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Go Play: Big Dominguez Canyon, a full day of exploration

Long before trails were cut and the bridge was built, Ute Indians traveled through Big Dominguez Canyon and left their inscriptions throughout.
Evan Linko | Free Press

IF YOU WANT TO GO ...

WHAT: Big Dominguez Canyon

WHERE: Bridgeport trailhead: Go 20 miles south of Grand Junction on US-50, take a left at mile marker 52 onto Bridgeport Road. It’s about one mile to the parking area.

DISTANCE: 8 miles round trip

TIME: 5-6 hours

ACCESS: Foot and equine traffic. No bikes or vehicles. Camping is allowed; fire pan and waste removal required.

Unless the Grand Valley is greeted with a not too uncommon post-spring-break blizzard, spring weather is here. The first of the snowmelt is headed down to the rivers and sweltering summer heat is nowhere to be found.

Big Dominguez Canyon in the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness offers an ideal place to spend an entire day in mellow spring conditions. The eight-mile round-trip can be completed in three to four hours, but the things you see along the way can lengthen that time considerably.

Just across from the parking area near the Bridgeport trailhead on the Gunnison River is a large private ranch, which according to the BLM was an orchard in the 1890s when bridges and the railroad followed the Gunnison River through the canyon.



Following the tracks upstream about a mile will bring you to the most recent bridge installment. Be sure to cross the metal pedestrian bridge and not the larger, wooden private one. Obey the trespassing warning on the sign with the bullet-holes.

After crossing the bridge — which is a lot longer than it looks — there are several campsites along the river that are free to use, but require fire-pans and individual waste removal.



After entering the canyon, passing a small dam and dilapidated corral built between fallen boulders, you’ll enter the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness through a barbed-wire gate. A small sign here reminds travelers that only foot and equine traffic is permitted. The area is “closed to motor vehicles, motorized equipment, bicycles, and hang-gliders.”

Big Dominguez Creek cuts into the black granite layer below the sand and sandstone of the surrounding canyon. The creek alternates in steeper parts with waterfalls and pools, some certainly big enough to swim in.

Outside the gulch are debris basins filled with huge boulders and their obliterated counterparts from the adjacent canyon walls. The basins have a lot of quartz and pyrite, which give several sections of trail a distinct sparkle as you move above them with the sun shining.

Before the end of the trail, you’ll find old, rusty equipment and a sealed mine covered by a grate; dropping a stone through the grate will lead to a few seconds of eerie silence before the “thud” at the base of the shaft. However, it’s impossible to miss petroglyphs and the remains of old dwellings left by the Ute when they traveled the area long before the orchard was irrigated at Bridgeport.

The difficulty of the trail is moderate, with spots of steep rocky terrain between longer, flat and sandy ones. It’s a few hours out there, so a snack or lunch will pack well with a sufficient amount of water. Because equine travel is permitted, remember to look down frequently to avoid poop and cacti.

Budget for some extra time in Big Dominguez, because it’s likely you’ll see a nice pool to go and relax by (or in) on your way back to the car.


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