Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Winter Vacation - New Mexico Snow - Day 4

Today was the last day of our winter vacation. After breakfast at the hotel we packed up the minivan and headed up toward Taos Ski Valley for our snowmobile excursion. On the way we stopped at a Mexican import store. Dianna decided she wanted a decorative turtle for one of our flower beds. I picked up some chile seasoning for ground beef. From there we hit detour number two....the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge was only 8 miles so I thought it would be worthwhile drive. Traffic was minimal so I stopped on the middle of the bridge and took these shots:

Looking north from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
The Rio Grande is 650 feet below the bridge.

The view south from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

Next stop was Taos Ski Valley. TSV is actually about 24 miles from Taos. The drive there was the most scenic compared to the drives toward Red River and Angel Fire.

The road from Taos to Taos Ski Valley

TSV was packed...we had to park at the back of the lot furthest from the lift we needed to meet for our snowmobile ride. TSV had an efficient shuttle service but, we kind of felt like cattle...the shuttle consisted of a covered trailer and it was standing room only. We met up at ski lift #1 to sign our release form paperwork from Big Al's TSV Wilderness Adventures.

Next to ski lift #1 looking up at the Black Diamond Showdown run

Then we headed back down to parking area to ride Big Al's Popemobile to the trailhead with the snowmobiles...this was a slightly modified Ford 4-wheel drive truck with a large wooden enclosure in the bed that could seat about 10 people. Dianna and all of us actually rode in the cab with Big Al. He was a very interesting character. Even though he has lived in TSV for 25 years he still had a deep Texas drawl. We drove up near the trailhead past many condo's and a few homes....there was actually a sign posted on the way that said "4 wheel drive vehicles only." Big Al had chains on his tires as well. We actually had to walk the last 50 yards to the trailhead since it was inaccessible by vehicle.

Path to the trailhead where the snowmobiles were waiting

Dianna had never snowmobiled before...I had been on two previous occasions in Park City, Utah. This experience was completely different. The machines we rode looked and drove like they were brand new...they have obviously been very well maintained by Big Al.

Here is Big Al firing up our sleds...

Big Al spent about 20 minutes on giving basic "how to" instructions....he even quizzed all of us individually. Here we are starting out on the trail:

That's Dianna with A wearing the purple toboggan.
M. rode with me.

The scenery was amazing on the way up.....

A winter "wonderland"


Most of the ride consisted of 8-10 foot path with steep dropoffs. From the picture below I tried to show how steep the dropoff was....

I took a cool self picture of M and me while driving the snowmobile.....

M. loved this ride...she asked me to go faster several times

After about 45 minutes we finally peaked out at about 11,400 feet. The view was incredible...

Big Al offered to take this family shot with
Kachina Peak (elev. 12,400) as the backdrop.

A shot of Kachine can see
the ski runs on the back of TSV

Nice pic of the snow girls...

There were contrails (vapour trails) everywhere...

This was our last day in Taos...we stayed in White Rock the last night (same place we stayed on the first night). Before leaving Taos we ate at Pizza Outback. Dianna and I split a large house salad which consisted of greens, sprouts, onions, carrots and purple cabbage. It came with an awesome pesto basil vinaigrette. We also split a monstrous slice of their Bottom Line pizza and a calzone. We both agreed the pizza was better than fact, the pizza was very good, but, not as good as Upper Crust in Santa Fe. From there we headed back to White Rock and visited some old family friends until about 10pm.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter Vacation - New Mexico Snow - Day 3 UPDATED w/ MORE PICS

After getting a late start compared to everyone else in our hotel we headed out to Angel Fire. Our hotel is about 24 miles from AF. The road was quite winding and provided for some white knuckle driving, especially with the snow/ice patches.
Here we are stuck behind a construction grader
and sanding truck w/ a plow. Yes, that is a
4-wheel drive FedEx truck in front of us

When we arrived in AF we drove straight to the AF Resort to pick up our Polar Coaster tubing passes. The way AF advertises the Polar Coaster is that there are 3 tubing lanes that run about 1000 feet with a surface lift that moves you back to the top. AF sells 50 tickets for each 1.5 hour time slot...more on this later. Parking was tough since this place was packed! We ended parking in the lot furthest from the ski base. Luckily they had shuttles available. Once we got off of the shuttle both girls had to make a bathroom stop. This was a 15 minute deal for Dianna because of all of the outerwear the girls had on. I should emphasize this outerwear was put on right after parking. We still made it to the lift on time. Everyone there soon discovered AF sold about 80 tickets. Why is this a big deal? They only had about 60 tubes which meant there was delay at the top to get someone to give you a tube. There was also a line to get on the surface lift and another line at the top to go down. All of us each took about 8 trips down, so it was a good time.

