Date hiked: 09-17-16
Mileage: 14.9 miles; 5.5 hrs
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 2 hikers and 4-5 hunters.
With three approaches, two of them right off the highway, it’s a wonder you don’t see more hikers attempting Lizard Head- hunters far outnumbered me today. But that’s the beauty of living out here. Having already hiked in from the west along the Cross Mountain Trail, here’s another approach from Wilson Mesa.
Breaking away from the usual pattern in this region of altitude first, breathe later, the mile between the trailhead and some of the tightest switchbacks I’ve seen, never strays far from the gentle slope of a field lodged between Black Face and Highway 550. Within the first half mile, the trail ducks into the woods, but until then, there’s nothing in the way of you and the high 13,000 foot string of peaks across the highway.
Climbing a steep gully beside the northern face of Black Face, Trout Lake flickers in and out behind the woods, and with each switchback, the views alternate between Pilot Knob and San Miguel Peak.
The wildflowers may be dying, but just look at these colors:
With the switchbacks behind you, a trail marker offers a choice between the Black Face traverse to Lizard Head, or Wilson Meadow.
Heading right first, Wilson Meadow lies just a mile further, surrounding the bulk of the short-lived Wilson Creek. Keeping to the forest over the next half mile, the trail soon comes to a clay shoulder, and the route plods down the gravely spine. As you inch closer, the woods come and go, but the meadow stays hidden until it’s final reveal.
While neither Wilson Peak or Mount Wilson can been seen from down here, the meadow, along with the two summits, are actually named after A.D. Wilson, a climber and cartographer who was in the first party to summit Colorado’s Mount Wilson in 1874. More importantly, he was a topographer who worked on the first federally funded survey – the Hayden Survey – which explored the area that eventually came to be Yellowstone. This survey, merged with others, became the U.S. Geologic Survey.
Back at the fork, Black Face – a much longer and higher round-trip – takes off to the left. Barely rested from the first leg of switchbacks, another set hauls you up the northern face of the ridge, not pulling back until the high point at over 12,000 feet. From there, the trail slowly drops off of the Black Face ridge into Lizard Head territory, and though the long stretch of downhill hiking is refreshing, the last climb from the low saddle back up to the base of Lizard Head is grueling.
The Lizard Head trail meets the Cross Mountain trail 6.5 miles in. For a loop, follow this 3.3 miles south to its trailhead right off of CO-145. From here, rather than looping towards the parking lot, an old unnamed forest service road continues to the left and parallels the highway to take you back to Lizard Head Pass. The road is hard to spot, and nearly lost to the undergrowth, but it is an easy, flat way to end your hike.
(From Telluride): At the roundabout on the western end of town, drive south on CO-145. After 2.9 miles, turn left at the second roundabout to continue onto southbound 145. The trailhead is at Lizard Head Pass 12.2 miles beyond the second roundabout. While you can park at the bathrooms, the true trailhead is the small dirt expanse above them.
15.1 miles; 23 minutes