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TWO SCENIC SONG-WORTHY DRIVES IN NEW MEXICO

By Jane Cassie

The best way to check out New Mexico's treasures is by getting off the beaten path, onto roads less traveled. Here are two tune-worthy trips.

You take the Low Road and I'll Take the High Road

Our drive begins on a plateau of wide open space and big sky. Jagged million-year-old monoliths jut up from the desert floor like native arrowheads. Snow-tipped 3,962 meters (13,000 feet) high Sangre de Cristo peaks frame the backdrop. And the sun illuminates the windswept mesa like a painter's palette -purely magical!

After veering onto highway 503, we ascend to greater heights; navigating turns, hairpins and arroyo-etched hillsides. Historical townships, reflecting the Spanish heritage, are sprinkled along the way.

We stop at the Santuario de Chimayo, a quaint country chapel on the outskirts of Chimayo (Shim-i-o) where people come for the healing powers of its sacristy soil. Unfortunately a service is in session when we arrive so, instead, we seek out some retail therapy at a few of the nearby galleries.

Heading north onto Highway 518, we bisect the artsy hamlet of Cordova and climb to the ridge top town of Truchas. Rio Grande vistas are provided from its 2,454 meters (8,051 feet) perch and we can see why Robert Redford chose this picturesque setting for his film, The Milagro Bean Field War.

We weave in and out of pine-clad Carson National Forest and get glimpses of the distant Rockies. Las Trampas, home to the 1700's colonial-style San José de Gracia Church is the next drive by and a short detour later is Picuris, a modern day pueblo known for its mica-flecked pottery.

At Peñasco we take route 518 and just south of Taos is Ranchos de Taos and the famous 18th-century San Francisco de Asis Church. As well as being one of the most painted buildings in the world, this sanctuary was the inspiration of Georgia O'Keeffe, New Mexico's iconic artist.
Distance from Espanola: 93.3 KM / 58 miles
Driving Time: 2 hours

We'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain When We come

We put this song to the test while driving the Enchanted Circle, a loop that rings Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico.

Signage throughout the state is pretty sketchy but on this scenic highway 64 there are a number of history markers and must-see memorials. In the lush Hondo Valley, we deek into the Kiowa Ranch where the ashes of British writer, DH Lawrence have been laid to rest, and near Angel Fire check out the monument commemorating the Vietnam Vets.

Culture is big in New Mexico, but in these parts, the outdoors is bigger. Funneling from Angel Fire's summit are ski runs that boast a 2,180 foot vertical drop. In summer, this resort becomes a magnet for golfers, hikers and mountain bikers. Fishing and windsurfing gurus head to the neighboring community of Eagle Nest Lake and snowmobiles trace the wind blown summit beyond, at Bobcat Pass.

Red River Resort is the next ski hill on our road romp. Silverado, Goldrush, and Lucky Strike are just a few runs that honor its gold mining past. Many plummet from peak to base, offering a ski-out escape. This year-round playground also offers summer action; ride the range, reel in a catch, hike the hills. We stop to saunter the laid-back streets checking out everything from western gear at The Knot Hole to souvenirs at the Pioneer Emporium.

Taos Ski Resort is the next, and the biggest of them all. After bisecting the artsy community of Arroyo Seco, we cleave through a narrow valley that snakes to its base. A hundred runs sweep over the powder terrain and thirteen lifts whisk gravity-defying borders to paradise. One even takes them to the thin air altitude of 12,000 ft.

More adventures can be found just north of Questa. We follow route 378 through the village of Cerro then enter the Wild River Recreation Area. An asphalt drive loops around a pancake-flat plateau. Campgrounds veer off this main artery and the sheer-sided Rio Grande Gorge pulsates at the hub. It's an eight hundred foot drop to the river below and in between is a profusion of plants, animals, and adventure. Instead of hiking the hills solo, we let a llama tote our load. Whether it's just a day trip or a three day walk in the wilderness, owner Stuart Wilde and his Wild Earth Llama Adventures provides an exciting experience.
Distance: 136 KM / 84 miles
Driving Time: 2-1/2 to 3 hours

New Mexico is certainly the Land of Enchantment. From wide open mesas to its Long And Winding Roads, the 121,000 square scenic miles (194,725 Km) will inspire, captivate and put a song in your heart.

IF YOU GO:

Where to stay:
Santa Fe Sage Inn
Phone: 866.433.0335
http://www.santafesageinn.com/

Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa
Toll free: (800) 419 0492
http://www.bishopslodge.com/

The Taos Inn
Phone: 575.758.2233
http://www.taosinn.com/ What to do:
Santa Fe Tourism
http://www.santafe.org/

New Mexico Tourism
http://www.newmexico.org/

PHOTOS:
1. Jagged monoliths jut up from the desert floor
2. Santuario de Chimayo
3. Year Round playground of Red River Resort
4. Popular Taos Ski Resort
5. A llama totes our load into the Rio Grande Gorge

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