McDonald Creek Cultural Area worth the trip to Utah/Colorado boundary line

McDonald Creek Cultural Area worth the trip to Utah/Colorado boundary line



McDonald Creek Cultural Area

Drive time and distance: 50 minutes, 32.7 miles

Length: 4 miles round trip

Hiking Time: 2.5 to 3.5 hours

Difficulty: Easy

BILL HAGGERTY/The Daily Sentinel

McDonald Creek Cultural Area straddles the Utah/Colorado state line, and displays a culture that had its own Art on the Corner a thousand years ago.

As Jimmy Buffet says, “There’s a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.”

The same holds true for the Utah/Colorado state line, a few miles west of here.

Culturally speaking, there’s not much difference between western Colorado and eastern Utah, other than a fine, invisible line drawn across the high desert plateau. Even before that line was drawn, there wasn’t much difference.

Case in point: McDonald Creek Cultural Area. Straddling the line, it displays a culture that had its own Art on the Corner a thousand years ago.

McDonald Creek Cultural Area lies within the boundaries of the Bureau of Land Management’s McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. The NCA encompasses 122,300 acres, of which 75,500 are in the Black Ridge Wilderness. Most of the conservation area lies within Colorado’s borders, with about 5,200 acres in Utah.

To reach the McDonald Creek area from Grand Junction, follow Interstate 70 west for 29.7 miles to the Rabbit Valley exit (Exit 2). Turn left (south) at the stop sign. From that spot, it’s three miles to the trail head.

You’ll cross over the highway and a cattle guard, and past a very large staging area. You’ll also pass the turn to Rabbit’s Ear Trail head, a trail we took a few weeks ago.

Stay on the main road going forward (southwest). At times, you’ll be in the creek bed. There are numerous ATV tracks in this multi-use area, but follow the signs. Stay left past the main billboard — showing you the way to about 10 different attractions, including McDonald Creek — and you’ll make it just fine.

The road is narrow in several places and has a couple of blind corners. Toward the end of the road, you’ll find two parking areas with restrooms. The first area is the Castle Rock campground. The trail head enters McDonald Creek from the second, lower parking area.

A high-clearance vehicle is recommended to reach the trail head. My old Toyota truck made it fine in two-wheel drive.

Once you reach the trail head, no motorized vehicles or bikes are permitted into the cultural area, which is open to hiking and horseback riding only.

Horseback riders should take note: they probably won’t be taking horses all the way to the river from this trail head because of the rugged nature of McDonald Creek. However, about halfway down this canyon, the trail intersects with the new Jouflas Horse Trail, completing a loop that takes riders back to the main road into McDonald Creek.

This area is dog-friendly, but BLM and other users respectfully request you keep your pet on a leash and pick up after it. Also remember, this is the desert. If you’re comfortable in a down coat, your pet should be fine. If you’re in a T-shirt, remember your pet is still wearing a fur coat!

You will not find many signs leading to the locations of four examples of ancient rock art. Here, the BLM hopes you’ll experience the canyon “just as it was when Native Americans lived here and to be an explorer feeling the excitement of discovering a remnant of your past.”

I’m not going to tell you where the rock art is found, either. I will, however, give you the same hints BLM gave me:

“As you search for sites and rock art, imagine where you might have found shelter from the elements if you were a Fremont Indian 1,000 years ago. Those places, such as cliff or rock overhangs, are the best places to look.

“The sites and rock are very fragile. Resist the temptation to touch them. The oil in your hands can destroy them or can cause the soft sandstone to crumble.

“The first rock art panel is about 400 yards down the stream bed from the parking area on the west facing canyon wall. Look up about 15 feet and you will see red painted figures (pictographs).

“There are a total of four panels from the first one down to the mouth of McDonald Creek (about 1.5 miles). Two of the panels are just below the drop off (about .5 miles).

“On the east side of the canyon is a pecked panel (petroglyphs) and some historic names and dates, and on the west side is a painted panel. The last panel is high on the wall in a large alcove near the mouth of the creek.

“Do not climb the rock ledge below the panel. It is very unstable and any attempt to climb it could result in damage to you and the rock art.”

This National Conservation Area, one of only 10 managed by the BLM nationwide, is “an outdoor museum of the life and people who came before.”

Enjoy it but please do not touch or remove artifacts or fossils. Leave them for others to discover!

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