Golden aspen along Wild Cherry Creek, Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are a one of the most distinct subranges of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. They rise as a nearly continous straight line from near Salida, Colorado to Sante fe, New Mexico. They are seperated from adjacent ranges by the San Luis Valley on the west and Wet Mountain Valley on the east. The Sangre de Cristos are more rugged than their Sawatch bretheren to the north west and a distinct geology differentiates them from the San Juans to the west. The sharp peaks and solid sedimentary rock of the central Sangre de Cristos distiguishes it as a place like no other in Colorado.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are in large part protected by the 226,455 acre Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, designated in 1993; and the Great Sand Dunes National Park still undergoing political wrangling prior to full park designation. Thanks is part to the legal protections granted by the Wilderness Act large portions of the Sangres remain relatively pristene.
Sangre de Cristo Geology: The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are a Fault Block Mountain Range. Their history can be traced back to the Ancestral Rocky Mountains that rose as a chain of mountainous islands running roughly from the northeast to the southwest across Colorado 300 million years ago. As these ancient mountains were ground down by the forces of erosion, sediments carried off by ancient river systems built up large deposits in the Central Colorado Trough, a large basin between the Uncompaghre Highlands and the Front Range Highlands.
In the vicinity of the Sangre de Cristos a formation called the Crestone Conglomerate was the result of the erosion of these mountains. The conglomerate is an alluvial deposit of rounded boulders, cobles, and stones imbedded in a sandstone matrix, it was dropped by swift moving streams and rivers as they exited the mountains and entered a shallow sea. It is solid and erosion resistent. Contemporaneous sedimentary deposits compose the Fountain Formation, of Red Rocks and the Flat Irons, and the Maroon Formation of the Elk Mountains. These coarse deposits were subsequently burried by younger sediments. They laid deep underground for 235 million years.
Beginning 65 million years ago the Laramide Orogeny began thrusting sections of Colorado towards the heavens. Whereas the rock of the Sawatch and Mosquito Mountains to the north bent upward as broad curves, the Sangre de Cristos first bent, then broke along several faults. As the uplift pressed the core of the Sangres against the pre-existing Wet Mountains the resulting pressure thrust the Sangres westward. The same faults that pushed the Sangres away from the Wet Mountains reactivated 26 million years ago (as the Rio Grand Rift awoke dormant faults throught Colorado, and creating all the Great Mountain Parks in the process) dropping the Wet Mountain Valley and the San Luis Valley in relation to the soaring peaks. The rocks presently exposed range from the Precambrian basement rocks in the northern and southern (Sierra Blanca) portions of the range, the central sections are composed predominantly of 300 million year old Crestone Conglomerate, and 23 million year old intrusive stocks make up the Spanish Peaks.
Begining 1.8 million years ago and continuing up until 20,000 years ago, glaciation scoured the mountainscape. Headwalls were steepened, valleys broadened, and aretes carved. Evidence of the action of glaciers is evident from the presence of big u-shaped valleys joined by hanging valleys, often connected by small waterfalls as at Willow Lake. It is seen in on exposed rock surfaces polished and striated by the patient motion of mountain glaciers. Morraines, piles of material glaciers eroded from the surrounding mountains and dropped as a contoured wall of debris as the glacier receded from its last advance, choke many of the drainages of the Sangre de Cristos, requiring an ascent of a steep, loose hill on route to the upper basins. These same morraines often shelter high alpine lakes which occupy the broad basins and shelves the glaciers carved. The effects of this Ice Age artistry rendered the unique geology of the Sangres into the sculpted forms that exist today.
Flora and Fauna: The Sangres system of narrow valleys seperated by rugged ridges creates a constrained ecology that seems well suited to the discreet little oases they occupy. The vegatative growth seldom shows the large old trees (except perhaps in the Heurfano River Valley) seen in the Elks or Front Range. The aspen, though abundant, are often smaller of girth and darker of bark then the massive apen stands of the Elks or San Juans. The high peaks are frequently decorated durring the summer months with a verdant velvet of grass that grows in wonderful wave patterns dictated by the geology of the rock. The flora of the Sangres is interesting for its distinct differences...
