Believing in Our Past: Allan Affeldt & Las Vegas, Lamy, Winslow

(Story by Lynn Cline / Photographs by Douglas Merriam

It requires a rare vision to bring history back to life, restoring treasured pieces of the past to their full glory. It’s a sixth sense really, and it has guided entrepreneur Allan Affeldt on a remarkable journey, restoring abandoned hotels that once stood as magnificent symbols of America’s mighty railroad era. Along the way, he has helped revitalize communities, transforming people and places with his visionary projects.

“There are beautiful things everywhere that need to be saved,” Allan says in a recent interview. “In every case, someone has to take a leap of faith.” Allan took his first leap of faith in Winslow, Ariz., restoring La Posada, the last great American railroad hotel, designed for the Fred Harvey Company by pioneering architect Mary Colter. As Fred Harvey’s principal designer, Colter created La Posada in the style of a grand hacienda, with lush gardens, secluded courtyards and gorgeous public spaces adorned with antiques. In operation from 1930 to 1957, La Posada drew some of the biggest luminaries of the day, from Clark Gable and Carole Lombard to Howard Hughes, Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein and many others.

After La Posada closed, the building fell into disrepair, ending up on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s endangered list, where Allan discovered it and decided to try and save it from the wrecking ball. In 1993, he put aside the dissertation he was writing on cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine and he and his wife, artist Tina Mion, drove to Winslow, where they found their future.

“It was Mary Colter’s masterpiece and it was about to be torn down,” Allan says. “For me, it wasn’t about the railroad or Fred Harvey. It was about saving La Posada, the most important building of America’s most important woman architect.… The building itself was so achingly beautiful. It was like a temple that had been desecrated. The railroad had gutted the building, and turned it into offices. You could tell, though, in the same way that someone who reads poetry for 20 years recognizes a poem. You could see what it was. You could see what it could be.”

And so Allan purchased La Posada, an 80,000-square-foot hotel on 20 acres, for $156,000—just the cost of the land—from the Santa Fe Railway. He devoted three years to working out the financial, legal and environmental hurdles to his $12-million plan to restore Colter’s majestic hotel. In 1997, he and Tina moved in to the Winslow hotel and re-opened its doors to the public. Today, the historic property is considered one of America’s most beautiful hotels. The Turquoise Room, the hotel’s revered restaurant run by renowned Chef John Sharpe, takes its name from the private dining car Colter designed for the Super Chief in 1936.

Allan’s second leap of faith landed him in Las Vegas, N.M., the home of La Castañeda, the first trackside hotel for the Fred Harvey Company and the site of the 1899 reunion of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders after the Spanish-American War. The luxurious Mission Revival-style mansion, the only property designed by renowned Pasadena architect Frederick Roehrig for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, opened in 1899. The 40,000-square-foot hotel and restaurant, the prototype of almost every Harvey House built thereafter, closed in 1948 and then quickly declined. Despite the hotel’s dilapidated state, Allan saw a national treasure.

“Tina and I came out to Las Vegas in 2000 to see the Castañeda and Montezuma,” Allan recalls. “Las Vegas was the only place with two remaining Harvey hotels.” The Montezuma Hotel, which opened in 1882, became part of United World College in 1981. But the Castañeda was then owned by a local couple who ran it as a bar and were trying to sell the rundown property for $2.5 million. Many phone calls with the owners’ realtor took place across a full decade before Allan and Tina were able to purchase the hotel for $450,000. They then spent $5 million restoring the hotel with a team of 50 local artisans, opening it as the Castaneda this April, complete with a handsome historic saloon and a restaurant, Kin, helmed by acclaimed Chef Sean Sinclair. “It’s the only project ever in New Mexico to receive historic and new markets tax credits,” Allan says. “It was very complicated. Just the financing took three years.”

