Friday, December 25, 2009

Dolores River Hikes From End to End

The head waters of the Dolores River are in the Lizard Head Pass area along Highway 145, south of Telluride in southwest Colorado. There are many trails in the head waters area including a main trail head a little south of the Pass.

The Groundhog Stock Trail starts at the Cross Mountain Trail Head, about two miles south of the Lizard Head Pass in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado.

The Groundhog trail ends at the east end of The Meadows along Forest Road 535, and the south flanks of Mount Wilson come into view.

Just west of the Meadows another headwater flows out of Navajo Lake and becomes the West Fork of the Dolores River. Look for the Navajo Lake Trail and the Kilpacker Trail there. There is a network of trails to find in the Lizard Head area and more along the West Fork of the Dolores River. The Geyser Springs Trail leads to the only true geyser in Colorado. (Look at Four Corners Hikes-Telluride for these headwaters hikes.)

The Bear Creek Trail is just off the 145 highway in the Dolores River Valley, about halfway between Dolores and Telluride, and goes up into the National Forest toward the La Plata Range of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado.

The trail alternates between being high on the valley side above the fast running creek or right down along the bank. The Morrison Trail begins at the same trailhead. The Priest Gulch Trail is also in the same area.

The big bend of the Dolores River in southwest Colorado is now flooded under McPhee Reservoir, the second largest lake in the state. There is a little known Big Bend Trail that begins near the Dolores cemetery.

The McPhee Stock Trail starts at the Mataska Recreation Site just below the McPhee Dolores River Dam and climbs out of the Lone Dome Dolores River Canyon to the north rim. A trail from the south rim, also accesses the dam area coming from the Sage Hen area.

On the south bank of the McPhee Reservoir, on the site of the Anasazi Heritage Center, there is a 0.5 mile Interpretive Lookout Trail that describes some of the plants and natural history of the area. This is a good botany trail with many of the key trees and shrubs identified with comments on their possible uses.

In 1776 the first European Explorers, led by two Spanish friars, Escalante and Dominguez, came through this area, searching for a new route to California. They stopped on this hill overlooking the River of Our Lady of Sorrows, the name they just gave it, and examined the ruins, reporting that they looked like the ones they had seen over closer to Sante Fe, NM. There are two excavated ruins sites here named for the two Spanish Explorers.

The Dolores River Canyon is downstream of the McPhee Reservoir and is close to Dove Creek, CO, the pinto bean capital. Driving there you go past rolling bean fields and then turn on to a gravel road and are suddenly descending hundreds of feet into a deep narrow canyon. There is a rocky road along the river for about 12 miles north and a rougher trail afterwards. The Dolores Canyon is deep and very scenic, a clear stream and tall Ponderosa Pines.

The other boat launch sites on the lower Dolores all have hiking opportunities. Bradfield near Pleasant View has 2 miles of old ranch road along the south side of the river as well as the main forest road on the north side that leads to the Lone Dome Recreation area.

The Big Gypsum Valley boat launch has a 2 mile stretch of road along the river where there are rock climbing sites before the stream enters another long section of wilderness canyon. Hiking can continue into the Little Gypsum Valley across the bridge.

At Bedrock, there is a 3 mile trail that leads to a good petroglyph site and to the junction with LaSal Creek.

The Paradox Trail is a 105 mile mountain bike trail in western Montrose County, just to the east of the La Sal Mountains. Between Bedrock and Uravan, an alternate section of trail, called the River Road, follows the Dolores River downstream to the confluence with the San Miguel River. 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 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.

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