Summer Adventures in Taos

© Louisa Preston 2002

People slowly congregated at the edge of the Taos Valley RV park to watch the vast New Mexico sky blush shades of reds, pinks and purples as the sun disappeared behind the distant mountain range. In pairs or groups of three or four - some with coffee mugs in hand sipping their evening brew; others with leased dogs emerging from the sage covered surroundings - they stand with their backs to the darkening east sky, which silhouettes the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The creative power of the New Mexico light was first recognized in 1898 when two young artist, on an adventure to experience Native American culture, had their wagon wheel break on outskirts of the Taos pueblo. Ernest Blumenshein and Bert Phillips were forced to remain for several days and became enamored of the inhabitants and of the clear light. They decided to remain and paint. This was the start of the Taos Society of Artists.

The Native American pueblo and small art colony has expanded into a tourist town sprinkled with excellent restaurants and historical frontier sites and surrounded by a national forests and recreation areas. Today visitors can wander for days amongst the canvases and sculptures of the numerous galleries and museums of Taos. Most visit the adobe church, San Francisco de Asis. It’s flowing beige buttresses made famous in photographs and Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings. The Historic Taos Plaza is circled by tourist shops. Best not enter the narrow streets and alleys of the Plaza with a large RV.

However, RVs and campers are common along the main road through town. The municipal lot is a popular parking place and overnight parking is permitted. Best option is to leave your RV at one of the two RV parks, which are located on the south end of town, and catch the Chile bus. For a guided tour, hop on the trolley ride which starts in front of the Visitor Center.

The Taos recreational areas and national forests create a network of outdoor activity outfitters. In the winter, skiing reigns at the nearby Taos Ski Valley and Red River. In the summer, river rafting is the most popular outdoor activity. In June, I approached Taos from Highway 68 to be greeted by a massive scar winding through the sage covered mesa. This wound, The Gorge, created by the Rio Grande River transports kayakers and rafters. While watching the sun set at the Taos Valley RV Park; a couple, Ted and Carol, and I discussed the Rio Grande’s different rafting runs. The river was low this year making for a technical raft ride around the boulders and rocks. I had joined a group to start at a spot called “The Race Course”. In the morning school buses unloaded their passengers dressed in bathing suits and hats. Rafts were carried to the riverbank and each guide gave a though briefing explaining the basics of paddling and safety procedures. Our guide made sure the straps of our bright orange life vest were pulled tight around our chest before we clamored aboard.

Floating downstream we maneuvered around and over the boulders and rapids. During the lulls between the white water activity our guide identified the shrubs and flowers which lined the canyon walls. A hawk soared above then disappeared into a crevice along the orange wall. We conquered the rapids“Sleeping Beauty” and “Eye of the Needle”. The sun beat down on us.

Jane, a visitor from California, decided to swim during a slow stretch of the river. Soon most of us, except the guide, had slid into the refreshing water and floated along side the raft. Our guide had us practice a safety procedure (if you are thrown from the raft): floating on our backs, legs straight in front with buttocks raised. This is to protect your body, especially your head and spine, from contacting with hidden rocks. We enjoyed the trill of gliding over a small rapids, before clamoring back on board.

I described my rafting experience to Steve and Edie who had reservation for white water rafting the next morning before their drive back to Tennessee. Their plan was to drive their 5 wheel Electra down to “The Race Course”. After their morning raft trip their RV would be waiting with hot showers and a change of clothes before hitting the highway home.

They had two mountain bicycles attached to the back of their new Electra. For Taos has all levels of mountain bike trails. Also the local drivers are accustomed to bicycles in town. Taos is small and when I got stuck in its commute traffic; I wished for my bicycle.