The day after the Castaneda deal closed on April 8, 2014, locals turned out to celebrate and to shake Allan’s hand in gratitude, according to an Associated Press story. Some people declared Allan’s purchase and plans to restore the old hotel as the best thing to happen to this old Wild West town. Allan is on track to prove them right, having also purchased the Plaza Hotel—known as the Belle of the Southwest when it opened in 1882—and restored it to rightful splendor. The Plaza Hotel’s restaurant is one of Albuquerque’s landmark Range Cafés, now with six locations across New Mexico.

“With the Plaza and the Castaneda, here’s this incredible historical legacy and nobody knows about it,” Allan says. “Las Vegas had a poor reputation in the ’70s and ’80s, but it has an authenticity that has gone in so many places. People in New Mexico didn’t know about the Las Vegas legacy. They didn’t know the Castañeda was a great hotel or that Montezuma was the greatest hot springs resort in the West. By saving the Castañeda and revitalizing the Plaza Hotel, we hope to restore the reputation of the town.”

So how did a graduate student in semantics end up with a passion for historic preservation and reviving struggling communities? “I was always interested in architecture,” Allan says. “Design was my thing. I grew up in Orange County in Southern California. My father was in the tile business. We always had Architectural Digest around, and it was one of the things I enjoyed reading.” Allan also had an interest in international relations and enjoyed a vibrant career as co-producer with Bill Graham of Moscow’s Concert for Peace in 1987, and of international peace walks to end the Cold War. It was during on one of those peace walks, in the Ukraine, that he met his American wife.

Today, Allan and Tina collaborate and consult, selecting colors and making other design decisions for their hotels. Tina’s oil paintings are permanently displayed at La Posada, Castaneda and the Plaza Hotel, as well as in collections around the world, including the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The couple makes their home in Sedona, Ariz., but Tina has a studio in Winslow, and will soon have one in Castaneda, and they also have residences in La Posada and the Plaza Hotel.

Allan juggles many components with his work—raising money, negotiating bureaucratic labyrinths, dealing with the complexity of construction and reviving railroad towns. “These buildings were the center of their communities,” he says. “When La Posada closed down, in an important way so did Winslow, because it lost its sense of place, lost its heritage, lost its pride. By the time we got there, it was an abandoned railroad town. Before Tina and I came to see it, we had looked at pictures of Colter’s work and La Posada was by far her greatest. After 20 years, we’re still making improvements. Last year, we renovated the train station and added on to it as an art and history complex.”

To aid in Winslow’s revival, Allan bought and restored the town’s old movie theater and even ran for mayor. He was elected not once, but twice. Broader change came as investors began buying downtown properties and fixing them up. In New Mexico, Allan is expanding to other railroad towns, buying the historic Legal Tender Saloon in Lamy. Cafe Fina’s Murphy O’Brien and his nephew Rory O’Brien will run the soon-to-open restaurant and plans are afoot to bring back railroad service to Lamy from Santa Fe. Each of Allan’s projects are designed around a love for rail travel in these overlooked towns and an enthusiasm for America’s past.

“It’s historic revival,” Allan says. “It’s economic development. If you don’t have a business model for restoring these buildings, they’re just going to fail again. It’s aesthetics on a fundamental level. The most significant contribution we can make in the Southwest is tying these railroad towns together. We want to give people an authentic experience of the great railroad era. At the turn of the 19th century, the railroads were the biggest business in the country. Nobody from our generation ever really experienced that. There are these testaments to commerce, like the railyards in Albuquerque—a commercial industrial space that even now, as a magnificent ruin, is a temple of light. What we know from La Posada is that there is a business model and we can save these buildings and, in a really fundamental way, we can save these communities.”

On the Road

Photo by Geraint Smith

(Story by Sharon Niederman)

Itching for adventure? It’s road-trip high season. Don’t be too busy, or you’ll miss it. Summer is just beginning, but we know how fast it flies by.

