Lizard Head has changed landscape of Southwest Colorado

Tuesday, July 5, 2016 2:01 PM
A sketch of Lizard Head Peak, made during an 1874 survey.
Courtesy of June Head

The Galloping Goose in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

The Mancos Times-Tribune

Dec. 29, 1911

The skyline of the mountains to the southwest of Telluride was changed last night when, through some mighty upheaval of nature, the taller spiral 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 lone sentinel of last night’s upheaval. Millions of tons of rocks, conglomerate and earth went down without apparent cause or reason.

Geologists had argued in the past that Lizard Head was a mass on San Juan tufts, supported on a round peak, and the only theory advanced for the falling of the spire is that the rock had disintegrated and cleft from the round dome underneath it.

The base of the mountain is formed of Mancos shale, above which was about 200 feet of San Miguel conglomerate, surmounted by a top of San Juan tufts. The tufts were about 300 feet in height, with nearly vertical walls, bedded in andesitic breccia.

So far as known, the peak was first known and named in 1875, although prospectors had probably been through the region earlier than that. It was made celebrated by the Rio Grande railroad in later years, being used extensively in the literature sent out by the railroad. (F.V. Hayden was surveying in the Four Corners area from 1874-75. Peaks in San Miguel and Dolores counties that were surveyed include Lizard Head, 13,113 feet; Sunshine Peak, 12,930 feet; and Mount Wilson, 14,246 feet.)

The Ouray County Historical Society and Montezuma County Historical Society assisted with this column. June Head is historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society. She may be reached for questions, comments or corrections at 970-565-3880.