Another outdoor activity which centers on the Rio Grande is hot air ballooning. Usually a hot air balloon soars up into the sky. Not in Taos. One early morn found me standing on the edge of the gorge watching the silver ribbon of the river below glow as the sun rose. Behind me the balloonist were using a large industrial fan to expand the multicolor silk fabric into a balloon. Once the balloon had sufficient air to upright itself we climbed over the side of the wicker basket. We were pressed together like six canned sardines. The balloonist, Joe, wore a six gallon hat and cowboy boots. Thick leather gloves protected his hands so he could turn on the burner above our heads. With a twist of lever a large flame noisily burst upward. The warmth expanded the air above us and we lifted about a foot from the ground. A slight breeze pushed us to the edge of the gorge; then we dropped down. The gorge walls were edged with an orange glow reflecting the rays of the rising sun. We slowly dropped further, about 700 feet total, till the bottom of our basket skimmed the silver river. Our cameras clicked as another balloon in front of ours dipped in the river and skipped over a hidden rock. Both balloons glided along the rivers’ path as the sides of the Gorge loomed above us. As we rounded a bend The Gorge Bridge came into view and grew in size until a blast of flames lifted us above the east rim to land softly on the bridge parking area.

Afterwards we enjoyed a champagne breakfast and were joined by a chipmunk, who stole a cracker. What happen during the initiation ceremony, for those who had experienced their first hot air balloon ride, must remain a secret.

The next day found me nose to nose with a friendly llama named “Jose”. This was my day for llama trekking in the Carson National Forest. Llamas and guests became acquainted during the preparatory activities. After time spent brushing their thick coats and offering them hand fulls of sweet feed; we each created a bond with our favorite llama. I chose a spirited teenager with a soft brown nuzzle and large brown eyes. The owners, Leah and Stuart Rosenberg, saddled the lamas with packs containing food, water and our gear. What a genteel way to hike. Even our water jugs sat in a pocket of the saddle, easily available for grabbing a quick sip. As we led the llamas along the trail, we paused often; while Stuart would identify the trees and wild flowers and describe their Native American medical use. The llamas followed like obedient shaggy ponies. The oldest, Julie, would create a deep humming sound like an ancient Buddhist “om”. Jose insisted on leading. His camel-like feet of five large toes are well suited for the rocky hard trail.

After several hours we stopped under a grove of trees for lunch. Out of the packs came a table, tablecloth, utensils and container after container of food. Joe was a professional chef before becoming the leader of llama treks. We delighted in gourmet pasta dishes, homemade breads, avocados, tomatoes and cheeses. Llama treks can be organized for day treks to overnight camping trips. We all wished we chosen a longer trip. For those who prefer riding to hiking, Taos offers Native American and western horseback rides.

However, the next day I was scheduled to visit the ski areas and lakes of Taos along the Enchanted Circle. This drive can be completed in several hours. But no need to rush. Heading north on Highway 64 from Taos to Highway 522 along the Rio Hondo I passed small camping sites within the Carson National Forest. There are usually no facilities except an outhouse, but parking and camping is free. I spotted an occasional RV in spots under large trees along the river banks. Perfect spots for fishing in the river and mountain streams or hiking on the well marked trails.

I detoured onto Highway 150 to visit the Taos Ski Valley, which is dotted with wild flowers at this time of the year. A chairlift ride presented me with a lofty view of the surrounding mountains and valleys and the Swiss like chateaus. The best day hike is to Williams Lake, an alpine area. The trail leads from the valley floor, passes a waterfall and into the Carson National Forest. As we crossed a last winter’s avalanche path we were awed by the snow’s strength. Trees were stacked along the hillside like fallen matches. Off the trail is a memorial to a skier who was fatally trapped during the snow slide.

Patches of wild flowers quilted the forest floor. The trail stopped climbing when we passed the tree line. We paused to glance down on a pool of turquoise water - Williams Lake. The lake edge has scattered large boulders, some already reserved by sunbathing campers. We chose a few rounded rocks to rest upon while enjoying our pack lunch. A crystal creek lead us to a roaring waterfall and the pink alpine flower “Parry’s primrose. The hike back down to the valley is a breeze.

I retraced my route back to the Enchanted Drive, which at the village of Quest, follows Highway 38. My next stop was a less serene ski area, Red River. The old mining town offers full service RV parks, a stocked fish pond, chair lift rides, mountain biking and jeep rides. The chair lift carries people and bicycles from the center of town to the summit where there is a Café, with a deli and a large outdoor patio eating area. A trail map displays all the ski runs which are clearly marked with street signs.

