Galloping in Northern New Mexico
Besides black bears, cougars, and other assorted wildlife, few visitors may enter the Taos Pueblo Indians’ private lands in New Mexico, in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. The only way into this stunning, wild, sacred landscape is on horseback, under the guidance of the Taos Indian Horse Ranch, founded by Pueblo resident Stormstar (also known as Cesario Gomez).
Led by Stormstar and his Pueblo compatriots, your horse will pick its way over rocks, trundle down water-created paths, canter through thick forest, and gallop through wide open meadows, always in the presence of the magnificent Taos Mountain. Sacred to the Pueblo, it will likely draw you in and create its own presence within you too as you wander through its foothills.
Less predictable are the impromptu appearances by local birds and mammals, which may include bald eagles and mountain lions. Stormstar recalls the time even he was startled when a black bear stepped out from the forest onto the path three feet in front of his favorite horse. “I had just broken this horse, and he reared back when the bear appeared out of nowhere. The bear was more scared than we were though, and he ran for the river so quickly I was the only one in the group who saw him.”
Even the Taos ranch’s greenest horses couldn’t be more surefooted. “They grew up in these hills, and they don’t want to tumble any more than you do. You just need to give them their head,” says Stormstar. (Translation: Don’t pull too tight on the reins; trust your horse to know the landscape far better than you.)
“We set the pace according the weakest rider,” Stormstar says. After more than 35 years in the business, he and his guides can tell how you’ll ride by the time you’re perched in the saddle. They’ll cater to your skills with easy trail rides or tougher treks up into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; some routes require overnight stays. They also provide covered wagon and hay wagon rides, but it’s the horseback rides that draw devoted fans back year after year.
If you’re not going out on an overnight riding trip and you can arrange it, book a private ride or go with a small group, so that you’ll be able to tailor the ride more closely to your skill level. More importantly, you’ll have the opportunity to talk with your guide rather than sitting in a nose-to-tail group. As the conversation deepens, you’ll learn about medicinal plants as well as the history of the people and what they consider their holocaust, how they were treated by the Spanish before and after the 1680 revolt, the 1847 siege by U.S. soldiers, and how Teddy Roosevelt took their land for the Carson National Forest—and how that land was returned by President Nixon.
You shouldn’t visit Taos without going to the Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The existing structures are more than 800 years old, and the land has been continuously occupied for more than a millennium. Taos Pueblo residents are conservative and private, limiting most visitors to the town plaza area and casino. Stormstar says Taos Ranch is the only authorized guide into the foothills.
Much of the tourist activity in Taos itself centers on the Plaza and the surrounding blocks. It’s like a smaller Santa Fe without the kitsch. The range of art galleries, museums, shops, and restaurants satisfies all tastes and budgets. The Taos Ski Valley, about 18 miles (29km) from town, accommodates all skier levels but encompasses some of the toughest runs in the country. Nearby Angel Fire Resort affords skiing, golf, fishing, and, in late August and early September, a wonderful series of classical music concerts.
Taos Pueblo, Veterans Hwy. ( 575/758-1028; www.taospueblo.com).
Tour: Taos Indian Horse Ranch, 340 Little Deer Run Rd. ( 800/659-3210 or 505/758-3212; www.taosindianhorseranch.com).
When to Go: Year-round; best riding May–Oct.
Albuquerque International Airport (135 miles/217km).
$$–$$$ Casa de las Chimeneas, 405 Cordoba Rd. ( 877/758-4777 or 575/758-4777; www.visittaos.com). $–$$ Taos Hampton Inn, 1515 Paseo del Pueblo Sur (& 800/HAMPTON [426-7866] or 575/737-5700; www.hampton.com).