Distinctive yellow earth provided a name for the town of Tierra Amarilla, 14 miles south of Chama at the junction of US 84 and US 64. Throughout New Mexico, this name is synonymous with a continuing controversy over the land-grant rights of the descendants of the original Hispanic settlers. But the economy of this community of 1,000 is dyed in the wool -- literally.
The organization Ganados del Valle (Livestock Growers of the Valley) is at work to save the longhaired Spanish churro sheep from extinction, to introduce other unusual wool breeds to the valley, and to perpetuate a 200-year-old tradition of shepherding, spinning, weaving, and dyeing. Many of the craftspeople work in conjunction with Tierra Wools ★, P.O. Box 229, Los Ojos, NM 87551 (tel. 505/588-7231; www.handweavers.com), which has a showroom and workshop in a century-old mercantile building just north of Tierra Amarilla. One-of-a-kind blankets and men's and women's apparel are among the products displayed and sold.
Just down the street, across from the Los Ojos General Store, is an interesting little art studio worth checking out. Yellow Earth Studio (tel. 575/588-7807), the passion of Paul Trachtman, the resident artist, is a great place to see and purchase enchanting scenes of the Los Ojos area in the form of paintings and monotype, woodcut, and metal engraving prints. His work is part of the permanent collection of the New Mexico State Capitol. Paul will likely be working away in his studio in back, and if you're fortunate, he'll guide you through some of his techniques.
Two state parks are a short drive west from Tierra Amarilla. El Vado Lake State Park, 14 miles southwest on NM 112 (tel. 575/588-7247; www.nmparks.com), offers boating and water-skiing, fishing, and camping in summer; cross-country skiing and ice fishing in winter. Heron Lake State Park, 11 miles west on US 64 and NM 95 (tel. 575/588-7470; www.nmparks.com), has a no-wake speed limit for motor vessels, adding to its appeal for fishing, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, and swimming. The park has an interpretive center, plus camping, picnic sites, hiking trails, and cross-country skiing in the winter. The 5.5-mile Rio Chama trail connects the two lakes.
East of Tierra Amarilla, the Rio Brazos cuts a canyon through the Tusas Mountains and around 11,403-foot Brazos Peak. Just north of Los Ojos, NM 512 heads east 7 1/2 miles up the Brazos Box Canyon. High cliffs that rise straight from the valley floor give it a Yosemite-like appearance -- which is even more apparent from an overlook on US 64, 18 miles east of Tierra Amarilla en route to Taos. El Chorro, an impressive waterfall at the mouth of the canyon, usually flows only from early May to mid-June. Several resort lodges are in the area.
About 37 miles south of Tierra Amarilla on US 84, and 3 miles north of Ghost Ranch, is Echo Canyon Amphitheater (tel. 575/684-2486), a U.S. Forest Service campground and picnic area. The natural "theater," hollowed out of sandstone by thousands of years of erosion, is a natural work of art with layers of stone ranging from pearl-color to blood red. The walls send back eerie echoes and even clips of conversations. It's just a 10-minute walk from the parking area. The fee is $2 per car. Some 13 miles west of here, via the dirt Forest Service road 151 into the Chama River Canyon Wilderness, is the isolated Monastery of Christ in the Desert (www.christdesert.org), built in 1964 by Benedictine monks. The brothers produce crafts, sold at a small gift shop, and operate a guesthouse.
Along the same road (FS 151) is access to the Chama River, a good place to hike, mountain bike, kayak, and camp. The Rim Vista Trail will take you to the top of the rim, with vast views out across Abiquiu Lake and Ghost Ranch. Primitive campsites can be found all along the river.
A 3-mile drive from there is Ghost Ranch, a collection of adobe buildings that make up an adult study center maintained by the United Presbyterian Church. A number of hauntingly memorable hikes originate from this place, which gets its name from the brujas, or witches, said to inhabit the canyons. Most popular among the hikes is spectacular Chimney Rock, but even more notable in my opinion is Kitchen Mesa. Directions for the hikes can be obtained at the visitor center. World-renowned painter Georgia O'Keeffe spent time at Ghost Ranch painting these canyons and other land formations. Eventually she bought a portion of the ranch and lived in a humble adobe house there. The ranch now offers seminars on a variety of topics, ranging from art to literature to religion, that are open to all. For information, contact Ghost Ranch, 401 Old Taos Hwy., Santa Fe (tel. 505/982-8539; www.ghostranch.org).
The Florence Hawley Ellis Museum of Anthropology has interpretative exhibits of a Spanish ranch house and Native American anthropology, and the Ruth Hall Paleontology Museum (both museums tel. 505/685-4333; www.ghostranch.org) displays fossils of the early dinosaur named coelophysis found on the ranch. A lightly built creature, it was very fast when chasing prey. It roamed the area 250 million years ago, making it the oldest dinosaur found in New Mexico.
Many dinosaur skeletons have been found in rocks along the base of cliffs near Abiquiu Reservoir (tel. 505/685-4371), a popular boating and fishing spot formed by the Abiquiu Dam.
A good place to stay and dine in the area is the Abiquiu Inn, a small country inn, restaurant, art gallery, and gift shop, 1/2 mile north of the village of Abiquiu (tel. 505/685-4378). The casitas are especially nice. Rates are $139 to $199.
Heading south from Abiquiu, watch for Dar al Islam (tel. 505/685-4515), a spiritual center with a circular Middle Eastern-style mosque made of adobe; the small community of Mendanales, is the home of renowned weaver Cordelia Coronado; and Hernandez, the village immortalized in Ansel Adams's famous 1941 photograph Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. Rancho de San Juan is a wonderful nearby place to stay and dine.
If you're in the area and need gas for your car or a snack for yourself (or goodies for a picnic), stop in at Bode's, on US 84 in Abiquiu (tel. 505/685-4422). The general store for the area, this place has shovels and irrigation boots, and better yet, cold drinks, gourmet sandwiches, and other deli items -- even a hearty green chile chicken stew.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.