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New Mexico's Enchanted Byway brings fall foliage viewing full circle

New Mexico's Enchanted Byway brings fall foliage viewing full circle
Fall foliage brings a burst of color to the village of Pilar, N.M., not far from Taos. (Bruce Gourley)

For great fall color, the mountains of northern New Mexico are certainly in contention for a "best of" award, and an 85-mile byway makes it easy.

The artists' colony of Taos can be the base from which to explore nature's palate along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway.

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Fall color is expected to peak early this year -- the first week of October in the Taos area -- according to the state's tourism website. The U.S. Forest Service also maintains a fall foliage hotline. Dial (800) 354-4595 and press 3 for conditions in New Mexico. (As of Tuesday, it had 2013 information.)

The Enchanted byway loop links Taos and Questa, N.M., with, in clockwise order, the neighboring resort communities of Red River, Eagle Nest and Angel Fire.

You can make the drive in 2 1/2 hours — if you don't stop. But you'll probably need to take some breaks for hiking, leaf peeping, photo ops and wildlife viewing.

Heading north from Taos on State Highway 522, you'll find a couple of detours. There's the 1,273-foot Rio Grande Gorge Bridge along U.S. 64 and also Taos Ski Valley, a good place from which to view the mountains with their colorful aspens, blue spruce and white fir.

The ski resort also offers hiking and biking trails of two to eight miles that provide the potential to spot bighorn sheep, mountain elk and mule deer.

As you continue toward Questa, New Mexico's highest mountain, the 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, comes into view.

At Questa, consider the 2 1/2-mile detour to one of the country's newest national monuments. The Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument was created last year and features views of the 800-foot gorge carved by the river.

The byway makes a steep climb to reach the town of Red River, a year-round destination best known for its skiing. (It gets more than 15 feet of snow.) You can find several dining and shopping options along Main Street.

You'll find more autumn scenery as State Highway 38 and U.S. 64 lead back to Taos. Eagle Nest Lake State Park, at 8,300 feet, is a popular stop.

Follow us on Twitter at @latimestravel

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