OUT: Haggerty’s Hikes April 19, 2009

Walk along Little Dominguez will help you appreciate latest wilderness action

Nick Massaro hikes along Little Dominguez Creek in Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area near Kannah Creek and U.S. Highway 50.

In an attempt to avoid paying taxes until the last second, I talked buddy Nick into a lengthy hike along Little Dominguez Creek on April 15.

Little Dominguez and its smaller brother, Big Dominguez, are in the midst of the newest wilderness area in Colorado, which in turn is found in the heart of the newest National Conservation Area in Colorado. That would be the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, established in a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last month.

The bill set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness, and most news stories that mention the Dominguez-Escalante NCA talk about the 60,000-acre Wilderness Area. However, that’s only part of the 210,000-acre NCA.

As a March 26, 2009, Daily Sentinel editorial pointed out, “That is an important part of the designation, something that environmental groups and local wilderness advocates have sought for well over a decade.

“But Dominguez-Escalante is much more than the wilderness area. The vast majority of the region is open to motorized and bicycle users. There is grazing, as well as fishing and hunting opportunities. There are petroglyphs and waterfalls, stunning vistas of canyons and rivers, and the Gunnison River corridor, with a variety of recreational opportunities. It is not an area that has been targeted for gas drilling or other mineral development.

“It was this abundance of terrain and variety of uses that won support for the conservation area from county commissioners in Montrose, Delta and Mesa counties, as well as from ranchers, sportsmen and others.”

To reach this area from Grand Junction, travel 21.5 miles south of Fourth and Main stretson U.S. Highway 50 past Kannah Creek to the Bridgeport Road at mile marker 52. (Careful, it sneaks up on you.)

Turn right (west) on the Bridgeport Road and travel 3.2 miles on a well-
maintained gravel road to a parking lot next to the railroad tracks and adjacent to the Gunnison River. Please respect private property that you drive through on your way to the river.

The first mile of trail follows the old frontage road next to the railroad tracks, not real pretty, but soon you’ll come to the historic — and now closed — Bridgeport hanging bridge.

A few yards beyond, you’ll find a cool pedestrian bridge and a couple BLM information kiosks.

Read those signs, then cross the river and head upstream for another .7 miles.

You’ll come to a fence line that marks the boundary for the former Wilderness Study Area — which is now designated as true wilderness

Cross through the gate (shutting it behind you, of course) and travel about a half-mile. You’ll see a couple huge boulders stuck in the sand off the nose of a giant sandstone canyon wall.

Keep going on the main trail until it veers to the right toward Big Dominguez Canyon.

Big Dominguez is a great hike, but to reach Little Dominguez, cut left here and head toward the water.

Look for the confluence of Little and Big Dominguez creeks. When you find it, hike upstream about 50 yards and find a spot to cross. The water is moving pretty well for such a small creek, but it’s only a few feet across. You may get wet, but you won’t melt.

From here, continue south. Some trail-finding skills may be helpful and you should wear good foot gear for this hike. Cut across Little Dominguez Creek twice more.

Soon, the canyon opens up in a burned area and you’ll come to a small piece of private property. Here, cross the creek once more and continue into the Wilderness Area.

We hiked about 4.5 miles from the parking area before we turned around and hiked back out.

Storm clouds were blowing in quickly. Besides, like most Americans on April 15th, I needed to get home to mail my request for a tax extension before the post office closed.

Wish we could have gone a little farther.

According to the BLM map, it’s about 6.6 miles from the pedestrian bridge to an area called Lightning Basin, then another 11.2 miles to the Black Point Trailhead at about 8,000 feet in elevation on the Uncompahgre Plateau.

We didn’t see any bighorn sheep, but we did spy a couple nesting geese and listened intently to the mystical cries of a canyon wren.

A few cottonwoods were in full bloom, yet most of them were just beginning to bud. Desert wildflowers were rare, but with this recent rainfall, they should arrive soon.

My taxes will help continue to pay for all the multiple-use playgrounds surrounding us here in western Colorado.  I don’t mind. It’s the only thing that’s kept us going through all these booms and busts, anyway.


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