pit while you relax and make a new friend or two.
We love New Mexico but it’s always good to get back home to Colorado. Although we didn’t get to see our friends, this little unexpected mini road trip turned out to be exactly what we needed to shake clean the Etcho-Sketch of daily life. Slow pace, no plans, no timetables, no stress, fun mountain biking, plenty of green chiles, tasty margaritas and a little touch of the funkiness of Taos. Adios por ahora Nueva Mexico, pero nos vemos pronto.
Travel light, climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.