New Mexico Mountains

Mountains in New Mexico
Mountains in New Mexico  Image: Santa Fe CVB / Chris Corrie

The New Mexico mountains form numerous ranges throughout the state, and some of these ranges are quite lofty. The mean altitude of this Southwestern state is 5,700 feet, and the highest peaks that can be found within its borders are more than 13,000 feet tall. Topping them all is Wheeler Peak. Found north of Taos in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this mountain reaches an elevation of 13,161 feet and is very tempting to climbers and hikers alike. The alpine terrain on New Mexico mountains like Wheeler Peak might have you thinking that you're in Colorado, and come winter, you can bet that skiers and snowboarders alike flock to the area.

The Sangre de Cristo Mountains can be found in both Colorado and New Mexico. In addition to being beautiful, they are ideal for any number of recreational pursuits, and these pursuits include skiing. The best New Mexico ski areas are found in the state's portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and when the warmer months roll around, hiking and mountain biking enthusiasts are among the most common visitors. Taos makes for an ideal hub if you want to spend some time in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, as do the area ski resorts, and should you prefer, the southern reaches of this chain are due east of Santa Fe.

To the south of Santa Fe and the east of Albuquerque is where you will find the Sandia Mountains. These are also among the most highly visited mountains in New Mexico, partly because of their proximity to Albuquerque, and the recreational opportunities are numerous. You can go skiing at the Sandia Peak Ski Area, for example, and the range's tallest peak offers ideal launching sites for hang gliders. This peak is known as Sandia Peak, and it tops out at 10,678 feet.

The large elevation change in the Sandia Mountains results in different "life zones." Desert grasslands and savannas are found at the lower elevations, while the upper reaches are full of fir and spruce trees. In between are junipers, oaks, and conifers, and should you venture into all four zones, you will also spot plenty of prickly pear cacti. You can hike to the top of Sandia Peak, and those who aren't up for a rather exhaustive hike can take the Sandia Peak Tramway. It's the longest tramway in the world, and while passengers climb more than 4,000 feet while riding from top to bottom, it only takes about fifteen minutes.

While visiting the Santa Fe and Albuquerque areas, you might also be tempted to visit the Jemez Mountains. As is true of the other New Mexico mountains that can be found in the north-central part of the state, these mountains help to form the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains. The highest point is 11,561-foot Chicoma Mountain, and the terrain mostly consists of forested wilderness, open meadows, and rocky peaks.

Lakes and mountain streams are also found in the Jemez Mountains, and thanks to their volcanic history, there are hot springs as well. Jemez Springs is an especially good place to go in the Jemez Mountains if you wish to bath in some hot springs. As for other activities in these mountains, hiking and camping are popular, and you might reserve some time for the Bandelier National Monument. This area features homes and settlements that were created by ancestors of the Pueblo peoples, and it gets approximately 300,000 visitors every year.

The New Mexico mountains that are found in the northern part of the state aren't the only mountains worth keeping in mind when looking for fun things to do in the highlands. The renowned Gila Wilderness Area in the southwestern part of the state is home to the Mogollon Mountains, and these mountains provide all kinds of recreational opportunities. You can go fishing, backpacking, and hiking in the Gila Wilderness mountains, and all attempts should be made to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

When traveling through southern New Mexico, you might also include a stop in the Organ Mountains on your itinerary. These picturesque mountains rise high into the sky just east of Las Cruces. They are named because some of the higher granite portions resemble pipes from a pipe organ. One of the most botanically diverse mountain ranges in the state, the Organ Mountains are a joy to explore, with hiking being a very popular activity. The two main recreational areas in the Organ Mountains are Aguirre Springs and Dripping Springs.

At 8,990 feet, Organ Needle is the tallest point in the Organ Mountains. This dramatic peak is tricky to climb, though the effort is very much worth it thanks to the views of the Tularosa Basin below. This basin is home to the White Sands National Monument and the White Sands Missile Range.

Top image: Ron Cogswell (flickr)

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