IF YOU GO

From Bloomfield, drive 15 miles south on U.S. Highway 550.

Turn left on County Road 7175 and look for a sign for the Angel Peak turn off.

Follow this dirt road for about six miles.

There will be picnic areas on the right, and the end of the road loops into a small campground.

BLOOMFIELD — Though the Angel Peak sandstone formation plays a big role in San Juan County's horizon line, many outdoors enthusiasts may not consider it a hiking destination.

There is a lot of good exploring to be had once you actually reach Angel Peak. What appears as a single peak protruding from the skyline is actually a wide open canyon space.

Kutz Canyon is an expanse badlands that houses Angel Peak and other, smaller sandstone towers. The badlands are made up of mounds of sand, dirt and shale, creating bands of different colors. These colors change drastically depending on the time of day.

Because the area is slightly elevated from the surrounding desert -- Angel Peak itself stands at 7,000 feet -- the view extends all the way to Farmington and the La Plata Mountains. The Bureau of Land Management provides several picnic areas and a campground with nine campsites, all along the rim of the canyon. The facilities are equipped with tables, shelters, grills and bathrooms.

A couple of hiking trails are available as well. Between two of the picnic areas begins a short nature trail lined with river rocks on either side. Sign the trail register, walk along the rim of the canyon and take in the view from a bench that overlooks the canyon and Angel Peak.

J.D. Tanner, Emily Tanner and their dog, Aspen, follow the ridgeline trail at dusk on Friday at Angel Peak near Bloomfield.
J.D. Tanner, Emily Tanner and their dog, Aspen, follow the ridgeline trail at dusk on Friday at Angel Peak near Bloomfield. (Molly Maxwell/Special to The Daily Times)

The other trail in this area is longer, less established and goes partly into the canyon. It starts at one of the campsites at the end of the road and immediately dips down behind a picnic shelter. There is a metal turnstile-type cattle guard that marks the beginning of the trail. At first, the path goes along the canyon rim through a sandy, grassy area. The rest of it is basically a ridgeline that joins two large sandstone formations jutting up on sandy mounds from the canyon floor. The trail disappears on these mounds and the sand is very loose maneuvering around the formations, so careful foot placement is necessary to prevent sliding down. The trail dips and rises steeply for about a mile and ends on a third mound. Angel Peak itself stands prominently on the right, and it is evident there is much more to the majestic figure than is seen by the outline 30 miles away in Farmington.

There are a few pumpjacks at the canyon floor that can be seen and heard from above, but the amount of oil field machinery -- and the noise it causes -- has diminished considerably in recent years. Peter Fieweger, 59, has been hiking in northwest New Mexico since he moved to Farmington eight years ago. He has been hiking around the Four Corners for decades.

"You can't believe how much the area around (Angel Peak) has changed from six or seven years ago. There used to be so many pumpjacks and gas wells all down around the area around the Peak, and not far from the picnic and camping areas, too," Fieweger said. "I remember being in one of the picnic areas, and there was a gas well nearby. Even though they put a wall around it, ostensibly to 'muffle' the sound, you could hear the constant engine noise. When I took (my girlfriend) out there a year ago last May, it was quite different. Most of the wells had been removed."

Though the Angel Peak Scenic Area can be enjoyed at any time of day, sunset is especially awe-inspiring. There can be anything from a slight breeze to strong winds blowing through the canyon that take with them the baking heat of the day. The colors of the sand formations change from shades of brown to purples, blues and grays.

Bring a camera and you will surely capture some amazing images.

Molly Maxwell covers outdoors for The Daily Times. She can be reached at mollykmaxwell@gmail.com.