June 5, 2015
Jim and I left Grand Junction under another disappointingly cloudy sky. We had planned on kayaking the Colorado River today, but the heavy rains and cool temperatures convinced us to divorce that plan and concoct a new one. Thus we headed south on Hwy 50 towards Dominguez Canyons. Rain pelted the windshield as we cruised south, but luckily the Bridgeport Rd was dry as we cruised down to the Gunnison River.
Donning a sweatshirt against the chill, I loaded my pack before and we set off down the clay road that runs next to the railroad tracks. A train did in fact come by while we hiked this short stretch. Thereís really nowhere to go but up against the rock cliff face, and when a massive train is zipping by at 50 mph, this doesnít feel quite far enough for comfort. After the train passed, we resumed walking, crossed the tracks, and neared the river. A wooden bridge appeared, but was gated and had threatening no trespassing signs. We continued along another hundred meters to the BLM bridge, which was only large enough for foot traffic. The Gunnison River rumbled along muddy and frothing underneath the bridge.
We passed by the river camp amongst tall cottonwoods, where a group had several large tents set up. Given the chilly air and threat of rain, they appeared to have decided to sit out today. We talked with one of the guys briefly before continuing on to the canyon. An old dam sits just off the trail, but appears to be dysfunctional. The trail was easy to follow as it headed away from the river on the north side of Dominguez Creek towards Triangle Mesa. Once we rounded the bend, a strong wind, blowing down the canyon, forced us to stop and put on jackets.
We gained some relief from the wind once we reached the canyon junction and turned west again to head up Big Dominguez Canyon, as the 400-foot canyon walls blunted the breeze. Soon we found the marquee waterfall that is depicted in all the brochures and book chapters Iíve seen on Big Dominguez Canyon. It was just as impressive in real life, and we hiked around to the south side of the creek to better appreciate the cascade. It was not visible from the trail, and I had Jim to thank for knowing approximately where it was.
Hiking with Jim proved fruitful in other respects as well. He pointed out multiple panels of petroglyphs that I probably would not have noticed. We also found an old mine, with the vertical shaft covered by a locked steel grate. Mining machinery stood rusting nearby. Jim flushed a bird out of a hand-cranked pulley wheel when he turned it (it still works), and noticed the bird had a nest built inside.
We hiked up through the junipers and redrock along the canyon for several miles, ultimately reaching a point 6.7 miles from the trailhead where a series of boulders provided a nice overlook of a large pool of water. We sat and enjoyed the view for a bit, then, around 2:00, began heading back to the car.
Despite the threatening skies most of the day, it never rained, and as we traveled down the canyon, the sun came out from behind clouds for longer stretches. By the time we reached the junction with Little Dominguez, the sun was fully out.
We reached the car around 6:00, then cruised back into town for dinner.
Heading down Big Dominguez Canyon