ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With the stroke of President Barack Obama’s pen on Monday, 240,000 acres (or the equivalent of 375 square miles) from the Rio Grande Gorge near Pilar to Ute Mountain near the Colorado border, were designated a national monument.
“This means not only do we get to enjoy it,” said Jamie Tedesco, executive director of Taos Green Chamber of Commerce, “so will our children and grandchildren.”
Named the Rio Grande del Norte, the new monument was made so by a proclamation signed by the president under the federal Antiquities Act.
The area is home to some of the state’s most spectacular scenery and includes historical remnants ranging from petroglyphs to parts of El Camino Real. The Rio Grande Gorge, from its mouth near Pilar all the way to the Colorado border, is a wonder. Preserving the area’s heritage – from the ancient Utes to Spanish settlers and, later, homesteaders – also is in the monument’s management plan.
Outdoor recreation that ranges from hiking and biking to river-running, photo excursions and even herb-gathering have been enjoyed by locals and visitors alike for years. We asked some Taos locals who worked to make the monument a reality to share some of their favorite activities and spots:
<Basic_Paragraph>Our newest monument covers 375 square miles in northern N.M.
Sportsman organizer for New Mexico Wildlife Federation
Favorite activity in the area: Wildlife viewing on the plateau between Questa and the Colorado border. “The views of wintering elk are an amazing sight,” he said. Large herds of elk funnel into the area during the colder months. There also is “spectacular” birding in the area, as well as bighorn sheep that frequent the canyons closer to the Rio Grande Gorge, he said.
Getting there: Take NM 522 from Taos through Questa and toward Colorado. Three miles north of Questa, a smaller road branches off to the west through the village of Cerro and into open land.
Favorite time to go: You can see elk herds in the winter months; birding year-round.
More information: The NMWF website is nmwildlife.org.
Wild Earth Llama Adventures
Favorite activity in the area: “My favorite hike in the Rio Grande del Norte is the Big Arsenic/Little Arsenic Loop in the Rio Grande Gorge Wild Rivers recreation area near Questa,” he said. The trail switches back for a mile down to the Rio Grande with a trail that follows the river along the canyon bottom. “For a real treat, follow the trail all the way to La Junta,” he said.
Getting there: Take NM 68 north out of Taos for 7 miles, then take NM 522 to Questa; go 3 miles past the stoplight in Questa to NM 378. Then, turn left onto NM 378 and follow the signs.
Favorite time to go: Spring and fall.
More information: LlamaAdventures.com.
Pennie Herrera Wardlow
Favorite activity in the area: Camping, fishing and hiking in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area and rafting the Rio Grande from John Dunn Bridge to Pilar. “Enjoying the petroglyphs along the way, stopping for lunch at beach-like places, enjoying the beauty and solitude,” she said. “My long departed grandma’s sister (Tia Lila Prando) would tell stories of (Arthur) Manby from the Manby hot springs, now the John Dunn bridge.” Manby was a notorious con man whose decapitated body was found near the Taos Plaza in July 1929.
Getting there: Take NM 68 north from Taos, about 7 miles, then take NM 522 to Questa and proceed about 3 miles. Turn left onto NM 378 and follow the signs about 12 miles.
Favorite time to go: Anytime.
More information: Bureau of Land Management’s website at blm.gov and search for “wild rivers.”
Los Rios River Runners
Favorite activity in the area: Rafting the Taos Box. While this adventure is not for beginners and is probably best experienced with a reputable river guide, the Rio Grande through the Taos Box offers dramatic scenery and world-class rapids.
“From the inaccessible steep-walled canyon to the raging rapids, it’s an experience that is simply unmatched,” Guevara said. And he’s been running rivers for 46 years.
Getting there: Starts at John Dunn bridge 10 miles north of Taos near Arroyo Hondo and the takeout point is about 16 miles downstream at the Taos Junction Bridge.
Favorite time to go: “We don’t get to do the box every year,” as high water levels are needed, Guevara said. “We have it this year.” He said being able to raft the Rio Grande is “cake” and the Taos Box certainly is “icing.”
More information: On the web at losriosriverrunners.com.
Favorite activity in the area: Wildlife viewing and “taking in the scenery” in the Ute Mountain area. “There’s so much there, not only in the natural beauty … the wildlife and birds but also in the old, abandoned farming communities.
“The fabulous thing about this (National Monument) designation is that these spectacular places I call home will be preserved,” Smith said.
Getting there: Ute Mountain is 28 miles north of Taos near the Colorado border and can be accessed off NM 522. The turnoff is CR-B067/West Mascareñas Rd.
Favorite time to go: Year-round
More information: Smith offers photo tours and “safaris” in the Taos area year-round. His website is geraintsmith.com.