Northeast

Raton is the place for a glorious, old-fashioned Fourth of July at the Santa Fe Trail International Balloon Rally, July 4-6, with liftoff at 6:30 a.m. July 5 at La Mesa Airfield. Admission is free. As hometown as can be, the event begins with the Kiwanis Club pancake breakfast. If you love the sight of bright balloons aloft on a crisp morning, but could do with a smaller crowd, this is the place—not to mention the refreshing temperatures of northeastern New Mexico and the blooming wildflowers at Sugarite Canyon State Park. Kick back, go fishing at Maloya Lake, hike the in-town Climax Canyon Nature Trail, which was declared a National Recreation Trail by the National Park Service. The Fourth brings an all-day celebration on Historic 1st Street, with live music, vendors and big-wow fireworks. More at ratonmainstreet.org.

Or do the Fourth in Eagle Nest, with a parade, a Volunteer Fire Department mid-day BBQ, and dazzling fireworks over Eagle Nest Lake. July 6 is great fun, too: the Nashville to New Mexico Country-Western acoustic sounds of Billy Dawson ring out at Eagle Nest Lake State Park. Call 575.377.2420.

Northwest

If you haven’t visited Purple Adobe Lavender Farm in Abiquiu, the 10th Annual Lavender in the Valley Festival, July 13-14, is your opportunity. This year’s theme is Mardi Gras in July, with Dixieland and gypsy jazz from the Shiners Cub Jazz Band. Chef Carmen Rodriguez of MiSanta and Santa Fe YouthWorks Catering dish up this party, and you can pick your own lavender from the 15 varieties growing here. This little piece of heaven includes the Lavender Tea House, serving lavender tea and scones, and the Lavender Shoppe is stocked with dozens of locally produced, exquisite self- and home-care products to splurge on. Admission is $5. Visit purpleadobelavenderfarm.com.

Southeast

Here’s a happy birthday party for you: July 20 marks Judy Chicago’s big Eight-Oh with the grand opening of her and photographer husband and partner Donald Woodman’s Through the Flower Art Space at 107 Becker Ave. in Belen. Reservations are a must. And Judy creates a special fireworks show, to boot. Plus, the entire weekend of July 20-21 is dedicated to the kickoff of the Belen Arts District. On July 21, corks are popping with a special vintage in the tasting room of Jaramillo Vineyards, 114 Becker Ave., and from noon-2 p.m., the Judy Chicago Wine Release Party comes in both red and white: complex, piquant and exhilarating. Visit throughtheflower.org or holdmyticket.com.

You may not get to Tucumcari every day. But next time you’re exploring Route 66 and cruising that way, visit Tucumcari Ranch Supply, 502 S. Lake St., tucranchsupply.com, for a heaping plate of Watsons BBQ. Not only are Jimmy and Stella Watson dishing up brisket and ribs of your dreams, they are the friendliest, most fun-loving hosts you’ll find on your travels. And they’ll insist you sample their green chile-apple cobbler—who could refuse?

This year at the July 5-7 UFO Festival in Roswell, tours of the 1947 crash site will be offered, and with UFO sightings in the news, the tour ought to be especially provocative. You probably don’t want to miss the July 6 Alien Costume and Cosplay contest either, with the Alien Pet Costume Contest on the Courthouse lawn. Plus, on the evening of July 4, the city puts on a free Billy Ray Cyrus concert at 1612 West College Blvd. Visit ufofestivalroswell.org.

Southwest

July 12-14 means the Magdalena Old Timers Reunion. With a dozen galleries, half a dozen cafes and an all-out interesting blend of inhabitants, Magdalena, also known as the “Trail’s End,” has got to be one of the liveliest, most welcoming small towns in the state. Old timers head to town with their tallest tales this weekend—plus the rodeo, a fiddlers contest, mini-cattle drive, art and food. Check out magdalena-nm.com or call 575.854.2261.

