Taos Valley Overlook

Hiking in Northern New Mexico

This blog post is a segue from the flora, fauna, and miscellaneous glossary into the next series of posts which will be titled New Mexico Book Settings–locations used in Brainwash and Gadgets and two that will appear in CLON-X.

Taos Valley Overlook Trails








Over the years, I’ve backpacked a lot of New Mexico, from Chama in the north to Las Cruces in the south. For me, the hardest hike was Wheeler Peak via Williams Lake Trail. David, my husband, Shotz, our first giant schnauzer, and I were in good shape and young, so age and physical condition had no bearing on how difficult we found the climb. It was the weather that was against us. It can be unpredictable at those altitudes. We made the 6.2-mile trip in August and had just reached the summit when a violent electrical storm erupted. The dangerous lightning, rain, and sleet drove us back down the mountain. Even veteran hikers tagged along. The trail, best used from June to October, is rated “difficult” and is heavily trafficked out and back, so go early, bring water, and be prepared for changes in the weather. You can pick up the trail near the Taos Ski Valley, and you can bring your dog or ride your horse. And remember, if you bring it in, please pack it out. Some visitors leave enough trash behind, and the wilderness doesn’t need any more.

One of our most recent hikes was the Rift Valley Loop Trail, which is part of the Taos Valley Overlook Trails. The trails are located six miles south of Ranchos de Taos on NM 68. The other two trails in the area are West Rim Trail and Petaca Point Trail. The Rift Valley Loop Trail is 10.5 miles long, and as the name states, it loops back to the trailhead. The level of difficulty is intermediate. Most visitors use the trail for mountain biking, but it is also used for hiking and horseback riding, and is dog friendly. Great views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Rio Grande River, and the Rio Grande Gorge. In wet weather, it can be muddy, and nothing sticks like New Mexico mud, and nothing dries as hard—great for making adobe bricks. Although the trails are moderately trafficked, the best time to hike is early morning: fewer cars parked at the trailhead, fewer people and mountain bikes on the trails, and in the summer months, cooler, not to mention quieter. Savor the peace and solitude, and snap lots of photos.

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument spans approximately 240,000 acres of public lands in Taos County, New Mexico. It was declared a national monument in 2013, primarily to protect the Rio Grande River. The area is a critical habitat for elk, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and great horned owls. Towering over the region is Ute Mountain at 10,093 feet. Fun activities in the area are: rafting (only for those with excellent white-water skills, due to the intense rapids), mountain biking, fishing, hiking (note, some trails are steep and treacherous), camping, scenic driving, and wildlife viewing. We were here to hike and take pictures.







There are ten trails totaling twenty-two miles along the rim and river of the Rio Grande, and they vary from easy to moderate to difficult. On this visit we chose the challenging La Junta Overlook, a steep descent with loose rock, a ladder, and metal stairs to reach the confluence of the Rio Grande River and the Red River, but well worth the effort—although we wondered if it really was when we had to make the hike back up to the rim eight hundred feet above. We did not bring our giant schnauzer Kai, as there was no way he could negotiate the rigors of this trail, and we definitely did not want him to encounter any slithery wildlife. Do heed the signs to watch for rattlesnakes. They too call this stunning terrain home.

Sharing is caring!

A Southwest Glossary: Geographical Terms—Río Grande

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge
Known by the locals as simply the “Gorge Bridge” or “High Bridge,” the three-span steel continuous-deck-truss structure with a concrete-filled steel grid deck, is a high-arch bridge that spans the Rio Grande Gorge. Many sources have the bridge ranging in height from 600 to 700 feet above the gorge floor, but its true height is 565 feet. It is the seventh highest in the United States and eighty-second highest in the world. The foot span is 600 feet, and it was built between 1963 and 1965.

Rio Grande Bridge over the Rio Grande Gorge

The bridge has several platforms that cantilever out over the gorge, allowing pedestrians to stand several feet into space while capturing breathtaking views of the river below. If you are squeamish about heights, you should skip these platforms. The bridge also has sidewalks on both sides and low railings to make you feel somewhat secure, but if you are not keen on heights period, then you won’t care for the undulating sensation beneath your feet as vehicle after vehicle, especially big rigs, crosses the bridge. Note there is nothing between you and an almost six-hundred-foot drop except a chest-high guardrail, which brings me to . . .

