Our first overnight trip of the 2021 season is a repeat performance of one we took 10 years ago. Has it been that long? We have some oldies but goodies, like Sand Canyon and Prater Ridge, as well as a few new ones for newbies and oldsters alike. Here is a brief synopsis:
Big Dominguez Canyon
Our enroute hike on Monday is south of US 50 between Grand Junction and Delta. We’ll meet at the Rifle rest area at 7:30 and caravan to the trailhead from there. If you plan to meet us at the trailhead, turn right from US 50 onto Bridgeport Road just past mile marker 52. To reach the canyon, we’ll cross the railroad tracks on a dirt road, past a dilapidated…I mean rustic…bridge and continue to a rustic…I mean rusty…bridge across the Gunnison River. We’ll follow the Gunnison upstream to its confluence with Big Dominguez Creek which inhabits a deep gorge between spectacular sandstone bluffs. Etched into that sandstone, you’ll find some remarkable petroglyphs…remarkable in the fact that they haven’t been as defaced as many other Native American artifacts in far less accessible canyons. Perhaps its greatest claim to fame is the waterfall that plummets at right angles to the chasm into which it flows. Trails split at roughly 2.5 miles, with the left fork going to Little Dominguez Canyon. Keep right if you want to see the falls at roughly 3.2 miles. It’s not on or visible from the trail. But the waypoint on the map…as well as the host of photographers it attracts…should help you navigate to it.
From there, we’ll continue east on US 50 through Delta to Montrose, then 26 miles south on US 550 to Ridgway. Turn right onto CO 62 in Ridgway toward Telluride. In 23 miles, turn left on CO 145 toward Telluride. In about 13 miles, go right at the roundabout and drive 70 miles farther on CO 145 through Dolores to US 160 in Cortez. This is the shortest route from Big Dominguez to Cortez. If you’re not going to hike with us on Monday, you’re welcome to explore any of several other optional routes. But be advised that many of us will be returning home on Friday via Gateway, Colorado.
Most of us will be staying at the Holiday Inn Express (HIE) in Cortez. To reach the HIE, turn right (west) on 160 from CO 145, get into the left lane, and turn left into the hotel about 0.4 mile west on 160. If you’re staying elsewhere, you’ll need to get your own directions. The HIE offers a full hot breakfast, as well as “grab-and-go” options if you’d rather dine in your room. Or BYO-Breakfast, because each room comes with a minifridge and microwave. The pool and jacuzzi are open 23 hours a day, so Emil can soak to his wrinkly heart’s content.
Carol Boschert provided us with a list of restaurants she thought we might enjoy. Though not an exhaustive list, it’s a very comprehensive one. Bon Appetit!
During the rest of the week we’ll be visiting ruins of the Anasazi (or “Ancient Puebloans” for the politically correct) at a variety of sites, including Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
But first up will be Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, a vast 265-square-mile area extending from west of Cortez to the Utah Stateline. Sand Canyon is one such area, filled with readily accessible cliff dwellings that receive a fraction of the visitation of those in Mesa Verde. And unlike Mesa Verde, where many of the best dwellings, like Cliff Palace and Balcony House, are closed, most Sand Canyon dwellings remain “open”. Mike Larime will lead a Sand Canyon hike on Tuesday, and Carol Boschert will lead a second Sand Canyon hike on Thursday.
As an added bonus, Carol has offered to arrange a winery tour near Sand Canyon for anyone interested either Tuesday or Thursday afternoons after the Sand Canyon or Hovenweep hikes. Tours cost $10, including four wine tastings. For more information or to reserve a spot on a tour, call or email Carol at (970) 214-8893, email@example.com.
Aside from Sand Canyon, the Lowry and Painted Hand pueblos also are worth a visit. Unfortunately, the Sand Canyon Pueblo itself now largely exists only as the rubble remnants of a once thriving community. Artifacts have been recovered from the ruins and curated at the Anasazi Heritage Center outside Dolores. These three sites can make an interesting and informative day trip for any non-hikers in our group or anyone in need of a respite from hiking.
Mesa Verde National Park
Literally, “green table” for the verdant plateau it occupies, Mesa Verde probably is the best assemblage of Native American cliff dwellings in the US. Though some of the best examples are closed to tours due to COVID restrictions, rockfall or road construction, there are several trails leading to viewpoints of these dwellings and other scenic vistas. I could expound on what’s available…and what isn’t. But I decided it would be easier (for me) to let your fingers do the walking:
Be sure to read carefully, because hours/dates of operation may differ from our dates of “occupancy”.
