Friday – February 17, 2012 –
Today was going to be my first visit to New Mexico, the land of enchantment. In fact, New Mexico is the last western state I have never visited. Today around 17:00 p.m., I flew to Houston Hobby airport. After arriving in Houston, I grabbed some dinner at Pappadeaux before catching my Southwest flight to Albuquerque.
The reason I chose to visit New Mexico this year was because of the snow. While much of Colorado, Utah and the Sierra Nevada were having a bad snow season, northern new Mexico had received record snow. I usually try to ski once every season in the West, so this was going to be a new experience at Taos in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
After arriving in Albuquerque, I noticed that they called their airport a sunport. It was extremely nice and clean with public art inside. I didn’t arrive until after 22:30, so I then hurried to pick up my rental car for my drive north to Santa Fe.
Even at night, I could tell that Santa Fe is gorgeous. It was late, so I checked into the Hilton Plaza Santa Fe and then went to bed quickly because I had another drive in the morning.
Saturday – February 18, 2012 –
Since this was only a three-day weekend to go skiing, I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to explore Santa Fe. If I wanted to get some skiing in at Taos, I only had a couple of hours to explore historic Santa Fe. Definitely plan on spending more time than I did because this city is fantastic.
My stay at the Hilton Plaza was free thanks to my HHonors points. The location was fantastic because the hotel is located not very far from historic Santa Fe Plaza. Thanks to the early Spanish colonization of New Mexico, this old town square is one of the oldest in the Americas. Most Spanish colonial towns were built around a central plaza, like in Santa Fe. On its north side is the Palace of the Governors, while on the east is the church that later became the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.
To understand the history of Santa Fe, consider this. The Spanish settled here in 1607, three years before the English settled at Jamestown in Virginia. New Mexico’s Spanish Governor Don Pedro de Peralta founded the city at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which he called La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asísi (the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi). Today most people know the town simply as Santa Fe, but it is the oldest capital city in the United States as it has been a state capital since 1610. It’s population is only around 70,000 people.
The plaza still continues to be the heart of the old town. There always seems to be something interesting going on. I enjoyed seeing the markets set up by Pueblo Indians at the Plaza. They sold a great variety of handiworks and crafts including blankets, pottery and woven goods. I also listened to a great string quartet playing classical versions of popular songs by artists like Coldplay. Even the street music is sophisticated here.
I think one of the most impressive sites is the Palace of the Governors, an adobe structure located on Palace Avenue at the Plaza, which serves as New Mexico’s state capitol. Built and occupied since 1610, the Palace of the Governors is the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States!
Another interesting building worth visiting is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, commonly known as Saint Francis Cathedral. This Roman Catholic cathedral is home to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Two older churches original stood on this site. In fact, a small chapel from La Parroquia cathedral still remains on the north side of the Basilica.
Throughout Santa Fe, you will notice that art flourishes. In fact, Santa Fe is one of the artistic hotbeds of the U.S. with a huge population of artists. Re-known painter Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the most famous artists who lived in Santa Fe and the surrounding areas.
One place I wanted to visit, but did not have time, was the nearby San Miguel Mission, a Spanish colonial mission church built in 1610. The church boasts being the oldest church in the United States. While much of it has been rebuilt over the years, the original adobe walls are still largely intact.
After a brief tour of the Basilica and Plaza, I needed to hit the road north to Taos, about 70 miles (113 km) north. Then I headed north of the town of Taos up into the mountains to the ski resort of Taos Ski Valley. After parking in remote parking because Taos resort was packed, I was picked up by a tractor with trailers shuttling skiers to the main ski village. It’s a beautiful ski resort.
One thing you immediately notice about Taos is the elevation. The base of the resort rests at 9,200 feet which it makes it the highest ski resort in North America and highest municipality in the U.S. The village reaches more than 12,500 feet which makes great skiing with vertical drops of almost 3,300 feet. You definitely feel the elevation walking around town!
