Somehow I’d missed the enormity of the gorge on the way in. The rise through the canyon was beautiful, but I didn’t realized the fast-moving ditch below us was in fact the Rio Grande. By the time we reached the bridge into town, ears popping, I saw how high it was. But only later did I see the abyss.
We’d landed in Albuquerque, where a wise young man at the Hertz car rental counter has suggested an upgrade to a tank-sized SUV.
After a quick lunch at The Shed in Santa Fe, drive an hour and a half north to our Airbnb in El Prado, just outside of Taos, Santa Fe’s eccentric cousin. We cooked dinner and inhaled views of Taos Mountain and an ethereal sunset.
Teddy was psyched for a hike, so the next morning we headed out US Highway 64 to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the fifth-highest such structure in the country’s road system. Surrounding it is the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, over 310,000 acres that once served as a training base for NASA’s Apollo II team back in the seventies, due to its earthly approximation for the moon’s terrain.
Watching Teddy walk towards the rim of the gorge made me dizzy and panicked, sure to the depths of my soul that he would tumble to the bottom despite his sure-footedness.
I’m not a daredevil, but I do pride myself on not letting my neuroses keep me from exploring the world. I’ve done cable cars, helicopters and parasailing and have been known to inwardly roll my eyes at nervous airline passengers.
So heights in and of themselves aren’t a problem. My visceral fear is edges. Watching Teddy walk towards the rim of the gorge made me dizzy and panicked, sure to the depths of my soul that he would tumble to the bottom despite his sure-footedness.
And yet the sheer beauty of the canyon, even seen from my respectable distance, made me equally breathless. We walked for a bit on the trail running parallel to it, but with only a bit of sagebrush between us and the rushing river 650 below, my fear was nearly paralyzing.
In a guidebook we found another path that starts much lower down and agreed to do it the next day. I hadn’t fully considered what getting there would entail.
Where to Eat
Common Fire, 88 State Highway 150, El Prado, NM. 505.803.9113. taoscommonfire.com. Hidden away in a cluster of condos and a hotel, this little gem has (you guessed it) wood-fired pizzas and a nice wine list. Owner Andy Lynch and his staff are hospitable and have a killer playlist. Fight for the seat facing a spectacular view of Taos Mountain.
Martyr’s Steakhouse, 146 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos, NM. 575.751.3020. martyrs-steakhouse.com. A white tablecloth establishment, it’s housed in a beautiful adobe structure. It has a charming bar and a courtyard.
Lambert’s of Taos, 123 Bent Street, Taos, NM. 575.758.1009. lambertsoftaos.com. A warren of cozy dining rooms opens up to a lovely patio space at the back. The lobster tagliatelle is rich and large enough for two.
Michael’s Kitchen, 304-C North Pueblo Road, Taos, NM. 575.758.4178. michaelskitchen.com. Come hungry. The signature lunch dish is called The Belly Buster. Local tip: you can order the kids’ meal with no judging from the waitstaff.
The Millicent Rogers Museum, 1504 Millicent Rogers Road, El Prado, NM. 575.758.2462. On property purchased by the youngest son of the Standard Oil heiress, the museum houses beautiful renderings of Rogers’ turquoise and silver jewelry designs that popularized the New Mexico look, as well as an extensive collection of local pottery and religious art. Rogers took refuge in Taos after a disastrous romantic life and continued in her role as a tastemaker and arbiter of design until her death from congestive heart failure at the age of 51.
The morning dawned brilliantly sunny and we set off for la Vista Verde trailhead. Cruising down the empty highway with the verdant gorge in view from a quarter mile away, the mountains keeping watch, we felt for a moment like the only people on earth.
Then as we entered the park, my stomach lurched. A sign blared to us in red letters to be aware of dangerous drop-offs and to use a low gear on the dirt road with its steep switchbacks and loose gravel.
We blessed our Hertz guy repeatedly as we inched our way down along the edge of the canyon, again with only a bit of sagebrush between us and oblivion. I think I ranted as much, but it may just have been the screaming inside my head. Teddy gathered all of his (considerable) patience, advising me to breath and look at the rock face while he ably kept the show on the road.
A ridiculously fit young couple advised us that the hike itself wouldn’t be scary to me. Indeed, the view looking up was cinematic yet peaceful, the many shades of green flora living up to the trail’s name.
After about a half hour, we reached a lookout at about 150 above the roaring river. I restrained myself from telling a fellow hiker who’d found a spot for lunch on a rock at the edge that she should know the grim reaper was watching.
Teddy was buoyant on the trek back to the trailhead, and it cheered me to have taken one for the team. There was still the matter of leaving. Riding out was no less terrifying, a white knuckle affair all the way. About halfway out, I made a pact with the universe: never again will I judge people who are afraid to fly.