Photo credit: Jim O'Donnell
Northern New Mexico gained two new Wilderness areas thanks to S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, signed into law on March 12, 2019. New Mexico Wild and a broad coalition worked for more than a decade to permanently protect these special areas - Cerro del Yuta (Ute Mountain) and Río San Antonio, both within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
Rio Grande del Norte boasts incredible wildlands and waters that sustain the surrounding communities, and is home to elk, deer, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, sandhill cranes and other wildlife. The area is one of the most stunning and ecologically significant in the state and a destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.
CERRO DEL YUTA WILDERNESS (approximately 13,420 acres)
The centerpiece of Cerro del Yuta is Ute Mountain – a 10,000-foot-high volcanic cone that rises more than 2,600 feet above the surrounding plain and overlooks the Taos Gorge. Ute is something you can’t miss. Located about 10 miles west of Costilla, it is the dominant feature for those driving north from Taos along N.M. 522.
Free of designated trails, the steep trek up Ute Mountain rewards hikers with sweeping views. The slopes of Ute are covered in piñon at the base and pockets of ponderosa, aspen, white pine and Douglas fir in the higher elevations. Looking down from grassy meadows of blue grama, western wheatgrass and Indian ricegrass where the trees thin, the gorge is a jagged, inky slash dividing Ute from its sister cones to the west. Snow-capped Blanca rises to the north, just across the state line. The whole Sangre de Cristo range falls to the east, terminating, view-wise, at Wheeler Peak.
RÍO SAN ANTONIO WILDERNESS (approximately 8,120 acres)
People often assume from its name that this wilderness study area includes 10,908-foot San Antonio Mountain, the dramatic long-extinct volcanic cone that is a familiar landmark in this part of New Mexico. In fact, the Wilderness is made up of the rolling grasslands to the north and west, including a portion of the Río San Antonio. For wildlife viewers, this is an advantage, for the terrain’s openness allows better wildlife viewing than adjacent forested lands.
The Río San Antonio itself sits 200 feet below a plateau, creating a unique riparian area and offering recreational opportunities to boost the local economy.
Species found here include elk, mule deer, pronghorn, black bear, mountain lions, coyotes, prairie dogs, wild turkey and raptors, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons. While there are no designated trails, the terrain’s open nature readily allows cross-country hiking and foot access from parking areas around San Antonio Mountain.