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Desert dreamscape: Angel Peak Scenic Area near Farmington is a treat for hikers and photographers

Angel Peak provide photographers with a tremendous foreground structure for sunrise, sunset and moonrise photos. (Courtesy of The Bureau Of Land Management)

With an unmistakably jagged and craggy skyline, the nearly-7,000-foot-high Angel Peak is the rugged centerpiece of the equally harsh, 10,000-acre Angel Peak Scenic Area southeast of Farmington.

A sandstone mastiff that juts some 500-feet above the surrounding Kutz Canyon badlands, the area is a photographer’s dream, providing a stunning foreground piece for other-worldly sunrise and moonrise shots, said Doug McKim, an outdoor recreational planner with Bureau of Land Management, which manages the area.

“It’s got some tremendous scenery. You have Angel Peak and on a clear day, you can see the La Platas and the San Juans,” he said of the nearby mountain chains in southern Colorado. “It’s really nice. You get a really nice night sky view there.”

Accessed by a graded dirt road of several miles that can get sloppy during inclement weather but otherwise is quite passable for passenger vehicles, the road ends in a small campsite with space for a couple of recreational vehicles and several tent campers. There are two vault restrooms but no electrical or water hookups.

Many roads wander through the Angel Peak Scenic Area, giving visitors a chance to see the peak from various perspectives.

“And there are several pull-out areas along the rim to give you different perspectives of the view,” McKim said. “It’s a mix of badlands and plateaus. When you come on the road, it’s on the plateau above the badlands that lead up to the base of Angel Peak.”

Ribbons of crimson and brown and tan and white mark the different layers of shale, siltstone mudstone and sandstone that make up the Paleocene Nacimiento Formation that was shed from the San Juan uplift to the north and the Brazos-Sangre de Cristo uplift to the east some 60-plus million years ago.

It is an area rich in fossils of all natures from animal to plant to aquatic, although collecting them is forbidden.

Several unofficial trails drop down into the badlands from the rim, McKim said, with one that meanders toward the base of Angel Peak.

“They’re user-created, volunteer trails,” he said. “They are in varying degrees of difficulty. I wouldn’t say they were extremely difficult but they do get more extreme depending how far you go.”

The trails are also fairly exposed as there is little in the way of vegetation.

And climbing the peak itself is not really a very good idea, McKim said.

“The terrain on Angel Peak itself is really rough,” he said. “There are a couple of trails, one that goes out from the campground that goes to the base of Angel Peak is not a bad walk, but it gets more difficult and gets more faint as you get closer. There’s no signage or anything to indicate where the trail is at.”

Angel Peak, the centerpiece of the Angel Peak Scenic Area, is a photographer’s dream, here silhouetted by lightning strikes

Given the crumbly nature of the sandstone in the area, and the sheer walls of the peak, “I don’t get a lot of requests for people on climbing that,” McKim said. “The rock structure is not real conducive to that. There’s a lot of sandstone, which is a lot more difficult as far as being a destination for climbing.”

There are, however, a number of other roads in the scenic area that can provide other perspectives of the peak and also make great mountain bike rides, he said.

Early-morning fog fills the badlands of Kutz Canyon in the Angel Peak Scenic Area southeast of Farmington.

All in all, it is a quiet place that makes for wonderful natural viewing, McKim said.

“It all depends on what you’re there for,” he said. “If you’re into photography, up on the edge of that rim you get some beautiful sunrise/sunsets. The viewing is something and you have the potential for wildlife. On the backside, there is mule deer and elk. We’ve got a lot of roads that you can use for mountain biking if you wanted to do that. We’ve been discussing putting in more bike trails. There are pretty neat trails and the terrain would be really conducive to doing that.”

There also has been talk of improving the campground by adding more RV sites and distributing them along the rim so they were more spread out to provide greater privacy.