Getting there: Our imaginary Chile Trail begins in southwestern Colorado (about a four-hour drive from Denver over excellent highway) and ends at the southern border of New Mexico, 44 miles from El Paso, Tex. An automobile is mandatory.
Start the journey in Denver, Albuquerque or El Paso, all served by major airlines. If renting a car, be sure it has enough power to negotiate mountain roads if you plan to explore the high country north of Santa Fe.
Round trip Denver to El Paso is about 1,700 miles. Recommended time for the itinerary described is six or seven days.
When to go: October is the ideal time to shop for ristras at the roadside fruit stands, then savor other tri-cultural New Mexico lifestyles.
Albuquerque: The International Balloon Fiesta began yesterday in Albuquerque and will continue through Oct. 14 at Balloon Fiesta Park, Alameda Boulevard, west of Interstate 25. Call (505) 821-1000. The Albuquerque Old Town Arts Crawl is Oct. 14. Call (505) 292-7537. The Saints Margaret and Mary Feast Day Mass, Procession and Harvest Dance will be at the Laguna Indian Pueblo in Paraje on Oct. 17. Call (505) 843-7270.
For more information: Contact the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 26866, Albuquerque, N.M. 87125, (505) 243-3696 or (800) 284-2282.
Taos: The Taos Mountain Balloon Rally will be held Oct. 19-20 with ascension at dawn. Call (505) 758-3873 or (800) 732-8267. The annual Meet the Artists Series will run Oct. 15-Dec. 15 at the Taos Inn with tours of studios and lecture demonstrations by Taos artists at the Inn on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Call (505) 758-2233 or (800) 826-7466. Yuletide in Taos, a celebration of traditions, culture and arts of New Mexico, runs Dec. 1-15.
For more information: Contact Taos Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Drawer 1, Taos, N.M. 87571, (505) 758-3873 or (800) 732-8267.
Most Indian pueblos will present All Hallows Day Ceremonies and Dances Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. For more information, call (505) 843-7270.
Where to stay: Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos and Las Cruces have a wide variety of accommodations. Also investigate less expensivealternatives in Espanola. For a listing of hotels, motels and B&Bs, contact the State of New Mexico Economic Development & Tourism Department, Travel and Tourism Division, Joseph M. Montoya Building, P.O. Box 20003, 1100 St. Francis Drive, Santa Fe, N.M. 87503, (800) 545-2040 or (505) 827-0291.
Where to eat:
--Don Pedro's, S. Santa Fe Road, Taos, (505) 758-9281. Closed Monday (under $10 per person.)
--Roberto's, E. Kit Carson Road, Taos, (505) 758-2434. Hours vary (under $25 per person).
--Rick's Sonic Drive-In, South Santa Fe Road, Taos, (505) 758-1735. Open daily (under $10 per person).
--Doc Martin's Restaurant at Taos Inn, half block north of Taos Plaza, Taos, (505) 758-2233. Open daily (under $25 per person).
--Rancho de Chimayo, Highway 520, Chimayo, (505) 351-4444. Closed Monday (under $25 per person).
--Angelina's, Paseo de Onate Street, Espanola, (505) 753-9913. Open daily (under $10 per person).
--Anthony at the Delta, 228 Onate St. NW, Espanola, (505) 753-4511. Open daily (under $25 per person).
--Cloud Cliff Restaurant-Bakery, 1805 Second St., Santa Fe, (505) 983-6254. Open daily (under $10 per person).
--Tecolote, 1203 Cerillos Road, Santa Fe, (505) 988-1362. Closed Monday (under $10 per person).
--Cocina de Montoya, 202 1/2 San Felipe NW, Old Town Plaza, Albuquerque, (505) 243-3357. Open daily (under $10 per person).
--Peppers on the Plaza, Old Mesilla Plaza, Mesilla, (505) 523-4999. Open daily (under $25 per person).
What you should know: During harvest, you'll see roadside stands selling fresh and roasted chiles. The fragrance is like catnip for a feline, but resist the temptation to buy unless you can consume the goods within an hour or so. Chile is fresh produce and highly perishable.