Colorado's Grand Junction: A treasure trove of canyon country that's simply too wild to drill

Colorado’s western slope is a treasure trove of canyon country wilderness where hikers, campers and mountain bikers can experience some of our wildest remaining high desert landscapes. Some of these lands are pristine wildlands, where people can still experience solitude and the sights and sounds of nature. 

Right now, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is crafting a plan for managing wilderness, recreation, oil and gas development and other resources on more than a million acres of these spectacular public lands surrounding Grand Junction.

Grand Junction's canyon country is simply too wild to open up to oil drilling, which is why it's so important that the BLM protects these special places as “lands with wilderness characteristics.” This designation would ensure these lands are off limits to oil and gas drilling and other activities that would degrade the wilderness experience.

Get to know some of the wildlands that should be protected in the BLM's Grand Junction land management plan, and read why these areas are so important to local Coloradans:

Bangs Canyon

Colorado's Bangs Canyon complex is truly a crown jewel of the Grand Junction Field Office. Bangs Canyon provides remarkable backcountry recreation opportunities just minutes from downtown Grand Junction. It’s increasingly rare in Colorado to find such outstanding primitive recreation experiences near a major urban area, which is why Bangs Canyon is treasured by hikers, horseback riders, nature walkers and other outdoors explorers seeking solitude and the sights and sounds of nature.

The area includes habitat for desert bighorn sheep, and its streams and pools support healthy populations of rainbow trout, an unexpected treat in an otherwise arid environment. Bangs Canyon contains one of the richest occurrences of rare plants and animals in Colorado, and its biological diversity encompasses almost two dozen species. 

"My recent hike into Bangs provided me with a full understanding of why this area needs a special designation for environmental protection. The diversity of land within this area makes it especially interesting when entering from the Unaweep Canyon trail – a thin trail winds you through a magnificent set of huge rocks. Cactus were blooming, so a photographer’s dream, as you make your way to the dry river canyons; there was never another soul there – so complete solitude other than a variety of birdlife. The diversity of plant/animal/geological features along with the solitude make it a highly desirable land with wilderness characteristics."

- Linda Reeves

Photo: Soren Jespersen

South Shale Ridge

South Shale Ridge is a highly eroded feature of the Wasatch Formation, ranging in elevation from 5,000 feet at its eastern base to 8,076 feet on the summit of Corcoran Peak. Over 40 miles of twisting arroyos carve through this rugged and colorful landscape, often opening into secluded parks at their sources. The south face of the ridge is a steep, multicolored escarpment of vivid purples, oranges, and reds. Towering Douglas firs grace the landscape at the west end of the area, providing a refreshing highlight to the stark terrain of the ridge itself.

A number of outstanding special features complement the area's rugged beauty. "Goblin Valley" is a ghostly collection of white and gray hoodoos guarding the western flank of the ridge. Several rare and endangered plants grow in or near South Shale Ridge. Because of South Shale Ridge's prominence, the visitor enjoys sweeping vistas of the Grand Mesa, the San Juan Mountains, the La Sal Mountains and the scenic ridges of the Roan Cliffs. Raptors soar on the air currents above the ridge, and deer frequent the slopes and valleys of the area.

"The loop drive around the South Shale Ridge, starting at De Beque, has interesting characteristics. In particular, the landscape under Corcoran Peak is so unusual and astounding. The area has everything – solitude, primitive recreation, and it is so 'delicate.' It truly needs to be protected."

- Joyce D Olson

Photo: Scott Braden

Spink Canyon

Spink Canyon adjoins the Demaree Wilderness Study Area, and is comprised of Hell’s Hole Canyon and Long Canyon, in addition to Spink Canyon itself. These canyons and surrounding mesas are popular for hikers and are rich with wildlife, including elk, black bear and mountain lion.

Scenic Spink Canyon features rock outcroppings and steep drainages that provide for exceptional primitive hiking opportunities. The area’s elevation ranges from 7,000 feet, where Douglas fir and pinyon-juniper stands dominate the landscape, to sagebrush steppe at 5,600 feet.

