Raton Mesa

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Raton Mesa (Mesa de Maya)
PSM V74 D032 Fisher peak a spur of the mesa de maya colorado.png
Location Las Animas County, Colorado, United States

Raton Mesa is the collective name of several mesas on the eastern side of Raton Pass in New Mexico and Colorado. The name Raton Mesa or Mesas has sometimes been applied to all the mesas that extend east for 90 miles (140 km) along the Colorado-New Mexico border from Raton, New Mexico and Trinidad, Colorado to the Oklahoma panhandle. These include Johnson Mesa, Mesa de Maya, and Black Mesa. [1]


The highest point of Raton Mesa, Fishers Peak, is located in Las Animas County, Colorado. The highest part of the mesa (4,183-acre (16.93 km2)) was made a National Natural Landmark in 1967. Raton mesas are volcanic in origin caused by lava flows which solidified into basalt. Over time the softer sedimentary rock surrounding the basalt eroded leaving several distinct large elevated tablelands with precipitous sides. [2]

Raton Mesa is part of the Raton Basin, a coal and natural gas producing region.


Fishers Peak is the highest point on Raton Mesa. Fishers peak.jpg
Fishers Peak is the highest point on Raton Mesa.

Interstate Highway 25 through Raton Pass, 7,834 feet (2,388 m) in elevation, separates the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west from the mesa country on the east. For this article, Raton Mesa is defined as the area east of Interstate 25 between Trinidad, Colorado and Raton, New Mexico, approximately 19 miles (31 km) south to north, and extending eastwards about 13 miles (21 km). Within this area are three distinct mesas separated by deep canyons: Fishers Peak Mesa in Colorado, with a maximum elevation of 9,633 feet (2,936 m), Bartlett Mesa, mostly in New Mexico, with a maximum elevation of 8,900 feet (2,700 m), and Barela/Horseshoe/Horse Mesa, straddling the Colorado/New Mexico state line, with a maximum elevation of 8,757 feet (2,669 m). The elevations at the foot of the mesas are 6,000 feet (1,800 m) or higher. [3]

The flat-topped mesas are mostly grassland, but their steep slopes are wooded with ponderosa pine the dominant species, joined by quaking aspen, Douglas fir, and white fir at higher elevations and pinyon, juniper, and Gambel oak at lower elevations. Mammal species include American black bear, cougar, mule deer, beaver, and especially elk which are seen in herds of more than 100 individuals. [4] Hunting, especially for elk, is popular in season on both public and private lands. [5]

A geologic map of the Raton Basin. The Raton mesas are shown in red. Raton-Map.jpg
A geologic map of the Raton Basin. The Raton mesas are shown in red.
Bartlett Mesa rises above Raton Pass and Interstate Highway 25. Bartlett Mesa NW side.jpg
Bartlett Mesa rises above Raton Pass and Interstate Highway 25.

No public roads reach the top of the mesas. The only public road which penetrates the area is through Sugarite Canyon State Park in New Mexico. It terminates shortly after crossing the border into Colorado at an altitude of 7,560 feet (2,300 m). This road provides access to the three publicly owned areas of Raton Mesa: Surgarite Canyon State Park 3,600 acres (15 km2) in New Mexico and Lake Dorothey State Wildlife Area 5,152 acres (20.85 km2) and James M. John State Wildlife Area 8,339 acres (33.75 km2) in Colorado. [6] From the parking area at Lake Dorothey, the summit of Fisher's Peak is a straight-line distance of about eight miles by an unmarked trail. [7]

Much of the Colorado portion of the Raton Mesa, including Fisher's Peak, was owned by the Crazy French Ranch until 2019 when the 19,200 acres (7,800 ha) ranch was purchased to become a Colorado state park. Funds to purchase the ranch came jointly from Great Outdoors Colorado, the funding arm of the Colorado Lottery, The Nature Conservancy, and The Trust for Public Land. [8]

Related Research Articles

Las Animas County, Colorado County in Colorado, US

Las Animas County is one of the 64 counties in the U.S. state of Colorado. As of the 2010 census, the population was 15,507. The county seat is Trinidad. The county takes its name from the Mexican Spanish name of the Purgatoire River, originally called El Río de las Ánimas Perdidas en el Purgatorio, which means "River of the Lost Souls in Purgatory."

