THE NARROW ROAD LEADING TO LOS PINOS GUEST RANCH splits away from NM 63 and cuts into the side of a forested ridge along the Upper Pecos River in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The family-run ranch, operating since 1924, pulls visitors away from the noise and bustle of cities, internet, cellphones, and TV, and pushes them straight into the green.
Bill McSweeney, a New Jersey architect, and his wife, Alice, purchased the ranch in December 1964 and ran it with their children, also named Bill and Alice, who have maintained the property for guests looking for mountain hiking, horseback riding, fly-fishing, birding, home-cooked meals, and a few days of respite from the outside world. “In the early 1960s, my father was at a Kiwanis Club meeting in Santa Fe,” says Alice, whose parents have passed on. “He lived the farthest away, so they gave him a subscription to New Mexico Magazine, which is what my mother attributes to us being here.”
Alice tells me this as we look through old issues neatly stacked on the main lodge’s full-length front porch, where hummingbird feeders are set just outside the windows. Guests can watch hundreds of broad-tail, calliope, rufous, and black-chinned hummingbirds, along with the occasional Rivoli’s, at the height of the birds’ activity in July.
Near the four guest cabins, an ancient fir with a top that’s been forked by a lightning strike overlooks a small statue of Saint Francis of Assisi watching over the forest floor. Ground squirrels chase each other back and forth, perhaps hoping for a bit of food in exchange for their performance, which has entertained guests for decades. “They’re very popular and mischievous,” Alice says.
This remote spot in Cowles, in the Pecos Wilderness, 12 miles north of Tererro, has earned loyal customers from neighboring states and other countries. “There are very few opportunities anymore to experience things as they were 100 years ago,” says Rob Adams, who grew up in New Mexico and has been coming to the ranch for the last 10 years.
Inside the guest cabins and lodge, rough spots where branches were lopped away are still visible along the age-smoothed aspen vigas that stretch overhead from wall to wall. While the lodge was built in 1912, the cabins were constructed in the 1920s, with further additions, like bathrooms, added in the 1930s.
Built on a slope, the ranch neighbors the barely visible but always audible Pecos River, which runs a couple hundred feet below the cabins. “It’s mostly mountain trout—rainbows and browns,” Bill says. “There are some cutthroat, but you have to go up into the high lakes.”
At 38 years old, Chico, a bay with white socks, is the ranch’s oldest horse. While Chico enjoys a well-earned retirement, Alice and Bill still take turns guiding daylong and half-day horseback rides through the forest and mountains filled with ponderosa and foxtail pines, blue and Engelmann spruces, firs, aspens, and a variety of alders and willows. It’s an activity that can be strenuous at high elevation. “There’s a huge difference between riding on the flatlands at sea level and riding in the mountains,” Bill says.
Guests can navigate numerous trails running through the Santa Fe National Forest while using Los Pinos as base camp. Popular destinations include the 10,000-foot summit of Grass Mountain, with its 360-degree views. “It’s a half-day trip with lunch,” Alice says.
Cave Creek Trail, about a 90-minute one-way trip from the ranch by hike or horse, leads down to a limestone cave. “You can go in about 20 feet,” Bill says. “And try not to fall into the water, which disappears into the mountain.”
With its warm, familial atmosphere, the lodge ensures that no guests feel like strangers. The communal dinners feature a revolving menu cooked by Alice. Some guests have become close friends. “They gather on the front porch and come in at seven for dinner,” Alice says. “The guests have a chance to get to know each other and tell stories of their lives.”
LOS PINOS GUEST RANCH
32 Panchuela Road, Cowles;
505-757-6213, lospinosranch.com (open June 1–September 30)
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Pecos National Historical Park includes walking tours through the remnants of an old pueblo, an 18th-century mission church, and Glorieta Pass battlefield.
Fuel up with a handheld breakfast burrito at Pancho’s Gourmet to Go—and grab a Chicharrón Power Burrito to enjoy out on the trail.
At the Pecos Studio Tour, an annual fall event, visitors can meet artists and watch them work inside their studios.