Virtual OmniBUS Tour! Dominguez Canyon Wilderness: Hikers could be greatest defenders

Dominguez Canyon, Colorado. Photo by Jeff Widen.

Welcome to Colorado! Today on the OmniBUS Tour, we are going to wear out our  hiking boots today in one of the nicest day hikes in the country. Keep your cameras and binoculars handy, too...a lot of wildlife ahead. At the campfire where we break for lunch, let’s drop our congressmen some postcards to let them know why we’re here. What do you like most about this place?

By Bobby Magill

Gaping like the jaw of a feeding python, the mouth of Big Dominguez Canyon opens onto the roiling Uncompahgre River like a redrock gateway into a crimson sandstone world that doesn’t easily match the stereotypical notion of Colorado wilderness.

Soon, if Congress acts, it’ll become a 66,000 acre wilderness area and part of the proposed 200,000 acre Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.

With the promise of early desert heat, an encounter with seemingly innumerable signs of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived here centuries ago and plenty of good company, I took an early April hike last year through Big Dominguez with the Colorado Mountain Club in 2006.

It’s easy to think of jagged peaks, ski slopes and endless expanses of snow when I think of Colorado, but the corner of the state which Big Dominguez Canyon occupies is part of the Colorado Plateau, a vast redrock canyonland that includes the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and author Edward Abbey’s beloved Arches National Park.

The law that would protect Big Dominguez would also protect some archetypal Colorado landscape, too: Nearly all of Rocky Mountain National Park would be designated wilderness.

But while that park boasts plenty of bears, precocious chipmunks and moose, wildlife in Big Dominguez is a whole different animal.

Six miles up-canyon, we watched a herd of 35 desert bighorn sheep scale the canyon wall, certainly one of the most unusual sheep sightings anywhere on Colorado’s Western Slope.

Until recently, access to the canyon was difficult because you had to trespass on a private bridge to cross the river, raft to the canyon mouth or drive a difficult road to the top of the Uncompahgre Plateau to reach the head of the canyon. A new bridge allows hikers to cross the river easily and invites many day hikers to experience a place as special as any monument or park in Colorado.

These hikers, hopefully, will be the long-time defenders of Big Dominguez. Now, it’s time for Congress to become the canyon’s ultimate defender as lawmakers move to permanently protect this wild, red canyon.

See a map of America's newest wild lands and Wilderness.

Bobby Magill is the communications manager for The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. Before working for TWS, he lived about 30 miles from Dominguez Canyon in Grand Junction, Colo.