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Raton, New Mexico City in New Mexico, United States

Raton is a city and the county seat of Colfax County in northeastern New Mexico. The city is located just south of Raton Pass. The city is also located about 6.5 miles south of the New Mexico/Colorado border and 85 miles west of Texas.

San Juan River (Colorado River tributary)

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Sangre de Cristo Mountains

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Black Mesa (Oklahoma)

Black Mesa is a mesa in the U.S. states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. It extends from Mesa de Maya, Colorado southeasterly 28 miles (45 km) along the north bank of the Cimarron River, crossing the northeast corner of New Mexico to end at the confluence of the Cimarron River and Carrizo Creek near Kenton in the Oklahoma panhandle. Its highest elevation is 5,705 feet (1,739 m) in Colorado. The highest point of Black Mesa within New Mexico is 5,239 feet (1,597 m). In northwestern Cimarron County, Oklahoma, Black Mesa reaches 4,973 feet (1,516 m), the highest point in the state of Oklahoma. The plateau that formed at the top of the mesa has been known as a "geological wonder" of North America. There is abundant wildlife in this shortgrass prairie environment, including mountain lions, butterflies, and the Texas horned lizard.

Raton Pass Interstate mountain pass in the United States

Ratón Pass is a 7,834 ft (2,388 m) elevation mountain pass on the Colorado–New Mexico border in the western United States. It is located on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Trinidad, Colorado and Raton, New Mexico, approximately 180 miles (290 km) northeast of Santa Fe. Ratón is Spanish for "mouse". The pass crosses the line of volcanic mesas that extends east from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the state line, and furnishes the most direct land route between the valley of the Arkansas River to the north and the upper valley of the Canadian River, leading toward Santa Fe, to the south. The pass now carries Interstate 25 and railroad tracks.

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Geography of Colorado

The geography of the U.S. State of Colorado is diverse, encompassing both rugged mountainous terrain, vast plains, desert lands, desert canyons, and mesas. In 1861, the United States Congress defined the boundaries of the new Territory of Colorado exclusively by lines of latitude and longitude, stretching from 37°N to 41°N latitude, and from 102°02'48"W to 109°02'48"W longitude. Starting in 1868, official surveys demarcated the boundaries, deviating from the parallels and meridians in several places. Later surveys attempted to correct some of these mistakes but in 1925 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the earlier demarcation was the official boundary. The borders of Colorado are now officially defined by 697 boundary markers connected by straight boundary lines. Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah are the only states that have their borders defined solely by straight boundary lines with no natural features. The southwest corner of Colorado is the Four Corners Monument at 36°59'56"N, 109°2'43"W. This is the only place in the United States where four states meet: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.

Raton Basin

The Raton Basin is a geologic structural basin in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. It takes its name from Raton Pass and the town of Raton, New Mexico. In extent, the basin is approximately 50 miles (80 km) east-west, and 90 miles (140 km) north-south, in Huerfano and Las Animas Counties, Colorado, and Colfax County, New Mexico.

Pecos Wilderness

The Pecos Wilderness is a protected wilderness area within the Santa Fe National Forest and Carson National Forest. The Pecos Wilderness lies within the Camino Real Ranger District of the Carson National Forest, and the Pecos Ranger District and Espanola Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest. The Pecos Wilderness includes the southernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains in the sub-range of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of north central New Mexico. One trail head for the wilderness is only 15 miles by road from Santa Fe, the state capital. Covering an area of 223,667 acres (90,515 ha)(350 sq mi) it is the second largest wilderness in the state after the Gila Wilderness. An area of less than 200,000 acres (81,000 ha) was given wilderness protection by Congress in 1964. Congress protected an additional 55,000 acres (22,000 ha) in 1980. The Wilderness boasts one of the highest concentrations of peaks exceeding 12,000 feet (3,700 m) in elevation in New Mexico, including Santa Fe Baldy, 12,622 feet (3,847 m), the highest point in Santa Fe County, and South Truchas Peak, 13,102 feet (3,993 m), the second highest peak in the state.

