Hidden magic of Taos: Labyrinths, petroglyphs and waterfalls



Labyrinth on the mesa

Labyrinths are found all over the world throughout time. They have been used as a form of pilgrimage or meditation and as a search for balance and wholeness. Taos has its share of labyrinths dedicated to personal and world peace.

A small spiral labyrinth can be found on the West Rim Trail. The trail begins at the rest area just west of the Río Grande Gorge Bridge. A walk of a mile over gently rolling, sage-covered terrain will bring you to the spiral of purposely placed rocks. Head south on the trail. When you see the bench at the overlook to your left at about half a mile in, stay to the right and walk another half mile. On the top of a ridge, you will see the spiral marked by prayer flags on a wooden post.

Other attractions here include views into the Río Grande Gorge and a possible sighting of big horn sheep near its edge. Although they are not often seen, rattlesnakes are found here, so use care especially when stepping off the trail. It is best to keep dogs leashed to ensure their safety and that of wildlife. This is a lower elevation trail, located at about 7,000 feet. It is a good place to begin your hiking adventures in Taos. During the summer months, it can be hot here, so plan to go in the morning, evening or on a cooler day.

For further exploration: Many labyrinths are on public and private land in Taos. How many can you find? Be sure to research ahead of time and ask for permission if the labyrinth is on private land.

Petroglyphs from the past

Rock art is found all along the Río Grande. Some of these petroglyphs are marked by informational signs while others remain hidden and can be found only on a guided hike or sometimes by accident.

The Picuris Trail is a short, steep path beginning near the Taos Junction Bridge and ending on the mesa above the Río Grande. After a few rock steps, there are a series of switchbacks climbing up through the sage, pinon, juniper and cholla cactus. A few segments of the trail require some scrambling over the basalt rocks. At the top of the mesa, Picuris meets up with the network of trails in the Rift Valley system.

This trail is named for the Native peoples who used this path in the past. Merrill Dicks, an archeologist with the Bureau of Land Management, says many rock symbols can be found here, indicating that it is a very old trail and that the Taos Junction area has long been an important crossing point.

Look for a rock carving near the trail with long vertical lines. Although the meaning of these symbols is not known for certain, such lines are thought to represent rain or water. Protect these symbols for the future by not climbing on or touching them.

The trail is a bit under 1.5 miles round trip and gains about 700 feet in elevation. Big horn sheep are sometimes seen here along with coyote, cottontail rabbit, elk and deer. A fee of $3 can be paid at the parking lot near the bridge.

For more adventure: Hike north from the Taos Junction Bridge and find the confluence of the Río Pueblo and Río Grande where they come crashing together.

Gavilan Falls

Along the rivers and streams of the Taos Ski Valley area, big drops in elevation create spectacular waterfalls. Some are well-known, like the one located near the Phoenix Grill. Others are hidden and can be found just off the trail if you know where to look.

One hidden waterfall is located near Gavilan Trail. Find the trailhead near mile marker 13 on the Ski Valley Road (State Road 150). The hike begins at 9,200 feet and climbs gradually until it reaches the crossing of West Gavilan Creek about 20 minutes into the hike. After this point, the trail steepens and climbs up away from the creek. A profusion of wild flowers grow along the trail, including pink wild geraniums, purple fireweed and the scarlet gilia fairy trumpet.

Climb up another 20 minutes, following the switchbacks. Look to the left to catch a glimpse of a wooden sign that says: Gavilan Falls a quarter mile. A short walk brings you to an overlook where you can get a glimpse of the falls. Use caution as the trail soon becomes narrow and unstable. The sign was posted by adventurer Doug Scott. Find his books on New Mexico waterfalls at local bookstores.

In the summer months, watch for frequent afternoon thunderstorms. The hike to the ridge is a moderately difficult hike at high altitude. If you are new to town, allow a few days to become acclimated to the altitude and begin by doing some of the lower elevation trails along the ski valley road, including Yerba and Manzanita.

For more exploring: Gavilan Trail continues to climb for a total of 2.5 miles until it reaches Lobo Ridge at 11,800 feet. Head up the ridge a short distance for spectacular views to the north.

Cindy Brown is the hiking columnist for The Taos News and the author of the “Taos Hiking Guide.”

More information:

When setting out on a new hike, be sure to pick up a map and get some local advice. Visit outfitters such as Mudd N Flood and Taos Mountain Outfitters on Taos Plaza and the Boot Doctors at 226 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Local bookstores and other retailers carry guide books, including Cindy Brown’s book “Taos Hiking Guide.”

The Carson National Forest and Bureau of Land Management have offices on Cruz Alta Road and also provide trail information on their websites. Many of the trailheads have maps posted, and some of them have maps you can carry with you.

Contact information:

Carson National Forest office, 208 Cruz Alta Road, (575) 758-6200

Bureau of Land Management office, 226 Cruz Alta Road, (575) 758-8851


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