8. Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Wet Mountain Valley

Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Wet Mountain Valley

Mile marker 5.5, Highway 96

 Spanish explorers, miners, ranchers and modern-day motorists have all marveled at this breathtaking view of the Sangre de Cristos. The 100-mile
stretch includes 54 peaks over treeline, and seven over 14,000 . Included in the count are Crestone Peak at 14,294’, Crestone Needle at 14,191 , Kit Carson Peak at 14,165 and Humboldt Peak which is 14,064.

After the Spanish gold-seekers and the occasional explorer or trapper, Hispanic shepherds were the next men of European descent to use the Wet Mountain Valley. Starting in the 1860s, they grazed their sheep in the valley in the summer. They moved back to the lower elevations near present-day Gardner in the winter.

Today, this region is a popular recreation area in both summer and winter. Locals and visitors enjoy camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, backpacking, cross-country skiing, hunting and hiking. One famous path the 100-mile-long Rainbow Trail that runs north and south through the northern Sangres. It was started in 1912
and finished around 1930.The Civilian Conservation Corps later upgraded the trail.

Sheltering pines hide the trail, but may notice the slopes of an old ski area at the base of the mountains. The area opened in 1976 but was permanently closed in 1997. The ski area doesn't receive enough sustainable snow be profitable.

In 1993, much of the mountainous country in the Sangres was designated as a Wilderness Area. The wilderness designation only allows for low impact non-motorized recreation. It protects the forest from timber operations, mining and damage caused by motorized vehicles.