Cabezon Wilderness Study Area

Climber on Cabezon Peak
Descending Cabezon Peak

One of the most recognized natural landmarks in northwestern New Mexico is Cabezon Peak. Cabezon Peak is the largest volcanic neck in the Mt. Taylor volcanic field, rising to 7,785'. The sharp basaltic cliffs of Cabezon Peak give a close-up view of an ancient volcano.

The Navajos tell a story of a giant who was killed on the slopes of Mt. Taylor. His head fell off and rolled downhill to become Cabezon Peak, while his blood flowed and congealed to become the Malpais, the volcanic badlands to the south of Cabezon.

Mt. Taylor was erupting between 1.5 and 3.3 million years ago. There was a rising plume of magma underground that left 50 or more volcanic necks in the Rio Puerco Valley but the only place that magma seems to have reached the surface was at Mt. Taylor. Between Cabezon and Mt. Taylor to the southwest is Mesa Chivato, composed of marine rock layers and Cretaceous shoreline buried under the lava from Mt. Taylor. Those same marine rock layers and Cretaceous shoreline used to fill the valley of the Rio Puerco but the lack of a hard lava cap allowed those materials to be eroded away. It's this action that has left the volcanic necks in the Rio Puerco area exposed.

Cabezon Peak Wilderness Study Area is open year round, but the roads deteriorate rapidly when they get wet. The peak itself looks solid but the rock is "rotten." If you want to climb it, bring a hard hat and good boots because there's loose rock everywhere. Most folks go up through the chimney on the southeast side, the route is marked by a series of rock cairns. Once at the top, you're 2,000' above the valley floor and the view is something else.

To get there: Take US 550 to CR 279, about 20 miles northwest of San Ysidro. The turnoff is marked by a green sign for "San Luis - Cabezon - Torreon." Travel down CR 279 about 12 miles, past San Luis to BLM Road 1114, the road to Cabezon. At the intersection is the privately-owned "ghost town" of Cabezon. Go about 2.9 miles south on BLM 1114 to a dirt road that goes east to the trailhead. The dirt road is unmaintained and you'll wish you were in a high clearance, 4WD vehicle, especially in wet conditions. And I haven't yet mentioned that this area can be windy at times...

This is a Wilderness Study Area, so Wilderness rules and regulations are in effect.

Maps: BLM - Chaco Mesa

Looking around in the Cabezon Peak Wilderness Study Area at the cliffs, mesas and deep arroyos
A view of Rio Puerco where it crosses the Cabezon Wilderness Study Area
Rio Puerco area, to the northwest of Cabezon Peak
Looking toward Cabezon Peak from the Rio Puerco area, it's a pretty stark desert landscape
Looking toward Cabezon Peak from the Rio Puerco area
Map of the Cabezon Peak Wilderness Study Area
Cabezon Peak Wilderness Study Area map
Upper left photo courtesy of Megan Stouffer, BLM
Other photos and upper map courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management
Lower map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!