Ute Mountain Tribal Park
Availability of guided tours currently is unknown. Access to Ute Mountain Tribal Park is not permitted without a guide.
Hovenweep National Monument
Just across the Utah Stateline from Canyons of the Ancients, Hovenweep NM comprises several units, including the Holly, Horseshoe, Hackberry, Cutthroat Castle and Cajon units, in addition to the principal Square Tower Group. The 2-mile-long self-guided Little Ruin Trail consists of the Rim Trail Loop and Tower Point Loop. Drive to the end of the road, descend into Keeley Canyon from the rim, and follow the canyon 4 miles to the Holly Unit and back.
Dolores Area Trails
Okay, so you’ve OD’d on cliff dwellings and rock art. What now? There are other hiking options nearby outside the town of Dolores. These are shared-use trails, so be aware you will be sharing them with mountain bikes. We’re selected a small sample of what’s available, including 1) Little Bean Canyon Loop, 2) McPhee Overlook, 3) String Bean (a spur loop trail off Little Bean), and 4) Tav’a Y’aakwi Loop. If your command of the Ute language is, like mine, a little rusty, you can simply call the latter Sunset.
Little Bean is a long (13-mile) loop, so it’s been scheduled early in the week while your legs are still fresh (presumably). You could extend it by adding the String Bean Loop, but Carol will be leading this shorter 5-mile loop as a stand-alone hike on Friday, when time is short and so is your energy. McPhee (Reservoir) Overlook can be done as an out-and-back or through hike with shuttle. You can hike from Dolores to the House Creek CG and back (about 10 miles round-trip) or hike through to the opposite TH off House Creek Road (about 9 miles one-way).
If your thing is mountain biking, then I’d recommend Phil’s World, an extensive network of mountain bike trails east of Cortez and north of US 160. Though hikers may use these trails, they are predominantly for bikers, and there are better options available for hikers elsewhere.
Dolores River Trip
The Dolores River doesn’t float my boat, as they say, this year. No, seriously! Currently, (no pun intended) there’s less than 20cfs at Slickrock, not enough to even float our duckies, much less a small raft. So, it looks like it’s wait ’til next year…or 2023, or 2024, or 2025…you get the picture. But it’s still on my duckie bucket list.
Plan B (aka Friday’s regular hike schedule)
We have several options on our Friday schedule: Carol’s aforementioned 5.5-mile String Bean Loop hike north of Dolores; the 7.5-mile Sunset Loop NE of String Bean, or Red Canyon/Red Canyon Loop (up to 10 miles round-trip or 13.8-mile loop). The latter is just off CO 141 (the Dolores River Road) south of Gateway. To reach the TH, take US 491 north from Cortez, through Dove Creek. Then turn right on CO 141 and drive 84 miles to an unmarked turnoff on the left, just past mile marker 84. After the hike, we’ll continue north on 141 to Gateway, then east through Unaweep Canyon back to US 50 at Whitewater (perhaps the only whitewater we’ll see on this trip).
Counting down to our first hike
We are less than 4 weeks from our first scheduled activity on the Hike Schedule, our semi-annual Highway 82 clean-up on April 19. A week later, our first hike: Mt. Garfield. I expect that all of us will have gotten our second COVID shot by then…most of us already have. Nevertheless, we must abide by whatever state and local restrictions are in effect when and where we will be hiking this year. So, we may need to limit group size to meet these restrictions. I’m aware that the Park Service has converted some two-way loop hikes into one-way loops to minimize contact between groups.
That said, it is my expectation that we will adhere to a more rigid Hike Schedule than the loosie-goosey one we enjoyed/suffered last year. Except for overnight trips, and the occasional 14er hike below, we plan to hike every Monday and alternate Wednesdays. To minimize group size, we may offer multiple hike options each day (pick one) or adopt staggered start times.
Our maps are done and are ready for distribution beginning this week. In the meantime, maps for April-June hikes, including Cortez, are posted on the website under Hiking Maps. In addition, I’ve posted maps and brochures not included with your printed map sets due to their exceptional format or size. These include all legal size (8.5”x14”) maps for every overnight trip. Maps for Jul-Aug (including Pagosa Springs) will be posted in June, and maps for Sep-Oct (including Kanab) will be posted in August. I’ll post more hike/trip specific info as we draw closer to hike/trip time.