This is the view from the top of Polar Coaster

The girls are patiently awaiting the trip down on the tube

M. had a blast and A. was doing great until she decided to go down laying down. There are rubber mats at the bottom of the hill to slow you down...if you happen to put downward pressure on the front edge of the tube as you hit the mats your body continues to move forward while the tube abruptly stops. I know this because I experienced it first-hand on my first trip down. I would pay to have a photo/video of me flipping over about 4 times in a couple of seconds. Anyways, back to A., she did the same thing. Here first comment after her spill was that she was done tubing. I convinced her to try again sitting not laying on the tube. She was spill-free after that.

This is M. tubing; she is so adventurous for a 4 yr old

This is A. right before her wipe out

Dianna flying down the hill

Click the youtube link below for the video I took of the ride:

Angel Fire was a different scene compared to Enchanted Forest XC. There were very long lift lines at Angel Fire and it was difficult to walk around, especially among people who don't know how to carry their skis/poles.

After we finished tubing it was time get some snacks so we took the shuttle back to the mini-van. Now it was time to look for a sledding location I read on someone's blog. The blog was not very specific other than sledding hill was next to a condo with tennis courts. We actually found the sledding hill in less than 10 minutes. There were quite a few people sledding and the hill was pretty steep with lots of frozen snow. All of us went down a couple of times before Dianna and I decided this may be too dangerous. On one side of the hill bottom was a frozen pond. We just didn't want to find out how frozen it wasn't. Right next to the sledding hill was a playground. I would say this was the highlight of the trip for the girls, so far. Not that they really played on the playground equipment....they just played in the snow making snow angels, throwing snowballs and just frolicking in the snow. The snow was about 24 inches here. Soon, the sun was going to set so we headed back to Taos to get some food and avoid a night drive on the winding road back.

Walking up to the top of hill. This was much cheaper than the
tube ride at Angel Fire (read free) but, there was no surface lift

Probably the coolest picture of the trip;
M. is flying down the sled hill. Click to enlarge

Dianna has her brakes ON (her feet are down and out)

Dianna with her fake, poser smile after a scary sled trip

Check out Dianna's expression; this is how she really felt

Me and A. speeding down the frozen snow with absolutely no control

Vacation Trivia Time, choose the correct answer:
1) Did Dianna have too much to drink and pass out?
2) Dianna is trying to imitate M. and A's angel making ?
3) Dianna is preparing for the latest Clapper commercial
(I have fallen and get up, out of the snow)

M. snow angel

A. snow angel

Check out what looks like a big white spot on my jacket...
it's actually a softball-sized snowball M. made and then
threw at me. With aim like that she should pitch
for the Texas Rangers

Another snowballer in action

"The Snow Girls"

Dianna chose Five Star Burgers for tonight's was a very good choice. They still had happy hour specials when we arrived which meant half-price draft beer ($1.75 for Bud light) and $1 dollar fries. The girls had the kid's cheeseburger/fries deal. And, for $2.75 it was a good deal. Dianna had an applewood smoked bacon cheddar burger and I tried the Taos burger which was a cheddar burger with a batter fried green chile. The bread was was a butter toasted french roll. The meat was all natural 100% Angus from the Harris Ranch. All around good stuff. The only negative here was the slow service. This was a busy restaurant that was short 1-2 waitstaff but, I would stop by for a burger on my next visit to Taos.

The Five Star Taos burger...I recommend it.

Tomorrow is our last full day before heading back. Vacations just happen way too fast.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winter Vacation - New Mexico Snow - Day 2

We left White Rock after our mandatory stop at the Overlook. The view was incredible, as always, maybe even more so this time because of the snow. I don't remember going to the Overlook as kid with snow on the ground.

