Dominguez Canyon Date: 3/14/2011 Difficulty: Moderate Distance: Approx.7 miles round trip to 1st petroglyphs, 11.5 to 2nd petroglyphs Rating: Time: Approx. 6 hours Type: In-out Trail Head GPS Coordinates: 38°50’57.47″N,108°22’20.80″W
View Dominguez Canyon in a larger map
There are four places you can access the area, Bridgeport, Dominguez Campground, Cactus Park trailhead and access from the Gunnison River. We opted for the Bridgeport trailhead due to the time of year and snow. I don’t think Dominguez Campground and the Cactus Park trailhead are accessible during the winter months.
To reach Bridgeport from Grand Junction, travel towards Delta Colorado on Highway 50 for almost 13.5 miles. The Bridgeport turnoff will be located on your right just after you crest the hill. Turn onto the gravel road and continue traveling for another 3 1/4 miles as the road twists and turns its way down into the canyon and ends at a locked gate at the Gunnison River. The road is generally easily accessed with a passenger car, although during the winter it can get a little slick and springtime it can get muddy. The road is used daily by a rancher that lives by the river so the road is generally well maintained.
As usual the railroad has “No Trespassing” signs posted everywhere but they are just trying to keep people off of the train tracks. The actual trail is accessed through the small green gate. Once you pass through the gate at the trail head you will follow a road along the train tracks for about a mile. You will come to a couple bridges on your right, one old bridge that was built years ago and a little farther up is the new bridge. The old bridge is private property.
Once you cross the bridge you will turn left and follow the river for about a half a mile to a mile. At the mouth of the canyon there is a small kiosk which talks a little bit about the canyon and the wildlife you can find in it. Bighorn sheep is the main wildlife attraction but you can also find mountain lion, deer, elk, black bear and wild turkeys. One of the other attractions of the canyon are various petroglyph sites. About 3.5 miles from the start is a nice grouping of the rock art. Be sure to look around all the big rocks in the area because there are petroglyphs in a lot of places. Shortly downstream from these petroglyph panels there is a beautiful waterfall and a little rocky section that is great to cool off in during the summer months.
The trail continues following the creek in a southerly fashion as it bends its way around the cliff faces. About a mile or so past the first large petroglyph panels if you watch to your left you will see an area in the hillside that was dug out. I was curious to why some one had been digging over there so I jumped the creek and investigated. Come to find out it is a small mine. There are various spots all over the area where people have dug in the past. As you continue past this mine area you will eventually come to another large boulder with petroglyphs all over it. This boulder is about a mile or two past the little mine.
A short distance past this second petroglyph panel is the trail that leads up to Cactus Park. Right around the trail junction to Cactus Park there is another mine and some old rock structures which I have heard referred to as Archie Smiths mine. My goal was to find the trail junction to Cactus Park and also Archie Smiths mine. Unfortunately we turned around less than a 1/4 mile from these spots I believe.
Shortly after turning around we were confronted by a small herd of bighorn sheep that were meandering along the trail. I’m curious what would have happened if we would have stayed on the trail because the sheep didn’t seem concerned about us in the least. We opted for the safer alternative and stepped away from the trail to give them a bit of room.
Overall we hiked about 11.5 miles that day in and back. This is definitely a great area that just asks for more exploring. I’ve hiked this trail a number of times and I am always finding new things and I generally see wildlife more times than not. I would rate this trail as a 5 star except the only part I don’t like about the trail is the first mile before the bridge. It is a rather boring section of the trail, I don’t care for following a road and train tracks. If the BLM could come up with a different route away from the tracks and the road it would definitely be a 5 star trail.