Kodels CanyonDate: 8/30/2010
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Miles: Approx. 7 round trip
Time: 4 1/2 hours
Devils Canyon Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 39° 8’22.71″N, 108°45’29.64″W
Broadway Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 39° 7’57.83″N, 108°44’19.74″W
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Kodels Canyon is the first canyon within the Colorado National Monument on the West end. There are actually two different trail heads that you can utilize to access the canyon. The first and most likely more used is located south of Fruita just on the west side of Broadway and almost directly across the road from Dinosaur Hill. This trail head does not have much of a parking area, it is basically just a small pull off on the side of the road. The other trail head is located at the Devils Canyon trail head. I opted to start from Devils Canyon.
To reach Kodels Canyon from the parking area, follow the main trail until you come to the D1 trail. There is a major spider web of trails in this whole area and ultimately there are many different routes you can take. Occasionally there are maps located at the little information kiosk located just over the hill from the parking area, it’s a good idea to pick one up. Unfortunately they didn’t have any when I went so I was basically guessing on the right way to go. I just picked the trail that headed in the direction of the canyon and headed out.
I ended up following the D1 trail until I came to the K1 branch. I continued following the K1 trail as it followed a small wash then climbed in and out of various gullies. The trail eventually ends up following a small gully where the mountains from the Monument look like they dig under the smaller sandstone hills of the HorseThief Canyon area. After following this gully for a mile or so, you eventually end up at the mouth of Kodels Canyon. From this point any trail markers there are disappear. The trail basically follows the creek bed up the canyon for approximately a half mile or so until it comes to the NPS boundary fence. There is a break in the fence towards the creek bottom that allows you to pass through. Once through the fence the trail begins to climb quite rapidly. After a short distance the trail branches and the left fork will dead end at Kodels mine. The right fork continues climbing up and around the granite cliff. This portion of the trail is pretty steep but its not too bad. Once on top of the cliff the trail meanders along the canyon floor and eventually dead ends at a large rock sitting on a mound at the head of the canyon. If you look in the right section at the end of the canyon there is what I thought was a very large Ponderosa Pine tree growing on the side of the cliff. I’ve since been told that it is a Douglas Fir, which would make more sense. Whichever it is it is interesting seeing it growing out of the side of the cliff basically.
As I was nearing the end of the canyon I noticed a small herd of about five to six bighorn sheep lying on a small bench on the side of the cliff. I found a nice rock to sit on and since it was about lunch time ate my sandwich and watched them stare back at me.
Kodels Canyon is named after an old prospector from the early 1900’s that had a gold mine about halfway up the canyon. Kodels Mine holds a little more significance to it than just being an old gold mine. Given the easy access and how close the mine is to a residential area, the Park Service paid more attention to this mine then others. The Park Service installed a metal grate over the entrance to keep people out. After a tragic incident at another mine close by when three teenagers died when they were able to gain access due to a vandalized grate, the Park Service went a step farther. Not only did they gate the entrance, but they also backfilled the deep holes in the mine using experimental polyurethane foam. They now use this foam quite often to backfill mines in remote areas. Given the mixture it is fairly easy to backpack it in to areas where vehicles are not allowed or cannot go.
On my return trip I figured I would try a different route back. I came out of the canyon and got back on the K1 trail and followed it until I came to the K5 trail. This is where it got interesting. Since I didn’t have a map I didn’t know where any of these trail went, I just knew that they all pretty much came together at the beginning. I followed K5 then turned left onto K4, followed it a short distance, then turned left again onto K8. I followed K8 as it climbed up and over the hills and ended up following the ridge above the K1 trail I came in on. The K8 trail eventually hooked back into the D1 trail that led back to the parking area. I told you it got interesting.
If I do this trail again I think I would stick to the K1 trail both there and back, there are a lot more features to look at on the K1 trail. I probably added close to an extra mile by taking the alternate route.
Overall this is a very nice hike. The history of the area, slight challenge in spots and the bighorn sheep made it really enjoyable. It took me about four and a half hours to do the whole hike but I usually don’t hurry and I do a lot of exploring and picture taking. I’m sure if someone knew where they were going and just wanted to get there and back, you could probably cut that time in half.