Lizard Head

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Lizard Head
Lizard Head.jpg
Elevation 13,119 ft (3,999 m)[1][2]
Prominence 1,134 ft (346 m)[2]
Isolation 1.93 mi (3.11 km)[2]
Lizard Head is located in Colorado
Lizard Head
Lizard Head
Location Dolores and San Miguel counties, Colorado, United States[3]
Range San Miguel Mountains[2]
Coordinates 37°50′09″N 107°57′02″W / 37.8358276°N 107.9506236°W / 37.8358276; -107.9506236Coordinates: 37°50′09″N 107°57′02″W / 37.8358276°N 107.9506236°W / 37.8358276; -107.9506236[3]
Topo map USGS 7.5' topographic map
Mount Wilson, Colorado[3]
Type Ash flow tuff[4]
Age of rock Oligocene
First ascent 1920 by Albert Ellingwood and Barton Hoag
Easiest route Technical climb; class 5.8

Lizard Head is a mountain summit in the San Miguel Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 13,119-foot (3,999 m) thirteener is located in the Lizard Head Wilderness, 6.8 miles (11.0 km) west by south (bearing 258°) of the Town of Ophir, Colorado, United States, on the drainage divide separating San Juan National Forest and Dolores County from Uncompahgre National Forest and San Miguel County.[1][2][3]


Lizard Head lies just southeast of a group of three Colorado fourteeners, Mount Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente Peak. Lizard Head is only the 556th highest peak in Colorado by most standard definitions,[5] but its towering spire-like form makes it one of the most spectacular.

Lizard Head lies 2.84 mi (4.57 km) northwest of Colorado State Highway 145 at Lizard Head Pass. Lizards Head Trail climbs west from Trout Lake along Black Face Mountain ridge and past the south face of Lizard Head toward Wilson Peak.[6]

The peak was used in a logo by the Rio Grande Southern Railroad.


The rock spire of Lizard Head looks like an old eroded volcanic plug but it is actually composed of extrusive volcanic ash flows of Oligocene age resting on older sedimentary rocks of Eocene age.[4]


Lizard Head is one of the most difficult summits in Colorado to climb.[7] The story of the first ascent makes a memorable and harrowing tale. In the words of Albert Ellingwood,

A rottener mass of rock is inconceivable. The core may still be solid but the "surrounding tuffs" are seeking a lower level in large quantities. This far-advanced disintegration was our greatest obstacle. Absolutely the whole surface of the rock is loose and pebbles rain down from the sides as readily as needles from an aging Christmas tree. In many places one could with one hand pull down hundreds of pounds of fragments, and occasionally we could hear the crashing of small avalanches that fell without human prompting.[8]

Despite the serious and daunting objective hazards, the first ascent team completed the climb and descent safely in a feat of mountaineering skill.


The appearance of the peak is reported to have changed significantly due to a landslide in 1911. From the Dec 29 edition of the Mancos Times-Tribune of that year:

Lizard Head has fallen

The skyline of the mountains to the southwest of Telluride was changed last night when through some mighty upheaval of nature, the taller spire of Lizard Head fell with a roar to the depths below.

During the night people living on the mesas near Ophir heard a sliding, grinding noise, which disturbed the atmosphere and gave the impression of an earthquake. This morning they discovered that the upstanding rock which had been given the name of Lizard Head was gone.

The smaller spire which was formerly inconspicuous by the side of the head is now standing single and alone, pointing to the sky, a long sentinel of last night’s upheaval. Millions of tons of rocks, conglomerate and earth went down without apparent cause or reason.[9]

There are several photographs of the peak from before the landslide. Before-and-after photographs taken from the north and shown in The RGS Story [10] indicate substantial change. The earlier photograph shows a taller squared-off peak that would be more suggestive of a lizard's head.

Before-and-after photos shown in Jackson and Fielder's Colorado 1870-2000 [11] taken from the south do not show as much change in appearance, indicating that the area of collapse was on the northern side.

Historical names[edit]

  • Lizard Head [3]
  • Lizard Head Peak
  • Lizards Head

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The elevation of Lizard Head includes an adjustment of +1.778 m (+5.83 ft) from NGVD 29 to NAVD 88.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Lizard Head, Colorado". Retrieved November 5, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Lizard Head". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. Retrieved November 5, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Blair, Ron, Geology of the Western San Juan Mountains and a Tour of the San Juan Skyway, Southwestern Colorado in Blair, Ron (editor), (1996) The Western San Juan Mountains: their geology, ecology and human history, University Press of Colorado. Retrieved 2013-07-12.
  5. ^ "Colorado’s Summits – 13,000 to 13,999 feet". Retrieved 2007-03-04. 
  6. ^ Mount Wilson, Colorado, 7.5 Minute Topographic Quadrangle, USGS, 1953
  7. ^ Jacobs, Randy, ed.; Robert M. Ormes (2000). Guide to the Colorado Mountains (10th ed.). Colorado Mountain Club. ISBN 0-9671466-0-7. 
  8. ^ Ellingwood, Albert L. (1921). "First to Climb Lizard Head". Outing. LXXIX (2). 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Collman, Russ, Dell A. McCoy, and William A. Graves. THE R.G.S. STORY: RIO GRANDE SOUTHERN; Vol. 4: Over the Bridges, Ophir Loop to Rico, Sundance Books, 1994. ISBN 0913582743.
  11. ^ W.H. Jackson and John Fielder. Colorado 1870-2000. Westcliffe Publishers with the Colorado Historical Society, 1999. ISBN 1565793471.

External links[edit]