Haggerty’s Hikes Column June 28, 2009


The Gunnison River is shown from the Bobcat Trail in the Black Canyon near Montrose.

Father’s Day was grand. I spent it fishing in the Gunnison River in Black Canyon. That’s my power spot.

The day after Father’s Day, I was sore. I spent it at the club, trying to stretch the knots out of my sore, aching thighs and back.

Bobcat Trail is my favorite trail into the lower canyon. It’s also the most strenuous, dropping 800 feet (from 6,100 feet in elevation to 5,300 feet) in a mile and a half.

While most of this barely developed trail is steep, the last couple hundred yards really separate the hardcore from the meek.

I’ve seen a lot of hikers/anglers stuck to this rock with a terrifying case of sewing-machine leg, only to reach the bottom, then fret over the thought of climbing back out.  Many of them — including the three I encountered last Sunday — will never return.

That’s one of the reasons I like this trail so much. Of course, there will be a handful of rafter/anglers who float by, but this is a little-visited stretch by foot.

At its deepest near Warner Point inside Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the gorge is 2,772 feet deep. Yet it’s only 9 miles wide from rim to rim, thus its name, “black.”

Bobcat is one of four trails into the canyon from the south side of the Gunnison Gorge downstream from the park. The other three trails include Chukar, Duncan and Ute trails. This is part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area and Wilderness.

There are at least two other trails into the Black Canyon from within the national park: S.O.B. Draw (north rim near Crawford) and Warner Point Trail, which drops from the south rim of the canyon in the middle of the national park near Montrose. Very steep. Very deep. Check with the national park before attempting these trails.

The three south-rim trails into the gorge are accessible from Montrose, Olathe and Delta via the Peach Valley Road. Here are directions that wind through the neighborhoods of Delta:

From Grand Junction, take U.S. Highway 50 south to Delta. Cross the railroad tracks and turn left at Fourth Street. Take the Fourth Street Hill to Seventh Street, and take Seventh to Pioneer Road. Turn right on Pioneer Road and go to Delta High School. Just past the high school, turn left on F Road. The pavement ends in about 6.3 miles, but stay on F Road until it turns into Peach Valley Road (to Montrose).

You’ll have plenty of time at this point in your trip — until you reach the Bobcat Trail turnoff in another 8.6 miles — to contemplate why this was named the Peach Valley Road. Then, turn left at the Bobcat Trail sign and drive two miles (the sign says 1.5 miles) to the trail head. You will have already passed Ute and Duncan trails.

You’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle to reach the rim, although you can probably make it in an old beater truck to within about .2 miles of the rim. Hike from there.

The BLM maintains a Recreation Fee Program in this area. It costs $3 per person (over 16 years of age) for day use. Camping is $10 per person for one night, $15 for two nights.

There’s a deposit box at the trail head.

For information or to obtain maps, contact the Bureau of Land Management, 2505 S. Townsend in Montrose (970-240-5300), or visit the BLM Web site at http://www.co.blm.gov-/ubra/gorgenca.htm.

The first few hundred yards along Bobcat Trail descends through a mix of pinyon and juniper, with a spot of Mormon tea. There is a rim trail here, as well. Don’t take that one!

Bobcat Trail then descends into the inner gorge’s harder Precambrian rock. Keep your eyes open. You may find small groups of chukar at the rim. Along the way, you also may see elk, mule deer, Steller’s jays, ravens and turkey vultures.

As you near the river, you’ll hear the sweetly haunting call of canyon wrens. Once you reach the river’s edge, you’ll notice the slicks left by frolicking river otters, re-introduced into the canyon by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in the late 1970s and early 1980s. If you’re lucky, as I was, you may find a redhead duck and her offspring ducking from rafters.

Make sure you take plenty of water for this trip, and wear boots. This is not a hike for tennis shoes.

The Peach Valley Road gets very slick if it’s wet, so be careful on the drive. And be forewarned, this is not a hike for the timid. But if you love the river and you love a challenge, you’ll love Bobcat. Just be ready to deal with sore muscles the following day.


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