Chimayo is the best-known of the small towns along the High Road between Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. It’s famous for its miraculous church, and people from all over come to see it.
I’m one of those people, having visited Chimayo a dozen times in the past. But I never even knew about the lovely lake campground just a few miles away… until now!
Santa Cruz Lake
Santa Cruz Lake is located just a couple of miles southeast of Chimayo, as the crow flies. It’s a good-sized lake, surrounded by the tan, eroding hillsides that make up the landscape in that area. The lake itself shimmers in the midst of this desert scenery, particularly enticing on a warm summer day.
I saw a handful of boaters, slowly floating around the lake with fishing lines trailing out behind. There were also some people fishing from the lakeshore. So I don’t know what kind of fish are in there, but fish there must be!
There are campgrounds at both ends of the lake. The North Lake campground is where the boat ramps are. I read that it had no cell service, so I opted for the Overlook campground at the south end, instead.
There’s a hiking trail that takes off from the road a bit west of the campground, and runs down to the edge of the lake. There, it intersects with another trail that winds around the south edge of the lake. This gives you access to a number of shady little beach spots right by the water — perfect for lunch, fishing, or just relaxing in the shade with a good book.
Santa Cruz Lake Overlook Campground
The Overlook campground is up on a bluff a few hundred feet above lake level, and you get wonderful views of the lake and the surrounding hillsides. The best sites are those directly overlooking the lake, while others are further back around a small loop drive. I pulled in early afternoon on a Saturday and was able to get a lakeside spot, but the primo sites did fill up later. On Sunday, the campground emptied out.
In addition to a good location and nice views of Santa Cruz Lake, another thing I loved about the Overlook campground was the cell service! I had good LTE service on T-Mobile, which is always a big plus.
Another good thing? This is where I met Tom the treasure hunter, a pretty interesting story!
The Overlook campground is run by the BLM. There is a pit toilet (a bit stinky, but usable), and garbage collection. The individual sites all have shaded picnic tables, which also provided rain protection to sit outside during the afternoon monsoon. This place isn’t free, but it’s a reasonable $7/night.
Chimayo and its mystical Santuario
By far the most famous thing in the area, and one place you should visit for sure, is the Santuario de Chimayo. This small church was built on the site of a miracle, where a holy cross kept appearing to one of the early settlers, buried in the ground.
People would move the cross away, and it would reappear, buried back in the same spot. Eventually they realized that the cross must really belong here, in this special place, and so a church was built on the spot.
The building itself is a small two-towered church, made of wood and adobe. It has a rustic charm to it — nothing fancy or grandiose. It gives you the feeling of an authentic New Mexico small-town church, created by local builders, not some famous architect.
But the inside is where you’ll be surprised. There are assorted crutches, canes, and braces hanging from the walls. These are relics left there by people who came to the Santuario crippled, and were able to walk away without assistance after being miraculously healed. There are also photos and letters from people testifying to the wondrous benefits they received after visiting this holy site.
Every year there is a procession where thousands of pilgrims walk to the Santuario, some making the trek from as far away as Albuquerque. The church has a lot of believers in its miraculous powers – supposed to reside in the very dirt that the church was built on.
And you can take a little of this healing dirt with you! There is a hole in the floor where you can scrape out some of the dirt, and take a little plastic bag of it home with you. Some people say to rub the dirt on your body where the problem is. Other people even eat the dirt, but I didn’t try that part!
I used to have a zip-lock bag of healing dirt, and I never got sick as long as I had it — that’s the extent of my personal experience!
More to do in Chimayo
Chimayo is also famous for a couple of other things – weaving and chiles. The town has had weavers working here for well over a century. You can visit Ortega’s weaving shop, which has been in business for 7 generations. If you’re lucky, they’ll have someone weaving while you’re there, so you can see the process.
Chimayo is also famous for having some of the best chile peppers in New Mexico. Shops in the area sell different types of dried or crushed chiles, and chile powder too. Every once in awhile, I need to get back there to restock – it really is good!
And finally, the Rancho de Chimayo is a great stop for lunch or dinner while you’re in the area. The restaurant is in a historic ranch house that has many small interconnected rooms, in the style of buildings back then. Sometimes it feels like running a maze finding your way to the bathroom. 😉 There’s also a big patio for outdoor dining when the weather is good.
Driving the High Road
It’s certainly possible to visit Chimayo as a day trip from Santa Fe, but it’s much more fun to make it a stop along the High Road that runs between Santa Fe and Taos.
The High Road is a beautiful drive, along twisty little roads in the mountains of the Carson National Forest. Some of the valleys along the way remind me more of Switzerland than New Mexico!
The towns you pass through are all quite small, and must seem very isolated in winter when the mountains are snowy. You’ll see scattered artist studios, and some restaurants and shops, but the main draw is the scenery. Starting from Taos, the route takes you through Rancho de Taos, Penasco, Trampas, Truchas, and Chimayo before you get back to the main road into Santa Fe.
It’s a good idea to look up the route beforehand, though it is better marked than it used to be. It’s not like you take one highway the entire way — you have to make various turns onto different numbered roads.
And when you get to Chimayo, you can camp at the Santa Cruz Lake Overlook campground! 🙂
Santa Cruz Lake Overlook campground – BLM
Organized campground. Campground on a bluff overlooking the lake. Access is via a short drive on a good gravel road. The best sites have great lake views, and you can hike down to the lake, too. Campground has shade structures, picnic tables, pit toilet, and garbage collection. Good LTE internet on T-Mobile.
Rating: 5 *****
Altitude: 6,666 ft
GPS: 35.96470, -105.91800
Have you been to Chimayo and its famous Santuario? Did you know about Santa Cruz Lake, and have you ever been there? I’d love to hear about it in the Reply section below!
PHOTO CREDITS: Deanna Keahey