The Devil made me do it
Morning hikes in Devil's Canyon heavenly
Most years, Devil’s Canyon would be considered hell in the middle of the day in the middle of August.
This year, though, early in the morning around sunrise — too early for the gnats, heat or thunderstorms — Devil’s Canyon in the front country of the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area is a cool place to hike.
Recent monsoonal weather patterns have rendered the desert’s summer heat bearable — especially in the early mornings as the sun dances across the sandstone walls of this unique canyon only minutes from downtown Fruita.
Wildflowers no longer bloom on this sparse desert floor. The crimson red claret cup cacti have long ago relinquished their colors, as have the prickly pear. Globemallow dropped their colorful orange petals months ago, and desert evening primrose wilted in the summer heat.
Yet, at sunrise the rabbit brush seems to sparkle here, thankful for all this recent rain. The deep forest green of the old juniper, with its contrasting pale blue berries, soak up the humidity of dawn.
Even ancient pinion pine, dotting the landscape through this wide-mouthed canyon, are polished clean and standing sturdy in anticipation of another colorful morning in the canyon country in our own backyards.
To reach the Devil’s Canyon trail head from Grand Junction, take Interstate 70 west to Fruita (exit 19), travel south over the Colorado River to Kingsview Estates (1.3 miles) and turn right. Go through the subdivision and when the pavement ends, veer to the left past the Fruita Open Space Park and continue for .6 miles to the Devil’s Canyon turn and parking area.
Please don’t park at the far end of the parking lot. That wide, rounded end is for horse trailers to turn around so they can park in a lot along Horsethief Canyon Road made just for them.
You’ll share the multiple trails in this area with other hikers, photographers, dog walkers and horseback riders. These trails are dog friendly, as long as you’re a responsible pet owner. Dog owners are required to pick up after their pooches. Easy-to-use bags are provided at the trail head.
Taking a dog into the great outdoors is one of the pleasures of pet owners. Dogs protect us by warning of danger, whether that danger comes from a mountain lion or a wind-blown leaf. They are loyal, as long as there’s not a dog in heat nearby. They’re good listeners and rarely talk back. Yet, even a dog on leash can be tough to handle in wildlife country.
Not every pet owner will keep a pet on a leash the entire trip. Every now and then, Fido needs to stretch. However, BLM asks those dog owners to be considerate. Keep the leash ready when approaching others. Also, put them on the leash when in the vicinity of desert bighorn sheep or mule deer. Pets really stress (and distress) wildlife!
The BLM also asks that pet owners keep their beloved companions out of the few water sources in the area and remember — they’re wearing fur coats, and it’s still summer. Keep ‘em out of the heat. Hike early or late in the day.
Devil’s Canyon lies within the BLM’s 122,750-acre McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. It provides habitat for mountain lions, desert bighorn sheep, elk, deer, eagles, collared lizards and lots of other critters. Watch for their prints in the trail, and listen carefully.
There are numerous gentle trails to wander along in this area. The BLM has done a great job of marking them in this “Designated Trails Only” area. Please don’t take off cross-country. Open trails are assigned with white arrows on posts. If a trail is not marked with an arrow, the trail is closed.
The BLM has closed and is rehabilitating these “social” routes to help protect this fragile desert environment. The area is used by lots of hikers and horseback riders, but there’s plenty of room along well-established routes.
I hiked a loop through Devil’s Canyon last week with my favorite hiking partner and wife, Glenda, and our dog, Inga (on leash, of course). We saw only three other hikers as we trekked along the D4 Trail (actually D1 to D5 to D4, and eventually back to D1).
There are miles of trails out here, designated with “D” for Devil’s Canyon trails, “K” for Kodel’s Canyon trails, “F” for Flume Creek Canyon trails and “P” for Pollock Canyon trails.
It can get confusing without a map and guide, so download a copy of the BLM’s brochure on the Devil’s, Flume and Pollock Bench Trail System at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/nca/mcnca.html, or go to the BLM office across from the airport at 2815 H Road.
Then, head to Devil’s Canyon. Sure, it’s the middle of August, but it can’t be worse than the office, which must feel like the fires of … well, you know.