In what appears to be the middle of nowhere, stands a volcanic plug called Cabezon, spanish for "big head." Today more commonly know as Cabezon Peak, it is the most prominent of about 50 such volcanic necks in the area, 45 miles west of Albuquerque ranging to Mount Taylor near Grants, New Mexico. Lying in the Rio Puerco Valley, the peak peaks at 7,786 feet (92,373 meters), is a class IV or class II climb, depending on your route, and can take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours.
Neither now nor then, in the summer of '86, did I know anything about technical climbs. All me and my fellow archaeologists in training knew, was no matter where we ventured in this sometimes seemingly desolete wasteland, this magnificent peak seemed to rise somewhere in the distance, resembling the head after which it was so appropriately named. So on a Saturday morning, in July, we climbed it. Certainly the toughest climb for me since Stone Mountain (which is like walking up a ramp), Cabezon is a truly challenging climb which gives one, when finished, the complete and utter satisfaction that one Edmund Hillary might have felt when he conquered his mountain.
Navajo legend has it that Cabezon and the associated lava flows are the result of a giant, slain by the Twin War Gods; The peak represents the giant's head and the giant's blood is represented by the lava flow (coagulated blood at that). Geologists see it more as a result of molten lava working it's way to the earth's surface through sedimentary rock layers deposited by an ancient inland sea that covered this area. Time, and tons of it, have eroded the softer sedimentary rock, leaving the exposed basalt columns, or "necks", to stand as landmarks in this high desert country of New Mexico.
For those who venture this far off the beaten path, rewards are numerous. The area is virtually littered with thousands of ruins and petroglyphs and is home to sacred and religious sites of varying native american heritages who all hope visitors will respect their land and their culture. There are also homes of older Spanish settlements here, some of which belong to a sect known as El Penitente, known for severe penance practices and who are also very protective of their land and culture. Tread carefully and enjoy.
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