Welcome to Wilderness Wednesday, our weekly posting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.
Our post this week is Ute Mountain, an isolated and prominent symmetrical volcanic mountain jutting out of the flat Taos Plateau in north-central New Mexico. The Mountain’s southern slopes are wooded with juniper and piñon, while northern slopes support ponderosa pine and, at higher elevations, limber pine. Ute Mountain is an unusual post for Wilderness Wednesday as it is neither designated as Wilderness nor a Wilderness Study Area, as all our other posts have highlighted. However, Ute Mountain has been identified by the BLM as having lands with wilderness characteristics.
It was acquired by the BLM for conservation purposes in 2003. The BLM inventoried it for the presence of wilderness characteristics as defined by the Wilderness Act; that is, an area having a minimum size, having a natural appearance, and having outstanding opportunities for primitive recreation or solitude. The Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) requires that the BLM maintain a current inventory of all the resource values on public lands, including wilderness characteristics. Current wilderness inventories, such as what was conducted for Ute Mountain, are considered during the preparation of Resource Management Plans, though which decisions are made as to which resource values will be emphasized. This is different than the wilderness inventories that occurred immediately following the passage of FLPMA in 1976, after which areas found to have wilderness characteristics were required to be designated as Wilderness Study Areas, and their wilderness values protected. Having confirmed that wilderness characteristics were present at Ute Mountain, the BLM then made a planning decision to emphasize protection of the existing wilderness characteristics.
A successful climb to the 10,093 foot high summit of Ute Mountain will reward you with expansive views of the Taos Plateau and the Río Grande Gorge. As there is no trail for this hike, hikers can expect to encounter typical mountain climbing conditions requiring basic mountain climbing and navigation skills. Though visitors before you may have placed rock cairns to mark a route, their reliability is questionable – you need to be capable of navigating on your own (which is most challenging on your return downslope). Thunderstorms are typical on summer afternoons, and so it is important to make sure you are off the mountain before they develop.
From Questa, New Mexico, drive north on NM Highway 522 to the Colorado State line. Continue north on the highway, which is now CO Highway 159, approximately 1 mile to County Road B and turn west (left). Drive county Road B approximately 4½ miles to where pavement turns to gravel, and continue approximately 1½ miles to a T intersection with County Road 8, and turn south (left). Drive approximately 1 mile and turn west (right) on a gravel road. Drive approximately 1 mile and turn south (left) on a dirt road (here you will encounter an information sign for the Río Grande Del Norte National Monument, of which Ute Mountain is a part. Drive south on this road which, at about 2 miles, bends 90 degrees to the west, and continue approximately 1½ miles to a dirt road. Turn south (left) on the dirt road and drive approximately ¼ mile to a parking area. These are dirt roads requiring suitable clearance and may be impassible when wet. For more information, please visit the Río Grande del Norte National Monument website.
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