Main Canyon

Round Trip Distance: 11 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4930-5247 feet
Cellphone: 0-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - Equestrian - Backpacking
Time: 6 hrs.
Facilities: none
Trailhead: Coal Canyon
Fee: none
Attractions: Wild Horses, Bighorn Sheep, Deep Canyons and Desert environment

View Main Canyon in a larger map

Main Canyon is located in the Little Book Cliffs Wilderness Study Area in the vicinity behind Mt. Garfield. To access the area you drive east on Interstate 70 from Grand Junction and take the Cameo exit. After crossing the bridge over the Colorado River and driving past the power plant it is about 2 miles down the dirt road to the Coal Canyon trailhead. The road is usually easily accessible with a passenger car or two wheel drive vehicle. From this trailhead you can access Coal Canyon, Cottonwood Canyon, the Hoodoo trail, Main Canyon, the Spring Creek trail and the Ute trail. You can also find routes to Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Garfield. That's a lot of hiking and horseback riding from one trailhead. On todays hike I observed 15-20 wild horses and at least 9 bighorn sheep.

From the trailhead parking lot you will see two sets of gates. The left gate leads up Coal Canyon and the green gate to the right leads to Main Canyon. Once past the gate there is a well worn trail that leads up and over the saddle and drops into Main Canyon. There are actually lots of trails that you could follow because the wild horses pretty much go wherever they want. The trail that runs up Main Canyon is a nice double track most of the way.

The trail crosses the stream quite often and that was a bit of a problem today. Main Canyon drains a large area and is prone to flash flooding. Today I was amazed at how much water was running down the stream. At most of the crossings the stream was too wide to jump so I had to follow horse trails until I came upon a suitable crossing.

Spring Creek Canyon branches off to the south just under two miles up the canyon. If you are on the main trail you will see a trail marker indicating the Spring Creek trail. If you are on one of the many wild horse or game trails you will most likely miss it.

I was totally surprised about 3 miles up the canyon when I came upon a small grove of Aspen trees. There were probably about half a dozen trees within a 20-30 square foot area. The seeds must have come down the stream all the way from the Book Cliffs behind Debeque.

The canyon narrows as you approach the junction with Cottonwood Canyon. The stream was running heavy through here and I couldn't find a suitable crossing so I turned back at this point.

I came upon a large pine cone along the stream and wondered how something so heavy could have traveled this far. Then I glanced high up on the slope and found that the source wasn't that far away. Nestled in a sheltered area were several groves of pine trees. These trees were the dominant species more than 10,000 years ago up to the last ice age. The trees can still be found in sheltered areas of north facing slopes. After the winter we had this year maybe they will make a come back.

I could also spy what appeared to be a lone wild horse grazing high up the side of the southern wall of the canyon. After looking at the high resolution photos on my computer I could see another horse behind the trees.

I managed to stay on the north side of the stream most of the way out by following horse trails. At one point I climbed about 100 feet up the side of the cliff to get around an obstacle. About 2 miles from the trailhead I came upon some bighorn sheep that were grazing just under the high wall on the north side of the canyon. They tend to stay on the sunny side of the canyon this time of the year for obvious reasons. There were 5 or 6 ewe's in a group down lower. It is my guess that they will be lambing within the next few weeks. I've seen doe's in similar conditions right before they give birth. They tend to lay about as you pass by when at other times they would be up and running away. Just the same I stayed 3 or 4 hundred feet away. I had seen some mountain lion tracks along the stream so these gals were going to have enough to worry about without me bothering them.

There were 15 - 20 wild horses that had crossed over the ridge from Coal Canyon and were grazing along the stream in Main Canyon. Sure not much to graze on this time of year.

It looked like they were getting ready for a rodeo when I arrived back at the parking lot. There were only two vehicles that didn't have a horse trailer in tow. As you can tell there is a lot more to see in Main Canyon than just wild horses. It pays off pretty good to keep your eyes open in all directions. I had also seen some Pinyon Jays twittering about from bush to bush. The jays are a much lighter blue during mating season and add a lot of color to the drab late winter vegetation.

I went through 100 ounces of water and 40 ounces of Powerade on todays hike. My wife says that I drink twice as much as a normal person but for six hours of hiking it seemed about right to me. I also consumed one bagel, 1 protein bar and 1 energy bar. The map shows it to be 5 miles from the trailhead to the confluence of Cottonwood Canyon. Since I stopped just a little bit short and still managed 11 miles then I suppose that I hiked an extra mile looking at wild horses and bighorn sheep. I also had to go a ways to check out a rock that looked like it may have had some petroglyph's on it but they turned out to be gunshot pot marks. Main Canyon is a great place to view the wildlife and scenery of the Little Book Cliffs and a fun place to 'Take a hike!'