by Scott Bacon
Big and Little Dominguez
Canyons lie on the Northeastern edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau in
Western Colorado. They contain a wonderful mixture of steep red rock
canyon walls, waterfalls through deep slots in the under-lying black
schist, the cool waters of perennial streams, the endangered Desert
Bighorn Sheep, and petroglyphs left by ancient peoples.
The Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Study Area can be
reached from several different roads. But once you are at the wilderness
boundary, no motorized vehicles are allowed. We backpacked in from the
Cactus Park access and spent 3 days exploring the lower ends of both Big
and Little Dominguez Canyons.
To get to the Cactus Park trailhead, take the Cactus Park turn off on
KS.20 Road from Hwy 141. The first few miles of this road is easily
negotiable with a passenger car, but the last few miles require 4wd. I
would not recommend trying to travel this road in the rain or soon after a
heavy thunderstorm. The road becomes very slick and it crosses several
washes that are normally dry, but swell with swift running deep waters
during and after rain storms. There is a small area for 4 or 5 vehicles to
park at the trailhead.
From the parking area look West-Southwest for the trailhead. The trail
follows the canyon rim for about two miles traveling in a Southwesterly
direction. Arriving at the trailhead in late afternoon provides excellent
light for viewing the grand vistas of Big Dominguez Canyon and the
Gunnison River Valley from the canyon rim. There are several points along
the trail that offer great shots of the canyon and nearby Triangle Mesa.
Then the trail begins the steep rocky descent into the canyon. This, due
to run-off and severe erosion, should not be attempted in the rain,
either. Just before the final pitch down into the canyon, through an old
rock slide area, you will see a very large sandstone boulder that is
suspended on a 20 foot high tower of conglomerate rock and sand. The trail
winds directly underneath this remnant of the age old slide. After 20-30
minutes of steep switchbacks, and losing about 600 feet of elevation, you
reach the canyon floor.
From this point, we continued down Big Dominguez Canyon exploring the many
waterfalls of Big Dominguez Creek and frequent pictographs left by ancient
peoples. About 2.5 miles down the canyon we found a very nice undeveloped
campsite next to a multi-tiered waterfall spilling into a great 'swimming
hole'. At this location we saw a herd of the endangered Desert Bighorn
Sheep. This was a rare and pleasant surprise. We were quite close to them
before we even saw them. Their color blends so well with the desert
terrain that they are difficult to see,
unless they move. Our border
collie / trail companion, Darby, noticed them first (of course) and a perk
from her ears let me know that she had seen something. There were about 16
Bighorns total, mostly ewes and young ones.
The hike from our camp-spot down to the confluence of Big and Little
Dominguez Creeks was very hot and very dry. Temperatures during this
Memorial Weekend of 2000 were over well 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the
nearby town of Delta, CO. Water was readily available at most times by
detouring off the trail and down to the creek. A quick pump with the
filter and we could refill our water bottles. We did this frequently.
Unfortunately, the extreme heat, biting flies and buzzing gnats made the
hike less pleasurable than it could have been. I have been to this
location during Memorial Day Weekend on previous years and it was much
cooler and there were hardly any bugs. We just got a little bad luck this
Only about a quarter mile down from our
campsite there was an incredible waterfall which I returned to in the
evening for better photos. We did not venture more than a couple miles up
Little Dominguez Canyon, leaving those explorations for another trip.
We back-tracked, retracing our own steps, out of the canyon. The climb out
is not for the faint of heart and was strenuous with the added weight of
camera gear and film in my pack, but the photos were worth the strain!