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Sunrise from Culebra Peak

Sunrise from Culebra Peak, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado

Sunrise from Culebra Peak, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado

Culebra Peak lies at the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Range and is less than nine miles north of the Colorado/New Mexico border. The range is long but narrow, and high, dry plains flank Culebra to the east and west. Culebra is the only Fourteener in Colorado that is entirely privately owned. It’s also the only Fourteener where hikers must pay a fee to hike to the summit. Camping is not allowed on the peak, and hikers are only allowed in through the locked entrance gate well after sunrise. To shoot sunrise from the summit, I would need to camp at the trailhead, and to do that I would need permission from the owners of Cielo Vista Ranch, which includes Culebra Peak. In 2012 my efforts to obtain permission were unsuccessful, but I persisted and finally obtained permission in July 2013 to drive to the trailhead in late afternoon and climb the peak in the dark that night.

A grizzled old ranch hand met me at the gate, then led me on a tooth-rattling, high-speed chase up a four-wheel-drive road to the trailhead. After loaning me a two-way radio “in case I got into trouble,” he waved goodbye and sped off down the road. Frankly, I was more worried about a broken axle than a broken ankle. Climbing the peak promised to be safer than the drive to the trailhead. I settled down for a few hours of sleep in my truck, then headed up the trail around 1 a.m. under starry skies.

The trek to the summit was long but uneventful, and I arrived in time to photograph a beautiful sunrise as golden light ignited banks of wispy cirrus clouds. After seven years, I had just one Fourteener left to complete my Sunrise from the Summit project: Mount of the Holy Cross.

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