Lena Hakim

Nestled in the small mountain village of Arroyo Seco outside of Taos, is one of only three remaining hostels in New Mexico. Hostels are affordable travel accommodations, which began in post-war Europe to allow extensive travel opportunities for young adults. By the 1980s hostelling became popular in America, and many states had a handful of hostel choices, but by the ‘90s their numbers began to decline. Today, most large US cities have only one hostel. This makes the Abominable Snowmansion Hostel all the more special. It is located at the base of the Taos Ski Basin, allowing winter skiers affordable housing options. The summer months attract hikers, fly fishers and visitors to the city of Taos.

But there is more going on than meets the eye. This hostel has turned the acres of land around the grounds into a large organic garden/farm, growing everything from herbs and medicinal flowers to standard vegetables. They use no pesticides or genetically engineered seeds, or farm vehicles. All weeding, planting, watering, and maintenance are done by hand. Whose hands? The youthful visitors.

At a time in our country when many college graduates are having a difficult time finding standard jobs, especially green jobs, many youth are eager to work toward a sustainable future and learn all they can through experience. Organizations such as the “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” (www.wwoof.org) are booming in popularity and pointing today’s youth toward organic farming opportunities, including the farm at the Abominable Snowmansion. For a nominal hostel lodging fee, these youth show up from across the US and many international countries, to plant and dig in the rich soil. For their hard labor, they are welcome to eat anything they help grow.

The hostel has seven large tipis on the grounds, along with outdoor bathrooms, an indoor kitchen and a recreation room. The tipis are extremely popular and are usually booked months in advance. A fire pit site is in the campground. Many summer nights a fire is lit and musical instruments played. The singing and storytelling seem to create a sense of belonging and community. Communal kitchens, abundant recreation opportunities, and the chance to make lasting friendships with kindred spirits keep young people coming summer after summer.

The diversity of food, herbs and spices grown here is one of the fascinating features of this organic farm. Almost 100 different plant species adorn the grounds. Organic herbal teas grown on the site are offered free to all of the hostel’s guests, who are welcome to pick vegetables from the garden as they ripen. The hostel provides free rice and beans, and it is quite common for groups to pick fruit and vegetables and create community evening meals. What is not harvested from the garden is dried and used for winter visitors.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the organic showcase is the diverse edible mushroom farm located in the back of the hostel. Growing mushrooms outdoors can be tricky, as moisture and sunlight directly impact growth conditions. The hostel has placed wood logs in strategic locations, and covered the top of the fenced-in farm to help create an outdoor microhabitat with controllable moisture and sunlight. This is a fantastic educational project.

For guests who cannot commit to a summer of farming, the hostel staff will take the time to introduce sustainable and natural skills such as herbal preparations, paper making and composting, especially in the spring and summer months. These opportunities keep young people hanging around long past the last harvest, and offer families with young children the opportunity to take educational and affordable vacations.

The hostel itself has designated family rooms, and there are plenty of toys, games and children’s books in the lobby. The village of Arroyo Seco has several natural restaurants and a natural grocery store, and yoga and art classes are offered. The Earthship colonies of Taos are just a short drive away. They offer guests the opportunity to learn sustainable building skills. Local hot springs, hiking, and the city of Taos provide activities for all ages and interests. Overall, a visit to the Abominable Snowmansion Hostel during the summer growing season has much to offer. A visit anytime can be a wonderful experience.

Lena Hakim is an environmental scientist and resident of Santa Fe. She enjoys visiting and promoting local grassroots sustainable projects. She can be reached at lenahakim@yahoo.com.