The 158,790 acre South San Juan Wilderness Area, which overlays a portion of the Rio Grande National Forest, was designated by Congress in 1980. It represents millions of years of volcanic activity followed by glacial carving. Typified by steep slopes above broad U-shaped valleys, its imposing terrain contains high peaks and cliffs, as well as jagged pinnacles and ragged ridges. Elevations rise as high as 13,300 feet. The Continental Divide crosses through this wilderness area as it passes in and out of Conejos County. Thirty-two lakes, most of them formed by glacial activity, hold much of the area’s moisture and drain into turbulent creeks. The Conejos and Alamosa rivers have their headwaters here. Forest ecosystems range from lodgepole pine to aspen, which transition to Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir before rising to alpine tundra.

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