Culebra Peak (14,047 ft)
14er Peak Rank #41/53
Culebra Peak – featured on 14ers Maps 3 of 16 – is the only 14er in Colorado that is completely privately owned including all access to it. Other 14ers have large swathes of private property on them, and a few have private summits (e.g. Mount Lindsey, Mount Bross and, until recently, Tabeguache Peak), but Culebra has the distinction of being surrounded by private property and having had periods of no access at all for many years. The current land owner does allow access if one pays a fee and signs a waiver.
Culebra is a Spanish word meaning snake in English, and it is part of the Sangre de Cristo (meaning blood of Christ) mountain range that extends southwards into New Mexico. It is the southernmost 14er in Colorado.
The peak is part of what is called the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant – a land grant meaning land being ceded to private individuals by the Spanish government (and later, after Mexican independence in 1821, the Mexican government) – given in 1844 to Charles Beaubien, who invited Hispanic settlers into the San Luis valley. To this day, most of the place names in the area are of Hispanic origin and many descendants of the original New Mexican settlers still live in the area.
In the 20th century, the families that settled this area developed into a self-sufficient farming community with communal land rights on the mountainsides of the nearby Sangre de Cristo range. This changed in 1960 when lumberman Jack Tayor purchased the Taylor Ranch – 77,524 acres on the mountainous east side of the land grant – and fenced out the local families who relied on this land for subsistence. He used violence to enforce against trespassing, and this triggered the Costilla County Range War. After trading hands a few times with access to the peak coming and going depending on the whims of the land owners, the latest owner (Cielo Vista Ranch Co.) has allowed climbing the peak and nearby Red Mountain for a $150 fee and a signed waiver.
To hike up Culebra Peak, it is imperative to contact the land owner on the west side (access from the east has not been allowed by the land owner on that side) and arrange in advance a day to climb. One must arrive at the trailhead (where camping is allowed), pay the fee and sign a waiver in the morning and make their way along dirt roads to either the Four Way Trailhead (at 11,250′, for lower clearance vehicles) or up to the Upper 4WD trailhead 1 mile further at 11,685′ elevation.
There is no defined trail to Culebra Peak and Red Mountain beyond, and the owner encourages dispersed hiking to minimize impact on the land, but the route is roughly in a southeasterly direction from the Upper Trailhead for about 2.4 miles to Culebra Peak with 2,360′ elevation gain. Red Mountain (13,908′) is 0.9 miles further south from the summit of Culebra.
As with all visits to the high country of Colorado: be prepared, know your limitations, watch the weather, drink plenty of water, and as always don’t forget your 14ers Maps. Culebra Peak is one of two fourteeners featured on Outdoor Trail Maps Colorado 14ers Series Map 3 of 16.
Directions to Trailhead:
Starting in San Luis, Colorado on Main Street, turn left/east at the Conoco Station and drive 3 miles to stop sign. Take a right/south onto County Road 21 and proceed to County Road L.7. Turn left/east on L.7 and continue on to one of several county roads which go south from L.7 to County Road M.5, which parallels L.7. After taking one of these roads (e.g. CR 22.5, 23.5) to M.5, turn left/east onto M.5 and continue until you reach the large heavy green steel gate, which is the entrance to the Ranch North Headquarters of Cielo Vista Ranch.