Guide to the New Mexico Mountains

Guide to the New Mexico Mountains

Guide to the New Mexico MountainsAuthor

Liesl Ungnade

Author Bio

Being in the mountains is second nature to Liesl Ungnade. She was born and raised in New Mexico, the daughter of Los Alamos author and scientist Dr. Herbert Ungnade. She climbed mountains with her father until his untimely death in 1965, only one month after he wrote the original Guide to the New Mexico Mountains. After leaving Los Alamos in 1968, Liesl spent 20 years working in healthcare as a paramedic/firefighter and registered critical care nurse in the Albuquerque area. She moved to the four corners area near Cortez, Colorado, in 1994 and worked another 20 years as a nurse consultant and instructor at a local college. She has hiked to the top of 14,000’/4267 meter mountains, climbed into the Grand Canyon, and explored canyons throughout the Colorado Plateau desert. Currently, she works as a consultant and continues to explore the New Mexico Mountains.

This 50th Anniversary Edition of the book, Liesl’s first published work, is an expanded, revised and edited version of the original.


More than 100 mountain ranges in New Mexico are described in the Guide to the New Mexico Mountains 50th Anniversary Edition. Over 100 photographs taken throughout the state between 1948 and 2015 showcase the beauty and uniqueness of the state. Learn about New Mexico’s National Parks and Monuments, geology, archaeology, sports, ski areas, and Native people. Hand drawn maps show the locations of major mountain ranges. Stories about treasures, outlaws, hermits, mines, and historic trails paint a portrait of places in and near the mountains. With the upcoming Kindle edition, readers can connect directly to website links found throughout the book. Experience the mountains by following directions for day trip outings recommended for each region of the state.

This easy to use guidebook gives readers information about different types of mountain ranges in the Land of Enchantment including magnificent high altitude rocky peaks where prospectors mined for gold, the stark beauty of desert mountain ranges where Geronimo and Victorio hid from the Cavalry, mountain ranges with mile high cliffs that tower over the Rio Grande valley, and strange volcanic mountain formations that resemble horns or giant pots. Each mountain range has its own history that adds to the appeal of New Mexico as a place to visit.

Guide to the New Mexico Mountains, written by the late Dr. Herbert Ungnade, was first published in 1965. His daughter Liesl edited, revised, and expanded the text. Her father’s historic photographs are mixed with recent digital images in this 50th Anniversary Edition. Turn the pages and begin your journey into the New Mexico Mountains.

Book excerpt

The Taos Mountains are a sub-range of the Sangre de Cristo, which in turn are a sub-range of the Southern Rocky Mountains. They track north to south from Costilla Creek to Tres Ritos, and are positioned between the Taos Plateau to the west and the Great Plains to the east. The northernmost section of the Taos range, north of Costilla Creek, is a continuation of the Culebra Range that begins in Colorado. Wheeler Peak, with an altitude of 13,161’/4011 m, is the highest point in the Taos range and also in the state of New Mexico.

Gold was discovered in these mountains in the 1600s by Spaniards who settled in nearby valleys and foothills. There is a treasure story of millions of dollars’ worth of gold and silver in these mountains that were hidden before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and never recovered. Gold was rediscovered in 1860, which prompted small mining towns and villages to be built. By 1890, the mining towns of Twining, Amizette, Red River, Questa, Las Trampas, and La Belle (and many more) were thriving. Over time, this area was also known for its gold, silver, zinc, mica, and lead deposits. Uranium was briefly mined in the 1950s. Today, however, the major mining operations in these mountains have been the molybdenum mines of Questa and Red River. Molybdenum is a necessary trace element for plants and animals, is used as glass furnace electrodes, and is used by the petroleum industry.

Williams Lake in the Wheeler Peak Wilderness is located in the valley between the Wheeler Peak ridge and Lake Fork Peak Ridge. It may have been named for a colorful character of the 19th century, William Sherley “Old Bill” Williams. Born in 1787 in North Carolina to a staunchly Baptist family, he headed west into the Louisiana Purchase as a circuit preacher. He spoke fluent French and Spanish, and learned several Indian languages including Osage, Navajo, and Ute while living with various tribes. He was a business man, trader, interpreter for the Army, trapper, river guide on the Green and Colorado Rivers, an explorer, a horse stealer, and a guide for explorer John C. Fremont.

Old Bill traveled into and out of the Taos area over several decades, trapping and trading. His various activities led him to explore California, Utah, Colorado, and Mexico. In 1828, he lived and traveled with Central Rocky Mountain Utes, learning the terrain of the mountains and making sketches. Those sketches became a part of the first official maps of the Western United States. Old Bill also served as a translator during talks for treaties with various tribes and for Indian trials. Fremont’s fourth expedition was disaster due to the many hardships endured by the men. It ended in 1849 and Old Bill Williams returned to Taos to recuperate. In the spring of that same year, he and Dr. Benjamin Kern returned to an area where expedition equipment had been lost or cached, and they were shot and killed by unknown assailants.

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