The jeeps are more like a Philippine jeepney without a roof. Twelve of us hung on to the rails as the jeep careened along the ski trails passing hikers and mountain bikers. We made stops to visit a historical mining camp with displays of tools and animal skulls and to photograph the vast vistas and a passing deer.

At the end of the day I left Red River and continued on the Enchanted Circle Drive. Within five minutes the area was engulfed by a mountain thunderstorm. Impromptu streams of water and pebbles formed creeklets across the highway. My vehicle carefully maneuvered around fallen rocks. Then all vision was entirely blocked as large hail pounded the windshield. Just when I thought I couldn’t continue driving; the clouds parted and a rainbow crossed the sky.

The rest of the drive toward Taos was peaceful as I passed rain-cleaned pastures of painted ponies and wild irises of the Moreno Valley. At Eagle Nest Lake we pulled off the road to check out one of the RV parks on the lake. As we walked though the door the owner, Jeri Cook, offered fresh coffee. She mentioned that they are sold out for four weeks surrounding the 4th of July. The large fireworks over the lake and homemade ice cream draw visitors from Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona. This lake has some of the best fishing in the southwest for rainbow trout, kokonee, and koho salmon. World class flyfishing guides, such as Taylor Streit, summer in this area.

Within forty minutes I was back at the Taos Valley RV Park; in time, to view the magnificent sunset I described in the beginning of this article.

TAOS INFORMATION

RV PARKS
Taos Motel & Taos RV Park, 1798 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur - Hwy 68, Ranchos de Taos, NM 87557. Tel: 800-323-6009, 505-758-2524.

Taos Valley RV Park & Campground, 120 Estes Road- Hwy 68, Taos,NM 87571. Tel: 800-999-7571, 505-758-4469; GOTOBUTTON BM_1_ www.camptaos@newmex.com?

Golden Eagle RV Park, Hwy 64 (32 miles outside Taos), Eagle Nest, NM 87718. Tel: 505-377-6188.

Further info:
Taos Visitor Center: Tel: 800-732-8267. GOTOBUTTON BM_2_ email:taos@taoswebb.com;http://taoswebb.com/TAOS/

Taos Highway Report Hotline: 800-432-4269.

Volcanoes, Lakes & Back Roads

© Louisa Preston 2002

I concentrated on relaxing my shoulders; as my mountain bike and I bounced from one rock to the next. A steady spring rain beat a staccato rhythm on my helmet. I followed the dirt road traveling through verdant valleys, winding between looming snow covered volcanos, and skirting around vast emerald lakes. “Ruta de los 7 Lagos” or route of the 7 lakes, the only passageway through the Region of Seven Lakes, is considered the most beautiful route in Argentina.

Rounding a bend, I was startled by a large dog heading toward me. Then two gauchos on horseback appeared, with four other dogs running alongside the horses's hoofs. Covered with wool ponchos and rain-soaked felt hats the gauchos' stern faces were blank as they slowly cantered pass. I stopped in amazement and looked back to see them disappear into flashing lights. Two bicyclists some 100 yards behind me quickly grabbed a few camera shots.

This, was the last ride day of our "Backroads Mountain Bike" tour through the Lake District of Chile and Argentina. The Chilean Lake District covers an area from the city of Temuco south down to the city of Puerto Montt, bordered by the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Andes, which form a natural border with Argentina. The Argentinean Lake District covers the area from this Chile/Argentine border, north to the town of Alumine and south to Esquel. The most well known place of The Lake District is the city of San Carlos de
Bariloche, Argentina.

In the Lake District of both countries the Andes are lower as are the mountain passes. Past glaciation and volcanic activity formed the landscape. The area is scattered with lakes, rivers, waterfalls, snow-covered volcanoes, and rainforest. The beauty of the area has resulted in alpine resort towns, which attract adventure seekers for snow skiing, fishing, white water rafting, trekking, and bicycling. The unpaved roads and lower altitude of the mountain runs are appealing to mountain bikers.

