I recently spent the day in the Chama River Valley on a day-long adventure that took me to the Tierra Wools Spring Festival in the village of Los Ojos and then to Yellow Hills Ranch. I was part of a Yellow Hills Ranch Eco-Tour led by Deborah Stephens.
I joined a small group of fellow adventurers for the 1.5 hour drive, which landed us in Los Ojos just in time to watch a sheep shearing using hand clippers and traditional methods. We were also treated to weaving, spinning and hand dying demonstrations at Tierra Wools.
Los Ojos was founded around 1860.The 100-year-old weaving studio and showroom at Tierra Wools offers a look back at the time when the Rio Grande weaving tradition flourished in northern New Mexico.
Tierra Woods began as a weaving cooperative, using local wool, including the wool of the threatened Navajo-Churro breeds. The cooperative trained and hired local people and has helped to preserve the traditions of the Chama Valley. Tierra Wools has expanded to include a school to teach traditional weaving, dying and spinning.
Then it was on to Yellow Hills Ranch for a picnic and a visit with the 140 Monero mustangs who call it home. We were joined by Jeff Bernard who lives at the site.
The Monero Mustangs have been in the area for approximately 400 years, Stephens told us. The little mustangs are tough and smart and totally in tune with their environment. Evidence suggests they are the last descendants of the first horses brought to North America in 1598, she said.
The 5,000 acre Yellow Hills Ranch is their sanctuary. Monero Mustangs is a New Mexico non-profit corporation that manages the herd at Yellow Hills.
Yellow Hills Ranch is also home to herds of elk, deer, birds of many kinds and other wildlife. As we sat eating our lunch, a large herd of deer wandered down to take a drink at a nearby pond, while pairs of geese glided across its surface. The ranch is located next door to El Vado State Park and it’s a beautiful, pristine place.
“The goal is to build a sustainable community here,” Stephens said. “The land will remain agricultural. We’ll have space for wildlife and land for forest gardens as well as space for homes.”
The ranch will have “eco-cabins” for visitors soon, but for now, the conditions are primitive. “We’ll help people find the right place to stay if they want to stay overnight don’t want to rough it,” Stephens said. “Yellow Hills Tours can be almost anything a visitor can imagine. We are the only guides in the Chama area.”
Snowshoeing through herds of elk, trail rides, rafting the Rio Chama, bird watching, and fly fishing trips are just some of the adventures the company will arrange. They are working with the Cumbres-Toltec Railroad on a shorter, four-hour train ride that will be part of a day tour.
“We’ll work with what people want to do,” Stephens said.
Tour local cliff dwellings, visit Ghost Ranch, soak in a hot spring or just hang out with the mustangs at Yellow Hills Ranch. Bernard and Stephens know the area well and love showing it to people.
Stephens is no novice when it comes to getting people together to have fun. She founded Santa Fe Singles. Stephens has been going to the Yellow Hills Ranch for about six years and the eco- tours are an outgrown of her involvement with the Ranch. It’s a relatively new venture.
“People who come now will be the first to see this area,” Stephens said.