Exploring Northern New Mexico from the Luxurious Vermejo

Seclusion, Natural Beauty, Dramatic Sunsets

Looking for history, culture and beautiful scenery in a secluded part of the United States? You’ll want to think about a trip to New Mexico. 

A native New Mexican, I just returned from exploring my home state as  a “traveler” and was blown away!

Vermejo Park Ranch Experience

Vermejo Park Ranch, approximately four hours by car from Albuquerque or Denver, is possibly the closest thing to an African safari experience in the U.S. With almost 1,000 square miles of mountain wilderness to explore, and shared by only 60 guests, you feel like you are in your own private paradise.  

The ranch, spanning northern New Mexico and a bit of Colorado, was once the playground of Hollywood  celebrities. Purchased by Ted Turner in 1996, the Casa Grande has been restored to its original splendor and Turner House and the split log main reception/dining area have been totally renovated. The rebuilt Castillo Lodge (8 rooms) was also completely rebuilt around a huge central fireplace, but retains the feel of the original split log lodge.  

Feeling at Right at Home

The upscale property is quite casual in feel.  I loved the fact that “proper dress” is a pair of jeans, a warm shirt and a cowboy hat.  I felt like the lucky niece of a wealthy uncle who has lots of really fun toys and things to do and simply says, “Make yourself comfortable and enjoy it all! And when you come back at the end of the day you’ll have a great meal and a sublimely comfortable room waiting for you!”

Rooms and lodges have a good number of beautiful paintings and antiques, but never feel stuffy or pretentious.

Main area of Vermejo

Herds of Wildlife, Flocks of Birds, Endless Acres to Explore

The ranch no longer has cattle; instead you will find huge herds of bison, large prairie dog towns (part of a project to re-introduce black-footed ferret), elk, mule deer,  wild turkey, wild horses, bear and mountain lion, in addition to over 1,000 species of native plants, and hawks, vultures, flickers and many other bird species. 

The terrain includes open prairie and alpine forest with highest elevation at 13,000 ft. You can explore on foot, with tons of great walking trails, by mountain bike or on horseback or by ATV or your own vehicle. 

From disc golf to fly fishing, activities galore

Improve your skills with a bow and arrow, a very fancy rifle, or a shotgun – all at your disposal at the private range. Try disc golf or geocaching or horseback riding. 

But the most popular activity is fishing in one of ranches 19 lakes (outboard motor fishing boats at the ready) or fly casting for Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the mountain streams. The guides are amazing. I went out with Melvin who is a terrific fly fisherman and made sure that even I caught a trout, in fact I ended up catching three.  But the real catch was me… I’m hooked on fly fishing and can’t wait to go back!

From Vermejo to Taos on the Sante Fe Trail

I would suggest at least three nights (two days) at Vermejo, though many people stay much longer, before exploring the rest of New Mexico’s beauty. 

From Vermejo, rather than returning directly to Albuquerque, spend a few days driving along the old route of the old Santa Fe trail to Taos, stopping at Cimarron, where I had a good lunch in a charming old hotel, the St. James.  

You may want to spend some time learning the history of the area by looking at old houses, or check out the antique stores in the Cimarron center.  A gorgeous drive along a very windy road will get you to Taos in another hour and a half.

I consider Taos the adventure capital of New Mexico.  Built on the foothills of the Taos Mountains, part of the Sangre de Cristo range and dominated by 13,000 ft high Wheeler Peak the architecture is mainly adobe pueblo style, a continuation of the architecture of Taos pueblo just next door. 

The pueblo has been continuously occupied by the Red Willow people for over 1,000 years.  A visit with a knowledgeable guide is a must!

A couple of other really fun activities in Taos include a balloon ride, river rafting, river floats, cultural tours, and hiking. 

The typical balloon ride includes a touchdown within the very deep Rio Grande gorge, not for the faint of heart!  

Also for the daring are the river rafting in the gorge, floating down calmer portions of the river on a cultural experience with guides from one of the nearby pueblos, or enjoying a secluded dinner on the river after walking across the bridge that spans the gorge. While at the Rio Grande gorge, you may want to drive a little further and see earthship houses that form the biotecture earthship community of passive solar homes made of natural and recycled materials. 

View at Hacienda del Sol in Taos

Taos to Sante Fe via Los Alamos

You need to give yourself a full day to get from Taos to Santa Fe, though it is only a two hour drive.  The reason: you will want to visit the beautiful town of Los Alamos tucked up in the heart of the aspen forest. Los Alamos is famous for being the research site where the atomic bomb was developed, but it’s access to the beautiful Bandelier National Forest offers miles of fabulous walking trails. Additionally, a visit to the the cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people who lived here from 1150 to 1550, before dispersing to homes along the Rio Grande is a must. Of those tribes, the Cochiti are most directly related to the inhabitants of Bandelier.

Bandeliers human history actually extends back much further, to more than 10,000 years ago when nomadic hunter-gatherers followed migrating wildlife across the same mesas and canyons that you can explore today.  The dwellings and ruins are in remarkably good condition and teach us a great deal about the life of the inhabitants. The paths are just challenging enough to be really fun as you climb wooden ladders and imagine what life was like for the people living there.

End your day in Santa Fe where you will want to spend at least one full day and night meandering through the fabulous art galleries housed in old adobe homes on Canyon Rd.  

A night at the open air opera is quite an experience as is not uncommon to have lightning crashing against the Santa Fe mountains, competing with the grandest arias.  

Eating across Sante Fe’s culinary scene a wonderful experience between trips to some outstanding museums.  Oh… and did I forget shopping?  The area around the old plaza is a shopper’s paradise. While in the old plaza, be sure to go into the Loretta Chapel famous for its circular wooden staircase. Built by an unidentified man who showed up sometime between 1877 and 1881, his miraculous staircase has two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and wooden pegs instead of metal nails.   

End your vacation with a good soak and massage at the renowned 1000 Waves Spa as you let the sun set on a fantastic week in the hidden Southwest.

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