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April 1999

New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness

In New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness, it's just you and the bighorn sheep looking down on the world.

I’m always surprised at how many otherwise sensible people think the dramatic uplift of the southern Rockies ends at the Colorado-New Mexico line. The truth is, the high granite spines play on for 100 more miles to Santa Fe. Hiding thereabouts is the Pecos Wilderness, one of the premier backpacking destinations in New Mexico-and perhaps all of the West.

In the Pecos, more than 400 miles of trail climb in and out of canyons, run along the rugged ridges, and crest the sky-soaked summits within this 223,667-acre jewel of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Among the best of the paths, and the perfect way to reach the heart of this wilderness, is the 14-mile Winsor Trail (#254). After leaving the boggy meadows and aspen glades that crowd its namesake creek near the trailhead, the Winsor Trail climbs steadily through a dense conifer forest for about 6 miles before connecting with the aptly named Skyline Trail (#251), a 50-mile ridgeline jaunt that takes in many of the region’s highlights.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself between Stewart and Spirit Lakes, where you’ll face a difficult choice.

Option 1: Continue west on the Winsor, and make camp amid the wildflower meadows of Puerto Nambe. Break camp early the next morning and devote the day to summiting the three 12,000-plus-foot mountains that surround you-Santa Fe Baldy, Penitente Peak, and Lake Peak.

Option 2: Head north on the Skyline for a beautiful two- to seven-day backcountry tour that carries you to 13,103-foot South Truchas Peak, the state’s second-highest mountain. From the summit you’ll enjoy 100-mile vistas clear to Colorado, and if you’re lucky, you’ll bump into the bighorn sheep that patrol the steep slopes.

Regardless of which option you choose, time spent in the Pecos will send you back to work with your head in the clouds.

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