Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dolores River at Big Gypsum Valley

The Big Gypsum Valley is 34 miles east of Dove Creek, CO along Colorado Route 141. It is a BLM area that is north of Disappointment Valley and south of the Paradox Valley.

Thirteen miles northwest along the gravel road there is an access to the Dolores River that is used by rafters. The Gypsum Valley site is 55 river miles downstream from the Bradfield access and 36 serpentine miles upstream of Bedrock. Like the Paradox Valley, the Dolores River flows across the Gypsum Valley rather than down it, exiting one deep canyon and entering another.
The floor of the Gypsum Valley is grassland and supports some grazing activity. Along the valley edges there is some Pinon and Juniper forest. On the north side the Wingate, Kayenta, and Navajo sandstone layers are visible sitting on the Chinle layer. There is mining activity on the south side. The last three miles of gravel road becomes more of a dirt road after passing the mining sites.

I stopped at about 12.5 miles below a pinnacle formation that I think is called the Psycho Tower. This is a formation that rock climbers know and there is a trail leading up toward it. There are more climbing sites in the next 2 miles along the dirt road that are similar to the Indian Creek climbing area that is on the way to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. I started hiking down river along the road below the Psycho Tower.
 The road is level and smooth and provides easy walking. In the distance there are some views of the La Sal Mountains. From where I started it is 0.5 miles to the turnoff for the boat launch site. There are three covered picnic table camp sites at the launch site, but otherwise no facilities. The busy season for rafting on the Dolores River is May and June.

There wasn’t any activity here during my visit but the flow appears to be unusually low. I checked the web site info for flow at Bedrock for the time that I hiked and it was 200 cfs. This is too low for rafting and well below the median value of 1070 cfs for the day I visited. The discharge from the McPhee Reservoir has been 75 cfs for the previous week, after spending some time at 500 cfs. The historic average discharge for this time of year is about 1400 cfs.

The area where I started hiking had many cottonwood trees, but downstream from there Tamarisks had taken over. It looked like there has been work to remove the Tamarisks, but there is more work to do.
About 2 miles along the route, there is a bridge that crosses the river. After this bridge the Dolores swings around a bend to the left and enters the serpentine area of the Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area. I turned around at the bridge, but the road continues into the Little Gypsum Valley and I could see side roads that visited the opposite side of the river across from the launch site.
 While hiking, I was checking the large boulders for petroglyphs. The only panel I found was very close to where I started my hike.

My total hike took 2:15 hours for about 4 miles. It was a 74 F degree late May day and I carried and drank 2 liters of water. I only saw 2 other people during my visit to this area.

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