Southern Rockies

Pond at Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument. Photo Credit: National Park Service.

The majority of the Southern Rocky Mountains are located in central Colorado, with only small portions extending into southern Wyoming and northernmost New Mexico. The Southern Rocky Mountains are typically steep and rugged, and vegetation is highly variable, depending largely on elevational context and slope aspect. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Tusas Mountains, and the Sierra Nacimiento in New Mexico are the ranges composing the southernmost extent of the Southern Rockies.

Area: The Southern Rocky Mountains encompass an area of approximately 204,630 sq km (79,000 sq miles)

Precipitation: The range of precipitation in the Southern Rocky Mountains is between 25 cm (10 in) and 100 cm (40 in) per year, with much of the annual precipitation snow rather than rain.

Temperature: Temperatures in the Southern Rocky Mountains range between an winter average of 28 degrees F and a summer average of 59 degrees F. Winter lows and summer highs can be much more extreme, however.

Elevation: The elevation in the Southern Rocky Mountains ranges between 1,125 m (3,700 ft) and more than 4,300 m (14,000 ft).

Life Zones: Upper Sonoran, Transition, and Canadian

Vegetation: The upper elevations of the Southern Rocky Mountains support alpine tundra species, coniferous forests, and aspen groves. At lower elevations, ponderosa pine, pinyon-juniper, and grassland environments thrive.

Geology: The oldest rocks of the Southern Rocky Mountains consist of granites and metamorphic rock. Later uplift and subsequent erosion of these ancient rocks culminated in layers of sedimentary rocks. Marine sandstones, shale, and clays are also present in the Southern Rockies, as are younger intrusive volcanics. Erosion, downcutting, and glacial activity have also contributed to sediment deposition in the region.

Prehistoric Cultures: Ancestral Puebloan (including the ‘Anasazi’), Navajo, and Apache.

National Parks: Pecos, Ft. Union, and Bandelier.