Kodel’s Canyon

With a hike this close to town, what are you waiting for?

Evening primrose adorn the landscape entering Kodel’s Canyon. With all the recent moisture, wildflowers of all colors are showing off in the desert southwest right now.

Local artist Steven Marshall stops to photograph Indian Paintbrush on a recent hike into Kodel’s Canyon, the western-most canyon in Colorado National Monument.

As an artist, Steven Marshall looks for rich textures and intriguing shapes, brightness and contrast.  He found all that, along with desert solitude, only minutes from downtown Fruita in Kodel’s Canyon.

Hikers and horseback riders share the trails in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.  Here in Kodel’s Canyon, horses and dogs are allowed up to the mouth of the canyon, where the Colorado National Monument boundary begins. Beyond this point, it’s walk-in access only. No horses or dogs are allowed.

An amazing alcove greets energetic hikers who can scamper up the side of Kodel’s Canyon to reach it. Some backcountry path-finding skills may be necessary for this end of the hike. The remainder of the trail is pretty easy to follow.


Kodel’s Canyon

Drive time and distance: 15 minutes, 12.7 miles.

Length: 5 miles to alcove and back.

Hiking time: 2 to 3 hours.

Difficulty: Easy to start, strenuous and difficult once you enter Colorado National Monument.

Brightness and contrast. Shadows, highlights and midtones. Texture and shape.

These are the things local artist Steven Marshall sees as we trek through Kodel’s Canyon on a beautiful spring day.

Kodel, an old stonemason turned prospecting hermit, wandered this canyon between 1900 and 1930, looking for only one color — gold.

He mined this canyon for years but never found his fortune, unlike Marshall, who struck it rich.

“This is fabulous,” he said over and over as he touched, photographed and soaked in the colors, contours, textures and solitude of this wilderness canyon only minutes from downtown Fruita.

A parking area for the Kodel’s Canyon trail head is really just the barrow ditch adjacent to Colorado Highway 340 next to Kings View Estates in Fruita.

Yet a one-mile hike from this spot will take you into a desert wilderness with few people, loads of wildflowers and a plethora of towering rock walls, spires and windows to peak into the fascinating canyon lands of our own backyard.

At the trail head, you’ll spy a Bureau of Land Management sign directing you onto a trail system established for Kodel’s, Devils, Flume and Pollock Bench trails.

The Kodel’s Canyon Trail within the McInnis National Conservation area ranges in elevation from 4,500 feet to about 5,100 feet. This trail, however, continues into the westerm-most canyon of Colorado National Monument — Kodel’s, just west of the west entrance to the monument.

The first part of the trail is easy, but the last part is much more strenuous and will require some backcountry path-finding skills.

At the start of the trail, you’ll head west, then southwest and down toward the wash. The trail forks in several places, and BLM signs mark trails K1 and K2 at the first fork. We traveled on the K1 stretch to begin this hike, until we reached K7. 

The “K” stands for Kodel’s, just as “D” designates trails in Devils Canyon, and “P” stands for Pollock Canyon trails. Grab a copy of the BLM’s “Devils Canyon and Pollock Bench Trail System” brochure, available for free at the BLM office near the airport in GJ.

The trails here are managed as “Designated Trails Only.” Open trails are signed and marked.

The BLM is closing and rehabilitating numerous excess routes through this area. You can help by staying on the designated trails. In the long run, it will provide for a much better trail system, but no matter which trail you stumble upon here, you’re sure to get a good hike.

As you continue on K7, you’ll eventually come to the boundary of Colorado National Monument. Prior to reaching this spot, dogs and horseback riders are welcome. Beyond this point, it’s walk-in access only.

When you cross a wooden BLM fence under a power line, you’ll travel toward the left (east) into the mouth of Kodel’s Canyon. From here, we turned right and hiked directly up the canyon until we came to a second fence, this one of old barbed wire.

At this second fence, we hiked forward into the canyon and up, into and over the tremendous “basement rocks” of this formation, the dark-colored Precambrian granites that are around 1.7 billion years old.

You can hike around this steep, difficult section by taking the right-leaning path that will lead you beneath an impressive stone monolith and deeper into the canyon.

Or, as Steven and I did, you can scramble up the smooth and rounded black granite, and then find your way to the trail on your right as you reach the top of this section.

In front of you and to your right, you’ll see a massive rock spire. Beyond that, the canyon splits into two major circular box ends. Pick your way to the right-hand canyon end.

You’ll have to scramble up another 250 feet in about a half-mile to enter a tremendous alcove hidden behind very large cottonwoods at the end of this canyon.

Despite the lack of a trail in this last section, it’s obvious you aren’t the first person entering this cool, magnificent alcove. Some punk named Jordan was here in 2011, and Brandon showed up in 2012, as did Kevin who spells his name with a backward “e.”  He very possibly could have been there with someone else calling himself “Sex Panther” — apparently a reference to the fact he’s never had sex in his life.

Steven didn’t care. He was more interested in the colors, textures and shapes of the canyon rocks, flora and fauna. 

He had found his own pot of gold.


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