Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dolores River at Bradfield-Lone Dome Recreation Area

The Bradfield Recreation Site is known as the upstream launch point for rafting trips on the lower Dolores River in southwest Colorado. It is located about 5 miles east of Pleasant View, CO and about 12 miles downstream of the McPhee Dolores River Dam.

At the entry point to the Bradfield site, there are some old ranch structures remaining from the big valley ranch era and some fading interpretive signs explaining the ranching history of the area and some facts relating to rafting on the Dolores River. Near the interpretive signs, there is a dirt road leading into the Lone Dome State Wildlife Area that heads upstream for about 2 miles, providing some scenic hiking in this area.

This route is probably mostly used by trout fishermen. The road stays close to the canyon side, cutting through the Pinon Pine and Juniper forest. From the dirt road, there are places to turn off and access the river bottom area and the bank. The main forest road that leads to the area below McPhee Dam is visible across the sparkling stream.

Besides trout, the Dolores River here provides habitat for River Otters, Beavers, Deer, Elk, Peregrine Falcons, and Turkeys. Bald Eagles can be sighted in the winter months After the construction of the McPhee Dam ensured year round flow in 1988-91, the Colorado Division of Wildlife transplanted 20 Otters to this area.

In mid April 2011, there are signs of a recent forest fire. It looked like most of the large trees survived, the branches showing spring buds despite the scorching on the trunks. About two weeks after the blaze, the burned area is starting to recover with some green grass poking through.

At the end of the dirt road, there are some large rocks placed to form a pool, raising the level and diverting some of the flow into a water management project. Along this last segment, there is a small ditch, a flow measuring flume, and some small water control structures. My total hike here took 1:50 hours for about 4 miles. It was a 56 F degree mid April day.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dolores River Canyon at Bedrock

The turnoff for the Bedrock landing site on the lower Dolores River is at the historic Bedrock Store. Bedrock is in the Paradox Valley along Route 90 in southwest Colorado. This is about 37 miles east of the LaSal Junction that is south of Moab, Utah. At the landing site, there is a 3 mile trail up into the Dolores River Canyon to the junction with LaSal Creek.

I had hoped to visit the Bedrock Store, but in April 2011, the store is closed and has For Sale signs posted. It is about 1 mile of gravel road from the store to the landing site. According to the interpretive sign at the Bradfield Bridge launch site near Pleasant View, CO, Bedrock is 97 river miles downstream.

The nearest upstream launch is in the Big Gypsum Valley, 36 miles through the Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area. The hike follows the Dolores River upstream into the Wilderness Area.

At the launch point, there is an interpretive sign providing information on the Dolores River and some camp sites. At the south end of the camp sites, there are several rough roads leading south. It is confusing, but any of these roads can be used to start the hike. After about 20 minutes of hiking, these roads merge and change into a trail.

On the day I hiked, the USGS data for Bedrock indicates that flow was 200 cfs, about average for early April.  The USGS water data web site also has information on water temperature and specific conductance. Flow of 200 cfs is the minimum recommended for canoes and is too low for rafts. The releases from the McPhee Reservoir, about 110 miles upstream were 50 cfs during March and early April as the reservoir is still filling for the irrigation season. The inflow to McPhee at Dolores, CO was 479 cfs on April 6, 2011.

After about 1 mile, the trail turns west. The geologic layers of sandstone that are pointed out in the National Parks are visible here. The massive cliffs of the Wingate are under the Kayenta, Navajo, and Entrada, and sitting on the Chinle layer. The vegetation features Pinon Pines and Junipers, with some large sagebrush fields. The river bottoms area has a lot of Tamarisk. About midway along the trail, I saw a rock wall that looks like a ranching artifact. There was a pile of old tin cans in the vicinity.

About 2.5 miles down the trail there is a petroglyph site on several large boulders. The largest panel is close to the trail and easily visible. The same large boulder has a second panel on the back side. I saw other images on two other boulders. I arrived at the petroglyph site after 1:40 hours of hiking.
 There is a variety of images and inscriptions here. The oldest date that I could see says 7-25-1930. There are several sets of bear tracks among these images. There is a minor trail to follow to look at the several boulders in the area.

In the upper left corner of the main panel, there appears to be a Barrier style, broad shouldered figure, and an image that resembles the Birthing Scene that is well known near Moab, Utah.

At the junction with LaSal Creek, the trail seems to end. The confluence of the clear water of LaSal Creek with the silty Dolores River can be seen at the junction. It took me 2:30 hours to arrive at the junction and I turned around here. My return hike took 1:40 hours for a total hike of 4:10 hours for about 6 miles. I carried and drank 2 liters of water on an early April day. It was 48 F degrees at 10:40 AM and 68 F at 2:50 PM when I finished.

Another hiking opportunity in this area is the Paradox Trail. There is an alternate route of the Paradox Trail along the River Road, leading to the confluence of the Dolores River and the San Miguel River. The Hanging Flume is also in the area.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gypsum Gap Rockshelter

Gypsum Gap is a pass between the Disappointment Valley and Big Gypsum Valley along Route 141, east of Dove Creek, in southwest Colorado. On the south side of the Gap is a natural rock overhang with several petroglyphs and other inscriptions from the past.

The gravel road turnoff isn’t marked but it is only a short walk from the highway to view the site. There is a good interpretive sign in front of the alcove that provides some information on possible meanings and the importance of these clues to the past. 

There is also information on how the visitor can help preserve these sites. This area is in the canyons and valleys to the east of the lower Dolores River. Despite the dry climate, the lower Dolores area is rich in rugged scenery and this type of site.

The evidence found here indicates that the earliest inhabitants may have been here as early as 5500 BC. Later, the Ancestral Pueblos, Utes and Navajo used this site. 

Each of these groups left images among the 11 panels that have been identified.