Fall foliage near Taos. Courtesy/newmexico.org
TAOS — Known for its vibrant culture and rich history, Taos and the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway have earned their positions among leaf peepers and national media alike as being one of the top locations in the United States to see an impressive fall landscape dotted with a palette of warm reds, oranges and gold foliage.
In the past month alone, Taos and the Enchanted Circle have topped several “best fall trip” lists in the country including in: Huffington Post (“10 Best Fall Foliage Trips In The U.S.”), National Geographic (“10 Best Fall Trips in World”), Los Angeles Times (“New Mexico’s Enchanted Byway Brings Fall Foliage Viewing Full Circle”) and USA Today (“10 Best: Places to see fall colors”), to name a few.
According to Forest Service officials from the Carson National Forest, which encompasses Taos County, elevations above 8,500 are beginning to peak and will reach their height by the first week of October. In the Carson National Forest, several hiking spots allow for prime leaf peeping while hiking. They include: Middle Fork Trail 24 (25 miles south of Taos on N.M. 518 in Peñasco); Devisadero Trail, once used by the Taos Pueblo Indians standing guard against raiding Apaches (three miles east of Taos along US 64); and Williams Lake Trail (near Taos Ski Valley).
Taos sits at an elevation of just under 7,000 feet, while villages along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway range in elevation from 7,392 in Questa to 8,650 feet in Red River.
The 85-mile Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway Loop can take anywhere from 2.5 hours to half a day, depending on stops. The highest peak in New Mexico, Wheeler Peak at 13,167 ft., is visible along the route, or can become a diversion along the route through the scenic Taos Ski Valley.
The Byway loop begins in the original art colony of Taos and meanders through the Hondo Valley where famous author D.H. Lawrence once lived. The D.H. Lawrence Ranch was recently reopened to the public through the end of October. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Leaf peepers will notice Wheeler Peak along the windy road to Questa, which is just half an hour north of Taos. The “Wild Rivers” area is where the Red River behind the town joins the Rio Grande in its deep and dramatic gorge. From Questa, the steep ascent into Red River is unusually scenic, offering stirring vistas of spruce and aspen.
Eagle Nest, just south of Red River, has a beautiful 2,400 acre lake stocked with trout and kokanee salmon and a chance to see wildlife such as elk, deer, bear and eagles. The drive culminates with a stop at Angel Fire where the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park stands. Built by one family as a shrine to their fallen son, the site is one of unusual emotion and presence. The drive returns to Taos along Hwy 64.
Expect to see aspens changing to a vibrant gold along the drive in addition to Gambel Oak, which transforms into a rusty red hue in fall. Golden cottonwoods along the Rio Grande River should also be visible in Taos. Alternate directions (east to west) along the Enchanted Circle from Taos are: turn east on N.M. 585 (Paseo del Cañon), which dead ends at US 64, turn right. US 64 continues to Angel Fire and Eagle Nest. From Eagle Nest, turn north on N.M. 38 to Red River and into Questa. In Questa, turn south (left) on N.M. 522, which returns to Taos.
Another option for visitors seeking an eye-full is the “High Road,” which totals more than 100 miles roundtrip, but offers awe-inspiring scenery and remote mountain villages that cling to their Spanish colonial roots.
Along with a multi-hued feast for the eyes, Taos has many colorful cultural offerings in late September and early October including the 40th annual Fall Arts Festival and Taos Wool Festival, to name a few.
The oldest art festival in Taos – Taos Fall Arts Festival – features nine days of art events including The Paseo on Sept. 26, which will feature outdoor art installations, performances, and visual projections. Taos Selects, Distinguished Achievement Awards, Memorial Wall, Pecha Kucha Night and many more special events are intertwined within this amazing festival, which takes place Sept. 26-Oct. 5. Visit taosfallarts.com for details.
One of Taos’ signature events – the 31st Wool Festival at Taos – will be held on Oct. 4 and 5 and includes juried fiber arts creations; critters corner with live animals; demonstrations; silent auction; kid’s hands on section; contests; food vendors and more. Visit taoswoolfestival.org to learn more about the free event.
For complete information about Taos including more about the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway drive, visit taos.org.