Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Paradox Trail Dolores River Road

The Paradox Trail is a 105 mile mountain bike trail in western Montrose County in southwest Colorado, just to the east of the La Sal Mountains.

Between Bedrock and Uravan an alternate section of trail, called the River Road, travels downstream along the lower Dolores River to the confluence with the San Miguel River.

I started my hike about 1 mile down the River Road, past a couple of small buildings, well before the road exits the Paradox Valley and enters a deep canyon of Wingate Sandstone cliffs sitting on the shale of the Chinle layer. The Paradox Trail is named for the odd situation where the Dolores River flows perpendicular across the valley, entering and exiting through steep canyons.

The Dolores River flow is controlled at the McPhee Dam near the town of Dolores and the flow was low during my hike even though mid May is a peak runoff period. The stream appeared to be carrying a lot of sediment.

The walking is easy along the gravel road and only three cars came by during the time I was hiking. I kept an eye out for signs of Indian ruins and petroglyphs but didn’t see any. There wasn’t much riparian habitat along the Dolores River here. The canyon sides were covered with sagebrush and Utah Junipers.

It took me 2:15 hours to cover the 6.3 miles to the confluence of the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers. The San Miguel is one of the few western rivers to not have a dam on it, and its flow dominated the joined flows.

The Dolores and San Miguel start in the same area. The water flowing south from Lizard head Pass near Telluride flows about 50 miles south in the Dolores River before turning back to the north. Water flowing north from the same pass enters the San Miguel system and flows west. After long journeys apart, the waters rejoin in this remote canyon.

There was a small party of rafters getting ready to get underway here at the confluence. They were setting out on a 100 mile trip to Moab, following the Dolores/San Miguel to the Colorado.

I retraced the 6.3 miles back to my car, completing about 12.6 miles in 5:00 hours. It was about an 85 F. degree day in mid May and there isn’t much shade along this route. After hiking, I drove the route that I had hiked and then followed the River Road upstream toward Uravan.

Along this section there are remains of the Hanging Flume. This water structure was built in 1888-1891 and moved 23 million gallons per day 17 miles to the Bancroft Placer site to wash gold from the gravel. In that era, the technology to pump water at the volume and pressure needed wasn’t available.

Uravan, at the end of the road is the site of a Uranium and Vanadium processing plant that operated from 1936 to 1984. There is an ongoing cleanup project to restore the canyon area to its pre-milling condition. Uravan and the Hanging Flume are among the points of interest in the middle of the Unaweep-Tabequache Scenic and Historic Byway on highways 145 and 141.

In the Paradox Valley area, there is also a good hike starting at the Bedrock boat launch site upstream into the Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area.

1 comment:

Joel said...

The Hanging Flume, as you refer to it, was a site of horrific slave labor - many Chinese died by falling from ropes suspended over this ridge