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New Mexico enchantment

Courtesy Las Cruces CVB

A Cloudcroft Retreat

You may not have heard of Cloudcroft, a small town in southern New Mexico nestled inside a million acres of national forest. But its remote location and 9,000-foot elevation make this town a great place for travelers who want to get away to a relaxing resort. Travelers have been retreating to Cloudcroft since the 19th century.

“We were a logging town, and the railroad began coming up here in the late 1800s,” said Lisa King, executive director of the Cloudcroft Chamber of Commerce. “Once people discovered that Cloudcroft sits at such a high elevation, we had a lot of tourists coming up from El Paso that wanted to get out of the heat. So they opened a lodge pavilion in 1899 for tourists who came up on the train.”

That pavilion grew to become what is now the Lodge Resort and Spa, a four-star luxury resort in the woods near Cloudcroft. Groups that visit the resort can stay in the original Pavilion rooms, which feature cabin-style walls covered with knotty pine paneling, or choose more contemporary hotel rooms, each of which has a unique set of decorations. The resort also features a spa, golf courses and a fine-dining restaurant.

Cloudcroft also makes a great jumping-off point for visiting some of the national parks and other scenic areas in southern New Mexico. The town is within a short drive of White Sands National Park, where visitors can tour brilliant white sand dunes. Also nearby are Alamogordo and Ruidoso, communities that groups often visit on day trips from Cloudcroft.

If your group would rather relax than tour, Cloudcroft provides great surroundings for that, too.
“It’s very laid-back up here — we don’t have any stoplights or fast-food restaurants,” King said. “It’s a great destination for getting away from the city crowd.”

Eating in Albuquerque
One of my favorite memories of Albuquerque is indulging in its wealth of great New Mexican cuisine, which represents a blend of Native American, Mexican and traditional Western flavors.

“New Mexican cuisine is different from Mexican and from Tex-Mex,” said Megan Mayo, senior communications and tourism manager at the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s very much focused around the chilies. You’ll find them at breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. You’ll also find the use of the pinto bean and corn in things like corn tortillas, ‘masa’ and ‘pozole.’”

Many of the roots of New Mexican cuisine come from traditional foods of the Indian pueblos in the area. At the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, groups can have culinary demonstrations that showcase the history of local cuisine. A “Feast Day” program includes tastings of products like blue corn tortillas and fresh “horno” bread, which is prepared in a traditional brick oven.

A number of restaurants around Albuquerque do special culinary events and cooking classes that revolve around chilies. Groups can arrange for a demonstration on chili roasting, or learn to cook chilies into various New Mexican foods.

At Los Poblanos, a farm and cultural center, groups can have culinary encounters and agritourism experiences.

“They have a fantastic on-site chef who works with food that’s produced right there and brings in cheeses, meats and produce from around New Mexico,” Mayo said. “They’re well known for the lavender that they produce there, and you can do cooking classes using lavender. You can make cookies with lavender in them or make lavender lemonade.”

Serious foodies should plan their visits to coincide with one of Albuquerque’s 10 annual culinary events. Spring brings the National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show, the Southwest Chocolate and Coffee Fest, and the Blues and Brews Festival. The Albuquerque Wine Festival kicks off the summer celebration, followed by the Pork and Brew Festival, the ABQ Hopfest and the New Mexico Wine Festival. In September, the Old Town Salsa Fiesta highlights the complex flavors of New Mexican cuisine’s most important ingredient.

Taos Mountain High
Although much of New Mexico consists of desert landscapes, the northern part of the state has plenty of mountains. Taos, a small mountain town that sits at an elevation of 7,500 feet, is one of the region’s premier ski destinations. But the mountain also offers plenty of outdoor activities during warmer weather.

“All of the ski areas have chairlift rides that you can ride up or down the mountain,” said Joan Griffin, a spokesperson for the town of Taos. “You can take a ride up the mountain to see the view, then hike or ride a mountain bike down. Up in the ski valley, you can also do night hikes on evenings when there’s a full moon.”

For groups interested in more adventurous activities, the best bet is to contract the services of one of the outdoor outfitters that operate in the area. Several companies offer river rafting excursions, with options that include both white-water rapids and scenic float trips. Other outfitters rent street bikes or mountain bikes, and can take your travelers on a group biking expedition.

One outfitter in town does a customized art program, taking groups to hike in some of the areas where Georgia O’Keeffe created some of her famous paintings. And for an unusual experience, several outfitters offer llama trekking experiences.

“Llama trekking is a really fun group activity,” Griffin said. “You don’t ride the llamas — they actually carry your stuff while you hike. You can do a half-day trek down into the Rio Grande gorge. On the way, the guides will show you ancient petroglyphs and tell you about the area, and the llamas will be transporting your lunch for you.”

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