Lizard Head Pass is in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado on CO-145, and lies just southeast of a group of three Colorado fourteeners, Mount Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente Peak. Lizard Head Peak at the Pass is a 400-foot tall tower of rotten rock and has been voted one of Colorado’s most dangerous and difficult rock climbs.
Begin in Dolores
Ride northeast on SH 145 to Lizard Head Summit--mile 47.8
Continue on SH 145 and end your ride in Telluride--mile 62.7
This is a spectacular route for cyclists in the early fall season when the dense aspen forest turns many shades of yellow, orange and red. The steep mountain vistas will leave you wanting more air, more time, and more opportunity to stay, camp and enjoy.
Telluride, 15.7 miles to the northeast
Rico, 12.7 miles to the southwest
Dolores, 49.3 miles to the southwest
The pass is named for its unusual peak that is said to look like the head of a lizard, which is composed of extrusive volcanic ash flow.
Reportedly, a landslide in 1911 dramatically changed the appearance of the peak. One night, people living on the mesas near Ophir heard a sliding, grinding noise and felt an earthquake. In the morning, residences discovered that the upstanding rock was gone.
Lizard Head Pass was used by the historic Rio Grande Southern Railroad (RGS) and the image of Lizard Peak was used in their logo.
Although the incline grades on both sides of the pass are mild for automobile traffic, it was a significant obstacle for the railroad. This led to the use of the legendary Galloping Goose railcars. RGS struggled with its steam locomotives due to lack of passenger and cargo income. To avoid bankruptcy and to keep its contract to run mail to towns in the Rocky Mountains, RGS developed the Geese. RGS believed that downsizing would return the company to profitability. The motorized Geese were not only less expensive to operate, but were also significantly lighter, thus reducing the impact on the rails and roadbeds.
The Galloping Geese name is derived from the back-and-forth swaying of the cars while traveling down the track as well as the “honking” sound of their horns. Seven Geese were built in the 1930s and were in operation until the company abandoned their right-of-way in 1952.