White Rock Overlook
View of the Sangre de Cristo mountains with
the Rio Grande (w/ frozen ice chunks) below

The drive to Enchanted Forest XC Ski Area was quite long. It took about an hour to get from Los Alamos to Taos where we made a pit stop and about another hour from there to Enchanted, which is 3 miles east of Red River.
The road between Questa, NM and Red River, NM
It looked worse than it was.

The ski base is actually about 200 yards from the highway and at about 9000 feet in altitude. Since we don't have a 4 wheel drive vehicle to traverse this snow-filled road we planned to walk down a short hill and back up a steep hill to the ski base. Luckily, the actual owner of Enchanted was driving in as we started to walk and he gave us a lift, this was not the case as we left. When we arrived at the rental office we were told there was no charge for the kids...a very pleasant surprise. While getting our gear the employee helping us mentioned that most people dress too warm for XC skiing. Even though the temperature was only 20 degrees we decided to heed his advice. All of us had on awesome synthetic long underwear, jeans, long sleeve tops, ski bibs, neck warmers, tobaggans, gloves and jackets. We left the jackets in a locker at the rental office.

Here's A. about to gear up

Enchanted Forest base

Here is M. on her first ski attempt...well done M. !

Here's A. about to ski...she had a blast !

This was the first time girls and I have ever skied. The girls did great....the biggest problem they had was going up inclines and getting up after falling. I actually, mysteriously, did not, getting up may have been more difficult than it seems. The trails here were very well groomed and they all had XC pistes (parallel grooves cut into the snow) which really helped the girls out.

A. is cruising here...

Oooops !!!!

Traffic jam @ elevation 9000 ft

After skiing about 2 kilometers we decided to go back to the office and trade our skis in for snowshoes. They don't charge for this. We 'shoed the shortest loop they had since it was getting late (getting late in a ski area is 4pm). M started to fact, she really didn't want to snowshoe at all.
Snowshoeing??? Not so much.

I think she equated it with hiking in the snow.....which is exactly what it is. M has somewhat of an aversion to hiking since our Sedona hike earlier this summer.

Here's A. snowshoeing and going on a
surprise snowball attack.

M. needed constant "motivation" to keep shoeing

Off the 'beaten path' here and up to my
knee even with snowshoes on.

Overall, everyone had a great time. And, I have to say the service here is great! I think this would be an incredible way to workout.

The end of our first snow excursion

Tonight we are staying in Taos. On the way back we stopped at Orlando's New Mexican Cafe for some chow. This place was very cramped and overly crowded. The host staff made things worse with their attitude. As I mentioned the place is very small but, I was bumped into no less than five times by the staff and not once did they say "sorry" or "excuse me." The food was very, very average. This place just didn't live up to the hype. Dianna had the blue corn cheese enchiladas. She says they were kind of bland. I had the Los Colores which consists of a cheese, a chicken and a beef enchilada. The only item worth mentioning is the beef had very good flavor. They did skimp on the enchilada sauces, though. I also tried the chips and salsa. I say I tried it...I really should say is I purchased them. For some reason almost all Mexican (tex-mex) restaurants in Texas serve unlimited, complimentary chips and salsa while all Mexican (new-mex) restaurants in New Mexico charge for chips and salsa w/out refills. Anyways, the salsa was very good but the chips were store bought. The girls shared the kids quesadilla. This was a terrible attempt at a quesadilla. I could make a better quesadilla blindfolded, seriously. It almost had no was like they oven baked a tortilla with some no-flavor cheese. Anyways, I recommend eating somewhere else while in Taos.

My very average 'Los Colores' plate
at the over-hyped Orlando's New Mexican Cafe

Oh, almost forgot to mention. I made somewhat of a big mistake while booking the room in Taos. We are stuck in a smoking room; no, none of us smoke, in fact, we detest the smell of cigarette smoke. And, there has obviously been some heavy-duty smokers in this room before us. Not good.....but, they have nothing else is a holiday week in Taos. I have my Hilton profile setup for non-smoking so I never realized I could end up with a smoking reservation. I will definitely check every future reservation.