July 4-7, take in Mescalero Apache Ceremonial Dances & Rodeo at Mescalero Ceremonial Grounds near Ruidoso. Each day features a rodeo with bull riding, barrel racing, calf roping and more. Other activities include the Mescalero Apache Fire Rescue Challenge Run on July 6, with a 5k walk and 5k/10k run, and the 39th Annual Mescalero Celebration Parade on the 7th. Native American arts and crafts, traditional and modern games and free lunch and dinner will also be available. Ceremonial dances include kenalda, the maidens’ coming of age dances. Admission rings in at $3 for children and $7 for adults. Rodeo admission is $5 for the kids, and $12 for adults. Call 575.464.4494.

On the Road June 2019

(Story by Sharon Niederman/Photo by Geraint Smith)

The sweetest two words in the English language? Summer afternoon. So said author Henry James, and who dares disagree? Picnic season is officially here, and fair New Mexico abounds with opportunities to partake of a basket of delectables beneath the bluest skies and the starriest nights.

Northeast

Big doings at Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas: Chef Sean Sinclair has officially opened Bar Castañeda from 3-10 p.m. every day but Sunday, with a “slew of tacos” and a sensational smash burger to accompany your adult beverage of choice. And his Kin restaurant is poised for a “late June” opening as of press time, presenting a chef’s tasting menu that will change weekly. Visit castanedahotel.org.

With more than 40 hot-air balloons, and all the glowing color we love about balloon fiestas, plus chairlift rides, Balloons Over Angel Fire lifts off over the Moreno Valley June 14-16. Sail over to balloonsoverangelfire.com.

Is your inner mountain man or gal yearning to get out? The Annual Santa Fe Trail Rendezvous will be held June 9-15, sponsored by the NRA Whittington Center in Raton. Experience re-creation of the pre-1840s mountain man fur trade era on the Santa Fe Trail. Period dress required in camp after 6 pm. Cooking and costume contests include a period dress contest, an authentic cooking contest, a primitive camp contest, a dessert-cooking contest, and the ma and pa egg-cooking contest. Admission is free. Head to crazycrow.com.

Northwest

Celebrate the Summer Solstice with a sunrise observation at Aztec Ruins National Monument in Aztec. This free program begins at 5:30 a.m. June 21-22 and includes a ranger-led program on solar alignment and its importance within the Ancestral Puebloan culture. Visit nps.gov or call 505.334.6174 for details.

And what dad wouldn’t love a trip on the rock train for Father’s Day? The popular Cumbres & Toltec Geology Train offers morning tour departures from Antonito, Colo., and Chama June 16. The 64-mile journey is led by Peter W. Lipman, emeritus scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Lunch is included in ticket price. Sounds like a blast! Chugga-chugga on over to cumbrestoltec.com.

If you haven’t been out to Inscription Rock in a while, you may be surprised by all the activity at El Morro on N.M. 53. Love, love Ancient Way Café’s homecooking, especially the house-made pastrami Reuben sandwich and scrumptious desserts, plus the coffee next door at Inscription Rock Trading Post and zany Meow Wolf-style art at Old School Gallery. The cafe is part of the El Morro RV Park and Cabin’s complex, elmorro-nm.com. A highly recommended Sunday drive.

Southwest

Following its extensive renovation and two-year closure, Western New Mexico University’s Fleming Hall in Silver City re-opened in May. This campus museum is the home of the NAN Ranch Collection—the largest and most complete collection of prehistoric Mimbres materials excavated from a single site, and the home of the largest, permanent, interpretative exhibition of Mimbres pottery and artifacts in the world. Admission is free.

I’m still crazy after all these years about the Black Range Lodge Bed & Breakfast in Kingston. Those massive stone walls have housed miners and cavalry and hold stories a-plenty. Breakfast features preserves and baked goods made with fruit raised in the orchard and eggs from chickens clucking out back. Owner Catherine Wanek has created an otherworldly destination getaway deep in the heart of New Mexico on the edge of the Gila National Forest. This summer’s Starlight Concert series adds to the delight. On June 15, singer/songwriter Randy Granger performs with Native American flute, percussion and guitar. Picnics are encouraged; concert begins at 7 p.m. Wine and beer are available from Black Range Vineyards. More at blackrangelodge.com.

