Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dolores River Canyon at Dove Creek

The Dolores River Canyon can be accessed near Dove Creek, Colorado. There is a marked turn off from Highway 491 on the south end of town. After about 1 mile there is a north turn near a radio facility that leads down into the very deep canyon.

Just past a pump station, there is raft launching site with a pit toilet and a couple of picnic tables. The Dolores River canyon here is BLM managed land on the west edge of the San Juan National Forest.

From the raft launch site, a rough dirt road leads north for about 12 miles, with a rougher trail continuing toward the Slick Rock launch site. The Dove Creek access is 19 river miles below the Bradfield Bridge access. All of these access points are on the lower Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir. I began my hike at the raft launch site. Most vehicles can drive the first 0.5 miles to the Box Elder Campground and high clearance vehicles can continue.

The habitat along the Dolores Canyon bottom includes small groves of Ponderosa Pines and Gambel Oaks. Close to the river there are willows and Box Elders. I didn’t notice many Cottonwoods. The canyon sides had Pinon Pines and Junipers with some Douglas Firs in the high shady spots.

The geology appears to be the sandstone layers that are familiar in the Canyonlands and Arches area. The steep cliffs of the Wingate Sandstone support the Kayenta, Navajo, and Entrada Sandstones. The trail appears to be carved out of the softer Chinle layer and the sandstones rise higher as the trail proceeds north.

Along the trail there are frequent parallel side trails to river side campsites. After about 0:45 minutes I followed one of these side trails and had a Black Bear sighting. The bear had already turned and made a short jog away when I saw it from about a 100 feet distance. I had a good view for about 5 seconds and then it dashed away into the oak brush.

 Near where it had been was a large patch of these Sumac Berries. Along the trail I saw deer tracks but no deer. There were ATV tracks on the trail but I didn’t see hiker or mountain bike tracks.

There are a couple of boulder strewn riffles along the segment that I walked. The lower Dolores River flow is controlled at the McPhee Dam. On the day I hiked the flow was recorded from below the dam as 69 cfs. This is well below the historic average of about 220 cfs. The water in this area appeared to be clear flowing. When I've viewed the Dolores River downstream at Big Gypsum and Bedrock it appears to have much more silt.

The side canyons in this area are steep gaps in the rocks without any flowing creek water. It looks like this section of canyon could only be accessed at very limited locations.

I turned around after 2:10 hours and about 4.5 miles at one of the riverside campsites. My return hike took 1:50 hours for a total hike of 4:00 hours for about 9 miles.
It was 77 F degrees at my 9:40 AM start and a warm 88 F degrees at the 1:40 PM finish. I carried and drank 3 liters of water. I didn't see anyone else on the trail during my hike but there were several campers in the Box Elder Campground.

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