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Soaring North on the Sangres from Moriarty


Billy Hill

With photos by

Mike Abernathy and Brian Resor

View of the Truchas peaks looking northeast.

Approaching Wheeler Peak from the south on a beautiful September afternoon

Viewing the west face of Wheeler Peak near Taos, New Mexico.

Ute peak, near Questa, New Mexico, is one of several volcanic domes found in this part of the state. Also seen as a small "crack" in the Earth is the Rio Grande Gorge.

The Culebra ridge portion of the Sangres is seen on the horizon in this photo taken from near Questa

Approaching the Blanca group from the south, over the Alamosa valley.

Blanca Peak closeup. Peak elevation 14,345 ft. Also seen here are Ellingwood Point (14,042ft) and Little Bear Peak (14,037ft) along with the Winchell Lakes

The Great Sand Dunes of Colorado as viewed from over the Blanca Group. This is our newest National Park. The largest dune is 700 feet high!

Viewing the Crestones from the north. This portion of the Sangres can be extremely rugged.

Approaching Wheeler Peak from the south under the cloudstreet of every glider pilot's dreams.

Looking down on Wheeler Peak, New Mexico's highest point at 13,161ft, on a beautiful June late afternoon

Taos, New Mexico, looking south back toward the snowy Truchas Peaks

Looking north from Taos Airport at the Rio Grande Gorge.

The remote landscape behind the Costilla and Culebra areas is beautiful.

Approaching Culebra Peak from the north under a nice line of convergence over the Sangres.

The Blanca Group. In this collection of mountains there are several 14,000+ft peaks

The Great Sand Dunes of Colorado. Notice the convergence line over the Crestone ridge.

Crestone Peak (14,294ft) as viewed from the north, one of the many 14-er's in the Sangres of Colorado

Should you choose to fly north from Moriarty, you will encounter the foot hills of the Sangre de Cristos just north of Interstate twenty-five. If there is a westerly component to the winds at the lower ridge level which is about nine thousand feet you may find powerful wind shadow thermals on the lee side of the ridges. On the other hand, if the wind is too strong, that is twenty knots or greater, there may be prodigious sink on the down wind side of the mountains. There may also be wave, but I wouldn’t bet on it unless there are clear cloud markers; that is, rotor cu and lennies.

Once you are up on the spine of the mountains you will find both ridge and thermal activity, either or both of which can be intense. The wise pilot will not attempt to work thermals in close to the terrain as they can flip you past the vertical. If you are a thousand or more feet above ridge level, the lift becomes more workable and even a partial upset is not hazardous as one at a lower altitude.

As mentioned earlier, the spine of the mountains can quite often help to produce a shear line with stronger lift and higher cloud bases on the west side of the line. This line can be followed north to Wheeler Peak which is due east of the Taos Valley. From there the mountains angle slightly east and away from the San Louis valley. If the valley is well marked with cu, then it can be overflown without much fear of getting into trouble….over development not withstanding.

On days when the valley to the west of the Sangres has filled in with workable cu, some pilots will opt to get off the mountains in order to have a larger workable altitude band. If you choose to remain over the high country, you will need to make the jump from the Culebra ridge area to the next continuation of the Sangres in the vicinity of Blanca Peak.

From Blanca Peak north to the Salida area is one of the more interesting areas for sight seeing as you pass abeam or perhaps over Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle. The valley to the east of this portion of the mountain range is the location of some of the most intense mountain wave to be found in the Rockies. About seventy or so miles east of this area an B-52 on a low altitude run a number of years ago encountered rotor shear which ripped the entire vertical fin and rudder of the aircraft. It managed to return to its base in Nebraska by using differential thrust.

The next valley north lies in the lee of the Collegiate range which contains more of Colorado’s fourteen thousand foot mountains. From this point, one can continue north thru the Rocky mountains and connect with the Wind River Range well west of Casper Wyoming which will take you into the Jackson Hole area. By continuing in this general northern direction, it is possible to end up in Cody Wyoming by the end of the soaring day.

This page last updated on: Nov 07 2007