Southeast

If you’re heading south, don’t miss the Arrey Cafe, maybe the most inconspicuous eatery you ever saw, in a doublewide in Arrey, 25 miles south of Truth or Consequences. You know when they bring out the squeeze bottle of salsa and loaded basket of fresh chips this is going to be good. Farmers and field workers are feasting on local beans and chile. Green chile cheeseburger or chile rellenos? That is a tough call. There are fresh donuts every morning and a Friday night ribeye special. After lunch, you can follow N.M. 187 down along the Rio Grande through the chile fields all the way to Las Cruces. Find Arrey Cafe on Facebook.

The Rio Grande runs through it. Only an hour south of Albuquerque, off I-25 exit 169, the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, the state’s largest, has four biomes—desert, prairie, shrub and woodland—as well as five miles of riparian area and eight miles of trails, from easy to challenging. Go early, because shade is minimal, and that’s also when you can see the Gambel’s quail and roadrunners and enjoy maximum serenity. Forever views of mountains and desert landscapes. Free. Visit fws.gov.

Feel free to send me suggestions about the places you love at sherites@swcp.com. See you on the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SE – Rocking Route 66 Jun 27, Tucumcari

White Sands- tour of Lake Lucero

Seviletta tours?

 

On the Road May 2019

Photo by Geraint Smith

(Story by Sharon Niederman)

When the sun is shining on a New Mexico spring weekend, there’s only one thing to do: Fill up the tank and go. Those wheels are waiting, and your New Mexico bucket list is begging you to start checking it off.

Northwest

For starters, just a short ride from either Santa Fe or Albuquerque is NM-4, the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway. Hot springs, hiking, holy ruins—it’s all there. While we had our hearts set on the “Famous Jemez” burger at Los Ojos Restaurant & Saloon, we found ourselves beguiled for brunch at the Highway 4 Coffee, 17502 NM-4 in Jemez Springs, a charming local favorite reminiscent of the ’70s, serving house-baked cinnamon rolls, blue corn piñon pancakes with fresh blueberries, yummy breakfast burritos and proper Americanos. While I waited for my order, I eavesdropped on the monthly I Ching study group meeting in the back room.

On the way home, find lunch at the red rocks across from the Pueblo of Jemez Walatowa Visitor Center where Jemez Pueblo ladies slather red chile on Frito pies and, working over a wood fire, fix the best fry bread you’ve ever tasted.

Yearning to go further? Continue on U.S. 550 to Farmington for Riverfest, a celebration of the Animas River along the city’s marvelous river walkway, Memorial Day Weekend, May 24-26. The fest features music, a beer and wine garden, river rafting, fun run, duck races, plein air painting, yoga and Gourd Dances. Check it out at farmingtonnm.org/events/riverfest.

Southwest

Mother’s Day is on the way, and there is no better way to express your appreciation and make some great memories than taking Mom to the elegant Rebeccas at the Lodge in Cloudcrofts Lodge Resort and Spa for Mother’s Day brunch ($42 adults; $16 age 5-12; age 4 and under free). Chef Tim McManus goes all out to offer a selection of carving stations, including prime rib, and signature desserts of chocolate covered strawberries and homemade bread pudding, among other delicious offerings. If you’re feeling energetic afterward, you can climb the tower where Clark Gable and Judy Garland signed their names. Reservations a must: 575.682.2566.

No excuse needed for a Silver City getaway, but if you need a little push to cross the Black Range, here comes the 24th annual Silver City Blues Festival, Memorial Day Weekend, with an artwalk, paint-out, fab eats and more to accompany the music. Both traditional and contemporary interpretations are on hand with Guitar Shorty, Felix y Los Gatos and Laurie Morvan Band. Silver City’s gotten this festival thing fine-tuned to an art. Call 575.538.2505. Visit silvercitybluesfestival.org for details.