Unfortunately, the popularity of the bridge has also made it a suicide magnet. There have been more than 115 suicides in a twenty-year span, with the most recent occurring in the past two months. After years of inaction on suicide prevention, crisis phones were installed at the bridge in late 2014. The ten call boxes each bear a sign that reads, “There is hope. Make the call.” When a person presses the call button, he or she is connected to the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line in Albuquerque where counselors field the calls around the clock. Mental health advocates says it is a first step but not a prevention strategy unto itself. The New Mexico Department of Transportation is studying the feasibility of either raising the bridge railings or installing netting. The most famous example of crisis phones being installed (in 1993) was at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In the fourteen years following their installation, 380 people leaped to their deaths from the landmark.

During a roadside chat—or call it a bridge-side chat—with a long-time Taoseño, he commented about the locals referring to the bridge as the “bridge to nowhere,” because while it was being built funding did not even exist to continue Highway 64 on the other side of the gorge. But by the time the bridge was dedicated in 1965, not only had funding been approved, but also US Route 64 was in operation as a major east-west highway.

After you walk the bridge and/or hike the state park area along the gorge, take a beverage break and enjoy the stunning views.


Sharing is caring!

A Southwest Glossary: Geographical Terms—Río Grande

Rio Grande Valley

Rio Grande Valley
The Rio Grande Valley has been inhabited at least since the Archaic period, as shown by petroglyphs on exposed rock surfaces and the remains of stone tools quarried in the mountains. San Antonio Mountain was a significant source of dacite (an igneous, volcanic rock) for tools. In historic times the Jicarilla Apache and Ute Indians, as well as the peoples of Taos Pueblo and Picuris Pueblo, have inhabited the area.

Rio Grande River

Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande River begins at the base of Canby Mountain in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. The rugged and high San Juan range is in the Rocky Mountains and is the largest, in terms of area, in Colorado. The mountain’s elevation 13,478 feet, and it sits on the Continental Divide. Water to the north and west of Canby drains to the Pacific Ocean, while water to the south and east finds its way to the Atlantic Ocean. From the base of Canby Mountain, the Rio Grande River flows 1,900 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. For more than 1,000 miles, the river serves as the international boundary between the United States and Mexico. It also defines the southern boundary of Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas. The 118 miles of twisting waterway travels southeasterly, then abruptly changes courses to the northeast, forming the “big bend” of the Rio Grande. As it flows southward, its waters are diverted for flood control, irrigation, power generation, municipal uses, and recreation. By the time the river leaves El Paso, so much water has been diverted that the riverbed between El Paso and Presidio, Texas, often lies dry.

Rio Grande Rift

Rio Grande Rift
The Rio Grande Rift is an area of approximately 160,000 square miles that extends from central Colorado to Big Bend National Park. Part of this rift system is the Rio Grande Gorge, through which the river flows, and on the high mesa above the river is Taos Plateau, a rift valley, defined as a crack in the earth’s crust forged by faulting and other volcanic movement.

Rio Grande RiftOne of the best spots to view the Rio Grande Rift is a pullout called the Taos Valley Overlook located on Highway 68, the main road into Taos. The pullout has spectacular views of the Taos Plateau and is especially stunning in winter when the mesa is blanketed in white. In the distance you can see the Rio Grande Gorge, a wide black chasm slicing through a landscape of winter white. On a clear day, to the north, you can see San Antonio Mountain, and beyond, Colorado. To the east lies the majestic Sangre de Cristo Range, and to the southwest the Picuris Mountains. But for me, the most splendid sight on the horizon is Pueblo Peak (Taos Mountain).

In winter, the mountain is spectacular, its snow-covered peaks tinged a reddish hue at sunrise and at sunset, stunning in alpenglow. The Taos Valley Overlook is located approximately eight miles south of the Ranchos de Taos Post Office on the western side of Highway 68 between mile markers 35 and 36.

Rio Grande Gorge and the Gorge Bridge

Rio Grande Gorge
The Rio Grande Gorge is a 1,300-foot-wide tectonic chasm in an otherwise flat, empty tableland in northern New Mexico. Here, the river flows through the Taos Plateau. Located ten miles west of Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge is the only major rift across an otherwise flat expanse of land between the Carson National Forest and the Sangre de Cristo Range.


Sharing is caring!

Follow by Email