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Unexplored Desert Canyons



After living in Western Colorado for nearly 9 years I finally went an explored a couple canyons off of Highway 50 that I’ve driven by often. Fully loaded in the small Subaru Imprezza with four people and the dog and all of our gear for the weekend, we took off for a weekend adventure in a new place. It’s such an unused area that the map selection is extremely limited. Unless we could get our hands on a USGS 7.5minute quadrangle map (yeah, most people don’t even know what those are) there are only very basic illustrated BLM maps available for download and printing. So with our crude simple map, we ventured the two hour drive from our small mountain town to Dominguez and Escalante Canyons along the banks of the Gunnison River.
We had been told a couple anecdotal stories of this area including that there may be some rock art, there may or may not be a public bridge across the river, and that camping was questionable. With our limited knowledge we were psyched for the adventure. Arriving at the trailhead, we were welcomed by a bellowing coal train traveling up the Gunnison River bottom. After the vibrating trailbed quieted and the screeching of train car wheels dissipated around the river bend, we were well on our way up Dominquez Canyon.
We were pleasantly surprised by the most beautiful wide open canyon complete with old cottonwood trees, beautiful desert spring flowers, and water, lots of water. Finding desert canyon rivers and streams filled with water is an uncommon special occurrence. The flow of water over the smooth black granite desert potholes was sublime and sensous. Under our desert worn callused feet as we walked up the canyon floor was the black dark igneous rock and everything towering above was the typical redrock sandstone and limestone of the Colorado Plateau desert.  To be at the juncture of the two formations was like being at the crux moment of any adventure, in-between the new and old, that sweet spot in any relationship, a place where life and death meet, a place of new beginnings. Witnessing water carving through the desert rocks during this ephemeral time in space, the spring run-off was a time of rebirth, renewal and incredible moments of new life both literally and more so metaphorically in my life.  

After exploring this ‘new to me’ wild land and finding the rock art from many years past, we retired to camp. Camping by Escalante Creek above a grotto area of pools and pour-overs was relaxing with my three friends and the dog. We flew kites for a while, tossed a Frisbee, and ate delicious food prepared by whisperlight stove before retiring to sleep on my most comfy thermarest.  To be able to sleep so well after such a full day of exploring ensures another day of awesome adventure and exploration the next day which I love. What other ‘new to me’ place should we explore next?!

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