Hunting for silence: Hunter Canyon perfect place to hear animals and nothing else
There were signs of life all around, yet the quiet was deafening.
I heard a splat, signifying that I’d driven over a fresh cow pie in my recently washed truck on the road into Hunter Canyon. That was the loudest noise of the day.
Once I parked, all I heard was snow crunching under my boots as I strode directly into the face of the Bookcliffs, with its strange and colorful rock formations, from the proximal fluvial-coastal plain environment of the Grand Valley, directly through “the shallow marine shoreface-deltaic environment, and onto the shelf.”
I stopped to hear the colossal sound of ... nothing.
There were no planes, trains or automobiles. There were no people. There were only animal tracks in the few inches of snow remaining on the ground from last week’s storm.
At first, I spied only small tracks — mice, small birds, tiny ground squirrels who should have been hibernating by now.
As I continued into Hunter Canyon, I found deer and coyote tracks very near an old “chukar guzzler,” a water collection device placed here by the Colorado Division of Wildlife to help increase watering possibilities for the wary chukar, a western cousin of the Hungarian Partridge.
As the snow melted out, it appeared the coyote tracks gave way to mountain lion tracks. These tracks appeared very large, at least as large as my imagination.
According to the Geological Society of America: “The 300-km-long Bookcliffs of eastern Utah and western Colorado are dissected by numerous side canyons and reentrants providing exceptional three-dimensional (3-D) outcrop control of Campanian strata, both along depositional-dip and depositional-strike.”
Tell the truth: Don’t you just love that kind of talk?
“This,” according to the Geological Society, “combined with the near-horizontal structural configuration, makes the Bookcliffs a world-class field laboratory for studying clastic sedimentology and sequence stratigraphy. It is truly one of the few areas in the world where you can walk and drive out time-equivalent depositional units from their proximal fluvial-coastal plain environments through the shallow marine shoreface-deltaic environments and onto the shelf.”
Yet, as I began my trek through this incredible area, my thoughts turned to elk.
I love following elk tracks, and soon, I was.
At first, there was only one large track. A bull elk, perhaps? Then, I spied another, smaller, track alongside the first. Must have been a cow and calf.
A short distance farther, I found more elk tracks, then more. Soon, it seemed as if I’d stumbled onto an elk highway. I continued into the canyon, following tracks. I stopped suddenly. I thought I smelled ‘em. The hair stood up on the back of my neck, and my imagination ran wild.
Sure, the tracks I followed were days old. That didn’t mean those wily wapiti weren’t still around.
I was totally lost in my fantasy by the time I’d hiked about an hour and a half into the canyon. I traveled over the few shallow inches of snow that remained on the old ATV trail, and finally began bushwhacking up and down the sides of the canyon.
My left boot was a little damp from where I’d broken through the ice in the creek bed while gawking at the spectacular spires and hoodoos that stood erect, towering over the canyon’s fluvial-coastal plain below.
Hunter Canyon is at the end of 21 Road, and it’s only 20.1 miles from 4th and Main in downtown Grand Junction. Yet it is, apparently, eons and eons above the valley floor. The mouth of the canyon sits at about 5,400 feet in elevation and I hiked about three miles in, gaining maybe 400 feet in elevation.
To get here, take old Highway 6 west from Grand Junction toward Fruita. Turn right on 21 Road and stay on it. You’ll notice when you reach the stop sign at K Road, you’ll have to jog a little to the west. Continue on 21 Road across the canal on fresh pavement and past Colorado Fuel Manufacturing Inc.‘s “Fractionation” Plant, which is adjacent to the Public Service Company’s Asbury Compressor Station.
Travel four miles from the end of the pavement to a parking area on the left. You could probably drive farther, and some motor heads do, but it gets slick, and if you’re in the in-law’s Cadillac, your wife will never forgive you for messing it up!
This multiple-use area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers share the trails with Jeeps and ATVs. Even dogs are allowed.
At this time of year, however, you’ll have the place to yourself — well, you and the elk and deer and coyotes and chukar and other critters who call this magnificent canyon home.