Have you ever wondered which four states make up the Four Corners region of the desert Southwest? Well, then, you’re in luck because New Mexico just happens to be one of them. Characterized by arid deserts and tree-covered mountains, New Mexico is truly a “Land of Enchantment.” The state is home to just over two million people, a tiny population, considering it is the fifth largest state in the country. Moreover, New Mexico is largely rural, with vast tracts of unpopulated lands. A large part of the state’s population lives in or near the cities of Albuquerque, Las Cruces or Santa Fe. But how about those mountains? Which one represents the highest point in New Mexico?
Let’s find out! Here, we’ll go into depth on just where the state high point is and how far above sea level it reaches. Then, we’ll find out how to get there and what there is to do in the area. Finally, we’ll go over the five highest points in the state and how they compare to the highest point in New Mexico.
The Highest Point in New Mexico
With an elevation of 13,161 feet above sea level, Wheeler Peak is the highest point in New Mexico. This mountain is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. More specifically, Wheeler Peak is a part of the Carson National Forest and lies about 70 miles northeast of Santa Fe. Taos is the closest city, and a ski resort is situated on the peak’s lower slopes.
First surveyed in the 1870s, Wheeler Peak gets its name from Major George M. Wheeler, the first to survey the summit’s true height. But Wheeler Peak wasn’t always known as Wheeler Peak. In fact, until 1950, the highest spot in New Mexico was actually known as Taos Peak.
New Mexico: Topographic Profile
Wheeler Peak lies in one of New Mexico’s most impressive mountain ranges. In fact, two other high mountain peaks (Mount Walter and Fork Peak) are practically within spitting distance of the tallest point in the state. But those aren’t the only high points in the state. In fact, New Mexico is largely made up of what’s known as a “high desert” country. That is, dry desert lands interspersed with forested mountains, all at a high elevation. In New Mexico, even the lowest elevation point—Red Bluff Reservoir—lies at 2,842 feet above sea level.
New Mexico’s lowest elevations occur in the southern and eastern fringes of the state. From there, elevations gradually trend upward as one moves northwest. The highest elevations in the state are found in the many mountain ranges, some great and some small, in the northwestern quadrant.
Wheeler Peak: Drive or Hike?
So, can you drive to the roof of New Mexico? Unfortunately for some, no. Wheeler Peak is not accessible via vehicle. In fact, the shortest route there involves an 8.2-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of nearly 3,000 feet. But, if you can make it to the top, the views will be well worth your time. You won’t need any specialized climbing gear, but you should be prepared for a strenuous hike. You’re likely to see marmots, elk, mule deer, and even bighorn sheep on your way to the top.
Wheeler Peak is the 8th highest state high point. You won’t need a permit to make the climb, but be aware that the land is part of the Wheeler Peak Wilderness. On average, the climb to the top takes between 3-6 hours, so be sure to get an early start. Also, do some research to determine which trail you want to take. Popular trails begin at the Williams Lake Trailhead and the Bull-of-the-woods Trailhead.
Where Is Wheeler Peak Located on a Map?
Wheeler Peak is south of resort town Red River and located in Taos County. It is two miles southeast to the slopes of Taos Ski Valley. The towns of Taos and Taos Pueblo are around 20 miles’ drive away.
Things To Do Near Wheeler Peak
Let’s say you’re OK with seeing Wheeler Peak from a slightly lower elevation; what else is there to do in the area? If you’re visiting in the winter, be sure to check out the Taos Ski Valley. Further, the surrounding forests offer tons of opportunities for hiking and camping. If you’re looking for something a little more urban, head into neighboring Taos.
Five Highest Spots in New Mexico
We’ve learned that Wheeler Peak, at 13,161 feet, is the highest point in New Mexico. But what about the top five highest spots in the state? Let’s take a look!
Coming in at a close second is Truchas Peak in the Santa Fe Mountains, at 13,108 feet elevation. The third place goes to Venado Peak, in the Taos Mountains, which measures 12,739 feet tall. At 12,700 feet, Gold Hill, also in the Taos Mountains, comes in fourth place. Finally, the fifth-tallest point in New Mexico is Santa Fe Baldy, in the Santa Fe Mountains, at 12,632 feet elevation.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Laurie Drake
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