Growing up in Northern New Mexico — and being a skier, fisherman and hiker — I thought I was familiar with every nook and cranny across our fascinating region, but a few weeks ago I discovered a realm unto itself bristling with 12,000-foot-plus peaks, plunging valleys, well-watered streams and world-class big game.

As we topped a ridge some 30 miles west of Raton, this immense panorama of snow-capped summits and rippling valleys opened before us. I stifled a gasp.

How had this corner of the Sangre de Cristos eluded me these many years? What secrets did it hold? And, would we find some backcountry skiing here? We soon found out as we wound our way onto the 585,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch, a remnant chunk of the former 1.8 million acre Maxwell Land Grant.

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