New Mexico is not all deserts and cacti. While it does have plenty of that, it's also home to the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains. And with that elevation, of course there comes snow.
At the beginning of March, towards the end of the ski season, some friends and I met up for a few days on the slopes at Taos Ski Valley. The base of the valley has an elevation of 9,207 feet and the highest point is Kachina Peak with an elevation of 12,450 feet.
By a chance of luck, 40 inches of fresh powder coated the already snowy mountains shortly before we arrived, leaving us with near-perfect conditions, especially compared to what we're accustomed to on the East Coast.
One of the things that makes Taos so special is that it's not particularly close to any major city or airport. We flew into Albuquerque and drove three hours to get there. This sets it apart from resorts like Vail, Park City and Breckenridge that attract crowds of weekenders throughout the season.
Taos Ski Valley has more of a family feel than a commercial one. I cannot speak highly enough of the staff and locals that were incredibly welcoming. It's not unusual for strangers to say hello and strike up a short convo in passing.
And unlike other resorts, there is no pretentiousness there. No notice of separation between experienced and unexperienced. No mocking the gapers. Maybe it's just their need for tourism or the general vibe of the friendly mountain town, but everyone we met was warm and helpful.
Overall, the views were stunning, the runs abundant, the staff welcoming - it's hard to imagine it any better than it was.
One night after a long day on the slopes, we hit up the hot tub in our condo's complex. A guy was already there when we arrived, so we started talking about Taos. He was working on the slopes for the season and told us some tips and tricks for the ski valley and shared his love of Kachina Peak.
He also scolded us for being in the hot tub when, as tourists, we should be soaking in the natural hot springs nearby. So the next evening, after another full day of snowboarding, we were on an adventure in search of Manby Hot Springs.
Now, of course our directions to the springs weren't very clear. We took long, dusty roads into what seemed like the middle of nowhere where we were instructed to park on the edge of the gorge and take the "old wagon trail" that leads to the hot spring.
"Old Wagon Trail." What does that even mean? Of about four options, we took the one that seemed the most "wagon-ish" for about a half mile until we realized it couldn't be right. We tried a few more paths and almost left, satisfied enough with the sunsets views over the Rio Grande gorge.
With one last hope and the sun fading quickly, we found the narrow trail (that could no way ever fit a wagon). It led us to a steep, windy path down the gorge to the river. The hot springs sat right on the edge of the Rio Grande and were surprisingly warm. Probably right under 100°F.
The water felt great on our tired legs, but since it took us so long to find the springs, we could only enjoy it for a short time before the sun went down.
While this was strictly a ski trip, we spent each day on the slopes and didn't have much time to explore the pueblo, artisan colony and local brewery scene. While I regret it, we had to stick to our priorities for our limited time frame. And if anything, it just makes me want to go back even more. Until next time, Taos! You didn't disappoint!
Have you taken a memorable ski trip? Ever visited a hot spring?
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NOTE: To get to Manby Hot Springs in Taos, take US 68 towards the gorge bridge. Turn right at Tune Road. Make sure you have a car that can handle dirt, mud and rough roads. Take lefts at each fork until you get to the parking area at the top of the gorge. Looking out at the river, the trail will be on your left. It's the trail closest to the edge of the gorge. It's narrow, unmarked and leads left down to the east side of the river. The breathtaking views of the gorge make the hike worthwhile. Especially at sunset. There are two pools on the edge of the river. Sometimes more depending on the season. The water temperature ranges from 94° to 100°F. The walk down and back up can easily take close to an hour, so plan well or bring flashlights.