Sangre de Cristo Range

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The Sangre de Cristo Range is a narrow mountain range of the Rocky Mountains running north and south along the east side of the Rio Grande Rift in southern Colorado in the United States. The mountains extend southeast from Poncha Pass for about 75 mi (120 km) through south-central Colorado, approximately 50 miles (80 km) west of Pueblo, and form a high ridge separating the San Luis Valley on the west from the watershed of the Arkansas River on the east. The highest peak in the range is Blanca Peak (14,345 ft ). Other prominent peaks include and the Crestones, Kit Carson Mountain, Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle. According to the USGS, the range is the northern part of the larger and confusingly similarly named Sangre de Cristo Mountains which extend through northern New Mexico.

Much of the northern part of the range is located within the San Isabel National Forest, while much of the southern part of the range is located with the Rio Grande National Forest. Much of the middle part of the range is located with in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. The Great Sand Dunes National Park sits on the southwestern flank of the range at the edge of the San Luis Valley. The ridge of the range is traversed by no paved roads, but only by four wheel drive and foot trails over Hayden Pass, Hermit Pass, Music Pass, Medano Pass, and Mosca Pass.

In 1719 the Spanish explorer Antonio Valverde y Cosio named the Sangre de Cristo ("Blood of Christ") mountains after being impressed by the reddish hue of the snowy peaks at sunrise. Today tourism and mining are the main economic activities.

The Sangre de Cristos are fault block mountains with major fault lines running along both the east and west sides of the mountains and, in places, cutting right through them. The mountains were pushed up about 27 million years ago, pretty much as one big chunk of rock. On the west side is the San Luis Valley with the Rio Grande Rift running down the middle. On the southeast side is the Raton Basin with a quiet but still active volcanic field. On the northeast side are the Wet Mountains and the Front Range, areas of pre-Cambrian rock raised up during the Colorado Orogeny some 1.7 billion years ago. The Blanca Massif is also pre-Cambrian rock while the main body of the Sangres themselves is composed of Permian-Pennsylvanian rock, a mix of igneous intrusions, conglomerates and shale that is only about 250 million years old.

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