The snow has come to Santa Fe, and we are delighted!
Fresh Snow Beckons!
Ski Santa Fe opened on November 27th, a little later than the hoped-for, but with real snow, no one is complaining. As of today, 30% of the ski area is open, with a 20″ base, and driving conditions up to the ski area are fine. Currently, the price of lift tickets has been lowered, but of course, that can and probably will change, as more terrain is available to ski.
Adult All Day: $95 and Adult All Day w/Peak Plus Card: $30
Teen All Day: $75 and Teen All Day w/Peak Plus Card: $25
Child All Day: $65 and Child All Day w/Peak Plus Card: $20
Senior All Day: $75 and Senior All Day w/Peak Plus Card: $20
Active Duty Military All Day: $78
Half-Day: $75 Beginner Lift Only: $42
And there’s a webcam too, if you want to see the mountain first!
In terms of rental equipment, you can stop on Hyde Park Road on the way to the ski basin and check out Cottam’s. In town, Alpine Sports is conveniently located at 541 Cordova Road. And Ski Tech Santa Fe is an easy in and out on St. Francis Drive, just north of Cerrillos Road.
Snow Makes a Sunset Dramatic!
Skiers with a yen for more dramatic conditions can head to Taos Ski Valley, about 2 hours north of Santa Fe, and rentals are available right there. Taos is open to the top of the mountain, with a base of 18″. And if your ski vacation is planned for after the new year, think about timing your visit so that you can enjoy the Taos Winter Wine Festival!
Cuddle Up by a Kiva Fireplace
A Gray Jay enjoying the view from Raven’s Ridge
The other weekend, I just had to get out for some exercise. Since my thoughts lately have been occupied planning some hikes up in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado next summer, I decided to head up to Ski Santa Fe and get a good workout on Raven’s Ridge. Raven’s Ridge is the spur of the Santa Fe Range that divides the Tesuque watershed from the headwaters of Nambe Creek. It is the northern boundary of the Aspen Basin, which we enjoy seeing from Santa Fe nearly every day.
I put on my layers, made a thermos of my favorite tea – Formosa Oolong No. 8 from Adagio Teas, grabbed a breakfast burrito from La Montanita Co-op, and headed up the mountain.
On a clear and sunny day, the ordinarily somber spruce forests above 10,000 feet in elevation glow with an inner light. Fragrant and refreshing, they always remind me of Christmas and the holidays.
Looking up into towering Englemann Spruce on the Winsor Trail
There simply isn’t anything nicer than walking through these snow forests on a calm and sunny late morning, taking in the pure air and radiant light.
Packed snow on the Winsor Trail above Ski Santa Fe
The section of the Winsor Trail from the parking area of Ski Santa Fe up to the saddle on Raven’s Ridge is always a bit of a test – sort of the dues you have to pay to gain entrance to the Nambe Creek watershed and the peaks beyond. You gain over 800 feet in less than a mile, and since the trailhead is already at 10,200 feet elevation, you generally have to make some stops to catch your breath. I was huffing and puffing like a steam locomotive on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.
Soon enough, the trail levels out, and you reach the saddle on the flank of Aspen Peak, which marks the boundary of the vast and beautiful Pecos Wilderness.
The sign at the entrance to the Pecos Wilderness along the Winsor Trail
It’s at this gateway that you leave the Winsor Trail and turn right to follow the fence line along an informal trail that follows Raven’s Ridge through the trees. The climb is a little gentler than the switchbacks of the Winsor Trail, but there are a few more places where you’ll have to pause for breath. And there are no views to speak of – until you reach 11,200 feet and the tie-off point of the fence.
The headwaters of Nambe Creek from Raven’s Ridge
Perched on ancient gneiss above the glacial canyon that holds Nambe Lake, you’ll feel like you’re soaring in a glorious Rocky Mountain High. To your right is Lake Peak, a mountain horn that carries Ski Santa Fe on its west flank and the headwaters of the Santa Fe River on its south.
By the way, if you are in the mood for some real adventure, my friend Mar’ Himmerich of Celestial Guides (email@example.com) will be happy to take you skiing up there.
To your left is the bold massif of Santa Fe Baldy, the highest peak near Santa Fe.
Santa Fe Baldy 12,622 feet high
Below you is a vertigo-inducing drop with more diagonals and verticals than a vintage Italian travel poster.
