New Mexico has always been the forgotten state in my mind, like an elusive barren desert, infrequently traveled. I had no idea what the state truly resembled but I started to hear about it during the summer from friends who liked the outdoors. My curiosity grew strong when I read that Taos was one of the best ski resorts in the United States.
We originally were planning Christmas with my family in the Pacific Northwest, but tickets were prohibitively expensive during the holiday weekend. Last winter we had spent a week in the Methow Valley of Washington and decided we wanted to be back in the snow. I knew this holiday would feel empty with the loss of my dad so I had to orient myself in a place where my heart would be happy - high in the mountains.
Justin and I had recently picked up uphill skiing, and there were only a handful of areas within driving distance that allowed the sport. Colorado has best adopted uphill skiing and some resorts in the state allow all-day uphill. Along with a few other ski towns we researched, everything was unfortunately expensive and crowded. Eventually, all signs pointed to Taos and we committed to spending Christmas in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in northern New Mexico.
Taos is an 8 hour drive from Phoenix, which may sound like a hefty trek to most people, but for Justin and I this was not intimidating in the slightest because we are regular weekend nomads. We also broke up the trip by spending the first night in Albuquerque with a good friend from Alaska. It was great to kick start our trip with an old friend and reminisce about our days living in a tent together in the last frontier.
In the morning we did a shakeout run before hitting the road to Taos. Our friend's place was in the foothills of the Sandia Mountain Wilderness, and as you can see in the pictures above, it was a stunning landscape.
We rented a small studio cabin in the heart of Taos, which supplied the right amount of amenities - big comfortable bed, sitting area, kitchenette, and full bath. There was even a small lighted Christmas tree in the room to keep things festive. The hot tub just outside was our savior to our sore shoulders and legs after being on the mountain all day.
Christmas Eve in Taos was not your average Christmas tree lighting. The Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits just outside of town and looks like a mystical movie set from a hundred years ago and has the uncanny resemblance of Ait Bendahou in Morocco. The Christmas yuletide festival unfolds by arriving to the Pueblo with a couple hundred other people and walking through the humble shops to see the local art while sipping hot cider. The Pueblo is scattered with towers of firewood, some of them 30 feet high, which are set ablaze when the sun goes down. Everyone huddles around the flames to keep warm and watch the parade of dancing natives who circle the pueblo while carrying the Virgin Mary.
Skiing on Christmas was the best day of the season to hit the slopes. We didn't wait in line once all day and there were plenty of empty runs, which we were grateful for as rookie downhill skiers. The snow was dumping all day which kept the runs nice and powdery.
Justin and I have been lifetime snowboarders. I started boarding when I was 10 years old and hit the mountain every winter on the local ski bus through college. I don't have much finesse on skis, which had me blurting out a couple times "We would be so much better on this run if we had our snowboards!" But it's a new era and we are committed to skiing; a more versatile sport that is better suited for going uphill. Thankfully El Niño will offer a long season to help us refine our downhill skills.
Justin led the way the whole day and was much more coordinated than I was. After a long day on the mountain we spent happy hour in the hot tub before going out for Christmas dinner tamales at El Meze.
Nordic skiing is my kinda jam. Weaving through the snow-shangled forest and touring the lowland is always a magical experience. Nordic skiing is one hell of a workout (especially at 9,000ft!), which is maybe a reason the masses don't flock to the sport. After all, we only saw one other skier the whole time on the trail system!
The Enchanted Forest Ski area is about 45 minutes from Taos and worth the beautiful drive. The bighorn sheep were a nice roadside greeting on our way to the trails.
I'll let the pictures do the talking. I'm still dreaming about gliding through the winter wonderland of northern New Mexico. There were yurts along the trail where we stopped to warm up by the fire and refill our water. What is there not to love about Nordic skiing?
One our way back to town we stopped at the Overland Sheepskin Company. This shop has got it all if you're looking for hand-crafted leather goods in New Mexico. Justin and I went straight to the slipper section to warm our toes.
Lets talk about burritos - the real reason Justin and I came to New Mexico. I continuously searched for the best burrito spots in town, and generally they were all good, until our friend told us about Orlando's. This local dig is seriously spilling with southwest charm. We got to the restaurant 15 minutes after they opened and there was already a wait (thankfully a short one). Everyone wants to eat at Orlando's so the restaurant has a small hut with a fire just outside to stay warm and gaze at the stars while you anxiously await your burrito. If you end up going here make sure to end your feast with the frozen avocado pie.
The last morning we set out to run on the trails closer to town. Talk about a slog through the snow! My lungs were burning from the altitude and my quads were banged up from skiing, but the run was still beautiful. You can see below that there practically wasn't a trail at times, so our run was more like rudimentary snow-shoeing.
Taos is a special place, and I hope it stays that way. It's on my list for the summer because I know the trails are well suited for running and mountain biking. New Mexico is a real gem, especially during the winter months.
Justin and I are packing up the Subaru for Christmas and heading to the mountains of New Mexico! It will be our first time in New Mexico and I've heard so many great things. It's a bit of a haul from Phoenix (8.5 hours) so we are breaking up the trip by spending the first night in Albuquerque with a good friend we previously worked with in Alaska back when we were field biologists.
