Mexican Cut Preserve in Colorado
Mexican Cut Mexican Cut Preserve © The Nature Conservancy/Audrey Wolk

Places We Protect

Mexican Cut Preserve


A natural laboratory high atop the Rockies.

Preserve Highlights

Set atop 12,080-foot high Galena Mountain, Mexican Cut is the highest Conservancy-protected land in the world. Mexican Cut contains a glacial cirque—an area once carved flat by ancient glaciers that now houses a series of high alpine ponds.

Unusual aquatic creatures inhabit the glacial ponds and wetlands dotting the preserve. Many of these ponds contain salamanders that don't fully develop, ending up as odd-looking, fish-like creatures - with two front legs and a tail - that never leave the water.

Mexican Cut has been protected since 1966. Its remote location and excellent condition make for a fantastic natural laboratory. Recent topics studied here include:

  • Alpine flowers and their pollinators
  • Population dynamics of butterflies, and
  • Acid rain in alpine lakes. 

What does Cut refer to?

No one really knows how this area got its name. Speculation suggests that cut was an attempt to translate the scientific term cirque (see above).

Why TNC Selected This Site

To preserve the pristine glacial ponds and wetlands as well as the wildlife they support

What TNC Has Done/Is Doing

Acquired in 1966, Mexican Cut was the first place The Conservancy protected in Colorado. The Conservancy then leased Mexican Cut to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, which continues to manage the preserve - both for its biological values and its function as a living laboratory.

In 1978, it was the first place in Colorado designated as a Research Natural Area by the Colorado Natural Areas Program. (Later, the Colorado Water Conservation Board protected the watershed when they acquired the "non-consumptive use" water rights.)

Research at Mexican Cut is ongoing and includes a wide range of topics. An ongoing study explores the effects of acid rain on the composition of glacial pools.

Visiting this Preserve

Mexican Cut is managed for research by the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL).  The preserve is not open for public visitation.  For information about the ongoing research at Mexican Cut, please visit RMBL's Web site at


  • Aspen groves
  • Rare fern - Steller's cliff brake
  • Spruce-fir forest
  • Wildflowers, including elephantella, Rocky Mountain fringed gentian, and many species of paintbrush and lousewort


  • Black bear
  • Butterfly
  • Dragonfly
  • Grouse
  • Hummingbird
  • Marmot


  • Cadisflies
  • Diving beetles (and their vicious larvae)
  • Dragonflies (lots!)
  • Tiger salamanders (common to these glacial pools)