It’s a perfect place to stop for a well-deserved break. And as often happens up here in the alpine realm, with a soft fluttering, a flash of grey, and maybe a gentle whistle, you might have guests for tea.
Care to share that Clif Bar with me?
This is the Grey Jay, or Whiskey-Jack, the notorious camp robber who will eat out of your hand (or snatch food from it while you’re not looking). A pair of these birds kept an eye on me the entire time I ate my snack.
After a blissful time taking in the view and enjoying the sun on my face, I grabbed my daypack and headed back down the trail.
Ski Santa Fe, seen through spruce and aspen along the Winsor Trail
Soon enough, I was back in my car and cruising down NM 475 back to Santa Fe for a rendezvous with Starbucks. It was a Good Day. Come out and see us this winter, and have a good day of your own!
Somebody loves you in Santa Fe!
Aspen and light
As the days shorten and the temperature drops here in the Southern Rockies, fall colors begin to move into the mid-elevation canyons below the crest of the mountains. They spill down like trickles of bright paint toward the old Spanish villages and Pueblos that dot the broad and luminous valley of the Rio Grande. The great burst of yellow among the high forests of aspen and spruce fades as quickly as it flared. But further below, colors seem to concentrate and richen in the smaller groves and stream-side meadows, set off by the deep greens, rich olives, and waxy blues of the mixed-conifer forest.
Ponderosa. “Of all western pines this one seems to the beholder most full of light”
The aspen will follow you halfway down the mountain, clinging to the cooler drainages and forming a golden canopy of light far over your head as it becomes their turn to shine.
Aspen high above the Bear Wallow Trail
But now, a new palette of color emerges. The scrubby Gambel Oak sheds its dour summer colors and dons the most surprising warm copper, persimmon, and deep red wardrobe.
A tangle of Gambel Oak
Wild currants throw off all restraint.
This dogwood relative goes deep into the red end of the spectrum,
While the Cliffbush simply can’t make up its mind.
Strawberries display a bipolar nature you would never suspect.
While their proud and thorny relative, the wild rose, takes on an elegant, conservative dress.
The lovely Rocky Mountain Maple glows in a pure chartreuse yellow.
Other shrubs experiment with warmer combinations of color, flaunting fashionable yellows.
These photographs were taken along the Bear Wallow Trail, about halfway up the road to Ski Santa Fe, just beyond Hyde Memorial State Park, 8 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza. The Borrego-Bear Wallow loop is a hike we frequently recommend to guests here at the Inn. While it is a beautiful walk any time of the year, it is simply exceptional right now.
Get outside and follow the light.
Of all the thousands of archaeological sites you can visit on a trip to the American Southwest, the remains of the Chacoan Great Houses, preserved in Chaco Culture National Historical Park – a three-hour drive west of Santa Fe – have to be the most remarkable. They fulfill your childhood fantasy of finding the lost cities of Montezuma. Instead of a few low walls of hewn stone coursing through dead grass, with an interpretive sign above – standard fare in our parts – these ruins tower three stories high and penetrate deep into the ground. The stonework is exquisite. There are mysterious T-shaped windows above and giant circular kivas as perfectly preserved as Pompeii below. Walls align north-south and east-west with absolute precision. Great houses align with other great houses throughout the canyon, and windows turn out to be astronomical observatories of subtle cunning, timing the solstices and equinoxes like a huge stone clock. Tying it all together is a network of laser-straight connecting roads, nearly lost with age, worthy of the Nazca Plains.
All of this is located in the middle of the most arid, silent, isolated region you can imagine.
I had a chance to make an overnight trip this past weekend and immediately thought of Chaco. Because of its distance from Santa Fe – or any other city where there is lodging – about the only way to explore Chaco Canyon properly is to camp there or bring in a motorhome. The 15 miles of washboard dirt road that guard this place against daytrippers must be taken into account.
This means autumn is the perfect time to make the trip. You would not want to be on this road during a summer downpour! On the other hand, as isolated as it is up on the Colorado Plateau, not far from the Continental Divide, temperatures drop like a rock out here at nightfall, and the winter weather is viciously cold. Even spring camping will require preparations against the cold. Chaco still guards its secrets, one way or another. But what a place!
The stonework here is unmatched in North America. One fact that amazes every first-time visitor is this: all of this exquisite work – and there must be thousands upon thousands of square feet of it – was initially plastered over with smoothed mud and hidden from sight! From hints found deeper in the ruins, much of it might have been painted, as well, most likely the interiors.
