Things to do in (or near) Northern Rio Arriba County
In New Mexico, we're not just about desert
Since I sail in two different primary venues, that means I have two different areas to promote. In the previous blog post, I covered 25 things to do in Sierra County, near Elephant Butte Lake, and now it's time to cover things to do in Northern Rio Arriba County, near Heron Lake. Since the lake is practically on the Colorado border, some of these adventures go beyond the county, but they're all close enough to the lake to take as a day trip.
- Get a feel for the region with a visit to the Ghost Ranch Piedra Lumbre Education and Visitor Center, outside Abiquiu. While the center no longer has the live native animals that it had back when it was a living museum, it still has exhibits on the geology, ecology, history, and culture of the region.
- Visit the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, where you can still see bullet marks in the walls from the raid led on the courthouse by civil-rights activist Reies López Tijerina in 1967.
- Take a whitewater rafting tour down the Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River. Plan to get wet and also to see spectacular canyon scenery as the river plunges between colorful sandstone canyon walls.
- Hit the Central United Methodist and Humane Society thrift shops in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The Methodists are especially good for clothing, while the Humane Society is big on furniture, appliances, and housewares. Both carry a substantial selection of books.
- Take a hot mineral bath in Pagosa Springs. As in Truth or Consequences, there are a variety of prices and styles of baths available.
- Go lake fishing. Because of its high altitude, Heron Lake abounds in cold-water fish that don't usually live this far south, such as lake trout and kokanee salmon. Fish from the bank, bring your own boat (taking precautions against mussels, of course), or hire a guide. Clients of our favorite, Don Wolfley of Stone House Lodge, regularly show up in the "Catches of the Week" section of the Albuquerque Journal's fishing reports.
- Take a ride on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. This narrow-gauge train takes all day to cover 63 miles of twisting track that crosses the New Mexico-Colorado state line 11 times along the way while carrying passengers through spectacular scenery that can't bee seen from the highway. The fall colors are especially awesome at the end of September and the beginning of October (exactly when the trees turn depends on the weather each year).
- Go for a retreat at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. This community of Benedictines believes in simplicity and quiet. Visitors don't have to be Catholic; they should, however, be interested in peace and solitude for meditative thought. If you don't want to drive 13 miles down a dirt road to get there, but you want to experience some of the calm, you can buy the monks' CD of Gregorian chants in many gift shops in the area. Their Monks' Ale (yes, they have a microbrewery) is also available at many supermarkets and liquor stores in New Mexico.
- Visit Wolf Creek Pass, way up on the Great Divide. Just be sure, if you happen to have a truckload of Rhode Island Reds, that you haven't stacked them taller than the snow sheds on the other side, and check to see that your brakes work.
- In late summer, attend Chama Days, the village's annual fiesta. It's a small-town fair with a Northern New Mexico flair; the parade includes units from a dozen different area volunteer fire departments, as well as some super-decked-out lowriders.
- Speaking of lowriders, Española bills itself as the lowrider capital of the world. In July, as part of the Española Fiesta, you can attend a lowrider rally, with hundreds of stunning vehicles.
- Go fly fishing in the Rio Chama, the Rio de los Brazos, or many other smaller local streams. It's more challenging than fishing in a lake, but for fly-fishermen, I've noticed it's the art of casting and outwitting the fish that keeps them happy.
- Dine at the High Country Restaurant and Saloon. This is the finest eatery in Northern Rio Arriba County, where people go for special occasions. The food is great, and prices are reasonable. The bar stocks a good array of micro-brews on tap. Sunday brunch is an event, with a buffet, plus an egg station where the chef will construct a custom omelet or cook up your eggs exactly the way you want them – even over-easy.
- During holiday season, take a drive through the village of Los Ojos, where on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, the streets are lined with luminarias, a Northern New Mexico holiday tradition. Originally, small bonfires were lit along the road to light the way for the Christ Child; the bonfires have been replaced by votive candles in paper bags. On a windy night, it's definitely a labor of love to keep those candles lit.
