Mee Canyon strenuous and scary, but one of the best in the Southwest
Mee Canyon is one of my favorite canyons in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area (NCA). In fact, it’s one of my favorite canyons in the entire Southwest.
There are parts of it that are scary — like the part where you’re forced to inch your way across a narrow ledge of sandstone high above the canyon floor, just to reach a narrow band of rock and shrub on the side of a steep canyon wall — the perfect hiding place for a midget faced rattlesnake.
Or, the part where you have to crawl through a tiny, narrow arch on the edge of the massive Mee Canyon Alcove, then skinny down a Navajo-type ladder to the next narrow ledge leading to the bottom of the Alcove, about half-way to the bottom of this steep, yet fascinating gorge.
Mee Canyon lies within the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, which forms the core of the 122,300-acre NCA. In October 2000, Congress designated the 75,550 acre Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, just northwest of Colorado National Monument. This legislation provided protection for this area’s nationally significant resources and the “benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
However, if you want to benefit from and enjoy a visit to Mee to check out the thousands of blooming wild desert flowers right now, you’d better be in good shape and you’d better be an experienced canyon country hiker. This hike is challenging and difficult. The primitive trail is marked only with cairns (small stacks of rock). The route steeply descends both the Entrada and Wingate sandstone layers. Both layers create exposed cliffs with very limited access.
About two miles into the hike, you’ll crawl through the aforementioned window in the sandstone cliff, then down a sturdy “Troy Built” ladder to the next level in the canyon. Troy, of course, is Troy Schnurr, the BLM backcountry ranger who, along with his stout-hearted brethren, built a good stretch of this trail.
Geological features here include arches, spires, windows and a massive alcove. Between Mee and Rattlesnake canyons a little farther to the west, pinyon-juniper covered mesas slope downward to the Colorado River, providing an excellent view of this canyon country and the lower Grand Valley beyond that.
My buddy Robert Traylor, his daughter, Julie, Uncle Dave Traylor and I were all a little worried about the pinyon and juniper, and those nasty gnats associated with that type of growth. Yet, we all agreed this was a wonderful hike, especially with all the desert flowers in bloom. The gnats haven’t shown up yet, and the cacti haven’t bloomed yet, but everything else was out last week.
Motorized and mechanized activities are prohibited inside the wilderness. That’s really no big deal, since you couldn’t ride or drive into this rugged canyon anyway. In order to preserve the area’s integrity, directional signs and other evidence of human imprints are limited.
To reach the trail head, take Interstate-70 west 11.7 miles to Fruita (Exit 19). Turn left, cross back over I-70 and follow the signs to Colorado National Monument.
If you’re headed to Glade Park or the National Conservation Area, you do not have to pay the entrance fee, but it’s a nice thing to do anyway. After all, not many people have a national monument in their backyard.
Travel 13.7 miles from the monument entrance station to the Glade Park Store turn-off sign. It’s just past the upper Liberty Cap trail head. Turn right and travel .2 miles to the Black Ridge Hunter Access Road. Turn right and stay on this road for 7.2 miles to the Mee Canyon marker. Turn left and travel another .2 miles to the trail head.
There are actually two roads leading to this trail head. Use of these roads is seasonally rotated for motorized travel. The upper road is open from April 15-Aug. 15 and the lower road from Aug. 15-Feb. 15.
No motorized travel is allowed on either road from Feb. 15 to April 15. I would strongly recommend 4x4 vehicles or old beater trucks on this road.
Don’t take the family sedan here, and don’t take any vehicle down this road if it’s wet. You won’t make it.
The BLM provides a free brochure on this area that discusses regulations such as camping and fires. Hikers can pick up a copy at the BLM office on H Road, across the street from the airport. The BLM also has its 1:100,000 scale Grand Junction resource area map available at the office for $4.
So, if you’re an experienced canyon country hiker, check out the wild flowers in Mee Canyon. If you’re afraid of heights, this is not your kind of hike, but if you’re strong and willing, it’s one of the best hikes in the entire NCA.
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