The park runs a fantastic program of guided walks and night sky explorations. We took the 4:00 walk through the ruins of Chetro Ketl with Ranger G.B. Cornucopia, a 23-year veteran of service in the park and an astronomer, to boot. I cannot recommend these interpretive walks highly enough. Your visit to the park will be immensely enriched by the knowledge and information of the rangers.
Chaco Culture raises so many questions and attracts a bewildering array of theories and speculations, some of which shade off into the simply bizarre. People lived here and worked on these structures for over 300 years, in a very bleak place, with clear evidence of long-term planning and monumental vision. Pueblo Bonito was the tallest dwelling in North America until the 19th Century! And yet, they left very little evidence of themselves. They had no written language. Their descendants still live with us here in New Mexico and Arizona, but the stories retained by these people do not agree on the significance of Chaco. They only agree that it was significant.
Chaco Canyon is ground zero for the study of archaeoastronomy. So it makes perfect sense that the park would offer a program of night sky viewing. Even today, this isolated place is one of the darker places in the United States. An amateur astronomer donated a 27-inch telescope and observatory to the park. On a couple of evenings each week, G.B. gives a slide presentation on the more cosmic aspects of Chaco Culture and then opens up the scope for some deep-sky stargazing. The program starts at 8:00 p.m., and when the last slide faded, the Milky Way was glowing over the mesas, Jupiter was rising in the east, and shooting stars brought gasps from the audience. Other enthusiasts had brought their telescopes, and so we were regaled with views of Messier Objects, nebulae, and the moons of Jupiter.
Chaco Canyon offers plenty of back-country walks to the ruins of Great Houses that have not been touched at all. If you want to recreate the experience of coming upon one of these remarkable places as the Spanish must have, you should make time for one of these hikes. Here we are coming upon Tsin Kletsin high on South Mesa, standing hauntingly in its own debris.
Of course, we had to climb this to get there. The road in Chaco Canyon itself forms a paved loop. Once you’ve braved the bumpy drive into the park, you can explore many of the Great Houses on your own, taking advantage of the interpretive booklets that are available at the entrances to the sites. This allows you to explore many sites without too much walking. The ability to spend the night at Chaco will significantly enhance your visit. Here’s the morning view from our tent at Gallo Campground.
If you can find any way of visiting this remarkable place, I urge you to make the effort. Many companies that offer tours of the American Southwest include Chaco Culture National Historical Park on their trip calendars. Some of them even stay at Inn on the Alameda when in Santa Fe. If you are doing an auto tour of the Four Corners, you can visit on the Santa Fe – Albuquerque – Durango leg of your drive without taking too much time out of your day. And if you are staying in Santa Fe and would like to arrange for a trip and a guide, please consider Great Southwest Adventures.
Be sure to bring plenty of water. There’s a clean-up crew waiting for you if you forget.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is approximately 180 miles west of Santa Fe. The most straightforward way to get there is to take I-25 south from Santa Fe to its intersection with State Highway 550 at Bernalillo, where you will turn right, following the signs for Cuba and Farmington. 550 is a good 4-lane road that skirts the Jemez Mountains to the south and cuts through the little town of Cuba before turning northwestward toward Bloomfield, Farmington, and the Colorado border. Approximately 50 miles from Cuba, near mile marker 112, you will see signs for the park on the left. This is county road 7900, which will later intersect county road 7950 to bring you into the canyon. The intersections are clearly signed.
Please be aware that it is a 23-mile drive from 550 into the park and that the last 15 miles of this drive are on a graded dirt road that could become impassable in wet weather. Even in dry weather, the road may be washboard, and you will not be able to make the drive very quickly. The roads in the park are one-way and paved.
The park charges an entrance fee of $25 per vehicle, good for seven days. If you choose to camp, there is a $20 nightly fee, payable at a self-serve station at the entrance to Gallo Campground (although the camp host graciously helped us in person). Camping is on a first-come, first-serve basis, and since the sites are limited, this can be a frustrating issue on popular weekends. There are restrooms at the campground, but there is no potable water and no facilities for washing oneself or dishes. There is a faucet with drinking water at the Visitor’s Center.
Chaco is a haunting place. Be prepared for some unusual experiences while you are there.