Santa Fe Puts on a Perfect Fall Peep Show

The mountains above Santa Fe received their first snowy frosting on the first day of autumn, a timely reminder the leaves are about to treat us to their colorful autumnal appearance. Our city is renowned for its diverse visual arts, but Mother Nature herself manages to put on a pretty stunning exhibit at this time of year. With so much beauty nestled under the azure Santa Fe sky, it’s a good thing there’s more than one way to experience it.

Golden aspens give notice that autumn has come to Santa Fe.
Golden aspens give notice that autumn has come to Santa Fe.

Take the High Way

Looking up from the heart of downtown Santa Fe to see the 12,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains turn bright gold is pleasant, but wouldn’t you like to get closer … lots closer? Catch this fleeting fall drama by taking an upper-level tour of the mountainside on the Ski Santa Fe scenic chair lift service. This bird’s eye view is mesmerizing, as aspens leaves shake and shimmer below in all their glimmering glory. It may even entice you lovers of winter to return for a visit when the hillsides are covered with fluffy white powder, especially since season passes are now on sale. Just be sure your camera is fully charged, because you’ll be snapping away non-stop from this heavenly height.

Lift your spirits with fall highlights at the Santa Fe Ski Basin.
Lift your spirits with fall highlights at the Santa Fe Ski Basin.

Pedal Power Puts You at the Leading Edge of Color

A quick getaway may preclude bringing your own beloved mountain bike, but Santa Fe’s bike buddy Mellow Velo can quickly fill the gap for avid pedal pushers. With a unique collection of high-end people-powered vehicles on hand, this well-established rental and service shop will spend time getting you outfitted appropriately and send you off the trail they think will best suit you. Yes, you can bring your own pedals for them to install! And it’s not only the mountainsides that change hue – the city has some mighty colorful cottonwoods (one of Georgia’s O’Keeffe’s favorite trees) turning yellow each fall, so taking a trip around the city by bike is also an admirable autumn option.

Take it to the top on two wheels with Mellow Velo.
Take it to the top on two wheels with Mellow Velo.

Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now

Santa Fe Baldy is the mountaintop we locals scan to see what the weather has in store for us. Baldy is a rather jocular way to refer to being above tree line — altitude 12,631 feet, in case you were wondering — but a sense of humor is always helpful on an upward-bound hike. Located 15 miles northeast of the city, Baldy is the last tall peak in New Mexico, as the mountains slowly lower on their way down through the state. The well-marked trail climbs to a saddle about 1,000 feet below the summit, and the remaining distance is a steep trek up along the ridgeline. The walk 7 miles up takes you through golden aspens and stands of stately Ponderosa pines, until you pass the tree line at about 700 feet below the peak. Just don’t forget it’s also 7 miles back down.

Your companions? Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area, published by the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the maps in the wonderful High Desert Field Guides. Both are available for purchase at Collected Works Books. Your reward? Seeing dazzling Lake Katherine under the spotless sky of New Mexico.

Take a moment to revel in the beauty of Lake Katherine before making your descent.
Take a moment to revel in the beauty of Lake Katherine before making your descent.

Driving Around on a Santa Fe Day

Not a hiker or biker? No problem. Take in the scenery from the cozy comfort of the car and park for a pretty picnic when your appetite bests the outlook. The High Road to Taos winds through the plateau west of the mountains, slowly rising until it pops out at the Truchas Peaks, named for the trout (truchas) that have fed northern New Mexicans over the years. Along the way, you’ll see scattered villages and clusters of old adobe homes, no doubt at this time of year with a wisp of pinon smoke drifting from the chimney. This scenic byway takes you through Chimayo, with its famed Santuario, the villages of Truchas and Las Trampas, Picuris Pueblo and finally on into Taos via Talpa and Ranchos de Taos. Return via the Low Road before the sun sets, and you’ll see vivid yellow stands of old cottonwoods casting color over the waters of the Rio Grande.

Trees glow as the river waters flow along the Low Road from Taos.
Trees glow as the river waters flow along the Low Road from Taos.

