Gone Summering, July 1998
If a mountain is to be known as Lizard Head, must it, in fact, resemble a lizard? Despite what it betrays about how I spend my days, this is a question I've pondered at some length, the peak returning my focused gaze with a very unlizardly visage. Of course, some people claim they see a reptile there, but they're the sort who laugh at jokes they don't get, or can pick Jesus out of one of those magic pictures. I'm not so blessed. Frankly, Pointy Rock Peak is more apropos.
Not that the name much matters. For whether or not I like its handle, Lizard Head, a 13,113-foot protrusion crowned by a 300-foot finger of naked cinder, has become a lodestone of the southwestern Rockies, centerpiece of a 41,500-acre wilderness that manages to seduce all manner of summertime refugee. To kayakers tuning up on the San Miguel before making their way west to the Colorado, Lizard Head is geology's promise that the Rockies' alpine summits will soon give way to the martian rocks of the Utah desert. When Telluride's world-class thermals reach their apex just after the solstice, paragliders rely on it as a signal landmark. And for seekers of solitude, there's the lonely spire of Dolores Peak, in the western half of Lizard Head Wilderness. From its 13,290-foot summit, you can peer out over a rainbow coalition of mountain scenery: alpine white, riparian green, and canyon-country red.
Oddly enough, the folks who seem least enchanted by Lizard Head are those you might logically expect to worship it: climbers. Among the most difficult summits in Colorado, its rock is so rotten that most guidebooks recommend staying off. Friends who've attempted it report disturbingly hollow sounds, taunting marmot whistles, and a register at the top with few, if any, repeated names.
But maybe it's this aura of danger that gives Lizard Head its mystique. Then again, maybe it's just the maddening Where's Waldo? gauntlet thrown down by the damn name. Oh, I've given the mountain its due chance. There on the far side, for instance: Might that be a snout? A few moments pass, shadows lengthen, the peak fades slowly to purple. A snout? It's as good a guess as any, I suppose.
Rob Story wrote about the Rockies' best mountain-bike trail in the March issue.
Illustration by Jason Schneider
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