Archive for the ‘Dominguez Canyon’ Category

  • Points Earned:  2
  • Wilderness Area:  Dominguez Canyon
  • Wilderness Size:  66,280 acres
  • Wilderness Location:  Colorado Western Slope
  • Total Miles:  Approximately 14
  • Destination:  Big Dominguez Canyon
  • Highlights:  Waterfalls, Red Slick-Rock Canyon, Petroglyphs

    Waterfall on Big Dominguez Creek

One of the country’s newest wilderness areas, Dominguez Canyon received federall wilderness protection in 2009.  It covers 66,000 acres of Colorado Western Slope canyon country, and it offers some very unique characteristics, such as Mr. Rambo.

A man by the name of Mr. Rambo owns an old homestead in Little Dominguez Canyon, whithin the wilderness boundary, and was granted a lifetime right of residential access to the canyon.  He, apparently, lives there in some kind of reclusive survivalist mode.  Trailhead and wilderness boundary signs request that visiters to Little Dominguez Canyon respect his privacy and keep clear of his property.  Much respect to Mr. Rambo.

Merging with Mr. Rambo’s Little Dominguez Canyon about a mile above the Gunnison River is Big Dominguez Canyon, our destination.  Year-round water flows through both of these upper Sonoran desert canyons in the form of Big and Little Dominguez Creeks.  Big Dominguez (and perhaps Little D. as well) supports a population of easily spooked trout–unusual in this environment and elevation.

The trailhead is at the end of Bridgeport Road, a good gravel road accessed from US Hwy 50 between Grand Junction and Montrose.  Driving in, it doesn’t look like much.   A few lone juniper trees here and there provide the only greenery in what is otherwise a strikingly bright white desert.  What follows is my trip report:

We come to the end of the Bridgeport Road in a cloud of dust and arrive at the trailhead.  It’s warm for late October–almost hot.  There are only three other vehicles here.  We look around and see the dual railroad tracks of the Burlington Northern and catch a glimpse through the brush of the greenish Gunnison River.  I look up and see no clouds.  Everything is so incredibly bright and vivid.  The scene at the trailhead confirms my expectation that this is not a typical Colorado Wilderness.  We feel more like we are somewhere in Southern Utah.

A mile in now, we’ve been walking along the tracks and the river.  The river here is flowing swiftly, like rivers should flow in the West, but there are no roaring rapids.  The “Gunnison Green” water is sparkling brightly under a sharp afternoon sun.  Beyond the opposite bank rises a two-hundred foot red-rock canyon wall gracing the contours of the river that created it.  It is a taste of the canyon scenery to come.  We leave the tracks and cross to the other side of the river on a giant footbridge.

BIG long footbridge over the Gunnison RiverLooking up the Gunnison River from the footbridgeLooking up the Gunnison River from the footbridge

Gunnison River from the footbridge

We continue up the right bank of the Gunnison and begin to pass under the bright gold leaves of fall cottonwood trees.  Camping is allowed in this area and there are a number of nice vacant places along the river and underneath these shady trees.  But, we decide to push on.

Brilliant golden cottonwood in the canyon

Soon we come to the confluence of Dominguez Creek and the Gunnison river, and it is here that our route takes us away from the big river and up into Big Dominguez Canyon.

The personality of Big Dominguez Canyon reveals itself boldly.  Both rugged and forgiving, the red canyon walls rise hundreds of feet vertically on each side.  But, at the bottom of the canyon is a wide and gentle grassy plain.  Juniper trees stand guard here and there over dry grasses and prickly pear cactuses.  Big Dominguez Creek can be seen at times–a small creek with clear water delicately negotiating its dark granite streambed.

Soon we look to our left to see the creek dissappear over a ledge.  Then we realize that we are looking at the top of a waterfall.  We walk over solid granite to the precipice and marvel at a 40 foot falls from the top as it drops down to a large green pool below.  We look at each other, knowing it is late afternoon, and decide that the base of this waterfall would be a great place to camp.

Looking down from the top of the waterfall

At the bottom of the fallsLooking down on our campsite near the bottom of the waterfall

After finding a safe route to the bottom of the falls, we set up a beautiful campsite about 100 feet downstream of the waterfall.  We’ll have the soothing white noise of rushing water to fall asleap to later.


Campsite near the waterfall

For the rest of the afternoon and evening we explore the canyon country near the campsite, following the sunshine up the slopes as the inner canyon becomes shaded and cooled by the shadows of the canyon rim.

As darkness falls we see Jupiter rise over the northern horizon.  The Milky Way graces the canyon from rim to rim.  In the starlight we talk of places we’ve been, things we’ve done and life yet to live.  I think of my three-month old daughter and how I might take her to this beautiful place one day.

Next day, we wake to blue skies.  Another beautiful Fall day in the western desert.  After breakfast we provision our day packs, replenish our water and set out to explore up-canyon.  As we walk at a slow pace I look up at the cliffs of the canyon and the giant broken bolders strewn about the canyon floor.  I wonder what natural events cleaved these rocks from the mountain.  That big rock over there that is broken almost in half–when did that happen?  How did that happen?

The trail passes beneath a tilting flat rock resting against a larger rock. On close examination it appears that the tilting flat rock used to be part of the larger boulder and at some point was broken off and displaced.

Soon we are taken hundreds of years back into time as we marvel at the ancient rock art of a past culture.

Petroglyphs potentially hundreds of years oldMore petroglyphs

More petroglyphs

As we continue the canyon becomes more impressive and we find ourselves gazing up at huge banded cliffs, rock promontories and giant amphitheaters.

The colorful cliffs of Big Dominguez CanyonA major promontory. We watched a vulture soar right through the middle of the opening between the rocks on this pictureMassive amphitheater in the canyon wall. Echoes of our yells were extraordinarily clear.

Huge amphitheater in the canyon wall

Massive Promontory. We watched a vulture fly through the hole in the rocks in this picture

We continue on for about three miles and stop for lunch along the creek before turning back towards our Garden of Eden campsite.  On the return, we break from the trail and follow the creek.  We walk along its hard granite banks as it dips and curves around polished stone.

Refreshing Big Dominguez Creek flowing over a bed of polished granite

As we follow our creek downstream we soon come to another waterfall, unseen before from the trail.  An 8-foot fall pours into a cavern of granite.  The water below the falls forms into a confined placid pool.

Waterfall from above as it pours into a rock chasmThe tranquil pools below the fallsThe tranquil pools below the falls

Tranquil pools below the falls

Back at the campsite for our second and final night in the wilderness, Jupiter visits us again.  A light breeze rattles the golden leaves of our cottonwood tree.  A trout spashes in the creek.  We talk less tonight.  I gaze at the starlit rocks around our canyon and listen to the steady rush of our waterfall upstream.  Dozer is curled up at my feet already exploring the trails in his dreams.  I feel the stress and anxiety lift from my shoulders and drift away, up and over the rim of the canyon.


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