Southeast

Mesilla is the place to be for Cinco de Mayo. Starting May 4, the Plaza comes alive with ballet folklorico, mariachis, food vendors, local artist booths and piñatas a-plenty in the gazebo, as the village revels in its Mexican traditions. Information at mesillanm.gov.

Stick around Las Cruces to celebrate another rite of spring, the Blessing of the Fields, May 15, at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, as the head gates are opened and water flows into the acequia during this joyous multicultural celebration and procession to bless plants, animals, fields and waterways. Call 575.448.0721. Visit nmfarmandranchmuseum.org to learn more.

While the month of May is optimal for viewing the flowering of 600 iris in 90 varieties, in ruffles and exquisite colors from salmon to yellows, to blues and so much more, at artist Alice Seelys Hondo Iris Farm and Gallery, they are at their peak for the Iris Festival, beginning May 1, so head over Mother’s Day, May 12, to treat Mom to a rainbow of sweet blooms. Find this little piece of heaven at Mile Marker 284 on Highway 70. Alice has also created a fanciful Fairy Garden with found object installations. Her petroglyph-influenced pewter jewelry is also on display. The iris garden is a splendid place to picnic. Visit hondoirisfarm.com.

Northeast

Cinco de Mayo comes a day early to Colfax County with Los Diablos Show & Shine in Springer. On May 4, show off your ride with pride—car, motorcycle or truck—to an appreciative audience at the Santa Fe Trail Museum Park. No fees and no awards, but all entrants receive a dash plaque. While you’re at it, grab some of Crazy Jeffs BBQ and check out the chile contest. For Los Diablos information, call 575.707.2964.

Another Mother’s Day thought: The historic and beautifully restored Hotel Eklund, 15 Main St. in Clayton, serves a lovely festive Mother’s Day brunch, featuring their succulent prime rib and several special dishes Mother is sure to love in their Victorian/Old West dining room, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Price range is $7.50-$28. Make reservations at 575.374.2551.

And don’t forget: Fort Union Drive In, the state’s only remaining drive-in movie theater, in Las Vegas, showing first run movies, is open for the season. Call 505.425.9934 or head to Facebook to learn more about this classic 1958 theater.

More hot Vegas buzz: The much-anticipated grand re-opening of the renovated Castaneda Hotel is a reality–stay tuned for news on their development.

On the Road

(Story by Sharon Niederman)

Oh, how we love our 47th state of 121,697 square miles, where our elevations range from 2,842 feet above sea level, to Wheeler Peak at 13,161. Where our Native American, Spanish and Anglo cultures inform our foods and our tradition. Where chiles, grapes, piñon and pinto beans grow in profusion. Where elk, wild turkey, bear and buffalo roam. Where rock and river, peak and valley offer new places to explore. Where prairie land ranches, high mountain hamlets and desert scapes give us endless space to think. Where our 412 state roads take us into new communities to meet new people who share our love of New Mexico.

Welcome to On the Road with Sharon Niederman, our new monthly column highlighting happenings in all four corners of New Mexico, so you can get behind the wheel with a trusted guide.

“New Mexico is my muse,” food and travel journalist-photographer Sharon Niederman says. Her books have been recognized with numerous awards, including Society of American Travel Writers Foundation Gold Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, National Federation of Press Women’s First Place, the Lowell Thomas Travel Writing Award and the Border Regional Library Association’s Award for “literary excellence and enrichment of the cultural heritage of the Southwest.” She has done stints as arts editor of the Santa Fe Reporter, restaurant reviewer for the Albuquerque Journal and Southwest correspondent for Sunset Magazine, and she’s penned three cookbooks of New Mexico cuisine. Her most recent book is Explorer’s Guide to New Mexico, and, apropos of our road-tripping column, her upcoming project, due out from The Countryman Press later this year, is, Backroads and Byways of New Mexico.

Check back in May for Sharon’s first column, and get ready to hit the road!

