Monday, May 26, 2008

Dillon Pinnacles

Trail Length: 4 miles RT
Elevation: 7,400 to 7,847 ft
Elevation gain: 447 ft

The Dillon Pinnacles are one of those geologic wonders of Colorado. They are located along Blue Mesa Reservoir between Montrose and Gunnison. For minimal effort, you can get up close to the formations.

Coming from Montrose, the trailhead is located just past the bridge that crosses over the reservoir. The trail follows along the water, or what used to be water, for 0.75 miles before heading up a gully filled with juniper, sage, rocks, and a small creek. After 0.25 miles it reaches an intersection. Take the left fork and continue to ascend upwards to a small hillock that looks down the length of the formation. A worn wooden bench is available if the cumulative distance to this point is overly fatiguing! You can see the trail in the distance along the formation. Do continue. The views are very pleasant, and the destination, another bench on a wind-blown mesa, provides 50-yard line views of the formation and alternatively, views of the San Juan Mountains to the south. Elk and deer are very prevalent along the trail from October through April. Their scat practically covered the trail and seemed more abundant than the rocks themselves.

Sage and pine on the Dillion Pinnacles trail

The Dillon Pinnacles are made of eroded West Elk Breccia, a composite rock spewed from the volcanic West Elk Mountains 30 million years ago.

From a distance, the West Elks, with their central Needle Rock, look like the remains of a climate changing explosive event but are in fact the remains of an entire field of Stratovolcanoes. Stratovolcanoes are versatile eruptors and are easily recognized by their dramatic cone shape. At one time or another, the volcanoes in the West Elks probably erupted with explosive force like Mt. Rainer, or sent plumes of ash into the stratosphere. The West Elk Breccia is composed of rock and ash that fell from at least one explosive eruption that resulted in over 600 ft of ash and rock accumulation. You can see the West Elks from the south rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison or even more dramatically from Hwy 92 heading toward the north rim of the park.

West Elk Mountains

It is possible to get close to Needle Rock, which is located in the town of Crawford. Up close, it looses some of its majesty. It is far more impressive when viewed as part of a circle of volcanic remnants.

I have seen the Dillon Pinnacles many times from the overlook on Hwy 50 but this was my first opportunity to see them up close. As with most things in Colorado, they gain perspective and elegance the farther you get from the car. The Dillon Pinnacles are no different. It is worth the short hike to see these remarkable formations up close. A final note of trivia, Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest body of water in Colorado. I have seen it covered in snow, dappled with sunlit elegance, and radiantly blue. It seems to have as many expressions as Colorado herself.

Blue Mesa Reservoir (trailhead parking area)

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