The history of Taos is written in symbols and rock forms on the land, and you can read that history if you know where to look.
A Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ranger is just the person to show you petroglyphs hidden from view and to teach you about the ancient shifting of the earth that created the rift valley of the Rio Grande.
This fall, the BLM is offering a series of guided hikes that take you into the lands of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument to learn about their stories, including geology, cultural history, wildlife and plants.
As temperatures cool, it is a perfect time to be out in the sun hiking near this great chasm that cuts through Taos Valley. Here are a few happening this month.
Guided hikes in October
La Vista Verde
One of the most popular trails in the Orilla Verde area of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, La Vista Verde is a mostly flat walk along a wide shelf between the rim of the Rio Grande and the river, southwest of Taos. On this trail, there are petroglyphs of both Native and Spanish peoples. There's also the opportunity to see bighorn sheep. “This hike is a nice introduction to the Rio Grande Gorge,” says Ranch Roch, BLM lower gorge manager. “It’s a great place to see wildlife and has our best rock art panel.”
Guided by ranger Aydin Gates, this hike will explore the geology and history of the area, along with views of petroglyphs from different eras.
Level of difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 6,400 feet, relatively flat
Miles round-trip: 2.5 miles
Date and time: Sunday (Oct. 17) at 9 a.m.
Duration: 2 hours
Directions: From Taos Plaza, go north 4 miles on Paseo del Pueblo to the intersection of US 64 and the Taos Ski Valley Road. Turn left at the traffic signal and drive west 7 miles to the Gorge Bridge. Shortly after the bridge, turn left on the West Rim Road and drive just over 8 miles to the stop sign. Go left toward Pilar. Follow the road as it turns to dirt and descend the switchbacks until you see La Vista Verde trailhead to the left. Meet ranger Aydin Gates at the trailhead.
The Hondo Canyon hike is a chance to go off-trail with Roch to learn about wildlife and cultural history. Bighorn sheep are often seen, along with a variety of bird life. “It is migratory season so we might see cranes overhead. Although it is too early for bald eagles, we may see other raptors,” says Roch. Lizards are often here and there may be signs of other wildlife, like deer, elk, black bear, and bobcat because this is a prominent wildlife corridor from the Picuris Mountains to the Rio Grande.
The hike follows old roadbeds, which may have been a wagon route to the canyon bottom. Roch will talk about travel in the area and cultural prehistory. At the bottom, there is a wash where staurolites (minerals whose crystals form a cross pattern) and fragments of garnets might be found in the sand.
This off-trail ramble requires participants to be in good physical condition to tackle climbing over the basalt boulders on the last half mile. Good shoes and good balance are needed. Before the hike, Roch will give an introduction and safety talk.
Level of difficulty: Difficult - challenging
Elevation: Drop of about 800 feet
Miles one way: 3 miles to the river; shuttle to the top
Date and time: Sunday, Oct. 24 at 9 a.m.
Duration: 3 hours
Directions: From Taos Plaza, drive 17 miles south on Paseo del Pueblo (becomes NM -68) to the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center (on the left). Shuttles will take participants to the start of the trail near the Taos Valley overlook.
West Rim Trail Mountain Bike Ride
At the end of the month, there will be an opportunity to explore the West Rim Trail by bicycle guided by ranger Chris Baca. “This route is our easiest trail for mountain biking as it is mostly flat. There are superb views of the Gorge and the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge,” says Roch. “Baca is an excellent rider and works with safety and responsible riding throughout the state.” In addition, the West Rim Trail offers opportunities to see wildlife.
Level of difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 6,000 feet
Miles: The trail runs 9 miles from north to south; but the ride will likely be shorter depending on the interest and experience of the participants.
Date and time: Saturday, October 30, 9 a.m.
Duration: 2 hours
Directions: From Taos Plaza go north on Paseo del Pueblo for 4 miles. Turn left at the intersection with US Highway 64 and go west 7 miles. Cross the bridge and turn left at the rest stop. Restrooms are available. Meet ranger Chris Baca at the trailhead. Bring your own mountain bike and plenty of water; helmets are required.