Saguache Ranger District
Saguache (pronounced Suh-watch) is a Ute word that means, roughly, “water at the blue earth.” There may not be much blue earth or any big bodies of water in the Saguache Ranger District. However, what the district does offer is country that looks like people think the West should look like: vast stretches of wide open spaces with the Rocky Mountains as backdrop.
The Saguache Ranger District manages 515,750 acres of the Rio Grande National Forest stretching from the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the east to the San Juan Mountains and the Continental Divide on the west. The “lower” edges of the district start at about 8000 feet in elevation while the highest peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness scratch the clouds at over 14,000 feet.
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains form the valley’s rugged eastern rim. This incredible landscape is protected in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area. The section which lies within the Saguache Ranger District includes four “14ers”—mountains more than 14,000 feet high.
Across the valley to the west, the San Juan Mountains rise gently from the valley floor. More than 50 miles of the Continental Divide form the district’s western boundary. The district also manages a portion of the La Garita Wilderness, the least visited wilderness area in Colorado. The southern part of the district is a geologists delight where you can still see rocks formed by ash flows that were spewed out more than 28 million years ago by the largest known volcanic eruption, now known as the La Garita Caldera.
The Saguache Ranger District office also serves as the headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management’s San Luis Valley Field Office, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Front Range District based in Canon City. The field office manages 500,290 surface acres with more than 40% of that land located in the northern part of the San Luis Valley. BLM-managed lands are mostly found on the valley floor and along the foothills with the high point reaching over 10,000 feet on top of Trickle Mountain. The terrain includes vast grass and shrub lands, pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine forests, and spectacular canyons and rock formations.
Saguache is a “service first” office, which means that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management share an office providing one-stop shipping for those seeking information or permits for either agency.
Penitente Canyon, hidden in a tumble of volcanic rocks near the village of La Garita in the San Juan foothills, is operated by the Bureau of Land Management. It features a campground and a day-use area, plus trails for hikers and mountain bikers and plenty of peace and quiet. But what really makes Penitente Canyon stand out is its world-class rock climbing—short but challenging climbs with colorful names like Bullet the Blue Sky, Los Hermanos de la Weenie Way and Copacetic.