CO – Lizard Head Wilderness (Sept/Oct 2022)

I hiked a loop through this wilderness in the fall of 2017 (blog link). A couple of incidents remain strong in my memories. First was a connector section that was more rock climbing than hiking, way outside my comfort zone especially solo. The second was the snow storm providing a stunning scene the next morning.

There are two trails near Lizard Head Pass. I hiked the Lizard Head Trail one day and the Cross Mountain Trail the next. Many will hike both as a loop. Since I wasn’t interested in the 2.5 mile road walk on the highway I decided independent hikes were more to my liking.

I camped near the trailhead where I was treated to these views. Notice the recent snow on the peaks.

The colors are striking.

When I saw the sun sweep across the forest, it felt like magic.

The light changed again keeping me saying WOW!

Lizard Head Trail

As I’m putting on my shoes I notice this dog. I looked around for the owners.

Instead I hear baa baa and see hundreds of sheep flooding the parking area and thankfully moving below the trailhead. Little did I know that trail traversed the hillside and they indeed were on my path. Another group of hikers arrived and we began together. The dog and sheep didn’t seem to mind our presence.

There were a few trees displaying their fall colors.

The trail climbed gently via nicely graded switchbacks until finally the ridge was reached and the first of several false summits.

The reward! This is why I huff n’ puff my way of climbs. I love dramatic landscape views. First view of THE Lizard Head rocky outcropping.

My turnaround was at Black Face Peak where I had amazing 360 views.

I didn’t scamper up Black Face to see if there was a Benchmark survey marker. The faint trail on the ridge continues on to eventually connect to the Cross Mountain Trail I planned to hike the following day.

I’m guessing this area will be quite colorful in a couple weeks.

Looking down at Trout Lake. Further in that canyon is Hope Lake where I’d planned to hike, but instead found a road closure.

There were pikas in these rocks.

I was shocked to find these surviving bluebells.

I enjoy studying the details. Nature is amazing!

These were the first leaves on the trail I’d seen.

The hills are alive with color.

This was an 8-mile 2,000′ elevation gain/loss out-and-back hike.

I would love to find a way to get nearer these peaks.

I found another view campsite where I could watch the storm activity and light changes. Lizard Head Peak is to the left and a developing rainbow on the right.

The most bizarre sunset lighting.

The next morning I stopped at the restroom near the Lizard Head Trailhead. Across the highway I could hear sheep with the smell easily making it my way. I was easily amused the next morning watching the sheep being loaded up for market. I’m sure all those campers weren’t thrilled to find themselves in the middle of sheep central. The large mountain in the background is Sheep Mountain. Ah how appropriate.

Interpretative signs confirm this long-standing tradition.

Cross Mountain Trail

The first section of trail is open to bikes, the the trail splits and the main trail heads into the wilderness where bikes are prohibited.

The objective is obvious from near the start of the trail.

I believe this mountain in the foreground is part of Black Face where I’d been the previous day.

I think this Jacob’s Ladder was quite confused.

This was a day for quickly changing weather. It rained and hailed, the wind blew and the sun made occasional appearances.

Geology LOVE!

I heard the now familiar sound of fighter jets and knowing they typically come in at least pairs I quickly grabbed my camera and started shooting.

The drama continued as I debated whether I should continue toward the high point or turnaround.

I was so happy Mother Nature gave me the go ahead.

Once again, geology WOW!

This is the pass I came down on my 2017 loop hike. If you look closely toward the right of the photo you can see the switchback trail.

This is what the “trail” looked like when I came down from the pass in 2017. Notice Lizard Head to the middle right.

This was the nightmare pass I crossed back in 2017. Super sketch super scary for me.

With rain in the distance there was no time to dilly dally. I remembered the beauty of this area from my 2017 hike when I arrived here the morning after it snowed.

The 2017 comparison.

There were four horses on the trail in front of me. They started from the Lizard Head Trailhead while I was using the restroom and watching the sheepherders. They rode the loop minus the road connector. I found out they are a guide service and had a couple of clients that day and shuttle a car to retrieve the horse trailer so they can avoid the dangerous no-shoulder road walk.

Unlike the Lizard Head Trail, there aren’t any switchbacks on the Cross Mountain Trail. It’s a continuous uphill slog. This was a 7.4 mile 2,000′ elevation gain/loss and-and-back hike.

Six Days Later

Black Face from the Cross Mountain Trailhead

Lizard Head from the Cross Mountain Trailhead

Looking toward Sheep Mountain and San Miguel Peak.

Woods Lake Campground

There are several trails accessing the wilderness from the campground. After the storm I knew my options would be somewhat limited but a friend told me the colors were outstanding and indeed they were. Not a bad campsite! I had views of Fowler and Boskoff Peaks in one direction, and Delores and Middle Peaks in the other.

Overnight temperatures are getting a bit chilly. This was ice on my car after freezing rain.

Delores and Middle Peaks, evening colors after fresh snow.

Morning view of middle peak.

I wandered a bit on the lake and canal trails capturing a few early morning images.

Little Cone Peak

Fowler and Boskoff Peaks

Middle Peak

Sheepherder arborglyph or fraud?

A few days later I returned with my friend Jackie to see how the colors were changing.

I still wanted to see more oranges and reds. I’d call this success!

There were still plenty of green and yellow leaves, promising to extend leaf peeping season.

Resources:

6 thoughts on “CO – Lizard Head Wilderness (Sept/Oct 2022)

  1. Good to know about that unmaintained pass trail that Nat-Geo has chosen to put on their map. I was eyeing it hungrily both when I was map gazing and when I hiked the loop over Black Face.

    I did manage that loop without setting foot on the highway or using a shuttle or going cross country. There’s a rough utility road people are using as trail. (Here’s a link to my track.)

    When I hiked up Sheep Mountain, there were signs up saying the sheep would be unloaded that day and not to park in certain areas. The campers should know it’s coming. I didn’t actually see any sheep that day, so their scheduling might not be very good.

  2. Beautiful pictures and great trail descriptions (again)! When we’re you there? I love the colors you’ve seen and shared this year. I’d love to plan a trip to the area when it’s that colorful. You sure did seem yo hit some perfect weather windows this year as well!

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