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First Book Review/Interview

Article published Jun 28, 2016

Book updates guide to New Mexico mountains

By Jim Mimiaga Journal staff writer

The enthusiasm that Cortez author Liesl Ungnade has for the New Mexico backcountry is contagious.

Her new book, “Guide to the New Mexico Mountains,” ignites an urge to head out and climb a peak, explore a river valley, check out a volcano or visit an ancient pueblo in the Land of Enchantment.

The comprehensive guide is in honor of her parents, Dr. Herbert and Paulina Ungnade, who published the first volumes in the 1960s and ’70s.

Her father was an avid mountaineer and scientist at Las Alamos National Laboratory who wrote the first edition in 1965. He died from injuries suffered in a mountain-climbing accident in Colorado a short time later.

Considered the guidebook of its time for New Mexico mountains, Herbert Ungnade’s book was updated by his wife in 1972, and reprinted seven times through 1988.

Liesl Ungnade’s parents passed on their love of the New Mexico’s backcountry, history and natural sciences to her. She spent eight years updating it for the 50th anniversary edition, describing 104 mountain ranges, up from 73 in the previous volume.

“I thought it would be fun to carry on the tradition,” Liesl Ungnade told The Journal. “Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit the mountains, people and places of my youth.”

There is a misconception that New Mexico lacks mountains, she said.

The revised, 350-page guide puts that to rest. It divides the state into 110 mountain ranges within six regions. It also includes nicely written descriptions maps and photos of hiking trails, peak bagging, rock climbing, ski areas, mountain biking areas, backpacking and mountaineering routes.

“The New Mexico mountains are very accessible and a little more gentle than Colorado, but they can be rugged too,” Liesl Ungnade said.

Also described are the state’s many volcanoes, caves, varied geology, Native American Pueblos and Indian reservations, archaeological sites, monuments, state and national parks, and Spanish historical sites.

“There are stories of buried treasure, Billy the Kid, mining hardships, Spanish Forts and the Santa Fe Trail,” she said.

Liesl Ungnade’s favorite places include the Florida Mountains “that are covered in gold flowers in the spring;” the alpine experience of Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico at 13,161 feet; the wilderness experience of the Gila Mountains; and Santa Fe Baldy, “one my first mountain summits.”

“There is so much to explore,” she said.

While Liesl Ungnade provides the most updated information on trails and routes, she also incorporates her father’s original writings and hand-drawn maps and photos.

The rewrite was an intensely personal journey, Liesl Ungnade said.

“He was such an interesting fellow, the book is a tribute to him and is meant to inspire people to discover New Mexico’s many mountains and parks,” she said.

“The mountains are still a big part of my life. My father taught us to put one foot in front of the other, until we reached a place we could go no higher.”

Her father left 2,500 Kodachrome slides of his mountain travels, and they are showcased at

There will be a slide show of the images on June 22 at the Cortez Public Library at 6 p.m.

“Guide to New Mexico Mountains, 50th Anniversary Edition” can be purchased at the San Juan Coffee Co., 4 E. Main St. in Cortez.

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