The Enchanted Circle
The loop formed by U.S. 64, Highway 38, and Highway 522, going past the ski resorts of Angel Fire and Red River as well as a handful of smaller towns, is perhaps too generously named, but the views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including Wheeler Peak, the tallest in the state, are breathtaking.
The area is also a cultural change of pace from Taos. Many of the towns along the north and east sides of the loop were settled by Anglo ranchers and prospectors in the late 1800s, and the “Wild West” atmosphere persisted well into the 20th century, today reinforced by the large population of transplanted flatlander Texans enamored of the massive peaks. You can drive the 84-mile route in a very leisurely day, with time out for a short hike around Red River or a detour along the Wild Rivers scenic byway.
Most guides and maps run the route clockwise, heading north out of Taos to Questa, but if you’re doing the outing as a day trip, it makes more sense to head counterclockwise, going through Angel Fire and arriving in Red River or Questa, where there’s better food, around lunchtime (or you could pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at any of the picnic areas along the small river west of Red River).
You’ll also enjoy fantastic views at the end of the drive, descending into the Taos Valley from Questa. If you’re staying overnight, either direction will work, with the most lodging available in Red River. Because the ski areas value their customers, the roads are generally cleared quickly in the winter; the only patch that may be icy is Palo Flechado Pass west of Angel Fire.
To start, head east on Kit Carson Road, which eventually turns into U.S. 64, winding through the Taos River Valley and past numerous campgrounds and hiking trails, as well as the Institute for Buddhist Studies. At the pass, the road descends into the high Moreno Valley, a gorgeous expanse of green in the spring and a vast tundra in the winter.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition