After more than two glorious weeks exploring pet friendly Santa Fe, it was time to move on and see something new. Northern New Mexico was virgin territory for us, so we pointed the motorhome up Hwy 84, toward the little town of Chama, with its breathtaking elevation of 7,850 feet. Best known for the Cumbres & Toltec scenic steam train ride through the mountains, Chama made an excellent base for us to dig into the area.
Unfortunately, the train ride that draws so many visitors here is not pet friendly, and it takes a good chunk of the day. The staff were friendly and had some suggestions for places to board Ty and Buster if we wanted to make the trip, but that’s not how we roll. We learned that Hwy 17 between Chama and Antonito, Colorado closely follows the train’s route, so we chose to see the sites from the car, and take the dogs along for the ride.
The scenery is certainly every bit as magnificent as promised! Hwy 17 heads north across the Colorado border and then winds though the Rio Grande National Forest, climbs over Cumbres Pass at 10,022 feet, and dives down into Conejos Canyon – one of the wildest areas in Colorado.
The trip to Antonito takes a little more than an hour by car, which leaves plenty of time to hit the Continental Divide Trail on your way back!
Depending on the direction you leave Chama, the landscape is surprising varied. To the north are the ragged mountain peaks – our next day trip to the west deposited us in sweeping pastures, dotted with cows, goats, sheep, and even a few llamas! The San Juan National Forest lies between Chama and Pagosa Springs, and again, the drive takes a little more than an hour.
Pagosa is the most developed town near Chama, thanks to the hot springs that bubble to the surface here. People have been coming to soak in the warm waters forever, and tourism is a major component of the economy. If you like urban hiking, you’ll find some fun shops to check out and a lovely paved trail along the river. We also saw some interesting restaurants, but were told that laws prohibit pets at the outdoor seating areas in Pagosa Springs.
Fortunately, there are some great picnic spots to check out! Pull up a bench in one of the parks, or stop by the National Forest Ranger Station for insider tips on some of the most scenic drives and hikes in the area.
Driving south from Chama takes you to the dramatic sandstone cliffs and hills that have inspired famous artists, like Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams.
Is there anything more enjoyable than listening to yourself bark? Buster doesn’t think so, and Echo Amphitheater was the perfect place for him to test his pipes. This natural sandstone echo chamber is as much fun for kids of all ages as it is for dogs. Woof, woof!
Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center
Down the road just three more miles is the 21,000-acre Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center, formerly owned by the famous artist, Georgia O’Keeffe. The center now has two museums and offers tours, movies, hiking trails, horseback riding, workshops, camping, and lodging (no pet friendly rooms are available). There are nine hiking trails here, with options for every experience level, and leashed dogs are welcome to join you everywhere on the property – including the visitors center. There’s a $3 per person conservation fee to use the trails, and the views are well worth the price of admission!
Across from Ghost Ranch is the 5,200-acre Abiquiú Lake and Dam. There’s a gorgeous RV park right on the lakeshore, a boat launch, and a four-mile hiking trail, which serves up panoramic views of the lake and Cerro Pedernal, the flat-topped mesa to the south.
The visitor’s center at the dam has information on many more things to do around the area. We ran out of time, so we’ll have plenty to look forward to on our next visit!
When you’ve thoroughly explored what’s to the north, west, and south of Chama, pack up and take the eastern course across Hwy 64, through Carson National Forest, and on to the funky town of Taos. There’s so much to do and see around Taos that trying to manage it in a day would be too much. Settle in for a couple days and take your time getting to know this little corner of New Mexico. And from there you may want to continue a little further east to the picturesque ski village of Angel Fire.
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