Black Ridge Trail

Round Trip Distance: 11.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5791 - 6746 feet
Cellphone: 3-5 bars
Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Artists Point
Fee: $5 individual - $15 vehicle - $40 annual pass
Attractions: Views of the monument and Devils Canyon

The Black Ridge trail is located on the Colorado National Monument just west of Grand Junction, Colorado. The trail stretches from the Visitor Center, south, to a point just beyond Black Ridge which is the high hill that you see that is covered with communication towers. This trail, like several others on the monument, has two trailheads. One trailhead is across Rimrock Drive from the Visitor Center. The trailhead on the opposite end, which is 5.6 miles away is across the same road from the Upper Liberty Cap trailhead.

There is ample parking at the visitor center. The restrooms are open whenever the center is. When the center is closed the restrooms in the campground are your next option. The visitor center has some very nice displays that are well worth the time.

The elevation starts out at 5791 feet and quickly increases as you begin the hike. The first two tenths of a mile of the trail goes up a gravel road. It takes no time at all to gain the first 100 feet of elevation. The views from this point are already making the hike worth the effort.

Continue hiking as the trail traverses above the Alcove Natural trail. The elevation begins rapidly increasing as you make your way up a series of switch backs until you reach the boundary fence between the NPS and BLM.

The next half mile of trail bends around the upper reaches of a canyon and then begins climbing again along the side of a hill through a stretch of gray and purple mudstone. The top of this ridge puts you about 1.2 miles from the visitor center. Continuing for another half mile or so and the trail will begin paralleling a line of power poles.

Bighorn Sheep can be spotted along the Black Ridge trail in the spring and summer months. This group of 5 rams was spotted near the pond that is about 1.8 miles from the Visitor Center. I have also spooked up a ram from its spot under a tree on the east slope of Black Ridge where it was trying to escape from the hot summer sun. Deer, elk and coyotes can also be spotted from time to time. They tend to bed down under the trees during the day and move about from dusk to dawn. The animals can usually hear you approaching and all you will see or hear is them running away. At times though they will stand their ground, like these rams, and give you a chance to snap a few pictures.

At the two mile mark you come to what I refer to as the rock bridge.  This is a rocky ridge about 10 feet wide that separates two canyons and provides good views in either direction. Many hikers, after venturing to this point, return in the direction they came. This makes for a nice 4 mile round trip hike. If you brought any youngsters with you they are probably ready to head back anyway.

After hiking for another mile you once again come to a boundary fence that takes you back on NPS property. There is a nice step ladder on the north side of the gate that is easy to manage and alleviates the need to mess with the gate.

From here the trail bends around the east side of Black Ridge. Another half mile of hiking and the trail reaches the junction of the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) trail. It is only two miles to the end of the trail from here. Continuing for another half mile brings you to the highest point of the trail at around 6740 feet. That is almost 1000 feet higher than where you began. This also may be considered the crux of the trail. From here the trail descends towards the second trailhead which is at an elevation of 6530 feet. There are several sections of climbing along the way as the trail moves up and down various ridges. I met several hikers that had begun at this end of the trail and were doing short out and back hikes.

After walking around a bit I headed back up the trail the way I came. It's not unusual to see deer, elk or bighorn sheep in the early and late parts of the day. I've passed game that was bedded down in the shade of the trees and had them jump up breaking branches as they gallop away.

The pinyon trees along the north end of the trail were loaded with ripe pine cones. The cones spread open and spill pinyon nuts on the ground. It takes two years for the nuts to grow and ripen so these particular trees won't produce again next year.

The ground, in places, has a thick covering of cryptobiotic soil. This living soil crust plays an important part in staying off erosion. Hikers can help this important part of the desert ecosystem by walking on rocks and such when they have to leave the trail.

The Organ Pipes in Wedding Canyon came into view as I reached the last leg of the trail.  It took me 4.5 hours on this trip. I've completed the hike in just over 3 hours on previous outings. I went through 100 ounces of water, 60 ounces of Gatorade, 2 protein bars and a peanut butter and honey sandwich. If you would like to experience this trail for yourself then you are going to have to 'Take a hike'.