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February 2000

Colorado’s Lizard Head Wilderness

Besides being home to a mythical reptile, Colorado's Lizard Head Wilderness is the site of some great hiking.

Everyone venturing to the Lizard Head Wilderness wants to see it…the lizard, that is. Despite its questionable reptilian resemblance, the namesake 400-foot spire does deserve oohs and ahhs. After all, the odd-shaped mass of volcanic cinder caps a 13,113-foot mountain visible for miles.

I guess I’m no exception to this geologic voyeurism. I wanted to see it, too, so I climbed the Cross Mountain Trail, which got me close enough for a touchy-feely encounter. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t grasp the reptilian visage-a skyscraper suffering from sloppy architecture, perhaps, but a lizard?

This stony curiosity will be fleeting for anyone tackling the interior of the wilderness. Soon enough, the cloud-clawing San Miguel Mountains slap you in the face with one of the most magnificent views in all of Colorado. The centerpieces are the state’s three westernmost peaks, all above 14,000 feet, charging skyward with a fury that can induce a case of acrophobia in would-be peakbaggers. If the weather gods begin to growl or if confidence in Class III (minimum) scrambling abilities is lacking, better to admire the unforgiving sentinels from below.

Peaks are only part of the allure, because basic trail trekking here is as rewarding as it gets. Several routes, including the Lizard Head and Navajo Lake Trails, plumb pristine enclaves such as Navajo Basin, a real jewel with a sparkling lake set beneath the ominous maw of El Diente (The Tooth). In Bilk Basin you’re treated to a riparian wonderland, complete with a 400-foot waterfall and scores of lesser tumblers.

Indeed, water is everywhere. The San Miguels receive drenchings of biblical proportions. The good news is that the wildflowers slurp it up and grow chest-high in profusion. The down side is that the rain makes for soggy slogging, especially along the mucky Wilson Mesa Trail.

But don’t let a little mud get in your way. The big peaks, lush valleys, endless solitude-it’s all great stuff by any wilderness standard. And don’t forget the lizard. Squint real hard and you might make out the reptile in the rock.

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