Friday – Sunday, September 22-24, 2023
Earlier this summer I had planned on spending another weekend hiking and exploring around the Rico Mountains and Lizard Head Wilderness, which are located at the western end of the San Juan Mountains. I’ve enjoyed heading down to this area over the past couple of years and was looking forward to returning again, but unfortunately on that trip I had started feeling ill and ended up coming home early on the first night. This weekend I wanted to give that trip another shot before the summer season comes to an end and I start heading back into the desert for the rest of the year, so on Friday afternoon I left from work and headed back down to the Rico Mountains.
On my way to the Rico Mountains I stopped at Woods Lake to eat dinner and see how the fall colors were coming along and found that everything was mostly still green in this area.
There’s always a great view of Pilot Knob, Golden Horn and Vermilion Peak when you drive over Lizard Head Pass in the late afternoon.
Rico Mountains: The Calico Trail, Part IV
After spending the night at my usual campsite on Taylor Mesa I was up before sunrise on Saturday morning and was greeted by a cloudy and overcast sky. I drove over to the trailhead for the Priest Gulch Trail and started hiking up it until I reached the Calico Trail, which I followed around Storm Peak to Anchor Mountain. It was a bit chilly out this morning with a strong breeze and cloudy sky, and while I was up on the ridge a little snow even started to fall.
A cloudy and overcast morning on the Calico Trail.
Following the trail around the red knob just before reaching Storm Peak.
I was on my way to Expectation Mountain this morning, but in order to get there I had to mostly climb up and over Anchor Mountain since I wasn’t able to find an easier way around.
Following the ridge down from Anchor Mountain to Expectation Mountain.
Soon I was standing on the summit of Expectation Mountain (12,071), which was the final twelve-thousand foot peak left in this part of the Rico Mountains that I had not climbed yet.
Horse Creek Basin
There was a nice view of Anchor Mountain (12,327) from here.
Every time I see Calico Peak, I am reminded of my cat Tellico.
The sun didn’t stick around long this morning, and once I dropped down from the saddle between the two peaks to the Burnett Creek Trail the sky became completely overcast again for the rest of the hike back to my Jeep.
Benchmark Fire Lookout Tower
After returning to my Jeep I drove down to Dolores to grab a burger from The Depot for lunch and top off my gas tank. Then I hopped on the Dolores – Norwood Road and headed over to the Benchmark Fire Lookout near Glade Mountain. This would be the fourth new Fire Lookout I visited this year.
This is the sign that greets you at the locked gate across the road.
Benchmark Fire Lookout
Thankfully, the sky had cleared a bit while I was here and the sun was shining.
Dark clouds were moving back into the sky as I returned to my Jeep.
Lizard Head Wilderness: Lizard Head Trail to Black Face
After spending a little time visiting the Benchmark Fire Lookout, I explored some other roads in the area between the lookout and the Ponderosa Gorge of the Dolores River and then headed over to The Meadows below the San Miguel Mountains to find a campsite for the night.
Following a faint two-track near Big Water Spring above The Glade.
The San Miguel Mountains shortly before sunset.
Mount Wilson at Sunset
On Sunday morning I was planning to hike up the Lizard Head Trail to the summit of Black Face, so I was up before sunrise and got over to the trailhead at Lizard Head Pass in time to start hiking at first light. There had been a couple on and off rain showers during the night, and once it started to get light enough out I could see that the higher peaks surrounding me were covered with a dusting of snow. Unfortunately, this trail quickly entered the trees and the views were limited until the last half-mile or so up to the summit.
Welcome to the Lizard Head Wilderness.
On the ridge to Black Face, but still more trees to get through…
Out of the trees, finally!
Following the trail along the ridge with Lizard Head coming into view on the right.
Black Face Ridge
Looking down to the north I had a great view over Wilson Meadows to Sunshine Mountain and the Sneffels Range.
To the southwest were the Rico Mountains, including Expectation Mountain and Anchor Mountain.
Mount Wilson, Gladstone Peak & Lizard Head
On the summit of Black Face (12,147).
Looking down the ridge I had just come up.
Here’s one last look to Black Face as I started making my way back down to the trailhead.
A touch of fall colors along the trail.