The wildlife of the Sangre de Cristos is also worth mentioning as you cannot triapse around this range long without encountering its native denizens. Marmots, Pika, and Alpine Voles are abundant in all drainages. In areas where marmots have gotten used to people, they are to be feared. Coyotes and Pine Martins prey on these animals. Elk, Whitetailed Deer, Bighorn Sheep, and Mountain Goats are the large herbivores. Black Bears and Mountain Lions are also present. Precautions should be taken for storing food in a manner that won't attract the bruins.
The monochromatic scenery of Spread Eagle Peak from Peak 13,490 after a brief snow storm.
Peak 13,490 (Cotton King Peak) Overview
Peak 13,490's serrated summit ridge from the Peak 13,490-Peak 13,122 saddle.
Peak 13,490 is the reigning monarch of the western outliers of the central Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It is 160 feet taller then the nearby, named, Mount Owen. This summit dominates the Cotton Lake drainage as a riven wall of undulating summits. It is composed of the wonderous Crestone Conglomerate and although it is an easy summit, it is seeped in character. Herein I refer to 13,490 as Cotton King Peak.
Cotton King Peak is an enjoyable mountain to ascend as it offers expansive views, sits amidst wild country, and is as representaive of the joys of the Sangre de Cristo mountains thirteeners as one is likely to find. The west ridge route from the Wild Cherry Creek drainage is a scenic romp across undulating terrain.
From the summit expansive views are offered of Cottonwood Peak, Thirsty Peak, Lakes Peak, Electric Peak, De Anza Peak, Mount Marcy, Peak 13,513, Spread Eagle Peak, Rito Alto Peak, The Mustang Mountains (this is another fictional name of my delusions, designating Peak 13,060, Peak 13,062, and Peak 13,028). These are wild lands worth visiting.
Peak 13,122 (Wild Cherry Peak) Overview
Peak 13,122 from its north-west ridge. Photo provided by Colonelpyat.
Peak 13,122 is the cirqued dome that lords over Cherry Lake like an icy queen. Elegent compared to Cotton King's rambling ridge, this summit, herein reffered to as Wild Cherry Peak is as pleasant and worthwhile as its companion. The picturesque northeasterly walls of a cirque cut into Wild Cherry Peak dominate the view from Cherry Lake. The ridge connecting Wild Cherry to Cotton King is solid, enjoyable, and airy in places. It is possible the follow the ridge directly to the summit.
Wild Cherry Peak's summit view looks down into the Wild Cherry Creek drainage... To the west is the expansive San Luis Valley bordered by the San Juan Mountains To the east is a magnificent range crest of the Sangre de Cristos proper. North is the mysterious Rito Alto Lake drainage. Wilderness all around.
Routes on Peak 13,490 and Peak 13,122
A topographic map of routes on Peak 13,490 and Peak 13,122. The red route is the 6.34 mile long rout up Cotton King Peak. The green route is the 0.61 mile long connecting ridge to Wild Cherry Peak. The Blue Route is the 1.36 mile long Colonelpyat Cirque Spanning Special.
Directions to Trailheads
The primary access to 13,490 and 13,122 is provided by the Wild Cherry Creek Trailhead. This delightful trail is reached by driving 26 miles south of Poncha Springs on US 285. At the 285 CO 17 junction turn left to follow CO 17 for 6 miles. Look sharp for Saguache County Road AA. Turn Left and travel east on Saguache County Road AA for and additional 8.5 miles (past the turn off for the Cotton Creek Trailhead) to a well signed Trailhead with a decent sized parking area.
No Permits or Fees Required.
Wilderness Regulations apply.
Please obey the rules, they are enacted to preserve a beautiful place..
Saguache Ranger District (USFS)
46525 State Highway 114
Saguache, CO 81149
When To Climb
With the low trailheads in the San Luis Valley and the relaxed nature of Mount Owen's West Ridge this mountain may be tackled year round as long as avalanche danger is low.
In the Authur's opinion the Wild Cherry Creek drainage, with its extensive aspen stands and gurgling creek, would deliver the most memorable experience durring the shoulder seasons. The iradescent green of the Aspen in spring or the glorious golds of fall would make what is already a nice trek, absolutely divine.
Peak 13,122 from the shining shores of Cherry Lake.
On the Wild Cherry Creek side: There is limited camping available at the trailhead. Better camping is available 4.5 miles in at a pleasant meadow in the upper valley. Camping would also be possible near Peanut and Wild Cherry Lakes.
For a detailed seven day forcast of the nearby town of Crestone, CO please click this link.