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The main mountain range of northern New Mexico is named the Sangre de Cristos, Spanish for “blood of Christ”. This name refers to the phenomenon of alpenglow, when snow-covered mountains turn pink in the evening light. The range, which starts in Colorado and ends at Santa Fe, is the southern-most sub-range of the Rocky Mountains. It’s highest peak is Wheeler Peak (13,167’), which is located in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, between Taos and Angel Fire.
Another group of high peaks is located just to the south – the Truchas Peaks (“truchas” is Spanish for trout). They are located in the Pecos Wilderness, and top out at 13,102 (South Truchas Peak). Pecos Baldy and Santa Fe Baldy peaks are found further to the south. Santa Fe sits at the southwestern edge of the Pecos Wilderness, with Las Vegas (NM) on the southeastern flank. To the north of Wheeler Peak, the range continues at high elevation through the Latir Wilderness and on into Colorado.
The range contains a number of ski areas, which include: Taos Ski Valley, Angel Fire, Sipapu and Santa Fe. Because of its southerly location, the skiing climate in the Sangre de Cristos is warmer and sunnier than in states to the north. Hiking trails are found throughout the range, providing a lifetime of possibilities. Elk, deer, bighorn sheep, black bear and other montane species are readily encountered. Trout inhabit the streams and lakes, which includes the rare and brilliantly-colored Rio Grande cutthroat trout, found only in the headwaters of the mountain streams. Rainbow and brown trout are found at the lower elevations.
Snow run-off provides irrigation water for the “acequias” (ditches) of the Indian pueblos and Spanish villages both. These villages, such as Taos Pueblo or the town of Truchas, sit at the foot of the mountains. The traditional crops of New Mexico – beans, squash and green chile – are raised in the small plots watered by these ancient irrigation systems.
In the summer, cattle and sheep are grazed in the mountains, which also provide firewood for the nearby villages. The traditional lifestyles of the original Native American inhabitants of northern New Mexico, along with those of the Spanish colonialists, are very intertwined with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Taos Pueblo lands extend into the mountains just to the south of the Wheeler Peak Wilderness, where Taos Creek rises from the waters of the sacred Blue Lake.