Cliff River Springs is both away from it all and close to so much. There are unique off-the-beaten-track places to discover close by and the best part is, you’re likely to have them to yourself. In fact, we often marvel about that…turning to each other in front a spectacular view, ruin, canyon, or trail and saying “It’s the weekend, and we’re the only ones here!?” It’s a good thing.
This hidden canyon of intriguing land formations is located near the Rio Chama, an easy half hour drive from Cliff River Springs. In the 1940s, Georgia O’Keeffe created several paintings of The White Place’s wind carved sandstone spires. Look for mud swallow nests on the white slot canyon walls. Easy hiking best done early or late in the day when shadows make for great photos. Stop at Bode’s General Store in Abiquiú afterwards for a green chile cheese burger, and to top up the gas tank.
Also known as the Gorge Bridge, this steel structure spans the 600-foot space between the east and west sides of the 29 million-year-old Rio Grande Gorge. It stands 565 feet above the surface of the Rio Grande, making it the seventh highest bridge in the U.S. Park your car and walk across it for a breathtaking (some would say heart stopping) view of the great river. Look for bighorn sheep precariously moving along the steep rocky slopes beneath you. From here, it’s just ten miles further east on US 64 to Taos.
Also on US 64, on the western side of the gorge and just 1.5 miles from the High Bridge, the Earthship community is hard at work building homes with recycled materials to have zero carbon footprints. Take a self-guided tour of the Visitor’s Center and education facility to experience earthships’ sustainable, off-the-grid design principles and indoor food growing capabilities in action. Ph: 575-613-4409
Lying beneath 9,862-foot Cerro Pedernál, the impounded waters of the Rio Chama offer opportunities for picnicing, swimming, wind surfing, fishing and boating. The lake is a 5,200-surface-acre reservoir destined for Albuquerque that’s managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. A Visitor Center located on Highway 96 near the dam is open Mon – Fri, 8 to 4. From Abiquiú Lake you’re close to Ghost Ranch and the beautiful Echo Amphitheater which are just a bit further north on US 84.
Cave artist Ra Paulette and his unique art form were the subjects of the 2014 Oscar-nominated short documentary “Cavedigger.” Note that these photos were taken in his Tree of Human Kindness cave, which sadly is no longer open to visitors. However, Windows of the Earth, Paulette’s sculpted sanctuary hidden in the sandstone hills south of Ojo Caliente, is breathtaking. Located on private land belonging to Origin, signing up for a tour is about the only way to visit it. Further information is available here.
Hiking trails leading into BLM land from behind the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs pass through beautiful scenery north to a number of long abandoned mica mines and south to the large unexcavated Puebloan village Posi-Ouinge, which thrived between 1300 and 1500 A.D. The end destination of one trail delivers you to ground littered with glittering flecks of mica, the other to a trove of pottery shards which must remain in place. The Mineral Springs has created a trail map showing both destinations.
In recognition of the rugged beauty of the plains and canyons running north up the Rio Grande to the border of Colorado, a Presidential Proclamation bestowed national monument status upon a quarter of a million acres — many of them virtually in our back yard — in March of 2013. The Orilla Verde Recreation Area is closest to us and offers wonderful hiking and biking opportunities. This map of the Lower Gorge describes hikes on the rim as well as along the river.