A long road trip calls for a few essentials that I've compiled below. Of course we are bringing much more than these items, like our skis (duh) but these highlighted items are things I felt worth mentioning because they add a nice touch of comfort to a long weekend in the snow.
1. Numi Roobois Chai Tea: I'm a total tea snob. When it's cold outside and the fire is burning I like to curl up with a good chai in hand. Also, we always pack our trusted Stanley Thermos whenever we Nordic ski and it will likely be brewing this tea.
2. Salomon Ivy Beanie: I usually have issues with headwear because my ears are hypersensitive to pressure (I'm weird) and I love the flexibility and comfort of this hat. The pom pom on top is also interchangeable if you want to tone down the foofy-ness.
3. Dermatome Lip Balm: I discovered this magical lip balm last winter when Justin and I were Nordic skiing in the Methow Valley - the country's capital for Nordic skiing. We were staying at a family's cabin who were lifelong Nordic skiers and I saw this lip balm on the bathroom counter. I knew that if they were using Dermatome then it was the real deal.
4. Craft Active Extreme Long Sleeve: Before you judge the price tag let me spill the specs of this amazing base layer. It is extremely light to the point I could wear it during an Arizona summer. Once you start moving it keeps you warm through Hexa channeled fibers - I don't know what that is, but I do know I don't get cold when I'm skiing in weather close to zero degrees if I have this on. I have also had my Craft long sleeve for almost two years now and it has never pilled.
5. Sorel Joan of Arctic Knit Boot: I learned the hard way that wearing crappy boots in cold weather is very unpleasant. Last winter Justin and I hiked into a cabin through the snow on New Year's Eve and my toes almost fell off because I was wearing Hunter rain boots with wool socks. It was a rookie move, but it forced me to bite the bullet and buy nice boots. I'm glad I got these boots last season because I'm not really a fan of the color choices this year. I'll be wearing this boot while snowshoeing or wandering through town après ski.
6. SmartWool PhD Mountaineer Sock: On the topic of rookie moves, Justin and I skied uphill at Humphrey's last weekend and my socks weren't high enough of for my boots so my shins got chaffed. These socks have thankfully solved that problem.
7. L.L. Bean Sheepskin Moccasins: It's not a proper Christmas morning unless you are huddled by the tree in pajamas and a warm pair of slippers. L.L. Bean is a classic brand with the best quality.
8. Zella Leggings: This brand is mainstream at this point, but if you haven't heard of Zella I'm enlightening you right now. These are the first pair of leggings I have owned that aren't see-through when I bend over. Doesn't everyone live in leggings while traveling? Might as well maximize comfort on the road.
9. All the Light We Cannot See: It is a luxury to be leisure reading at the moment after being buried in textbooks all semester. I'll be reading myself to sleep in the evening with this award winning book.
10. Christmas Tunes, The Big 80's: I mean, it's a long drive to Taos. The 80's are irresistible and this album is going to get us pumped up to be in the mountains.
11. Gin Gins: My go-to for a motion sickness curative and candy in one bite.
Hope everyone has a happy holiday and I'll be back to share our adventures in Taos!
This seems to be my go-to trail in Sedona. I'm not sure why, as the first time Justin and I were on this trail Justin barely stepped on a fat Mojave green rattlesnake, which reared up and hissed at him and sent us flying down the trail. The second time I ran this trail I did not pack according the the weather (pushing high 90s) and ran out of water, making the experience miserable the last half hour to the car.
The Sedona trail system is vast and wherever you choose to go will not disappoint. This trail doesn't have a crazy amount of elevation gain; it's an easy path to wander while enjoying the scenery. This particular trail system is also easy to figure out with maps at each junction. Our starting point was also close to town, which was convenient for me since I always hang out at a cafe while Justin tacks on an extra couple hours to his runs.
I started at Midgley Bridge which has a nominal parking fee. I then ran up the Jim Thompson trail which connected me to the Brin's Mesa trail. The Jim Thompson trail has a small climb, and afterward the trail comes back down and is nicely shaded until you reach Jordan Road which is where you will find Brin's Mesa about 3 miles from the bridge. The trail is rocky (but run-able) so watch your footing. The views from Brin's Mesa are stunning with dramatic red rock formations as you can see in the pictures. Once on Brin's Mesa trail there is a short climb of about 600ft over 1.5 miles. I continued over the hill and ran through what felt like a meadow on the top of the trail and then back into a shaded area that felt canyon-ish. It was 14 miles round trip which made for a decent long run with ~1500 feet of elevation gain. If you are a traditional road runner breaking into the trails then this is a good route to start on. I also saw a family of javelinas on Brin's Mesa trail which was a huge highlight for me! There were about 10 javelinas total - a rare sighting during the day as they are nocturnal and generally avoid people.
A nice thing about this run is that there are bathrooms at Midgley Bridge and Jordan Road - but no water, so plan accordingly. When I finished my run I hung out by the river under Midgley Bridge and then drove into town to sit on the patio under the red rocks at Canyon Breeze. The town of Sedona is small, but hopefully you will go there to explore the trails rather than the shops!
Jim Thompson Trail: Connect at Midgely Bridge
Brin's Mesa Trail: Connect at Jordan Road
Total distance: 14 miles
Total elevation gain: 1500 ft
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.