Cabezon Wilderness Study Area

Cabezon Wilderness Study Area

Page Type Page Type: Area/Range
Location Lat/Lon: 35.59925°N / 107.09747°W
Activities Activities: Hiking, Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
Additional Information Elevation: 7785 ft / 2373 m
Sign the Climber's Log

Area Description


Cabezon County is located 20 miles west of the town of San Ysidro. The main attraction of the area is Cabezon Peak, which is at an elevation of 7,785 feet. Cabezon Peak and Cerro Cuate are actually a volcanic necks much like Devils Tower in Wyoming, but on a smaller scale.

To the north is Mesa San Luis, this area offers cliffs and sandstone canyons. Mesa Crotalo is found on the western edge of this area, this area offers open grasslands divided by a series of sandstone mesas. To the south Mesa Chivato rises sharply and tops out at over 8,000 feet. This now pine forest covered mesa is actually a lave flow that erupted from Mount Taylor millions of years ago. The eastern edge of Cabezon County is the Ojito unit. This area also know as the Blanco Mesa area offers badlands, box canyons, and a diverse flora and fauna area. It is also in the Ojito area that one of the largest dinosaur skeletons ever discovered was found.

The Rio Puerco flows through Cabezon Country, passing close by Cerro Cuate before making a dramatic bend to the south. Three of this region's major drainages, La Cañada Santiago, La Cañada de la Leña, and Arroyo Chico, all join the Rio Puerco as it winds through the Cerro Cuate unit. Sections of Arroyo Chico are a perennial stream and support riparian habitat.

Ecological Values


Grasslands, juniper dotted grasslands, pinyon-juniper woodlands, old growth ponderosa pine, and riparian habitats are all represented in Cabezon Country. The Rio Puerco region is a vital biotic link between the Colorado Plateau and the Southern Rockies, providing habitat and dispersal corridors for far ranging species such as the mountain lion. The Rio Puerco, which traverses the area, is also a major tributary of the Rio Grande. As such, it is a key riparian corridor in an otherwise arid landscape.

The Rio Puerco basin is home to approximately 282 species of vertebrate animals including nearly 200 species of birds, 38 species of amphibians and reptiles, 1 species of fish, and 66 species of mammals. Large elk herds graze in the forests of Mesa Chivato and winter in the valleys of the Cabezon Country. Also present in here are black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, gray fox, mule deer, pronghorn, Gunnison's prairie dog, badger, porcupine, and a variety of reptiles, including collared lizards. Because of the presence of prairie dogs, the area is also potential habitat for the endangered black-footed ferret. Three special-status plant species, Knight's milkvetch, Wright's pincushion cactus and grama grass cactus, can be found in the area.

Cultural Values

Summit of Cabezon

According to Navajo legend, Cabezon Peak is the head of a large giant that was slain by the Twin War Gods. Prehistoric cultural resources include numerous Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Navajo, and Pueblo sites. A Chacoan shrine rests atop Cabezon Peak and petroglyphs exist on canyon walls. This area is also home to current sacred and religious sites of the Zia, Jemez, and Santa Ana Pueblos.

In Spanish, El Cabezon, means "the big head." Cerro Cuate is named for the Spanish word "cuate", which means "twins," referring to the pair of rugged peaks that grace the top of this volcanic plug. Spanish cultural sites are also found in this area. These sites include the historic town of Cabezon with a century-old church that is still in use today. There are also numerous remnants of abandoned homesteads along the banks of the Rio Puerco.

Getting there

From Albuquerque take I-25 North. Exit off the freeway at the Bernalillo/Placitas exit (exit 242). Travel West on US 550 for 22 miles. You will pass through the town of San Ysidro, and the single small gas station is your last chance for gasoline and snacks. Continue on US 550 for another 19 miles. Here you will be looking for a sign that says "San Luis, Cabezon, Torreon". Take a left onto NM 279. Travel a little over 8 miles passing through the village of San Luis. Soon you will come to a point where the pavement goes right and in front of you is a dirt road. Continue forward on the dirt road for another 4 miles. When you reach 4 miles you will come to a fork, go left, this will take you across the Rio Puerco and into a slight canyon. You will drive up and out of the canyon and onto the broad grass plains of the Cabezon County Wilderness. Please be aware that all of this area from where the dirt road begins is open range land, and cow or horse crossings are very frequent.

Red Tape

There are six wilderness study areas designated by the BLM in the Cabezon Wilderness Study Area. One of them Ignacio Chavez has been called " one of the most diverse and productive wildlife habitats in northwestern New Mexico". Several sandstone cliff areas are protected due to raptor nesting, and several parts of the Ojito area is protected due to its cultural and paleontological value.




Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.