20-May-2005 -- Western Colorado is a beautiful place of physiographic contrasts--from tree-covered mesas to shale deserts. In the midst of that diversity, one landform is often identified with western Colorado--canyons. Therefore, it was fitting that canyons defined so much of my trek to 39 North 109 West and made it a wonderful experience. Further, it was a pleasure to finally achieve the confluence that is closest to the beautiful place where I grew up--Grand Junction, Colorado.
I left the hotel where my family and I were staying while it was still dark, at 5:10am, driving through the canyons to the top of the Colorado National Monument, so designated for its sheer red and pale sandstone walls and formations sculpted by water and wind. After being treated to a magnificent sunrise over the Grand Valley, I found myself heading west of Glade Park toward Utah on a road I had not been on since 1982, not on MapQuest but servicing the local
ranches. People are still ranching here, and now the road is paved. My initial plan was to begin hiking to the confluence from the road, about 6 km due south of the point. However, there were an abundance of fences and ranches in this area, and given the early hour, I had no desire to awaken people and listen to what I was sure would be a negative answer to my request for access. Therefore, I turned around, heading toward a gravel road that led northwest down the course of the Little Dolores River. Plan B!
All was well for a few minutes along this road, but at 6:30am, I encountered a locked gate. Time to hike! The GPS indicated a bit over 16 km round trip hiking distance, but given the rugged canyonlands, I knew I would need to walk west along the road, and then south into Kings Canyon to the point. Little did I realize what a true trek it would become. I gathered the landowner permission letter, sunblock, and plenty of water, and set off down the road. The road, sandy from the eroding sandstone cliffs above me, curved northwest and finally west-southwest. At 7:40 am, at the entrance to Kings Canyon, I left the road and walked along the bottom of the cliffs on the east side of the canyon. This area was still in the shade, and I occasionally found a cattle trail. At 8:05am, with the GPS showing 850 meters to the confluence, I was faced with a decision. Should I head up the cliff, or stay low? I decided on the former. Relying on my years of hiking as a teenager in this type of terrain, I knew that there is almost always a way up these cliffs. Because the way back down is more difficult to find, I took a few waypoints on the GPS unit in case I would need them on the way back down. This climb was quite difficult, but I told myself that if the previous visitors could do it, including some fairly small children, then could I not also handle it? I was nearly at the top when I found a rope that someone had strung to climb the last 20 meters of cliff. Surely this must be the way! After climbing the rope, I found myself on top of the mesa with the confluence still off to the southeast. This was going to be close. Ten minutes later, with the confluence 400 meters to the south, but 300 meters below me, I realized my mistake. I should have stayed low, along the valley floor, rather than climbing up here. The vista was wonderful, but I promised the rest of my family that I would return by noon. I trotted as fast as the terrain would allow along the canyon rim. The thick, thorny brush tore my pants so badly that this became the last day I would be able to wear them. Not relishing a return practically straight down the way that I had come up, I hiked east until I found a way down the canyon. This added about 4 kilometers and an hour to my hike. At 9:30, I was near the canyon floor, once again heading west. I found the spot after a fairly lengthy confluence dance, due to the canyon walls and the heavy tree growth.
The confluence lies on ground sloping 20 degrees to the south, in typical western Colorado vegetation--pinon trees, juniper, yucca, and prickly pear cactus. I heard hawks and horseflies and saw a few rabbits. The temperature was 90 F (32 C) with a bit of breeze and absolutely clear skies. I found with some dismay that it lies no more than 20 meters from a trail following the creek at the bottom of the canyon. Yet that is what makes everyone's first visit such an adventure--one almost always finds an easier way out than in. Upon reflection, I do not believe the previous visitors traveled up Kings Canyon or took my circuitous route. I have been to 39 North 9 times in Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri, and I visited 109 West once before in Montana. I spent about 20 minutes at the site filming, and then set off down the canyon to the northwest.
May is one of the few times during the year when these creeks actually have water flowing in them. The hike out was quite scenic, and by 11:15 am, I found myself back out on the sand road. With my thermometer now at 100 F, this was turning out to be my longest hike in quite a few years, my feet were quite sore by now. I tried walking as briskly as possible, but knew I would be missing my deadline. I arrived back at the vehicle at 12:30pm, and calculated that the round trip had been 15 miles (25 km). I had a pleasant chat my fellow Department of the Interior colleagues--the park service rangers--at the entrance of the Colorado National Monument. I arrived at the hotel by 1pm, just in time for a welcome dip in the pool with my family. After wanting to visit this confluence for years, I was grateful for the opportunity!
See my use of the Vizimap toolkit, that resulted in a map with photographs and text documenting my visit.