New Mexico North: View Purple Peaks, Meadows, and Flaming Skies at Dusk

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

4. Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation

Continuing east, Rte. 64 twists through a rolling countryside of pine-clad mountains and alpine lakes, of sandstone bluffs and sagebrush prairie. These mixed lands belong to the Jicarilla Apaches, whose ages-old nomadic way of life ended abruptly when they were forced onto this reservation in 1887. Known for their intricately woven baskets, the Jicarillas (meaning “little basketmakers”) reside for the most part in and around Dulce, the hub of the tribal community. The reservation land, rich with a variety of game, is a mecca for fishermen angling for trout and for hunters seeking deer, elk, mountain lions, ducks, geese, and wild turkeys.

For a closer look at the lovely Jicarilla landscape, follow State Rtes. J-8, J-15, and 537 on a scenic loop south from Dulce that takes in five lakes sparkling among piñon-flecked hills. The route is alluring in fall, when Gambel oaks blaze with scarlet and migrating geese honk from the sky.

5. Cumbres Pass

Soon after crossing the Continental Divide, Rte. 64 enters the little town of Chama. From here, the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Rail-road has huffed and puffed its way up and over Cumbres Pass and along precarious Toltec Gorge since the 1880s. The narrow-gauge

railway was built to transport miners to Colorado’s bountiful lodes, but today it carries tourists who come to ogle such sights as the aspens that shimmer on mountain slopes in autumn.

If you prefer to drive, State Rte. 17 more or less parallels the part of the train’s route that stretches between Chama and Cumbres Pass.

6. Brazos Cliffs

From the little town of Tierra Amarilla, tucked in a valley beside the slopes of the San Juan Mountains, Rte. 64 curls upward past aspen-fringed lakes, fields of buttercups, and grazing cattle. The road crests at an elevation of over 10,500 feet, where turnouts and picnic spots along the ridge afford splendid views of the Brazos Cliffs. A part-time waterfall, the product of melting snow in spring and thunderstorms in summer, spills gracefully down the face of the cliffs. From here the drive breezes east through Carson National Forest. Its 1.5 million acres of aspen, fir, and spruce — punctuated by sunny fields and murmuring streams — are a paradise for backpackers and anglers. Among the superb recreational areas that entice motorists to the forest is Hopewell Lake, set in a lovely mountain meadow.

7. Rio Grande Gorge

The high sagebrush plain east of Tres Piedras is broad and flat, offering no hint of the invasive gash in the earth that lies ahead. Then suddenly, on one of the highest suspension bridges in America, the road soars across the chasm of the Rio Grande Gorge. From this 650-foot perch, which quakes under the weight of passing trucks, you can see the raging Rio Grande far below, its green waters encased by walls so steep and narrow that the sun’s rays manage to illuminate them only in summer — and even then only at midday. Golden eagles, which nest on the cliffs, glide gracefully over the gorge.

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