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A northern New Mexico winter.

In northern New Mexico, winter is more than a season: it's a state of mind. Snowstorms alternate with brilliant sunny spells, and the shadows of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountains stretch moodily across pinon-studded mesas. Charming adobes festooned with candy-red chili ristras peer out from under a blanket of snow, looking like icing-topped gingerbread houses.

With the first snowfall comes a slowing of life's rhythms, as if both land and people heave a collective sigh and settle into repose. The mood is in sharp contrast to summer, when tourists by the carload create a kind of theme-park ambience.

Visitors this time of year can enjoy the season's moods and vistas, as well as some distinct advantages. Air fares to Albuquerque (the closest airport) and hotel prices in Santa Fe and Taos are at their lowest December through March (not counting the Christmas-New Year's period). Many accommodations come with fireplaces-- mere decoration in summer but a welcome treat now. Shopkeepers, artists, and restaurant owners have more time and inclination to visit with guests.

Restaurant are easy to get into, except at Christmas, when you'll need to reserve several days ahead. The same is true of hotels and ski resorts; while holiday reservations should be made up to a year ahead, the first three weeks of December and the rest of winter after January 6 are bookable on short notice.

The snowy season begins in earnest this month. Storms last a day or two, usually followed by sunshine so bright that roads are cleared of ice and snow naturally. Main roads--1-25, U.S. 84/285, and State 68--usually remain passable, but such outlying arteries as State 76 (the High Road to Taos) frequently close until the snow melts.



Christmas in northern New Mexico remains a heartfelt and magical observance. Peak celebrations are December 21 through January 6 (Three Kings' Day), but seasonal cheer abounds through December well into January.

After dark, flickering farolitos illuminate rooftops, walkways, and adobe walls. (These candles burning inside sand-filled paper bags are called luminarias south of Santa Fe.)

Chile wreaths and ristras adorn doorways, and the aroma of fresh chilies roasting over pinon fires fills the air with an earthy incense.

In Santa Fe, Christmas Eve brings the lighting of farolitos along Canyon Road, and bonfires known as luminarias (not to be confused with farolitos) burn all over town.

Historic churches--Loretto Chapel, San Miguel Mission, St. Frances Cathedral, and the Santuaria de Guadalupe--conducted special services. Las Posadas, a traditional pageant reenacting Joseph and Mary's search for shelter, is performed in a variety of settings. For information on events, call the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau at (505) 984-6760, (800) 777-2489 out of state.

The annual Yuletide in Taos celebration, December 1 through 15, features artists, exhibitions, lectures, and entertainment. Call the chamber of commerce at (505) 758-3873 or (800) 732-8287.

At the Eight Northern Pueblos--Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, San Juan (the headquarters), Santa Clara, Taos, and Tesuque--celebrations combine Native American traditions with European religious ritual. Such events take place regularly all year; dances and ceremonies are open to the public on Christmas, New Year's, and other dates during the season. For a schedule, call the pueblos' headquarters at (505) 852-4265.



A small-town atmosphere reigns over wintertime Santa Fe, despite its 50,000 population and state-capital status. Rigors of the weather seem to bring out the best in people--here classic Western individualism yields to a cooperative spirit.

But there's an urban sophistication as well. Bon vivants in Stetsons stomp snow off their cowboy boots to head into upscale shops on Canyon Road and Guadalupe Street, to dine at cosmopolitan eateries like Coyote Cafe (celebrity chef Mark Miller's signature restaurant), Santa-cafe (high prices, snooty service, undeniably good food), La Casa Sena (quintessential Santa Fe, full of history and cozy fireplaces), and E.K. Mas (eclectir menu, fine service, good wine list).

Menus reflect the season with heartier soups, special game dishes, and richer-than-usual desserts.

If stormy weather precludes a trip into the surrounding areas, you can enjoy the galleries, shops, and museums for which Santa Fe is justifiably famous (for shopping opportunities in town, see the guide below). In smaller taos (population 5,000)--with an even stronger sense of frontier living--latter-day mountain men and assorted sheepskin-clad iconoclasts welcome visitors with low-key friendliness and camaraderie born of the season.

You can join them dining fireside at cozy spots like The Apple Tree on Bent Street, where homemade soups and breads are wintertime favorites, or Doc Martin's at the Taos Inn for special winter galas. For breakfast en route to the slopes, skiers favor the suitably hearty fare at Michael's Kitchen on Paseo del Pueblo Norte.




Hikes among New Mexico's ancient ruins assume a different appeal under the dusting of snow, and even the most popular trails are deserted in winter months.

One of the best sites is Frijoles Canyon at Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamanos, where several trails--some paved--range from 2 to 10 miles round trip, and lead to prehistoric cliff dwellings and eerie ruins of pueblos dating from the 12th century. Cross-country enthusiasts should bring skis.

Park admission ($5) is good for a week. The visitor center houses a small museum and a well-stocked bookstore. Trail maps are free; detailed brochures cost a small fee. Park hours are 8 to 4:30 daily; call 672-3861 for information. For more winter hike ideas and maps, call the Forest Service at 827-5830.

New Mexico is blessed with a number of hot mineral springs, many of them so secluded that they remain little known even among locals. A popular one is Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs in Ojo Caliente, an hour's drive north of Santa Fe on U.S. 285. This rustic spa, open year-round , offers a variety of mineral soaks, massages, and facials for $6.50 to $35.

The soothing heat of the steaming springs (average 102[degrees]) is especially welcome when the snow lies deep on the ground. Amenities include a restaurant and overnight cabins (maybe too funky for some; try a day trip); call Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs at 583-2233 for information and reservations. While the spa is less busy in winter, an appointment is advisable.

You'll find a less rustic, more elegant experience at Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese-style spa 5 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza on Hyde Park Road (State 475, en route to Santa Fe Ski Area). Try this spot for an apres-ski soak outdoors in an herbed and scented hot tub surrounded by snow, or book a shiatsu treatment or facial. The experience gets raves from devoted Santa Fe soakers. Prices range from $8 to $19 for baths, $26 and up for facials and massages. Call 988-1047.

Sleigh-ride fans will find a unique New Mexico version. Cesar (Storm Star) and Sandy Gomez conduct rides across Taos Pueblo terrain otherwise off-limits to non-Indians. You'll enjoy a bonfire and chili roast, and a storytelling session in which Storm Star relates legends and ghost stories--all the more haunting by the firelight in snowy stillness.

Don't expect upscale conditions; the horse ranch is "unrefurbished." Sleigh-ride prices range from $17.50 to $37.50 per person; packages for families or for adults only are available. To make reservations, call Taos Indian Horse Ranch at 758-3212.

For any information about events, activities, and accommodations, call the State Department of Economic Development and Tourism at 827-0291, or (800) 545-2070 out of state.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on shopping and skiing
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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