Look up at the broad 12,692-foot crest of Latir Mesa from outlying sagebrush plains in the red blaze of a New Mexico sunset, and you instantly see why Spanish Conquistadors named these mountains Sangre de Cristo, the blood of Christ. What's less obvious is why hikers overlook the quiet meadows, wildflowers, and mountaintops of the Latir Peak Wilderness. All of those underappreciated virtues are on full display on a strenuous 14-mile route that makes a perfect outing for altitude-conditioned hikers who can handle 3,000-foot climbs.
From the trailhead at Cabresto Lake, follow Lake Fork Trail for several miles uphill as it keeps close company with its namesake creek. Use Bull Creek Trail to gain the high ridge on the shoulder of Cabresto Peak. From there it's a long ridge walk up and around Venado Peak and Latir Mesa before the sharp descent to Heart Lake. You'll find good camping in the Heart Lake vicinity. Reconnect with the Lake Fork Trail for the trip back to your car. Still feeling restless? Try sidetrips up Pinabete Peak, or take the Midnight Trail from Heart Lake across 12,046-foot Baldy Mountain.
Where:170 miles north of Albuquerque or 275 miles (4 hours) south of Denver. From the town of Questa, take NM 563 northeast to Forest Road 134, then left onto Spur 134A to Cabresto Lake.
Maps:The Latir Peak and Wheeler Peak Wilderness Map is available for $5 (see below).
Trail Info: Carson National Forest, (505) 586-0520.