Cerro Vista • Sangre de Cristo Mountains
• Taos and Mora Counties

Curious cattle check me out

Grassy slopes to ascend

The next morning, clear

Approaching the top

Looking south at Cerro Olla
and the Truchas Range

Looking north at Wheeler Peak

N.M. PageMain Page



Date: August 11, 2007 • Elevation: 11,939 feet • Prominence: 2,499 feet • Distance: 1.5 miles • Time: 2 hours • Gain: 710 feet • Conditions: Calm and lovely

Earlier in the week, I climbed four peaks over three days in south-central New Mexico down by Capitan and Carrizozo. I then took a day off to relax, staying in Vaughn. From there, I drove north via Las Vegas and then highway NM-518, which goes into the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Range and eventually into Taos, although I wasn't going that far. My objective(s) were two peaks along the highway near the Picuris Pueblo: Cerro Vista and Picuris Peak. Cerro Vista would be the first of the two, then I would figure out what to do afterwards.

I spent time in the community of Mora, which lies in a canyon cutting into the range. It's a small town of about 400 people and is the county seat of Mora County, which means it has fancy-looking county buildings like a courthouse plopped in with the little beat-up and boarded-up storefronts that date from about a hundred years ago. I had lunch at a place called Kristy's Korner Kafe. I don't think they thought through the name very hard, but the food was good, authentic Mexican food with the great New Mexico angle to it.

Cerro Vista is a big peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but it does not see a lot of traffic since the big 13ers to the north and south (Wheeler and Truchas) get all the glory. However, Cerro Vista is a highly prominent peak, the highest peak in the section of the range hemmed in by a triangle with Taos to the north, and Mora and Venado (Picuris Pueblo) to the south. The map showed some promising road access, meaning that the actual hike could be shortened the farther in I drove.

It was getting late in the afternoon, so I decided to drive to Cerro Vista to scout it and get a good campspace. From Mora, I went about 20 miles into the range, turning onto Carson National Forest Road 76, signed for "La Junta Canyon Area". Forest Road 76 is well-maintained and parallels Rio La Junta for about 10 miles. The area is a popular ATV recreational area. Lots of big trailers and RVs, the kind you see at NASCAR events, and ATV trailers, all brought up by big pickups. The camping areas were filled and I knew I wouldn't be getting quiet time in these camping areas anyway, so I drove farther in, past a Y-junction at about 9.5 miles, where the roads get worse and effectively bar these super-RVs further passage.

I went right and bashed my truck up the rocky road for another mile. I had spotty rain and plenty of late-day storm clouds, but nothing severe. I found a small clearing and decided it would make a good place to camp. Cerro Vista was just a mile to northwest. It was 4:00 p.m. so I stayed put and relaxed, spending a lot of the time in the cab of my truck to stay out of the drizzle and occasional downpours. About an hour later, by which time I had moved myself to the shell and bed of my truck, cattle started to assemble, slowly ambling in, mooing, checking me out. Two adolescent bulls seemed most interested, nosing and licking my truck. They even rocked the truck back and forth. Apparently this is one of their areas, perhaps their bed-down place. Not wanting a full night of mooing and truck-licking, I found another place to camp, and let the beefs have this one.

The weather seemed to improve, so I drove the remaining mile to the saddle below of the peak, but there were no good camp pullouts up here (in drier weather, perhaps, but the few pullouts up here were big mud bogs). I drove back down past my old spot (and all the cattle) and found a better spot not too much farther down. It was open, with no trees, but hidden from the road by a small rise and with neat rock outcrops that I scampered up for views. It was peaceful and quiet up here. I turned in when it got dark, about 8:30 p.m. The rain had stopped an hour ago and the clouds were beginning to thin and clear out, too. I had a great night and spent time staring at the stars.

I awoke at sun-up and spent a few minutes getting ready, then broke camp and drove the road to the high saddle, arriving around 7 a.m. in clear weather. A climb of Cerro Vista looked simple: a 700 foot gain up a mixed slope of trees, grass and stumps, plus roads possibly. I didn't waste time and started the hike within minutes of arriving to the saddle, which is at 11,230 feet. From the road, I walked up a gently-pitched grass slope and within minutes had come to the forest. The trees all looked about the same size and age, and the presence of many stumps and clean lines between trees and open spaces strongly suggested the area had been logged some time ago. Presumably what I was walking through was a section where saplings had been replanted, probably about 10 years ago judging by their uniform size.

Walking through the trees was easy enough, since there was plenty of room between them and little undergrowth, and I was surprised to come upon an old road after a few minutes. This road was overgrown in grasses and showed no hint of recent vehicular (e.g. ATV) travel. I suspected it to be one of the old logging roads. I followed this road as it gained gently uphill, more north than west. I wasn't too concerned as long as I went up, but after awhile I grew suspicious the road wasn't actually going anywhere of interest to me, so I broke from it and resumed the direct uphill approach.

I soon left the trees and entered onto a steep open area of grass and old stumps. Closer to the top, there stood a mature stand of fir, obviously unlogged. I came upon a fence line that led through the trees near the summit crown. I followed the fence through the trees into a clearing and onto a substantial dirt road. I was essentially on top of Cerro Vista, the one-way hike having covered less than a mile. The top is broad, and a cairn seems to mark the highest point, although trees to the west deserved some inspection. I walked over to this little area to be sure, but saw nothing that seemed higher, so I concur that the cairn pile is at the highest point.

I stayed on top about 20 minutes to shoot photos of the higher peaks, Wheeler Peak to the north and the Truchas Peaks to the south, and enjoy the solitude. The weather was nice and surprisingly moderate, given I was near 12,000 feet elevation at 8 in the morning. After enjoying Cerro Vista's views, I walked down the ATV road through the trees and back down the eastern hillside, curious to where it was heading. I could see that it swept far to the south of where my truck was so I left the track to hike cross-country down the open slopes and through the younger trees. And quickly I was back to my truck, the time still not yet 9 a.m.

Cerro Vista had proven to be a fun quick hike, and quite pretty. From here I drove out to the paved highway. Picuris Peak is up the road just a few miles, but I decided against it this trip, since I was looking at a long hike, one I would prefer to do at dawn if I can (and it didn't look that interesting anyway, at least from below). Instead I drove into Espanola for food and to kill time before my fateful tangle with Chicoma Mountain that evening (and night).

(c) 2007, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.