Our group consisted of 10 other bicyclists including two guides. One guide would accompany us on our ride, while the other swept our route with a van -- providing nourishment, warm clothes or when you had enough, a lift to the luxury of our inn for that night which always was the best accommodation available and often five-star quality.

Our trip began in Puerto Varas, Chile at the Hotel Y Cabanas del Lago, overlooking Lake Llanquihue. This town has become the headquarters for the many adventure sport outfitters. There is a Patagonia Store with fleece jackets, hats etc. for those who want comfort and style in their sport clothes.

I took it as a good omen that our first “official” group function was lunch: a lavish spread of quiches, marinated salads, cheeses, sliced meats, breads, apple torts, local homemade chocolates and toffees, wine and juices. We certainly weren’t going to go hungry during this 11-day trip.

That afternoon we were fitted to our bicycles and given a demonstration of mountain biking techniques. We were each provided with a helmets, two water bottles, lock and cable, and front and back red bicycle bags. The front handlebar bag had a transparent plastic map case for the day’s directions. The royal blue eighteen speed bikes had front shock suspensions to ease our journey over rocky roads. The guides explained that the maps would offer long and short ride options for the day with designated van pick up points. Then, we got some practice in on a
six-mile warm-up ride through the small town and surrounding countryside.

Throughout the trip, our helpful guides, Fernando Aguila and Holly Richter, handled all the details: arranging meals and lodging, transporting luggage, cleaning our bicycles... even entertaining us with card games. All we had to do was pedal, eat and enjoy.

The next morning at dawn I awoke early to view an orange sky and the new moon setting behind the Volcan Osorno. After a hardy breakfast we biked around Lago Llanquihue, which at over 22,000 acres is the second-largest lake in Chile. That day as we biked the miles, one volcano seemed to loom larger as another shrunk. We took a break at a small farm were we posed for photos alongside llamas and marveled at the beauty of the caged pumas.

We ended the day at the Hotel Ralun, set amid blooming rhododendrons, lilacs, roses and azaleas. The estate-like grounds, including a swimming pool, ended on the shore of the Reloncavi estuary with a dock and canoes. At the other side of this glacial inlet, the southern ridge of the Andes appeared like a snow-topped stone wall. We each had private rooms within separate cottages.

Our first layover day was at the rustic Hotel Ensenada, which is filled with antiques and a massive open fireplace where we sat around playing card games and reading. Outside the gardens were in bloom. The only scheduled activity was an afternoon rafting adventure on the Class III portion of the Petrohue River. Since the hotel was near the base of the Volcan Osorno; some of the group spent the morning riding their bikes up to the snow line of the volcano.

The next day we joined the tourists, traveling on a popular bus and boat tour, called Cruce de Lagos, from Chile to Bariloche, Argentina. The bus from Ensenada traveled through the lush rain forest of Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales, stopping for a short hike to a rushing waterfall. Next we hopped on a ferry across the Lago Todos los Santos with views of more rain forested mountains and islands, and waterfalls. Lunch stop was at the Hotel Peulla followed by a bus across the borders to Argentina. The bus stopped at both borders for photos and an
impromptu snow ball fight. The tour ended with a ferry ride on the Lago Nahuel Huapi to Llao Llao.

The constant rain formed a wet filter on the views of the emerald lakes, the majestic waterfalls and the snow-covered, rain forested volcanoes. It was springtime in an El Niño year, and the region was receiving higher-than-average rainfall. That afternoon a patch of blue sky appeared as we docked at the Llao Llao Hotel and Resort. We all rushed to the saunas and heated swimming pool.

The next day there were two bike options either 15 miles or 41. Five of us chose the short route on paved roads which took us up and down hills, pass a lavender farm and small swiss-like villages. The views would alternate between two lakes and rugged mountain peaks. At an overlook we stopped for a group photos with the Lago Nahuel Huapi and the Llao Llao Resort in the background. Upon our return to the resort we returned to the warmth of the pool and sauna while others enjoyed facials and massages. That evening we, especially the men, downed Argentine wine before our group's tango demonstration and lesson.