The Maxwell Land Grant, also known as the Beaubien-Miranda Land Grant, was a 1,714,765-acre (6,939.41 km2) Mexican land grant in Colfax County, New Mexico and part of adjoining Las Animas County, Colorado. This 1841 land grant was one of the largest contiguous private landholdings in the history of the United States. The New Mexico towns of Cimarron, Colfax, Dawson, Elizabethtown, French, Lynn, Maxwell, Miami, Raton, Rayado, Springer, Ute Park and Vermejo Park, came to be located within the grant, as well as numerous other towns that are now ghost towns.

Vermejo Park Ranch Private Ranch in New Mexico, United States

Vermejo Park Ranch is a 590,823-acre (239,098 ha) ranch owned by Ted Turner in northeastern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The ranch is about three-quarters the size of the State of Rhode Island. The ranch, which stretches from the Great Plains to the summit of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is used primarily for conservation, hunting, fishing, and other recreation, but also produces significant quantities of coalbed methane, a type of natural gas.

Sugarite Canyon State Park

Sugarite Canyon State Park is a state park of New Mexico, United States, featuring a historic early-20th century coal-mining camp and natural scenery at the border of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains. The park is located on the Colorado–New Mexico state line 6 miles (9.7 km) northeast of Raton, New Mexico.

Coyote Creek State Park

Coyote Creek State Park is a state park of New Mexico, United States, preserving a riparian canyon in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The park is located 17 miles (27 km) north of Mora. Coyote Creek is the most densely stocked trout stream in New Mexico.

Philmont Scout Ranch is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. Philmont is about 12 miles (19 km) across at its widest point, and about 30 miles (48 km) long. There are no mountains to the south or east of Philmont. The interior of the ranch is mountainous but a small part of the eastern area is prairie.

Colorado state wildlife areas

The Colorado state wildlife areas are managed for hunting, fishing, observation, management, and preservation of wildlife. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife division of the U.S. State of Colorado manages more than 300 state wildlife areas with a total area of more than 860 square miles (2,230 km2) in the state.

Fishers Peak

Fishers Peak is a spur/projection/spire of the Ratón Mesa, the tallest of the collective mesas of the Ratón range that commence at the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a subset of the Rocky Mountains, from the west, 90 miles eastward to the Oklahoma border. Ratón Mesas include Black Mesa, Johnson Mesa, and Mesa de Maya, to name a few. The prominent 9,633-foot (2,936 m) mesa is located 5.5 miles (8.8 km) south by east of the Town of Trinidad in Las Animas County, Colorado, United States. Fishers Peak is higher than any point in the United States east of its longitude.

The Mesa de Maya is a prominent volcanic tableland rising 500 feet (150 m) to 1,200 feet (370 m) above the Great Plains in southeastern Colorado. A narrow finger of the mesa extends eastward through the northeastern corner of New Mexico and a few miles into Oklahoma where it is known as Black Mesa. The elevation of the Mesa de Maya ranges from 4,800 feet (1,500 m) at its easternmost extension to 6,902 feet (2,104 m) in the west.

Fishers Peak State Park

Fishers Peak State Park is a Colorado state park in Las Animas County, Colorado, just south of Trinidad. Trinidad Lake State Park is nearby. The park opened on October 30, 2020 and is still being developed.


  1. Keyes, Charles R. (1919), "The Hanging Gardens of the Mesa de Maya, The Geographic Review, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 145-152. Downloaded from JSTOR.
  2. Lee, Willis T. "The Raton Mesas of New Mexico and Colorado" Geographic Review, Vol 11, No 3 (July 1921), pp. 384-397
  3. Google Earth
  4. Jones, Cheri A. (2002) "Mammals of the James M. John and Lake Dorothey State Wildlife Areas, Las Animas County, Colorado", Proceedings of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Series 4, No. 3, pp. 1-14
  5. Hunting in Las Animas County, Colorado. Sangres.com. http://www.sangres.com/stateco/lasanimas.htm#.VOtPPPldW3k, accessed 23 Feb2015
  6. "Colorado Parks and Wildlife", http://www.cpw.state.co.us/swa/Lake%20Dorothey%20SWA, accessed 23 Feb 2015
  7. Google Earth
  8. "Agreement Reached on Fisher's Peak / Crazy French Ranch". Great Outdoors Colorado. 2019-01-04. Retrieved 2020-08-14.

Further reading

Coordinates: 37°02′N104°24′W / 37.033°N 104.400°W / 37.033; -104.400