Questa: Gateway to the Río Grande del Norte National Monument

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Questa is becoming known for its quiet charm and the beautiful protected lands that surround this tiny village less than 30 miles north of Taos.

More and more hidden gems of properties are coming online as rentals. Some of these are tucked in by the Red River that runs behind the village, while others are nestled in Cabresto Canyon with horses grazing out the window. These join the small, family-run motels and cabins along the main road that are an easy commute to nearby ski slopes.

What the locals know is that access to the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, just west of Questa, never closes. If you wake up to snow, throw your cross-county skis in the car and head for the Rinconada Loop Trail for 6 miles of flat skiing with stunning gorge views. The trail can be entered at any of the campground parking lots and it’s easy to create smaller loops to match your time or stamina.

With the dry winters of late, the monument has turned into a favorite off-season cycling and hiking destination. Stunning stretches of pavement with only occasional traffic offer cyclists up to a 22-mile round trip from the park entrance. Bike riding is an easy 6 miles if you park at the visitors center and only cycle the loop. Mountain bikers enjoy the Vistas de Questa trail with its trailhead off State Road 522 north of the village.  They also enjoy the Guadalupe Mountain trail, off the rim-side road along the gorge.

Hiking into the gorge in this Wild Rivers area of the national monument is a favorite Taos outing. On a clear winter day, these steep 1-mile trails are a pleasure, with the reward of a sparkling river and hidden petroglyphs.

On the other side of Questa are trails along State Road 38 toward the town of Red River. Columbine Canyon is not only a favorite for dry-weather hiking, but is a wonderful place to strap on your snowshoes and trek as near or far as your heart desires. The higher altitude here and thick surrounding pines hold the snowpack well, and a whitetail deer may await you in the meadows.

The old church plaza is located just northeast of the intersection, on the ridge of Cabresto Road. If one stays along the ridge and continues into the Carson National Forest, beautiful vistas come into view. This corner of the forest is a favorite for OHVs (off-highway vehicles) in the summer and makes for long snowmobile trails in the winter. Cabresto Road is not plowed very far beyond the uphill turnoff to the lake. Adventurers should drive as far as possible and continue into the wild on foot, mountain bike, skis or snowmobile. See if you can find the remains of Midnight Mine.

This tiny historic village was incorporated in 1842 after many earlier attempts by its rugged, adventurous settlers. Questa is on a route called the Kiowa Trail, which was a well-used link between the plains American Indians and Taos Pueblo. It was not the safest location to start a village, but was a desired one by the nonconformist families that called it home. Some of these original settlers were crypto-Jews who had arrived with the conquistadors at a time when Spain was forcing non-Catholics to convert, leave or be killed. Questa was a frontier then, and in many ways, it still is.

The San Antonio de Padua church was built soon after the permanent village was established. This historic adobe structure underwent an all-volunteer renovation in the last few years and was only recently reconsecrated. The church is highlighted during the annual Alumbra de Questa event, as the Christmas craft market culminates with an evening of lights, farolitos and luminarias that lead the way to this unique testament to the faith and craftsmanship of this enduring community. This year's event will be held Dec. 16, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. in the center of town.

For further information regarding winter activities, go online to VisitQuesta.com or phone tourism staff at (575) 613-2852. You can reach the Questa Ranger District of the Carson National Forest year-round, Monday through Friday, at (575) 586-0520. The BLM Wild Rivers Visitors Center can be reached at (575) 586-1150 (reduced hours offseason, but informative phone messages are posted).

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