- Shop at the Chama Valley Supermarket. In early 2008, the old market's roof caved in under a heavy snow load; the rebuilt market is bigger and better, but it still keeps the needs of a small, rural, mountain community in mind. It carries a little bit of everything, from staples for low-income locals to gourmet fare for tourists who arrive in quarter-million-dollar RVs; from gardening supplies to tractors; from gourmet cat food to cattle feed; from toasters to entertainment centers.
- Take a hike. The Friends of Heron and El Vado State Parks have been working on a trail around Heron Lake, plus there are trails on Forest Service land all over the area.
- Go birdwatching. In one of the great conservation success stories, the osprey has made a recovery to the extent that there are several nesting pairs who return to Heron Lake every summer to raise their young, plus a few other pairs elsewhere in the region. In early July, the state park sponsors an Osprey Fest to celebrate the birds. But osprey aren't the only birds in the region worth watching; visitors to the park have a chance of seeing everything from broad-tailed hummingbirds to bald eagles.
- Eat at Cookin' Books. No, this isn't an accounting firm; it's an eatery that serves a variety of creative deli-type foods, and it's also a bookstore that carries a fairly specialized selection of works by local authors, literary fare, and books with a spiritual theme. If the soup of the day is Hungarian mushroom, you're in for a treat.
- Volunteer at the Chama Valley Humane Society. As is typical of small-town humane organizations, these folks could always use more help. If you can walk a dog or socialize kittens (also known as playing with them), the Humane Society can use your help. If you don't have time to spare, they could also use donations of money.
- Go camping or RVing. In Chama, you can find a full-service RV park that is the northernmost member of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (Texas counts New Mexico as "Region 8"), as well as several others. If you're on a lower budget and/or don't need so many amenities, both Heron Lake and El Vado Lake state parks offer camping sites with full hookups for $14 a night and primitive sites for $10 a night.
- Attend community events at Shroyer Center. About once a month (more often during the summer), there will be a breakfast or a dinner or an ice cream social or a chili cook-off or … something. Shroyer Center is the community center for the Laguna Vista community, and most of the events are fund-raisers for the center itself or the Laguna Vista Volunteer Fire Department. These events have two foci – food and fellowship. While Laguna Vista is a gated community, it's pretty easy to get invited in as a guest, especially if you mention to one of the real-estate agents who live there that you might be interested in buying a vacation property. Of course, if you're a friend of mine and Pat's, there's no problem on that front.
- Go hunting. Pat and I don't hunt, but we have friends who do, and they say that this end of Rio Arriba County has some awesome game to shoot at – we have colossal elk, lots of deer, turkeys, and a lot of other game. Hunting is not allowed in Laguna Vista (unless you're a mountain lion) or in the state parks, and on the Jicarilla Apache reservation it's allowed only if you hire a guide and pay big bucks (the advantage is that these guides are really good), but there are other lands, both public and private, where it's easier to get permission to hunt.
- Go off-roading on the backside of El Vado Lake. According to Gerald, it's hard to get to, there's nobody there, and it's fun. Plus there are great views at less cost than $600,000.
- Paddle a kayak around Heron Lake. If there's not enough wind to go sailing, a kayak is just about the best way to get around. Heron is a no-wake lake, meaning that motorboats aren't allowed to go any faster than trolling speed. The upshot is that it's very quiet – everybody there is sailing, fishing, or paddling.
- Come to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where you can take a bath in the Jacuzzi tub (our well water is full of the same minerals that Pagosa Springs has), and finish the day with cocktails on the deck, which, like Tillerman's, is on the front of the house and faces the lake.
So there you have it: things to do near Five O'Clock Somewhere. You still have a few hours to make your own contribution to the project by writing about non-sailing activities near wherever it is that you sail … until midnight tonight (Samoa time).