Round Trip Distance: 8 - 14 miles
Elevation: 4740-5523 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 5 - 7 hrs.
Attractions: Petroglyphs, rock shelters, waterfalls
Big Dominguez Canyon is located in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area near Grand Junction, Colorado. The canyon is a good place to hike and see bighorn sheep, lots of petroglyphs and archaic rock shelters as well as several waterfalls. On top of all of that the scenery is magnificent. Dominguez Canyon practically cries out for protection and is more than worthy of its 'Wilderness Area' designation. Note: This is an update to the original post on this site that was made in 2009.
To get to the trailhead drive about 20 miles south of Grand Junction, on Highway 50, toward Delta. Turn west on the graveled Bridgeport Road and follow it for a little over 3 miles to the Bridgeport trailhead. There is a restroom at the trailhead and parking available for horse trailers. Some people choose to drive another tenth of a mile further to the old parking area that was built for both hikers and rafters. Today the lower parking area is intended mostly for rafters so they don't have to carry their gear so far but hikers can park there also.
From the lower parking area pass through the green gate and follow the road beside the railroad tracks. After a while the road will cross the tracks where it continues south to the old Bridgeport townsite.
A trail register and kiosk are located just before the horse and foot bridge that crosses the Gunnison River.
After crossing the bridge the trail continues along the west side of the river toward the mouth of Dominguez Canyon. Enroute it passes several primitive campsites that are primarily intended for rafters. Portable toilets are required at the sites.
Just under 2 miles from the Bridgeport trailhead the trail comes to the mouth of Dominguez Canyon where there is another kiosk. A few yards past the kiosk the trail passes through another gate and enters the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area.
After entering the Wilderness Area the trail passes a waterfall that is on the left and an old homestead on the right. Shortly past that the trail turns south. As the trail passes a large boulder that is on the left side of the trail you can look up the slope on the right and a short distance away there is the first rock shelter that the trail passes. The first habitation of the rock shelter probably dates back several thousand years to one of the Archaic periods. It may have been reoccupied numerous times since then including lately by the first European settlers that arrived in the area.
Just past the 2.5 mile point the trail turns sharply to the right. The route that is straight ahead at this point leads over to Little Dominguez Canyon. Both canyons are also sometimes referred to as Lower (Little) Dominguez and Upper (Big) Dominguez Canyons just to keep things confusing.
On the hike for this post we didn't come across any bighorn sheep although we did see some fresh tracks and scat near a side canyon. On the hike for the original post for Dominguez Canyon we were able to take the pictures shown above where the bighorn were up on the point of Triangle Mesa near the confluence of Big and Little Dominguez.
The trail is very scenic and pleasant to hike as it continues from the confluence of the two canyons. At the 3.45 mile point you might be able to hear the sound of a waterfall. If so then you might also like to hike over to it and have a look. A lot of backtracking is required to find a spot where you can get down below it but the area above it is fun to lounge around and take a break.
Continuing past the waterfall the trail passes by another rock shelter after almost a quarter mile. This rock shelter has a section of wall that still has some of its original mortar. As the trail nears the 4 mile point there is a large boulder on the left side of the trail with an impressive panel of petroglyphs. On the right side of the trail at this point and about 50 - 100 feet away is the remains of yet another rock shelter.
If your legs are getting tired after all of that hiking try to stick it out for at least another hundred yards so you don't miss out on some other really cool petroglyphs. Carefully examine the boulders near the trail and you will be well rewarded for your efforts. The boulder in this photo has petroglyphs on 3 of its sides. Some of them are Archaic but many of the nicer ones were made more recently by the Utes. Your biggest clue is that the Utes had horses.
Most people turn around and head back to the trailhead once they have come to the first couple of petroglyph panels. For this post we continued up the canyon for another 3 miles. If you choose to continue the trail gets just a little bit rougher but it is still well enough defined to be easy to follow. There are several places further up the canyon where you can get down to the creek and play around. More panels of petroglyphs and rock shelters can be found at the 5.75, 5.85, 6.25 and 6.67 milepoints. (Your measurements may vary.)
We continued to just past the 7 mile point where there was a rock shelter that had been rebuilt and reinhabited by some copper miners. Their mine is down the cliff toward the creek. The Mined Land Reclamation Division of the State of Colorado has placed an expanded metal gate over the shaft which was a lot deeper than you might imagine. Some of the implements used by the miners are still present around the area.
We made a little museum of rock specimens on one of the rocks above the mine. There is one good chunk of copper ore and several large pieces of quartz with sprinkles of malachite (green) and azurite (blue). Malachite and azurite are commonly found with copper and they may be what tipped the prospectors off about the vein of copper.
The hike back to the trailhead is mostly downhill all the way and the scenery is spectacular. Be sure to wave at the dinosaur as you pass by or it will come alive and gobble you up.