The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are a significant mountain range in New Mexico, United States that contains most of the state’s highest peaks. The range extends from near Santa Fe in the south past Taos to the Colorado state line, and beyond into South Central Colorado, where it is known as the Sangre de Cristo Range. This guide covers features of the Sangre de Cristos in New Mexico that are of interest but are too dispersed to be covered in the guides for individual towns in the region. Two national forests, the Santa Fe National Forest and the Carson National Forest, mostly cover the southern and northern halves of the Sangre de Cristos, respectively.
Santa Fe, Taos, and Española in North Central New Mexico, as well as Las Vegas in Northeast New Mexico, while not in the mountain range itself, are key starting points into the mountains, and most services in the area can be found in these communities.
The Sangre de Cristos are generally considered the southernmost range of the Rocky Mountains, although some authorities consider the Rockies to include some of the lesser ranges of New Mexico (Sandias, Capitans, etc.). They rise nearly 8000 feet (2400 meters) above the Great Plains to the east and the Española Valley to the west, with a nearly uninterrupted ridge line that runs from the Colorado state line to near Santa Fe. This topographical barrier had important impacts on the settling of the Southwest by “Anglos” arriving from the eastern United States, as it forced pioneers southward and thus into contact — and sometimes conflict — with both American Indian communities along the Rio Grande and Spanish colonial settlements at Santa Fe, Albuquerque and other places. The mixing, and sometimes clash, of the three cultures continues to exert an influence on the region long after the settlers passed.
The highest summit in the Sangres in New Mexico is Wheeler Peak, elevation 13,161′, a comparatively undistinguished bump on a ridge line above Taos. (Summits in the extension of the range into Colorado exceed 14,000′ in elevation.) Several other summits rise above the 13,000′ level. Timberline in these mountains is unusually high, approaching 12,000′ in some places, and there are no permanent snowfields; recreational opportunities in the Sangres are consequently highly diverse and seasonal, so that many fine hiking and backpacking areas in the summer turn into downhill ski resorts in the winter. When planning a trip to the Sangres and deciding in what season to visit, keep the changing seasons in mind.
Towns on the eastern slopes of the Sangres tend to have cultural ties to the Great Plains, while the ones on the west side are more closely tied to the Hispanic and Native American settlements along the Rio Grande. The latter being important tourist destinations in their own right, the west-side towns usually have somewhat more well-developed resources for tourism than the ones on the east. However, a unifying feature of the high mountain towns is that, apart from the ones intentionally developed for tourism, they tend to be relatively poor, whether on the east or the west. This results from the difficulty in extracting a living from the mountains: their height and resulting short growing season preclude most agriculture, and most of the range is of little interest for mining. Tourist accommodations outside the major tourist centers (Taos, Santa Fe, ski resorts) or towns on major roads (Las Vegas) can therefore be somewhat spartan, at least by United States standards, although you don’t have to worry about potable water, utilities, etc. (The rugged terrain does produce spotty coverage for cellular phones.)