We’re on which trail? Fall hiking accommodates a few extra miles

Ann Wright, right, and Melinda Mawdsley walk along the stream in Devils Canyon on their hike in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.

A cabin with a notebook to record hikers’ names is at the apex of the trail.

The problem with living in western Colorado, as I see it, is the guilt.

It would be one thing if outside could stop being beautiful for even two seconds, but it belligerently refuses. So, I’m never not aware that outside is beautiful while I’m lolling on the couch watching episode after episode of “MI-5” on Netflix.

All I have to do, though, is cast the briefest of glances out any window to see a Colorado blue sky and know that rivers and redrock and eternal vistas aren’t far away. This often happens at work, too.

What to do, then, if all of a sudden it’s lunchtime and outside is beckoning? Half the day is already gone!

A munificent western Colorado will accommodate.

Why, just four days ago, my features department compatriots — Ann Wright and Melinda Mawdsley — and I headed for Devils Canyon at an optimistic 1:30 in the afternoon, after a morning of work in the office.

Just half a day to hike? No problem! In this area, there’s always something glorious nearby. We were rewarded with redrock canyons, golden cottonwood and a surprisingly long time to contemplate it all on account of we accidentally headed down the wrong trail, which was three miles longer than our intended one.

And this, ironically, after Melinda and I whined to Ann that the seven-mile Pollock Bench trail she’d initially suggested seemed too long.

Western Colorado works in cahoots with instant karma, apparently.

Anyway! Onward to the trail! Heading just past the west entrance of Colorado National Monument, we entered the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, parked and scrutinized a map. It revealed a spidery web of trails, including ones named D1 through D5, and it was a little confusing so we headed out with a “What the heck!” attitude and promptly forgot whatever D trail — and maybe we never even decided? — that we intended to hike.

Which is how we ended up on the five-plus mile D3 loop.

We couldn’t begrudge the extra miles, though, because the afternoon was cool and clear and, being a Wednesday, we had the trail almost entirely to ourselves.

Winding along the base of towering Wingate sandstone cliffs, the red seemingly exploded into an arching sky the shade of impossible blue only seen in Colorado in autumn.

Pockets of golden-leafed cottonwood frequently surprised us as we rounded curves in the roller-coaster trail (we headed up the west side of the D3 loop; the east side is straighter and shorter, to our great relief). Pinon and juniper colored the air with their scent and we breathed deep.

Reaching the cabin at the apex of the D3 loop, this portion of the trail in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness Area, we happily signed our names in the guest book. Then, with the sun sinking west and lengthening our shadows, we headed back down the canyon, then back and forth across a muddy trickle of stream, grateful for the happy accident of veering down the wrong trail.

Fruita was in sight for most of our hike, but we couldn’t hear it so it seemed far, far away. Instead, we got the silence and stillness in what seemed an infinite expanse of rock and sky.

And all of this with just an afternoon to spare! Nothing to feel guilty about, everything to feel grateful for.

Get going: To get to Devils Canyon, take Interstate 70 west to Fruita exit 19 and turn left onto Colorado Highway 340, or travel on Highway 340 west from Grand Junction. Turn west onto Kingsview Road and drive about half a mile to the Devils Canyon trail head.

As always when recreating outdoors, bring plenty of water and sun protection, and be prepared for a not-flat trail if you’re hiking D3. For information, go to blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/recreation/recreation_areas0/grand_junction_field.html.


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