Despite dermabrasion, hiking Coal Canyon can be exciting


Coal Canyon Trail

Drive time and distance: 35 minutes, 18.4 miles to parking area (3 more miles to Hoodoo/CoalCanyon trail split)

Length: 3 miles one way from trail split with Hoodoo Trail (6 miles from trail head)

Hiking Time: 2-4 hours depending on where you started

Difficulty: Easy

Skin and beauty tip: According to WebMD, “Dermabrasion is a technique that uses a wire brush or a diamond wheel with rough edges (called a burr or fraise) to remove the upper layers of the skin. The brush or burr rotates rapidly, taking off and leveling (abrading or planing) the top layers of the skin.

“This process,” according to the good Internet doctors, “injures or wounds the skin and causes it to bleed. As the wound heals, new skin grows to replace the damaged skin that was removed during dermabrasion.”

Now, here’s the important part: “Factors that affect the depth of the resurfacing include how coarse the burr or brush is, how quickly it rotates, how much pressure is applied and for how long, and the condition and features of your skin.”

I went for a hike in Coal Canyon the other day and didn’t need a wire brush OR diamond wheel to achieve the same results as a good ol’ dermabrasion treatment. The wind howled and the dirt and sand blew wickedly as I trekked down this aptly named canyon filled with coal and dotted with wild horses, mule deer and wily coyotes.

Coal Canyon is a great place to take a quick hike, but not when the wind is howling, unless of course, you really are looking for that dermabrasion deal.

To reach this area, travel east on Interstate 70 to the Cameo Exit (No. 46) in De Beque Canyon. Turn off the highway and travel under the interstate, then east for a short way before crossing the Colorado River in front of the Xcel Cameo Steam Plant. Go past the power plant and follow Bureau of Land Management signs to the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Area and Coal Canyon Trailhead. It’s 2.2 miles from the interstate on an old dirt road that leads behind Mount Garfield.

Though hikers and horseback riders are welcome year round, the gate is locked here from Dec. 1 through May 30 to protect wintering wildlife and foaling areas. So, until the end of November, if you have a rugged four-wheel-drive vehicle, you could drive another two or three miles. However, to steal a phrase from Mesa County’s wellness program, Live Well. Get out of the vehicle and hike. After all, that’s what we’re here for!

Both Coal Canyon and Hoodoo Trails follow an old dusty road for about three miles before the trails split. Coal Canyon Trail follows the creek bottom below the back side of Mt. Garfield and the face of the Bookcliffs that we see from the Grand Valley. The Hoodoo Trail climbs along the north side of the drainage, eventually leading to the top of the next ridge between Coal Canyon and Main Canyon.

A great loop trail takes hikers up the Hoodoo Trail to the Spring Creek Trail, then back into Main Canyon, eventually returning to the Coal Canyon Trailhead. That’s a long way, though, about 14 miles, so you’d better be prepared.

The Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range is managed for multiple uses, but wild horse habitat is the primary concern here. This 36,113-acre range is one of only three ranges in the United States set aside specifically to protect wild and free roaming horses. Between 90 and 150 wild horses roam these rugged parks and pinyon-juniper covered hills.

During the ice age, ancestors of the modern horse roamed the North American continent. They were probably smaller than today’s horses and became extinct more than 10,000 years ago. Horses were reintroduced to the continent in the 1500s by Spaniards who explored and settled this area. These horses were known as “mustanos,” and those who escaped to form the early wild herds were later called “mustangs.”

Some of the horses in this area can trace their ancestry back to Indian ponies, if they were so inclined. I don’t know if horses think of that stuff, though.

The majority of these horses are descendants of horses that escaped from or were turned loose by ranchers and farmers. The BLM has also introduced horses from other wild herds to maintain a healthy population here.

In the mid 1980s, a group called “Friends of the Mustangs” began working with the BLM to ensure that both the range and the horses living here are kept healthy. Projects include trail clearing, spring development and maintenance, and tracking horse numbers, locations and range conditions.

Friends of the Mustangs also assist in roundups and in finding adoptive homes for the animals, working with prospective owners and checking back with them to make sure horse and owner are doing well. If you’re interested in this group, check out its Web site at:, or call 970-283-1154.

In the meantime, wait for a calm, windless day, and check out the Coal Canyon Trail.


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