Round Trip Distance: 8.4 miles
Elevation: 4740-5115 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Usage: Hiking -Dogs - Equestrian - Camping - No bikes - No OHV
Time: 5 hrs.
Trailhead: Bridgeport-Dominguez Canyon
View Upper Dominguez in a larger map
The Upper Dominguez Canyon is a good place to hike to see bighorn sheep and lots of Indian rock art. The scenery isn't bad either. To get to the trailhead you have to drive about 20 miles south of Grand Junction, Colorado toward Delta, Colorado to get to the Bridgeport Road and then 3.2 miles down a gravel road. When you get to the parking area it gets a little confusing because there is a trailhead on each end. The trailhead on the north end of the parking area is for the river rats and the trailhead on the south end is for hikers. You can also access Little Dominguez Canyon from this same trailhead.
We grabbed our packs and headed south along the railroad tracks. After hiking about 3 tenths of a mile the road crosses the railroad tracks. At the 1 mile mark we came to the old town of Bridgeport.
The first bridge across the river is a private bridge and the second bridge is for hikers. There is visitor kiosk just before you cross the bridge that tells the history of Bridgeport.
We hoofed it across the bridge and continued heading up the west bank of the Gunnison River towards the mouth of the canyon. There is a trail marker in the weeds, if you can see it, that directs hikers to turn left after crossing the bridge. There are a lot of camping spots between the bridge and the mouth of the canyon. If you want to grab a camp site before all the rafters show up in the afternoon you may want to set up camp before you head into the canyon.
After hiking 1.7 miles the trail turned up the canyon. There were some more camp sites here on both sides of the trail. The creek cuts through the Precambrian formation all the way from here to the upper reaches of the canyon. There are quite a few waterfalls and potholes all along the creek. The pools are pretty deep in the spring of the year and the current can get pretty dangerous at times.
When we reached the 2.5 mile mark we turned up the Upper or Big Dominguez branch of the canyon. This is where the real fun began. Up on top of the Wingate sandstone cliff were some bighorn sheep. The bighorn were laying down when we first started taking pictures but they eventually stood up and started posing for us. We were snapping pictures like a couple of tourist trying to take some good shots. I should have had the tripod for the camera but I had left it in the other vehicle.
We eventually began hiking again and headed further up the canyon. We spent a bit of time exploring our way up the canyon. There were a lot of waterfalls, potholes and old camp sites to check out along the way.
The first petroglyph's we came to were at the 3.4 point of the hike. This rock must have at least 50 etchings on it. There are a few figures that some shameless vandals had obviously added to the rock in recent times.
The tree and the lighting kept us from getting one good picture that showed all of the rock in one picture. The etchings seemed to be meant to tell a story but we weren't much good at deciphering the message.
Just up the trail a few yards there were more large rocks on the north side of the trail that were covered with even more glyphs. This is the largest collection of petroglyph's that I have seen in such close proximity of each other. It would be interesting to know if this was a permanent tribal location or an area used only part of the year.
After taking over 100 pictures we hiked further up the trail to just past the 4 mile point. From here we could see up the Dry Fork, to the left, and further up the Big Dominguez branch to the right. The wind was picking up and a storm was gathering so we turned around and headed back down the canyon.
Just before we reached the spot where we had seen the bighorn on the trip into the canyon we spotted a ram laying about on a ridge just below the cliff.
Suddenly the picture snapping frenzy began again. It turned out that a ewe was laying about on the same ledge just out of site. The ram and ewe stood up and eventually bound up to the top of the cliff. This was a good day to have extra memory cards for the cameras and they came in handy.
We hiked the remaining 2.5 miles back to the trailhead. There were rafts pulled up all along the river and the once bare camp sites were buzzing with river rats. We stopped and watered some of the young cottonwood trees. There are buckets provided to fetch water from the river in hopes that the trees will take root and add to the already lush riparian environment along the banks of the Gunnison River.
We were back at the trailhead by 5 PM. We had seen a lot of country, fauna and flora along the trail today. I recommend that if you make the trek that you go to at least the 3.5 mile mark so that you can see all of the rock art that is available. If you stop at the first big rock you will miss a huge variety of etchings by a mere 50 yards or so. The hiking up the canyon is easy and the trail climbs at a gentle rate but since the distance is what it is I give the hike a moderate rating. The trail is in bad need of more trail markers to distinguish the Upper and Lower Dominguez routes.
I went through 100 ounces of water and 20 ounces of Gatorade, 2 sandwiches and a protein bar. There is a lot to see in Big Dominguez Canyon and if you want to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.