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McDonald Creek Canyon is located in the Rabbit Valley area west of Fruita Colorado. To access the trail head you need to travel about 30 miles west of Grand Junction to the Rabbit Valley exit (Exit #2). At the top of the off ramp you want to turn left and travel south over the highway. There is a large parking area with an information kiosk you can check out just before a “Y” in the road. At the “Y” in the road you want to keep going straight until you come to a sign indicating that High Clearance Vehicles are recommended. I’ve been told that if you turn right you will definetaly need high clearance but if take the left fork the road is smooth and nice. We took the left road and found it to be very well maintained. You could probably drive your family car down it without much trouble but I would recommend something just a bit higher due to some ruts and bumps we encountered.
The McDonald Creek Cultural Resource Management Area was set aside to help protect the ancient archeological sites that are scattered throughout the canyon. There are suppose to be four panels of rock art between the trail head and the mouth of the canyon. We were only able to find two of the panels that contained pictographs from the Fremont Indians. Pictographs are paintings on the rocks and petroglyphs are actual carvings either scraped or “pecked” into the stone. There are more petroglyphs located around the Grand Junction area than there are pictographs, so the presence of pictographs in this canyon makes the hike a must do adventure.
The first panel of pictographs are located about a 1/4 mile or so from the trail head and are located on a south facing cliff and about fifteen feet up the rock face just before entering the canyon itself. The other pictographs and last panel we found are located in a large alcove high up on the wall about a 1/4 mile from the train tracks at the mouth of the canyon. Please don’t try to climb up to the panel because the rocks are unstable and you could damage the area. This panel has an actual sign just off the trail indicating there is a historical significance in the area. The other two panels are suppose to be located shortly after a small waterfall area about half way down the trail. One panel on the east side of the canyon consists of some petroglyphs and pecked names from the late 1800′s and the other one is on the west side and contains more pictographs.
The trail begins by climbing over a small hill and dropping down and along the seasonal stream bed where it continues to criss cross the stream bed off and on. After about 1/4 mile or so the trail bends to the south and enters the deeper part of the canyon. After heading south for a short time you will come to a side canyon that branches off to your left and gently climbs up. We turned here just to explore a little and ended up walking a 1/2 mile or so up this little side canyon. It was a little rough due to some larger ledges you had to scramble up but wasn’t too bad. The actual trail continues along the main stream bed as it skirts around the water fall area and drops down into the canyon some more.
From the water fall the trail continues to wind its way along the creek bed as it passes through juniper trees and through sagebrush meadows. Eventually the trail comes to a very heavily bushy area that is deep with trees and large bushes. The trail threads its way through the underbrush and exits out at the rail road tracks next to the Colorado River. Unfortunately on our trip the river was in its flood stage so the last 100 feet or so of the trail was flooded and we were not able to easily get to the train tracks.
Overall I really liked the trail. The rock art gave it a special treat and it is a pretty area with various geological features to marvel at. We didn’t see many signs of wild life other than a sandhill crane at the mouth of the canyon and what looked like some Turkey Vultures circling around the cliff faces. The extra little trip up the side canyon was interesting but added about an extra mile to the trip plus we did alot of exploring which added quite a bit of extra time. This is definitely a trail I plan on returning to so I can find the other two rock art panels and to also make it to the train tracks and the river.