The area around Las Vegas, New Mexico is stunning. The Sangre de Cristo mountains dip into the little northern corner of the state, giving us a beautiful landscape of evergreen mountains and sparkling streams.
This area of the country is my favorite, after staying here during the summers of my teens. I’ve always enjoyed hiking here. So, when my husband and I picked a place to vacation during the summer, I brought him to hike the area’s most famous mountain – Hermit’s Peak.
All the names in this area are rich in imagery. Sangre de Cristo means “Christ’s blood”, and was named because of the red hue the mountains take on in the beauty of the sunrise and sunset. Hermit’s Peak was supposedly named after a hermit that made the mountain his home in the Civil War, but many think it is because the outline of the mountain looks like a man’s face rising into the blue sky. The peak next to Hermit’s is El Cielo, or “The Sky”. El Porvenir, the valley between the two mountains, is Spanish for “The Future”.
During the days of the Wild West, the nearby city of Las Vegas, NM was full of cowboys and gunfights. The city’s name was synonymous with gambling, which is why the founders of its namesake in Nevada chose it. Many movies about this time period or this area feature Hermit’s Peak in their cinematography. The award winning movie “No Country for Old Men” shot around Las Vegas and had several shots of Hermit’s in the background.
Hermit’s Peak trail is well marked once you get to the actual mountain. It is considered moderately difficult by the Forest Service. Although I had hiked the mountain several times, it was 15 years and 2 kids earlier. I am not an accomplished hiker, and neither is my husband. It took us much longer than it would probably take someone in better shape and accustomed to the altitude, almost 10 hrs to hike the 8 mile trail.
The beginning of the trail is somewhat level, as is the end of the trail as you hike to reach a 180 degree scenic overlook. In between are miles of steep switchbacks. While I thought that the return trip would go much more quickly than the ascension, the steep trail and loose gravel meant a slow and steady walk down.
There are 3 or 4 beautiful overlooks as you travel upwards. It’s pretty forested, but I would suggest bringing sunglasses. The constant correction between the bright sun and the dark shade gave me a slight headache. While there is a “spring” at the top, the water was not moving and there were dead insects in it. Plan on adequate water for the entire trip. The trail information stated that it was moderate to heavily traveled. As we were there on a weekday, we only saw one other hiker and his dog.
Well… a hiker, a dog, and a BEAR. Yes, on the trip down I saw a large brown bear. When I told my husband, the bear saw us and ran away. I think we just caught him offguard and he would not have bothered us. But be aware that there are bear in the area.
We had a great time. Since the times we are together and without the kids are few and far between, this hike was perfect for us to spend some quality time together reconnecting. I wholeheartedly recommend this hike, even if you aren’t in the best shape. Just start early and plan for the same amount of time to go down as it took you to go up!
I love this area! When I was a teenager, I lived in the big city (Dallas/Fort Worth). The church my parents began going to took all their teens to Camp Blue Haven, just outside of Las Vegas. Most of my good memories during this time in my life were made at this camp. Hiking this mountain, and the ones surrounding it, had everything to do with it. Most of the time I was alone during these hikes, working at my own pace and experiencing the greatness of my surroundings.
The feel of the trees, the blue of the sky – even the smell of the dirt – elicits an emotional response from deep inside of me. This is my “happy place”. If you have the chance, you should come here. It will become magical for you as well.
Read more about my thoughts on Hermit’s Peak and neighboring El Cielo Mountain.