The next morning we loaded our bikes onto a small boat headed for Quetrihue Peninsula and the Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes. This park is named for the alerce tree, a gigantic conifer with a cinnamon colored bark and dark green foliage. We enjoyed a beautiful sunny athletic trail ride through open spaces and forest scattered with wild flowers. The entire morning did not see any other people til we exited the park, where we enjoyed a beach picnic at the lakeshore of Lago Nahuel Huapi. Here the van met us and Holly had towels on the sand under a blooming apple tree and a table covered with food, such fried chicken, spinach quiche, fruit, juices and an assortment of local chocolates.

Afterwards we leisurely rode our bikes through the town of Villa La Angostura, where some stopped for ice cream and ski kitsch, to the Hosteria Las Balsas, a small inn that is a member of the Relais & Chateaux. The living room offered a roaring fire in an enormous fireplace surrounded by comfortable sofas and plush armchairs where we relaxed while being served wine and hot tea. A picture glass window presented a panoramic view of the lake and mountain ranges. I watched a fly fisherman casting and a family of baby ducks cruising in the lake, Lago
Nahuel Huapi. The cuisine was the best I’ve tasted. One dinner I enjoyed a potato and beet soup, Argentine steak with pumpkin puree and fresh vegetables. For dessert I chose warm pears in honey with ice cream. I slept between lace sheets, while my bike was covered by a shed with a grass shod roof.

The next day some of us headed to the Cerro Bayo Ski Resort for our most challenging single-track trail. One of our guides told us that last year a bicyclist broke his ribs on this segment, but since it was almost the end of the trip, I figured, “What the hell!”

A volcanic-dirt trail, it was littered with fallen branches and raised roots, and presented an occasional creek crossing. I enjoyed jumping the small logs and hopping along the roots as the route mainly headed downhill. The track ended at a fence, which we helped each other lift the bikes over. Other than a few bruises and scrapes we survived.

The trip ended at the Hosteria La Cheminee in San Martin de los Andes. Our last day was a pleasant hike through the countryside with time in town to buy gifts of leather goods and chocolates. That evening at our farewell dinner, we enjoyed a delicious Argentine barbecue with Argentine steaks and wine. We all made promises to exchange photos of our Backroads adventure.

That morning we all sadly departed and I headed back across the border to The Antumalal Resort in Pucon, Chile, overlooking Lake Villarrica. The resort, hidden by large Chilean oak trees, is nested into the landscaped cliff overlooking the lake. Pathways lead down to the shoreline where a sailboat is docked for the use of guests.

I was greeted by the owners, the dignified William Pollack or as the locals called him, “Don Guillermo”, and his attractive daughter, Rony. He built this resort from hand in the fifties, his son designed the furniture from local trees, and Rony Pollack designed the slipcovers and pillows.

In the entranceway, the walls displayed photos of royalty, heads of state and movie stars who have enjoyed this unique hideaway. Posted on the door to my room was a little white card with my name and they explained that no keys are needed. Don Guillermo explained , “ there are three rules: no keys, no schedule and the guest makes the rules”.

For two nights I enjoyed Antumalal's delicious meals, soaked in local hot springs and explored lava caves of the Volcano Villarica. I only wished for more time to explore the Antumalal gardens of rushing creeks and waterfalls, and blooming flowers -- all leading downward to a secluded lake cove.

The Lake District is a nature paradise with towns developed by European refugees and with reservations inhabited by Mapuche indians and gauchos. The magnificent volcanoes, lakes and back roads of beauty and solitude continue to attract more travelers from around the world.

For information and catalogues, contact: Backroads, 801 Cedar Street, Berkeley, CA
94710. Phone: (800) 462-2848 or (510) 527-1555;
Fax: (510) 527-1444; Website: www.backroads.com).

Hotel Antumalal, Pucon, Chile; Phone: 011-56-45-441011; Fax:011-56-45-441013;
Website: lazos.cl/usuarios/antumal.html). Email:antumalal@lazos.cl

For flights to Chile from Los Angeles, Miami (non-stop), and J.F.Kennedy in New York,
contact LanChile Airlines, tel: 800-735-5526

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