Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dolores River Big Bend Trail

The Dolores River Big Bend Trail starts at the interpretive plaque at the east end of the Dolores Cemetery that is on the north side of the river a little downstream of the town of Dolores in southwest Colorado.  

The plaque mentions that in 1776 the Escalante Dominguez Spanish exploration party camped at the meadow site that became the community of Big Bend in 1881. When the narrow gauge railroad arrived in Dolores in 1891, the small but colorful town was abandoned.

In 1926 the logging town of McPhee was established nearby. McPhee was one of the busiest logging towns in Colorado until a disastrous fire in 1948 led it to be abandoned also. In recent years the McPhee Reservoir has flooded both sites, leaving the town of Dolores as the survivor of the early era.

The concrete base of the plaque has several historic artifacts embedded, including horseshoes, large spikes, a large key, an odd wrench and some cover plates. The trail to the mesa top to overlook the old sites starts at the back of the cemetery and climbs toward the very large boulder. At the mesa top are two large grassy fields separated by a side canyon. These two grassy areas are clearly visible from the lookout point at the top of the Anasazi Heritage Center Interpretive Trail high on the south side of the Big Bend.

Arriving at the mesa top the walking is easy along the rim to view the McPhee Reservoir or across the grassy field. The eastern grassy field has more sage brush mixed in with grass than the western field.

At the far end, look for old roads that lead down into the short but deep canyon at up the other side to the western field. The same road also leads higher but dead ends at a private ranch. This small side canyon and the cliffs facing the main river have some alcoves that look like possible ruins sites. I checked some of them, but didn’t see anything. There are good views over the Big Bend area, but only near the canyon rim.

The western grassy field had three rubble mounds that looked like small Indian Ruins sites to me. This seemed to be a favorable area with sunny exposure, wide fields for farming and the Dolores River down below. The moderately large Escalante Pueblo is directly across the river on the high hill and some of the shade structures on the hill top are visible. There is a lone Utah Juniper growing on a rubble mound that also looks like a small ruins site.

The three sites form a triangle and are about 250 yards apart. I didn’t see any pottery near the small sites, but saw quite a few shards on the eastern grassy mesa top where I didn’t see anything that looked like a ruins site. The western mesa also had the remains of an old corral and some sort of an old wheeled trailer.

Continuing west, there is an old road that descends west off the mesa down toward the banks of the reservoir. There is a sagebrush field area at the end of the road, and out toward a point there may also be a ruins site. All these sites are somewhat vague, but there are some small mounds and depressions and some brick shaped stones that don’t appear in other areas. My total hike overlooking the Big Bend area was 3:45 hours on a 55 F mid April day.
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