Choices, Chances, Challenges by Taylor Streit

taylor 10.18(Story by Taylor Streit, from his forthcoming book, Fly Fishing Taos/ Santa Fe)

Some of the best things about fly fishing in North Central New Mexico is that there are opportunities for both beginners and experts and there’s access for the young and fit—as well as the physically challenged. Another big draw is that our fishing is not overly challenging in a technical sense. Much of modern fly fishing—usually in more populated places—finds the angler trying to outwit difficult trout by the use of tiny flies and persnickety techniques. (Fisherfolks who enjoy those challenges can head over to the San Juan River or fish in Colorado.) I personally prefer unsophisticated trout waters and we have plenty of those­­––perfect for beginning fly fishers. This usually means your small trout. Bigger fish are much more of challenge to hook and often break off when the rod is in unskilled hands–a major bummer for a newbie. Streams like the Pecos, Cimarron and Costilla have oodles of such fish and the water is fast, so the blunders of the duffer don’t show, nor does that cast need to be long and pretty like you witness on TV ads for Viagra.

If you can afford it, the other way to catch the ole Walter of your dreams is to hire a guide and pay a rod fee. Beware that if you want to do this, make arrangements well ahead of your date as private water spots are usually limited and need to be booked in advance. And as a rule of thumb–well planned guiding days go better then short notice ones anyway. (The nature of this book—and the nature of the ever changing private water spots—precludes me from listing choices. Pretty much each guiding outfit has their own private water in these parts.)

For the more skilled angler, there is big-fish fishing in the Rio Grande, Chama, Pecos ( usually private) and the Conejos. Big trout can be had with easy access on the Conejos in June to mid July when the big hatches are on. The Rio Grande can have a much longer window of opportunity and to catch the big ones in the Rio the skilled angler needs to penetrate the canyon by heading down a trail. It’s the same story with the lower Red River—there are big fish there, but you have to go in after them. Decent sized trout (13 to 16 inch) are available in almost any stream and the Costilla, uppermost Cimarron and lower Rio Grande (along the highway) comes to mind. The upper Los Pinos and Valle Caldera have plenty of what we refer to as “nice fish” also. The average size fish in the upper Chama is in this range also.

Either effort requires time and that is another subject to bring up. How much time do you have? When I guided I learned to ask about time constraints in the shop beforehand. Nothing is worse than to hear at river’s edge, “Oh yah, I forgot to mention we need to be back in town for tea with Aunt Jenny at 4.” When booking a half-day guide trip we tell the would-be client that the half-day means that choices are cut down because from either Taos or Santa Fe fishing is a pretty far drive. (A very notable exception to this is fishing out of the Chama area where several spots will be close by.)

So when planning your fishing day consider the amount of time you have. Of course camping—car camping—is a great way to go cause you can then fish when the fish are eating. This is oftentimes evenings when a day traveler is on the road (in trout fishing evening is almost always way better than early morning fishing in the western US). Doing this means you will be more likely to have the water to yourself, too.

Although you have heard this from me before it is hard to overstate the importance of choosing your fishing times to jive with the weather and water conditions. Global warming has so far been beneficial around here as it has extended the fishing season to near year-round. But that has also made for temperature extremes, and old-school thinking on times to fish have changed. But common sense still prevails: If the weather is cool—midafternoon is gonna be best. If it’s hot, stick with morning fishing. Hope for temperatures on your next excursion to be in the 70s–that will make late morning until 3 PM the most agreeable. Contrary to popular belief this is far and away the overall best time to fish as insect activity is at its highest then. (Bear in mind however that in early season, air temps might be hot in the day but nights are cool and the water’s still cold from snowmelt.)

One other type of outing is when you have a non-fisherman along. It expands options cause if you get skunked you can call it a picnic. Trout streams are generally pretty nice places but the some of the best choices for the fishing/picnic would be the Pecos, Santa Barbara and Costilla Creeks.