northern New Mexico
Taos is historic, artistic, colorful, charming and thus, a great base for exploring northern New Mexico. Heading east of town, US 64 rises into the forests of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Twenty winding miles later, the highway descends into a high mountain valley that looks more like the Great Plains, complete with some very entertaining prairie dog colonies. A short detour leads to Angel Fire, one of two ski resorts along this loop ride. Far from simply offering winter sports, Angle Fire buzzes with mountain bikers and golfers in summer. Back on US 64, the Enchanted Circle bends north. To the west, Wheeler Peak comes into view. At 13,159 feet, it’s New Mexico’s highest point and lies at the center of this circular drive. Reaching Eagles Nest, the scenic route leaves US 64, continuing north on NM 38. Then, it arcs west, climbing again into the Sangre de Cristos. At the base of the mountains is Red River, another outdoorsy resort town. NM 38 rolls onto Questa where another deviation is in order. Río Grande del Norte National Monument lies to the west. From Questa, it’s 15 miles to the Wild Rivers Visitors Center. NM 378 travels through a wide plain before paralleling an 800-foot-deep gorge. Over millions of years, the waters of the Río Grande cut through layers of volcanic basalt flows and ash to create this impressive canyon. There are several overlooks and while savoring the view, keep an eye out for bighorn sheep. Back on the Enchanted Circle, NM 522 curves south toward Taos. Soon it becomes US 64 again and at this intersection, it’s worth driving nine miles west to the Río Grande Gorge Bridge. After visiting the national monument, you might agree that this is perhaps the best view of the canyon. And as one of the highest spans in the U.S., the bridge is a marvel, too. Back at the NM 522/US 64 intersection, NM 150 is another worthwhile detour that heads east, directly into the Sangre de Cristos and Taos Ski Valley. Continuing south on US 64, it’s 360 degrees complete when pulling into Taos: Enchanted has come full Circle.
Maps & Time
Looping from Taos back to Taos, the Enchanted Circle is 85 miles and a two-hour drive. But the detours are the best part. Adding Angel Fire, the monument, bridge and Taos Ski Valley doubles the distance and time but that doesn’t factor in stops or lunch. So plan on a full day.
Best Time to Visit
Any season is enjoyable but winter means potentially dangerous road conditions.