Before this tract of BLM land was dedicated as a National Conservation Area in August of 2009, I received a pamphlet produced by the BLM that described the Big Dominguez canyon from one of the most legitimate cowboys I had ever known. Greg had given it to me during a time of backpacking research I had been conducting after being introduced to the many opportunities that are contained within the vast Colorado Plateau. Alas, years went by and in many ways I have so far failed to discover much of what desert gems my own state has to offer without having to cross the CO / Utah state line.

DSC03375Departing solo from the empty trailhead parking lot on an early Friday morning.

DSC03380A longer side trail will bring one to an overlook of the Gunnsion River and the Sand Flat.

DSC03386  Blooming cacti flowers

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The side trail does eventually drop down to the RR tracks. Here I immediately began to hear the distant mutter of a train approaching.

After crossing the tracks and the Bridgeport bridge to the west, I began south towards the confluence of the Big and Little Dominguez canyons. From the trail beta I did find online about the area, It does sound like people have circumnavigated the plateau to loop the two canyons, but I did not find any documented trips which did so. The more I investigated the possibility, the clearer it became that either long and waterless road walking, or steep and dense bushwhacking through pinyon and juniper (with the prospect of navigating the deep cliff line that surrounds Little Dominguez to the north) did not make logistical sense for my ambition in either allotted time or energy.

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Irrigation dam associated with one of the oldest water rights on the Western Slope in the state.

The canyon split between Big and Little becomes obvious at a trail junction. The width of the trail suggests that the area is well used, despite that I had only seen two day-hikers walking up canyon, the same direction as I.

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Because I knew that I’d have more than enough days to hike the entire length of Big Dominguez and back, I took my time while stepping aside from the trail to explore all of the water features alongside the vast precambrian rock.

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Sets of falls

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Naturally I am attracted to launch trips on the Colorado Plateau that feature plentiful water, the more perennial the better. I’ve been thirsty out here before and it’s a severe dislike of mine on any trip. Despite all of this, the spring of 2016 has been a very wet one; a great opportunity to undertake trips in areas where water tends to be a bit more problematic … oh well.

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An impressive waterfall for just about any area imaginable

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One of my favorites of the many petroglpyhs in the lower part of the canyon; bear paw print, perhaps that of a grizzly?

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A smaller example of the whole on “newspaper” rock

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The Ute used Big Dominguez as a travel corridor, spending winters in the Canyon and summers up in the Uncompahgre Plateau. Unfortunately there is some illegal carved graffiti amongst that of the legitimate petroglyphs from long ago; most likely the result of being in close proximity to the city of Grand Junction.

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More falls

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Common collared lizard

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Forecasted twenty percent chance of rain beginning to take form.

The afternoon sun began to beat down in a warmth I had yet to experience thus far this year. I was still finding it difficult to stay high up on the shadeless trail, while the cooler, sometimes shaded areas near flowing water and beautiful rock formation was doubly welcoming.

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Remnants of an old copper mine, and a twentieth century rock shelter make up an interesting section of the trail where old material is spread throughout.

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Winch

DSC03558The mine shaft is locked and covered by steel grating, but the perspective of deep depth down the shaft is still very apparent.

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Filled potholes in this side canyon, situated off of smooth polished rock eventually stepping down to Big Dominguez Creek.

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A scatter of bones among the red dirt

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Continuing up canyon that late afternoon, thunder echoed on the walls and I began to make haste for camp. I set up in somewhat of an undesirable location, but remained dry when the off and on storms of the evening rolled in and out.

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Rain poured off the ceiling of my tent for about half the evening. Loud booms of thunder and bright flashes of lightning lit up the dark, wet sky.

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The following morning I decided to leave camp and explore the western reaches of the canyon.

Despite rain in the distance, the morning remained calm and peaceful. I once again moved slow as I continued to get sidetracked by the sights and sounds of the canyon. The sound of busy hummingbirds darting back and forth from one location to the next, but for when I looked I did not see them. I would stop and survey the sandstone walls for ruins, but instead saw only curious looking entrances to shallow caves and alcoves. A large sense of solitude swept over as I saw no one the entire day.

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Dominguez Creek was swollen to flood stage, and some of the side streams had begun to fill after the heavy rain from last evening. Water found in the potholes proved to be much easier to filter than the water of the Big Dominguez Creek.

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Example: turbid spring waters of Big Dominguez Creek

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As I continued walking farther west, the canyon began to fill with thick pinyon, juniper and some small ponderosa near the water.

DSC03653 With about a mile left of canyon and rain quickly approaching, I decided to turn back and look for some shelter during the  onslaught of very apparent moisture heading my way.

DSC03661 Here I waited out the dense hail and a quick passing shower.

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Back at camp, attempting to dry out during a time of dry weather.

Instead of packing up camp and moving back down canyon to a better area, I decided to stay put as I watched the sky change colors to my east and to my west.

Gear Notes: The combo of my Patagonia Houdini, ULA Rain Kilt and Outdoor Research Transit Sun Hat proved perfect for the light rain conditions that I encountered. Anything heavy and I would ditch under a rock for cover.

Two pieces of tech gear that I’ve gotten for the 2016 season are my Suunto Core watch and SPOT gen3. The altitude tracker of the Core has given me the ability to monitor my location more accurately, especially in the similar looking canyon country locations. The SPOT device, (a purchase I had meant to make last year) gives myself, my family and friends a bit more piece of mind when wandering in the backcountry, especially solo in high consequence terrain.

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Near dusk conditions my second evening out

My day of exit from the canyon brought hot sun, hail, rain, the sight of two groups of backpackers and twenty plus day-hikers entering the canyon. A local, natural treasure worth exploring further, more extensively, perhaps at another time.