By Jim O’Donnell, January 22, 2016 (and reposted February 4, 2017 because Jim’s suggestions remain so revelant this winter)
A word of introduction. Jim O’Donnell first crossed my radar about ten years ago when the fight to save the Valle Vidal from natural gas drilling was raging. Jim had a significant role in preserving the 100,000+ acre natural area for recreation and wildlife. Last year, Jim authored a guide to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument (pdf download) published by Marketaos, designed by Webb Design Inc and funded by many state environmental and tourism agencies. Jim helped in the establishment of the National Monument. He knows the wilderness areas of northern New Mexico like the proverbial back of his hand.
Last week I asked him what one can do in the National Monument in the wintertime. Here’s his answer, his five top winter activities, which extend beyond the boundaries of the RGDN monument area, and in fact beyond Taos entirely. Take these tips from a man who knows how to have fun outdoors.
Janet Webb, BeyondTaos editor
“It may be hard to believe for the downhill aficionados but skiing and snowboarding don’t interest me much anymore. I used to like them. But I just don’t anymore. While Taos is known for our world-famous steep slopes and massive amounts of snowfall (and conditions are outstanding this year!) there are a wide range of other winter adventures to be had in our area.”
Jim O’Donnell, aroundtheworldineightyyears.com
Snow-Shoeing the Canyons Taos is blessed with an abundance of hiking trails ideal for winter exploration. Back up in our wilderness canyons you can go for miles without seeing another person. Snow-shoeing is a great way to experience the silence of winter meadows, the gurgling, ice-framed creeks winding through stands of snow-draped aspens and, if you are still enough, the movements of wildlife on a chilly afternoon. This is the complete opposite of downhill skiing and is my favorite winter activity. Snow-shoeing is outrageously IN-expensive and very easy to learn. Just strap them on and start walking.
In Taos Ski Valley, consider the Gavilan, Yerba or Columbine Canyon trails in the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness or Williams Lake in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness. Between Questa and Red River, are the popular Columbine Canyon trails, also in the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness.
Rent your snow shoes at one of the following locations: Mudd N Flood in Taos near the plaza, Cottam’s Ski Shop in the Taos Ski Valley, Cottam’s Ski Shop in Taos just south of the plaza and at Adventure Ski Rentals, also in Taos. Take a snowshoeing tour with Taos Snowshoe Adventures.
Sunset Photography When the Spanish first came to this region the mountains framing the valley to the east were bathed in a deeply slanted winter light that illuminated the snow on the towering peaks. The whole range was red just before the sunset. And so the Spanish named the mountains the Sangre de Cristo or ‘Blood of Christ’ range. Taos photographers love the “Golden Hour” for capturing stunning landscape images. That half-hour before and after sunset is the best time to capture the amazing scenery of northern New Mexico. When that winter sunlight lays low on the horizon and filters through the atmosphere it is warm and soft, creating shadows and accentuating the textures, folds and shapes of the land.
My favorite spots for winter locations for capturing these amazing sunsets are from the Overland shopping area in El Prado on the way to the ski vally, from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and from the overlook south of town on the road to Santa Fe.
Hot-Air Ballooning Honestly, there really isn’t a bad season for a hot-air balloon ride. New Mexico is the hot-air balloon capital of the world. We host the largest balloon festival in the world every October in Albuquerque. And there is nothing quite like flying in Taos. Our reliable morning wind patterns make for a cold but gentle lift over the ancient volcanic cones west of town. The view of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and the Taos Gorge from hundreds of feet up will forever change how you think about northern New Mexico. From otters playing in the river below to bighorn sheep grazing along the rocky rim of the gorge, the sunrise will take the chill out of the air as you sail south on calm morning breeze.
Hot Springs Ask any local. New Mexico blessed with a ridiculous number of natural hot springs. Some like the Blackstone Hot Springs, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and the Giggling Springs in the Jemez Mountains are well-known. But our little valleys and deeps canyons shelter many more. After a dawn snowshoe trip into the wilds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains there is nothing quite like soaking your bones in one of the many little springs that dot the Taos landscape. For starters, check out the Black Rock Hot Springs north of Taos on the west bank of the Rio Grande, within the National Monument area. Learn more on TAOS.org.
Ice Skating Then there is ice-skating. The ice-rink at the Taos Youth and Family Center offers a wide-range of open skate times every week. And skating is almost as affordable as snow-shoeing! For just a few bucks you can whip around the ice for hours on end. If you’re a local or sticking around town for an extended period of time, consider joining the Skating Club of Taos for lessons to all levels of ability, performances and fun events. Learn more at Skating Club of Taos. Skate times can be found at The Taos Youth and Family Center website.