Lizard Head has changed landscape of SW Colorado

Photo Courtesy Montezuma County Historical Society

The Rio Grande Southern Railroad, a narrow gauge railroad, began operations in 1891, when the railhead was established in Dolores. The Galloping Goose is shown on its way with Lizard Head in the background. The side of the trains indicates “Ophir Loop, Lizard Head, Scenic Line, Thompson Park, and Pasture Lands.”

Lizard Head has fallen

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 spire 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 long 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 andestic greccia.

So far as is 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 road.

The happening is a unique one in mountain natural history, as no record exists in local circles of so great a mass of rock ever falling before.


The above article was printed in “Great Sage Plain to Timberline — Our Pioneer Ancestors” — Volume III. Since the book’s printing, requests have been made asking about a photograph of Lizard Head prior to Dec. 29, 1911. If any of our readers have this photograph, we would appreciate a copy of it. Call June Head at 565-3880 or Virginia Graham at 565-7767.

The four volumes of “Great Sage Plain to Timberline — Our Pioneer Ancestors” may be purchased at Books or Let It Grow Nursery in Cortez. Volume 4 will be available for sale during the free performance shown below by the Historical Society.

Friday, June 8, 7 p.m. at Hampton Hall, First United Methodist Church, 515 N. Park, Cortez is the date for the Historical Society’s free performance of “The History & Legend of Disappointment Valley with Marsha Bankston as Lizzy Knight.” The public is invited. Refreshments will be served. Marsha will also have a reprint of her mother’s book “Where Eagles Winter” for sale for $20, plus a new book by Marsha titled “Lizzy Knight, from English Blacksmith to Colorado Pioneer Cattle Woman” for sale at $10. For information on this program, please contact Vivienne and Philip Kenyon, the program coordinators, at 565-7714.

June Head is the historian for the Montezuma County Historical Society. She can be contacted for comments, corrections or questions at 565-3880.

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