Cabezon Peak is a volcanic plug in the Rio Puerco Valley in Northern New Mexico. It rises dramatically from the desolation to the west as one drives along US 550 between San Ysidro and Cuba. The summit views are impressive, taking in most of the principal landscapes of North and Central New Mexico, including the Sandia Mountains, the Rio Grande Valley, Mount Taylor, the Jemez Mountains, and the Santa Fe Range of the Sangre de Cristos. The peak rises vertically from all sides, but there is a non-technical scrambling (3rd class) route to the top that can be done in in 2-4 hours. The vertical gain is approximately 1100 ft, about half gained on the approach trail. Because of its close proximity to Albuquerque the peak sees a fair number of ascents, but many only hike up to the rock face or are turned back because of route finding difficulties. The standard route is detailed under The "Easy" Way under "Routes" in the menu bar.
From Albuquerque, travel north on I-25 to Bernalillo and take the US 550 exit. Travel NW on US 550 to San Ysidro (22 mi) and then another 19 miles to NM 279. The turn is marked from this direction by a highway sign reading "San Luis, Cabezon, Torreon" and also signs indicating that you are leaving the Zia Indian Reservation and entering the Jemez Indian Reservation.
From Cuba, travel south on US 550 for about 23 miles. From this direction the turn is on the right between signs indicating that you are leaving the Jemez Indian Reservation and entering the Zia Indian Reservation.
Reset your trip meter and follow NM 279 over a bridge crossing the Rio Puerco and then through the village of San Luis. The pavement ends at 8.3 miles, after which you continue for 4.0 more miles until the road forks. Take the left fork that turns south (BLM 1114), cross the Rio Puerco, and at 16.1 miles from US 550 there is a BLM sign on the left directly in front of the west face of Cabezon Peak and a rough road that should be passable to passenger cars leading to the parking area.
The trail leaves the parking area at the east end and ascends steeply towards the south side of the peak. Route finding can be difficult - precise directions are given in the route detailed on this page.
Cabezon Peak is a volcanic plug - the largest of around 50 found within the Rio Puerco Valley of New Mexico. Well known volcanic plugs include Devils Tower in Wyoming and New Mexico's Shiprock. An abundance of these features can be found in the Four Corners Area of the American Southwest.
A volcanic plug or neck is formed from the erosion of a volcano. The original volcano's central pipe is filled by upwelling magma where it solidifies. Over time erosional forces attack the soft outer slopes reducing the volcano to the resistant volcanic plug.
In the case of Cabezon Peak, the magma worked its way up through the sedimentary rock layers deposited millions of years ago by the inland sea that covered much of New Mexico. When the sea receded it allowed the soft sedimentary rock to be eroded away leaving the distinctive basalt columns that are especially well defined on the south side of the peak.
A common feature often found near volcanic plugs are volcanic dikes. Shiprock has three of these walls of rock extending across the grasslands from it - in one case extending for five miles! Dikes are formed when the forceful eruptions shatter the surrounding bedrock creating radiating fissures. These fill with lava pushing vertically through the horizontal layers of rock. The hardened volcanic rock then remains as a distinctive feature long after the softer rock gets eroded away.
No fees or permits required.
Further information can be obtained from the Albuquerque Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
Albuquerque Field Office home page
435 Montano Rd. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87107
When To Climb
The peak is climbable year-round, however spring and fall are probably best. It could be unbearably hot in the summer, and climbing is quite unrecommended during thunderstorms or rainy weather in general.
I am not aware of any restrictions to camping on BLM land in New Mexico. The trailhead area has several places to park your vehicle and pitch a tent. BLM roads access the Cibola National Forest to the southwest and excellent camping opportunities can be found in the Jemez Mountains contained in the Santa Fe National Forest to the northeast. If you are staying in Albuquerque, Cabezon Peak can be climbed as an easy day trip.
Other Nearby Recreational Opportunities
Here are some other excellent outdoor destinations within an hour drive of Cabezon Peak:
Jemez Mountains/Santa Fe National Forest - One of the most beautiful parts of New Mexico, the Jemez is an excellent place to hike, mountain bike, and just drive through. The Jemez Mountains are part of the huge volcanic field of the Valles Caldera. The awe-inspring Valle Grande is part of the actual caldera which measures some 15 miles in diameter. Roadside rock climbing can be found at Las Conchas where the E. Fk of the Jemez River crosses NM 4.
San Pedro Parks Wilderness - Part of the Santa Fe National Forest just east of Cuba, San Pedro Parks averages 10,000 ft in elevation but consists entirely of rolling mountain tops, meandering streams, and grassy "parks". The wilderness offers excellent hiking, backpacking, camping, and fishing.
Sandia Mountains - The Sandias rise 5,000 ft behind Albuquerque and offer fabulous hiking, rock climbing, biking, and sightseeing, not to mention the longest tram in the world! In the winter, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and downhill skiing at Sandia Peak Ski Area are good recreation opportunities.