Southwestern Region Viewing Area
LOCATION and PHOTOS
Fellfield alpine tundra on Lookout Mountain in southeastern New Mexico. Photo by Bob Sivinski, http://nmrareplants.unm.edu.
New Mexico stonecrop (Sedum integrifolium ssp. neomexicanum). Photo by Bob Sivinski, http://nmrareplants.unm.edu.
Alpine sandwort (Minuartia obtusiloba) showing the cushion-like growth form characteristic of many tundra plants. Photo by Al Schneider, Southwest Colorado Wildflowers, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.
Lookout Mountain Alpine Tundra
Forest: Lincoln National Forest
District: Smokey Bear Ranger District
Description: Lookout Mountain Peak in New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains is part of the southernmost alpine tundra in the continental United States. This is land above timberline. Here, winds are frequently strong, snowfall can be heavy, and the growing season is short. To avoid strong winds and retain precious heat, tundra plants are commonly small and ground-hugging. The fell field, or rock field, community on Lookout Mountain is dominated by Sierra Blanca cinquefoil (Potentilla sierrae-blancae), a species endemic to this alpine tundra, and Rusby’s primrose (Primula rusbyi). New Mexico stonecrop (Sedum integrifolium ssp. neomexicanum), a subspecies of King’s crown (Sedum integrifolium), is also found only here. The viewing season is short for these and other tundra plants. The mountain will be clear of snow from mid-June through September, with early August probably being the best time to visit. Hope for good weather, but expect it to be cold and windy. Lookout Mountain Peak is 11,580 feet in elevation and the top of the ski lift is 11,400 feet. The ski lift will let you out on a barren open ridge where nothing breaks the wind, so you may learn why tundra plants are ground-hugging.
You can leave your Rocky Mountain wildflower guidebooks at home when you visit this alpine tundra. Interestingly, very few of the common Rocky Mountain tundra wildflowers have reached this little patch of isolated tundra in southeastern New Mexico.
Safety First: Summer storms can cause drastic temperature drops and hypothermia is possible even during the warmest months so always carry protective clothing. Even for a short day trip, you should take a pack with protective clothing, compass, flashlight, first aid kit, water, and snack foods. Summer storms produce lightning that is very dangerous for hikers on peaks and exposed ridges. If you go to any high peak, try to get an early start in the morning and be off the peak by 2:00 p.m. before storms build up. Move to a lower elevation if a storm is approaching.
Directions: From U.S. Highway 70 south of Ruidoso, turn onto New Mexico Highway 48 (Sudderth Avenue). Proceed about 3 miles on Sudderth to its intersection with Mechem Drive. Turn right and proceed 5 miles to the intersection with New Mexico Highway 532 (Ski Run Road). Turn left on Ski Run Road and proceed 11 miles to the Ski Apache parking lot. From here, you will have to purchase a ticket to ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain. Inquire at the ski area about prices and hours of operation.
Contact: Lincoln National Forest, Smokey Bear Ranger District, 901 Mechem Drive, Ruidoso, New Mexico 88345. Phone: (505) 257-4095.
Closest Town: Ruidoso, New Mexico.