The elevation leads to great snow. The resort averages around 305 inches of snow per year. The only negative side is that the terrain here is also steep, so Taos may not be a great choice for beginners. About 51 percent of the resort is rated expert, while only 24 percent and 25 percent are rated beginner and intermediate, respectively. The blue-rated slopes here are definitely more like black diamonds at other resorts, so consider this resort advanced like Jackson Hole. But on the plus side, it has the highest-rated ski school in North America. The resort has 15 lifts: 4 quads, 3 triples, 5 doubles and 3 surface lifts.
I took lifts to the top of Kachina Peak. From 12,450 feet, the view of the surrounding Sangre de Cristo range was incredible. The thing I really like about Taos is people are very friendly and the lines are not long. This year New Mexico had the best snow in the west, so I expected a lot of people. However, I think a lot of people choose Colorado or Utah instead. Probably a lot of visitors in this area would like to key Taos a secret because the lines were nothing here. I noticed a lot of skiers from North Texas and Oklahoma because it is the closest resort to them.
The terrain seems to offer a little bit of everything. For those who prefer groomed terrain, there is plenty of it to carve. However, Taos also offers plenty of moguls, steep chutes and tree skiing.
That evening after finishing skiing, I drank beer and ate nachos at a German villa on the slope called St. Bernard. I hung out with some guys from Texas Tech University as we watched some basketball. It was laid back and casual, like in Texas.
Later, I drove back to the town of Taos. I visited the grocery store to buy some groceries before checking into the Hampton Inn. After checking in, I asked for any interesting live music. The hotel concierge recommended that I head to Taos Plaza and visit a bar called The Alley. This cantina was packed. I sat a table with some Houstonians and ate dinner and had drinks while the venue rocked out to a local band called The Damn Band. They were good, but I didn’t want to stay out too late since I was skiing on Sunday.
Sunday – February 19, 2012 –
This morning before heading to Taos Ski Valley, I wanted to see a little bit of the town of Taos. Apparently the name Taos means “place of red willows” in the Taos language.
No visit to Taos is complete without visiting Taos Pueblo, which borders the town of Taos. The Pueblo is considered one of the historic wonders of North America. The pueblo was built between 1000 and 1450 AD and is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the U.S. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I marveled at the design of the Pueblo. Many homes had common walls, but some structures were five stories high. More than 1,900 people live in the Taos pueblo community today. Some of them have modern homes near their fields but stay at the pueblo during cooler weather. About 150 people live at the pueblo all year.
A couple of important things to note. You must pay to enter and no cameras or phones are permitted. The Pueblo people are great hosts, but they don’t want you taking photos. I saw one guy get kicked out because he tried to sneak a photo on his smartphone.
After a brief tour of the Pueblo, I headed back to Taos Ski Valley where I had another great day on the slopes. Thanks to some advanced ski lessons during the previous season, I was able to master some of the moguls today. It’s critical to plant your pole in front of you as you bend your knees and attempt to ski around it out front!
That evening after finishing skiing, I had to head back to Albuquerque. A huge storm came in and I didn’t have all-wheel drive so I hurried to get down the mountain. I decided to go back the scenic crossing the Rio Grande gorge, the same Rio Grande that forms the Mexico and Texas border further south. It was GORGEOUS in the snow!
Not long afterwards, I decided to stop for a visit to Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs. For centuries, weary travelers have stopped at the famous hot springs to sooth their bodies, minds and souls. The Spaniards discovered it in the 1500s and named it Ojo Caliente, which means hot eye. The Pueblo Indians have used them for more than 3,000 years! Today there are 11 pools with 80- to 109-degree water and different combinations of minerals. Some have iron, some have arsenic, and others have other minerals. They great things is there is no chlorine because the water is sterilized with ozone and ultraviolent light. The pools are also refilled three times a week. Entry was about $25 for the day with a robe and towels provided. It was peaceful lounging in the different pools and grand lagoon under the lights and listening to the soothing native music. It was a strange sensation feeling snow tingle the top of my head as the rest of my body was warm.
After passing through Santa Fe, I drove back to Albuquerque and ate a Mexican restaurant before arriving at the Hampton Inn near the Albuquerque Airport around 1 a.m. I would fly back in the morning, but this was a wonderful first trip to the Land of Enchantment. I am definitely enchanted to return one day!