The sign-up sheet for Leaders & Recorders is posted on the Hikers’ Corner page of this website. Or you can access it simply by clicking the bold blue hyperlink above. I’ve taken the liberty of assigning a few hikes to several of you. Be sure to review it and let me know if you’re unable to lead the hike(s) I’ve assigned you. To sign up for hikes, you can either email me your choices or print and fill out the form and mail it to me at 1402 Mountain Drive, GWS 81601, or bring it to Sunlight on Wednesdays. Closing day at Sunlight is April 4, so there is only one Wednesday (3/31) left on their schedule. ☹
There are no 14ers on our current schedule. But that’s not to say there will be no 14ers to climb this summer. Huh?! Is this a riddle? Another typical example of CHiC smart-assery? Neither. Hear me out. Since everyone needs a different subset of the 54 official 14ers to complete their entire set, and most of us are loathe to climb the same peak twice, I’m leaving it up to each of you to select, plan, and lead any 14er climbs this year. You need not lead the climb yourself, but if you organize it, you’re responsible to find someone to lead it for you. Email me with the name(s) of the peak(s) and proposed date(s). I’ll be happy to advertise them to the rest of our group.
Peak climbs will receive mileage credit only during weeks when Wednesday hikes or overnight trips are scheduled. Realistically, that means the weeks of July 12 & 26, August 9 & 23, September 6 & 20. You will receive mileage credit for either the peak climb or the scheduled Wednesday hike that week, but not both, even if you do them both. There is some flexibility, because you may climb the peak any weekday that week, if necessary to allow for changing weather conditions. But you’ll receive credit for only one peak per week, except peaks that typically are climbed together, such as Grays & Torreys, Oxford & Belford, Shavano & Tabeguache or the “Decalibron”. Unfortunately, we cannot offer mileage credit for a few of our closest peaks (Capitol, South Maroon, North Maroon, and Pyramid) due to their extremely treacherous conditions. I don’t want anyone dying on my watch.
But for those of you are all wet (or have a penchant for becoming so), the Fugahwee have an adjunct activity. We’re the Duckie Dynasty…a rag-tag group of whitewater enthusiasts who seem to have more dollars than sense. Whether you own a duckie, raft, SUP or merely a Speedo and a sense of adventure, you’re welcome to toss your throw-bag into the river with us (figuratively speaking). There’s no set schedule…yet…but we’re considering several different options, beginning with a Dolores River float after the Cortez trip. This would be a 2- to 3-day (1- to 2-night) trip, preferably through the 36-mile Slickrock Canyon reach, camping along the river. Later, there may be options for one-day or multi-day trips on the Roaring Fork, Colorado, Green, Yampa, Arkansas or Gunnison rivers. There may be opportunities to hike side canyons during multi-day floats. But like 14er climbs, you’ll receive mileage credit for no more than the number of scheduled hikes that week.
Some trips can be DIY, while others would be best done with a commercial outfitter. But, depending upon the destination and trip length, costs for an overnight commercial trip can run from $500 to more than $1300. Commercial day trips are a fraction of that (usually <$150). But those of us with our own boats would rather put those investments to use than shell out the equivalent cost of a new boat on a single overnight trip.
I’d like to compile a list of you whitewater enthusiasts. Please email me with your interest, including the type(s) of boat(s) in your fleet…or not…skill/comfort level (class I-IV), where class I is flatwater and class IV is Shoshone at flows >4000 cubic feet per second (cfs). We will prioritize floats with difficulties no greater than class II-III, unless we use a commercial outfitter. For reference, I’ve never paddled my duckie at levels >III. Difficulty can vary with flow. I paddled Hell’s Half Mile (Green River) at low flow (III) that I would not attempt at high flow (IV-V). We rowed the Taos Box DIY easily at 3000 cfs. Then I paddled it with a commercial outfitter at 8000 cfs. 😲
What I don’t recommend, however, is the “boatless” float like the one I took inadvertently in Browns Canyon many years ago. 😵 That’s not the preferred way to learn the difference between “sleepers” and “strainers”. Those sleepers woke me up, while the strainers brushed my teeth and combed my hair…with predictably painful results. Actually, it was the 45-degree water that kept me awake. 🥶 That’s ironic, because once I was pulled from the ice-cold water, I was about as responsive…and coherent…as Trump at a COVID press conference.