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A New Mexico Landmark Day Trip

Captivating panoramas and unlimited and exciting recreational activities make the Enchanted Circle a favorite spot with many vacationers. Many have found that a variety of adventures await you along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.

With Angel Fire as your base, simply follow the signs as you enjoy the Enchanted Circle Scenic By-Way. This 84-mile trip will take you all the way around Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain at 13,161 feet. Driving time will be about 2 hours minimum, but we’re sure you’ll want to stop along the way to take a break and explore the local sights.

Drive north from the Village of Angel Fire to US Hwy 64 and turn right onto Hwy. 64. Your first stop is just a mile ahead on the left: the must-see Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park. This is the only State Park in the country dedicated to the Vietnam Veteran and the only New Mexico State Park that does not charge an entrance fee. The Memorial Chapel is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is an inspirational experience for everyone who enters. The Park’s brand new expanded Visitor Center officially opens Memorial Weekend 2010, but the Chapel, gardens and grounds are always open.

Follow US Hwy 64 along to Eagle Nest Lake State Park and check in at the state-of-the-art Visitor Center with interpretive exhibits and a spectacular view of the 2,400 acre lake. Next, travel into the town of Eagle Nest and visit the historic Laguna Vista Lodge and Saloon, originally one of northern New Mexico’s early bordellos. You’ll also want to visit the Gateway Museum’s exhibits of gold panning and early trains.

When you leave the town of Eagle Nest heading north on NM Hwy 38, drive 6 miles. On the left is the old gold mining town of Elizabethtown. Established in 1870 after gold was found in the Moreno Valley, this was the first incorporated town in New Mexico, with at least seven saloons and three dance halls.

Follow NM Hwy 38 north and ascend Bobcat Pass. Look back over your shoulder at Wheeler Peak and the majestic views. Your first glimpse of Red River is just around the corner. The town itself is steeped in history, so be sure to stop at the Red River Museum to learn about past and modern-day mining activities in the area.

Continue to follow NM Hwy 38 to the quaint village of Questa. You will pass the mine for mining the ore molybdenum, a steel-hardening agent and lubricant. Questa is an old Hispanic village with many artists with regional flavor. From here you’ll head south on NM Hwy 522. Just south of Questa is the Red River Fish Hatchery on the right-hand side of the road. This is an interesting short side trip to see where all the trout come from that are stocked in many of the waterways of northern New Mexico.

You will notice the large scar on the mountains to your left near San Cristobal/Lama. This is left from the fire that destroyed almost 8,000 of national forest in 1996. Reforestation projects continue today. Look for signs on the left-hand side of NM Hwy 522 for the D.H. Lawrence Ranch and Memorial. After his death, the author’s wife Frieda brought Lawrence’s ashes here and placed them in the chapel on the grounds.

At the next stoplight you will be at the intersection of NM Hwy 522, NM Hwy 150 and US Hwy 64. Turn right onto US Hwy 64 and travel seven miles to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. This is one of the highest spans in North America. Walk out onto the bridge to catch the stunning views of the river and its Grand Canyon-like gorge far below. You can also get some great shots of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range from this vantage point.

Backtrack the short distance to NM Hwy 150 and go straight ahead through the intersection for another beautiful scenic side trip to the Taos Ski Valley. You will amble along a beautiful stream and there are several places for pictures. When you come back down, turn left (south) and continue into the town of Taos.

You’ll see the Taos Pueblo on your left. Be sure to stop there for a truly memorable visit. The Taos Pueblo is on the World Historic Register and has been continuously inhabited for over 1,200 years. Although the Pueblo Indian way of life has been exquisitely preserved, this is no museum, but a traditional living community. There is a charge for cameras within the pueblo, but it is well worth the cost.

You’ll also want to spend some time exploring the historic Taos Plaza and nearby shops, galleries and restaurants before heading back to Angel Fire on historic Kit Carson Road (which becomes US Hwy 64). As you drive through the beautiful Taos Canyon you can stop to visit one of the many artist’s studio and galleries along the way.

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