Haggerty: Wonderful Juanita Arch
According to The Natural Arch and Bridge Society, Juanita Arch is a respectable adult.
The society’s website says this arch, located south of Gateway, “is an adult meander natural bridge cut by Maverick Canyon through a meander of Wingate sandstone ... although the opening seems small in comparison with the extent of the wall of rock it penetrates, Juanita Arch must be considered an adult because the abutments have retreated significantly from the stream bed that runs between them. The result is a very respectable span of 100-plus feet.”
Not only is Juanita a respectable adult, hiking through the deep red Wingate sandstone of Maverick Canyon to her abutments presents an exciting adventure.
It begins with a wade across the Dolores River, followed by a quarter-mile bushwhack. From there, it’s a challenge staying on this primitive trail, although the creek bottom still leads you in the right direction if you miss the trail.
To reach this area, travel south from Grand Junction on U.S. Highway 50 for 9.2 miles to Whitewater and the turnoff to Colorado Highway 141, Unaweep Canyon. Turn right, or west, here and drive this scenic byway for 42.7 miles to Gateway. Continue through Gateway and past Gateway Canyons Resort on Colorado 141 until you reach 7.2 Road on your right. That’s Salt Creek. Park here and walk a little farther south along the highway until you reach Mile Marker 101. Then, scramble down the bank to the Dolores River.
At this time of year, you’ll need to wear waders to cross the river because the cold water is at least knee-deep — deeper in the slow pools. Later in the winter, when flows are minimal, you can walk across this frozen river. Next spring, the rushing water will be too fast and too high to wade, so you can run back up to the resort and rent a raft or canoe to cross the river.
In any case, be very careful and use a wading staff or cane because the river bottom is muddy and slick. Once across, dump your wading gear and hop into your hiking boots. This is not a good trail for tennis shoes as you’ll end up skipping from boulder to boulder in a number of places.
Hike up the dry wash for about a quarter-mile, then climb a few feet to the bench on the north side of the canyon (on your left as you’re hiking in). Here, you can begin your search for a primitive trail that will lead you deep into the canyon. This trail bypasses several rockfalls in the stream bed and makes the hike a little easier.
In about a mile, the canyon will split, and you’ll want to follow this trail northeast (left). In another 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll reach the arch. No matter what the Natural Arch and Bridge Society thinks, this arch is so rectangular, it almost appears as if it were drilled through by man. Also, the height of the rock above the arch is as impressive as its 100-foot span.
On your way back out, just after you enter the main stem of the canyon again, you should spy a very large boulder on the north side of the trail, with a variety of dinosaur tracks on its exposed top surface. There are numerous other paleontological markings in this canyon, as well as historical artifacts from the old uranium mining days in the early to mid-1900s.
Interestingly, the BLM Grand Junction Field Office is now in the process of revising its Resource Management Plan to guide management of about 1 million acres of public land it administers. This area is included in that discussion.
A Draft RMP is expected to be released this fall. The Draft RMP will be available for a 90-day public-comment period when it is released, and one local group, Friends of Northern Dolores (FOND), believes the area surrounding Maverick Canyon and Juanita Arch deserves special designation.
Kate Graham with the Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC) and a FOND founding member said, “Based on discussions with local community members and our on-the-ground knowledge, we believe that a multiple-use, conservation-based, National Conservation Area designation, like McInnis Canyons or Dominguez-Escalante, would best suit this landscape.”
“The Maverick Canyon area offers dispersed recreational opportunities for hikers, backpackers and hunters, and a sense of wildness is pervasive here,” said Kurt Kunkle of the Colorado Environmental Coalition.
FOND and CEC aren’t the only groups fond of this area. The Wilderness Society believes this area also deserves wilderness designation.
According to local representative Barbara Hawke, The Wilderness Society’s mission is to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places.
Juanita Arch — that respectable adult of an arch — and Maverick Canyon certainly fit that bill.