Cabezon Peak’s dramatic volcanic formation is one of the most well-known landmarks in northwest New Mexico. With an elevation of 7,785 feet, the Peak is part of the Mount Taylor volcanic field and is the largest of 50 volcanic necks rising from the Rio Puerco Valley. Desert shrublands dominated by cholla cactus give way to piñon and juniper on the flanks of the peak. The symmetrical peak forms cliffs on all sides, and the surrounding landscape gently falls away from the base of the cliffs.
The name "Cabezon" is derived from the Spanish noun "cabeza," meaning "head," and "Cabezon" translates as "big head." The peak is believed to have religious significance for the Pueblo and Navajo Indians, and remnants of their visits still exist. The Navajos have various myths associated with Cabezon, one of which explains that the peak and local lava flows came from a giant who was slain upon Mount Taylor. The giant’s head became Cabezon Peak and his blood congealed to form El Malpais, or the "bad land" volcanic flow to the south.
Though the area is open year-round, roads in the region deteriorate rapidly in wet weather and high winds may diminish the quality of the recreation experience. Helmets and sturdy boots are recommended when climbing the peak itself due to loose rocks.
Cabezon Peak, rising nearly 2,000 feet above the valley floor, is a popular climb. A trail leads from the parking area around to the east side of the mountain where a break in the cliffs forms a steep gully. Climbers ascend the gully and continue following a route marked by cairns and which passes through a couple short steep sections. Basic mountaineering experience and precaution for rock fall (by wearing a helmet) is needed, but most will not choose to use a rope. A successful climb to the summit will reward you with an expansive view of the Rio Puerco Valley.
Location / Access
Entry into the area is best gained by turning westward from US 550 onto CR 279 approximately 20 miles northwest of San Ysidro. A green highway sign (labeled “San Luis – Cabezon – Torreon”) marks the turnoff. Continue 12 miles (southwest past the village of San Luis) to the Cabezon turn-off, onto BLM Road 1114. At the intersection of CR 279 and BLM 1114 you will pass by the privately-owned “ghost town” of Cabezon. Follow BLM 1114 south for 2.9 miles to the dirt route that leads east to the trailhead. High-clearance vehicles are recommended on this unmaintainted dirt road. CR 279 and BLM 1114 are passable during dry conditions, but they can become slippery and rutted during wet seasons, which is generally during late summer and winter.