Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dolores River Canyon Hike

Distance: 6 miles round trip
Elevation: 5,000 ft - 5,100 ft
Elevation Gain: 100 ft (net) probably 300 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: Off leash

The hike along the Doloras River Canyon near Paradox Colorado is a classicThe scenic Dolores River travels over 500 miles through Colorado, cutting canyons as it goes. The hike out of Bedrock, CO is an easy way to explore this unique topography.

Thought that Arizona has a monopoly on cool looking red canyons? Think again! The western part of the state is crisscrossed by rivers that have carved deep, winding slots through millions of years of sedimentary accumulations.

Looking up the canyon from where we parked at 38°17.742/108°53.884. The first cliff in the distance is the sharp right turn that is 0.87 miles way.

Looking back up the road we drove down toward the entrance to the canyon. The cliffs bordering the northern end of the Paradox Valley are clearly visible in the distance.
The hike along the Dolores River from Bedrock to the junction of the Le Sal creek will take you into the heart of this area and will let you immerse yourself in the red desert dust, sagebrush, and towering cliffs. While WAY out of the way, this is a must do hike for anyone serious about exploring the state.

The flow within the Dolores River is controlled upstream by a dam. Usually just a trickle, the authorities release water at certain times of the year for agriculture and rafting.

We have just made the sharp right turn at 0.87 and are heading further up the canyon. The slot in the center of the picture is our destination.
Bedrock is located up the stunning Paradox Valley on highway 90 between Naturita and the Utah border. The only landmark for this once populated town is the old Bedrock store, now closed, that marks the turn off towards the boat ramp for the Dolores River. We were surprised at how large the parking area was and how full it was given our isolation. The cars were for rafters, however, and not hikers.

The geology of the area is the primary appeal. Ancient sand dunes and river beds form sequential layers of various colored rocks of Triassic and Jurassic periods. The most prominent is the Wingate Formation, formed from dunes around 200 million years ago.

Near the deep stream bed that is reach at 2.0 miles, the ground was filled with layers that were obvious ancient mud beds, which give it this purple color.  This part of the trail was littered with bright teal fragments.
Past the boat ramp, the road travels up a short hill and splits into several directions. It took us a bit to find the road that continues down into the canyon. Be advised, this is a high clearance 4x4 road only. With our truck we managed to get 1.7 miles beyond the split but this entailed gingerly traveling over several large boulders and along a highly eroded shelf. We managed to drive down to a spot with plenty of turn around room, but a couple of jeeps in that area would have made it more complicated.

Looking down into the dry stream bed with its many layers of rocks. Just a few weeks prior to this hike, I hiked to Linville Falls in North Carolina. There I saw similar geology but active water. The contrast was startling.
The trail is close to the river at times and further away at others.
The route follows an old road and is very easy to follow. At times it is close to the river and at times farther away. We were doing this on a hot day in May and drank at least 2 liters of very hot water (the place were staying at had no ice). By the end I was craving an ice cold beer (something I rarely drink), so plan accordingly.

Near the end of the trail, is a large series of boulders that obviously fell from the side of the cliff. Some are upright (e.g. layers are parallel to the ground) and some are on their sides (layers exposed). The one containing the petroglyphs was quite obvious. It is close to the trail and there is a large National Park Service sign pointing them out. What we did not find was the dinosaur tracks that are supposedly on the back side of on of the boulders that is on its side.

It was hard to pick a picture that typifies the cliffs in the area. The reality they surround you on both side and hog the distances.
Some milestones along the way include the sharp right turn at 0.87 miles, a traverse across an old stream bed at 2.0 miles, Indian petroglyphs at 2.5 miles and the junction with the Le Sal Creek at 3.0 miles (our GPS when nuts at this point because the last part is under a cliff shelf and the GPS lost its signal). It looks like one could continue up the Le Sal a way, but the trail descended directly into the willows surrounding the creek, so I suspect the route would be a sloggy one.

The view looking up Le Sal Creek. You can see the trail fading off into the distance.
Topo map of the area. Hwy 90 is visible in the upper right and the Le Sal Creek in the lower left. The sharp 90° turn is noticeable where the river passes close to a sharp point in the relief. The scale and varied nature of the cliffs is also discernible form the map.

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