Curious to know what happens to the landscape long after a volcano explodes? Point your vehicle westward and visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve, a 13.7-mile wide crater created 1.5 million or so years ago. The massive scope of the Valles Caldera encompasses so much – archaeology, wildlife, history, geology – and autumn is a great time to see the grasslands turn gold and watch hawks soar overhead. Valles Caldera has miles of ranch roads, livestock and game trails, including a network of trails designated for horseback riding. The many outdoor activities are open to the public, but some require reservations, especially things like winter sleigh rides (definitely something to come back for).

Sometimes the Santa Fe wildlife is just as curious about us as we are about them.
Sometimes the Santa Fe wildlife is just as curious about us as we are about them.

Get Me a Guide Please

In such a pristine natural setting, you’d imagine there would be those who spend their lives out of doors, making their living doing it, and you’d be right. Having an experienced guide along to point out the things you might miss turns an autumn hike from interesting to incredible. The vast Pecos Wilderness encompasses almost a quarter-million acres to the east of Santa Fe, and that’s a lot of ground to cover on your own. The knowledgeable guides from Outspire figure it out for you with a 4-6 hour hike (don’t worry, lunch is factored in) through the mountains and valleys characteristic of this protected wilderness area spread across the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests.

Following the leader is a pleasure when the guiding is so good.
Following the leader is a pleasure when the guiding is so good.

A little closer to your home base of Santa Fe are the hiking trails of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, perched above the city on the way to the Santa Fe Ski Basin. Named by Catholic settlers) the mountains turn vibrant red and yellow at sunset, and the Sangres are a favorite destination for locals to fit in a hike that doesn’t consume an entire day. Santa Fe Walkabouts can get you out and hiking on a 4- or 5-mile roundtrip through the aspens as soon as you finish eating breakfast. These Santa Fe area hikes (and fun Pinzgauer tours) are always tailored to your ability, since Georges and Sue Mally want to leave their guests with magical memories, not sore knees.

Santa Fe Walkabouts will drive you up by Pinzgauer, but you’ll want to slow down for a walk in leafy beauty.
Santa Fe Walkabouts will drive you up by Pinzgauer, but you’ll want to slow down for a walk in leafy beauty.

Color Your Visit with Santa Fe’s Outdoor Hues

The sun shines over 300 days a year in Santa Fe, and autumn brings ideal weather for experiencing the crisp cool air and the bright blue skies of New Mexico. Lace up your shoes and pack a picnic, or let an outdoor specialist lay out an enticing plan for you, but make a visit to Mother Nature part of your visit to Santa Fe. She has so much to share, and it’s all waiting out there in the hills and valleys to enchant you.

 

All the Fall You Need in Santa Fe

It always feels like the year begins anew in autumn, even if logic tells me the year is winding toward its wintry season end. When Santa Fe’s fall leaves begin to show red and gold hues, we locals are called to the outdoors, knowing it won’t be long before sunsets sparkle over a frosty landscape. I definitely have a full fall agenda to complete before Old Man Winter arrives for his annual visit to the City Different.

Be Uplifted when You See Fall’s Foliage from Above

Santa Fe gets all dressed up in autumn colors when the aspens covering our Sangre de Cristo Mountains stage their annual show. We locals watch eagerly as the mountainside turns from green to gold, and we try to pick the perfect time to go up and bask in the resulting glow. But seeing the trees change their hue from down here on the plateau isn’t the only way to catch their fleeting fall drama. Ski Santa Fe turns the last holiday of summer into an outdoor happening, with live music and a beer garden hosted by Santa Fe Brewing Company on Labor Day weekend. Their scenic lift service begins September 7, with the Super Quad Chair Lift running daily through October 13 to give you a bird’s eye view of the mountaintop. And along the way, you lovers of winter will likely be enticed by thoughts of the same hillsides covered with fluffy white powder. Lift tickets will be on sale beginning Labor Day Weekend. 

