Send Me to Climbing Heaven

Jul 12, 2005
Outside Magazine
El Rito

Midway between Española and no place, really, hides El Rito, little more than a general store, a pint-size restaurant, and a handful of adobes clustered on Highway 554. It took me seven years of living in Santa Fe to discover the village, its gorgeous climbers' playground, and the serene Rancho de San Juan resort nearby. El Rito's restaurant, El Farolito, couldn't look less assuming, yet its rich green chile, studded with hunks of pork and tomato, is a three-time winner of the state's chile cookoff. (Have it atop the pork tamales: true New Mexico comfort food.)

A meal at El Farolito handily fuels a visit to El Rito's sport crags, a wonderland of about 60 bolted routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.13c/d, all a four-mile drive north from town on Forest Road 44. The area's appeal is its conglomerate rock, found in perpendicular, cobbled walls that look like they'll crumble at your touch—but don't. Instead, the enormous ocher-, brick-, rust-, and chestnut-colored faces—punctuated with electric-green lichen—provide generous holds. As I blasted up Walt's Wall Waltz, a 72-foot 5.8 (superfun for a novice), the calls of circling ravens replaced the fading voices of my chatty girlfriends below.

Adventure takes a turn for the cush at Rancho de San Juan. The main hacienda is flanked by a dozen casitas, each with saltillo-tile floors and handsomely outfitted with reading-friendly rattan chairs, a kiva fireplace, and a jumbo bathroom with a jetted tub and views of the piñon-dotted 225-acre property. Walk to a shrine that an artisan carved out of sandstone, or the top of Black Mesa, which looms above the resort and U.S. 285, ribboning in the distance.

You're meant to bring an appetite to this Relais & Châteaux property, which attracts diners from Santa Fe and Taos, in addition to hotel guests. The prix fixe dinner is limited only by what's fresh at the market. One fine meal might include seared king salmon with braised fennel. And then it's lights out.

BONUS: Authenticity rules at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs (800-222-9162,, an unpretentious spa catering to "cultural creatives" that offers hot iron- and arsenic-rich pools, plus apricot facials, just a hot rock's throw from El Rito.

DETAILS: El Farolito (505-581-9509) is open every day but Monday. Collect climbing beta at Doubles at Rancho de San Juan (505-753-6818, start at $225; dinner is $55 per person.