Climb aboard for a trip down the golden line of aspens at the Santa Fe Ski Basin.

Santa Fe Welcomes Lords and Ladies

Prithee, wilt thou lend eyes and ears to the entertainments of yore? Yesteryear’s amusements will ensue when thee and thine head for the Renaissance Fair at El Rancho de las Golondrinas September 21-22. This annual funfest is full of color, music, and dramatic feats fit for the whole family. The Fair is a community event, which originated in 2007 as a fund-raising partnership with a local nonprofit. It brings out colorful locals dressed to the nines as their Medieval alter egos — thou mayest address me as Milady of Mischief. It’s gratifying to know that the proceeds benefit the continuing educational mission of Golondrinas itself, as well as the homeless outreach programs of The Interfaith Community Shelter. Look for Clan Tynker, Santa Fe’s favorite family of street performers, who will be on hand to amuse and amaze the crowd with juggling feats and some fire-eating derring-do!

It wouldn’t be a Renaissance Fair without a pirate or two.

Prime Your Palate for Global Flavors at the Wine + Chile Fiesta

The gorgeous setting of the Santa Fe Opera definitely provides many a summer delight, but it’s also the action-packed venue for one of Santa Fe’s fall signature events, when the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta holds its Grand Tasting Event there September 28. And although it’s the Santa Fe apex of an appetite for wine, that event is just one among many. Vintners and chefs from around the world gather annually to pair the best of their vineyards and kitchens with the taste of our spicy world-renowned cuisine. Winemaker dinners, educational seminars, pairing suggestions, sipping, supping, it’s all here. There’s even a sommelier throw down — we sure love a challenge in this town, especially when food and wine are involved. 90 wineries join forces with 75 restaurants, creating a vintage and a flavor for every one of us. We locals will be cheek-by-jowl with our visitors scoping out both the new and the tried-and-true bottles to stock our wine cellars.

Pace your progress as you test your wine palate at the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta.

Harvesting the Season’s Best

El Rancho de las Golondrinas just keeps ‘em coming, with the annual Harvest Fest coming hot on the heels of the Renaissance Fair. Lots to love when grapes are crushed by hand — oops, excuse me — by foot! Built in 1972 on a site with some original structures dating back to the 1700’s, Golondrinas brings the past vibrantly to life, harvesting some of the same bounteous produce found at the Santa Fe Farmers Market at this time of year. And this particularly popular community celebration mirrors all the autumn traditions of Territorial New Mexico, as chile ristras are strung and the smell of bread and fresh tortillas wafts out over the 200 acres of this living history museum. Go back in time with a visit to this historic ranch setting October 5-6, and you’ll go away with a vastly enriched understanding of the Santa Fe of today.

Chile ristras – the long strands of chile traditionally strung up to last all winter – decorate many Santa Fe porches.

Creativity Comes to Life on Canyon Road

Snaking along on the south side of the Santa Fe River, Canyon Road has been the heart of the arts for so many of the creative souls who pass through the City Different and decide to stay. You can see some of these colorful characters in action October 18-19, when the Canyon Road Association paints a picture of Santa Fe at the Sixth Annual Canyon Road Paint-out. The “plein air” technique, which is simply a French term for “in the open air,” gives the artists an opportunity to respond directly to ambient conditions and capture not only the visuals but also the sensations of the moment. And it won’t be just painters in the mix; there’ll be sculptors and jewelers and craft demonstrations and even an appearance of the high school marching band in a noontime parade. This comprehensive street side art exhibition turns Canyon Road into one big outdoor gallery, as paper, pens and paint become art before your eyes.

Art happens on the spot at the Canyon Road Paint-out.

Don’t Let Autumn in Santa Fe Escape Your Gaze

The months of September and October are my favorite time to travel anywhere, but it’s always hard for me to make vacation plans when I realize what I might be missing right here in my hometown. Whether it’s family fun, or fine wines and fine art that tickle your fancy, Santa Fe is a memorable autumn travel adventure.