"I had never been in this area but found it to be very desirable for hiking. There is a beautiful rock wall and towering cliffs to your left as you are walking up the canyon. At this time of year the grasses, flowers and vegetation were plentiful. This area definitely had a feeling of solitude and is currently very isolated and relatively untouched. I would like to see this area preserved as a land with wilderness characteristics."

- Debra Cahill

Photo: Soren Jespersen

Granite Creek

Granite Creek is part of the Dolores Triangle, a remote section of land known for superb big-game hunting and primitive recreational opportunities throughout a range of ecosystems, from riparian to montane, in elevations ranging from 4,500 - 8,000 feet.

This area is home to rare plants and an impressive array of bird species. The Colorado Division of Wildlife has identified Granite Creek as suitable habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, western burro owl, southwest willow flycatcher and whooping crane. There have also been sightings of peregrine falcons and bald eagles.

Granite Creek flows through a lush riparian ecosystem of cottonwoods and box elders with grasses and shrubs growing in the flood plain and furnishing forage for deer and elk. From many scenic viewpoints in this area there are spectacular views of the Dolores and Colorado River canyons. Views to the west include the snow-capped La Sal Mountains and to the north the distant Bookcliff Mountains.

"I have been visiting Granite Creek since 1983—thirty years! My first visit focused on a paleontological study—in those two days, my companion and I saw three black bears. Since then, my every-few-years visits to Granite Creek have always been occasions of great wildlife viewing and unbounded hiking. The opportunities for solitude are great. Additionally, the fragile riparian ribbon of the creek provides habitat for less common bird species and sustains high desert trout fishing. Manage as wilderness!"

- D.L. Langdon

Photo: Moab Adventurer, flickr


Unaweep includes the deepest and most dramatic portions of Unaweep Canyon, reaching depths from 2,000 to 3,300 feet and framed by steep granite cliffs. A number of steep canyons, such as Ute Creek, drain the Uncompahgre Plateau as they cut through the area.

A pinyon-juniper wooldand blankets much of this rugged terrain, with thick riparian growth characterizing the drainage bottoms, ranging from willows and cottonwoods to ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and oakbrush. The rolling mesa tops above the rugged canyons are covered by large aspen forests broken by sagebrush flats and ringed by lush spruce forests on the northern and western slopes. The area contains representative examples of southwestern Colorado's scenic canyons, pinyon-juniper woodlands and aspen-spruce forests that provide scenic backdrops to the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway.

"Hiking into remote fly-fishing areas is a true joy that anglers of all ages should enjoy. Remote fly-fishing in the headwaters area situated on the watershed divide of the Uncompahgre Plateau provides anglers with a wilderness type experience not very far off the 'beaten path.' Hiking into an area free of crowds and noise provides the solitude that this area is known for. This is the kind of “escape” which draws people to Colorado."

- Mark McDonald

Photo: mypubliclands, flickr

Kings Canyon

Cliffs rise 1,000 feet above the Little Dolores River like the parapets of an enormous castle. The canyon walls twist and turn into Kings and Tom Canyons, the main canyons in the Kings Canyon unit. "The Water Jugs" are a prominent rock formation in the area that lend a fascinating geologic point of interest to the dramatic forces of erosion in an elevation range of 5,600 to 6,500 feet.

Kings Canyon is long and wide with rolling pinyon-juniper forests and expansive parks of sage shrublands. Tom Canyon is narrow and short with high sandstone walls. The mesas atop the canyon rims command views of the Little Dolores River and give way to a vast landscape of pinyon-juniper woodland and sagebrush basins reaching into Utah. Hikers have the chance to spot Peregrine falcons and bald eagle, majestic inhabitants of Kings Canyon.

"Following the rim, I enjoyed the beautiful vistas and interesting red rock formations. The gentle stillness and a feeling of solitude surrounded me as the shadows of passing clouds moved over the valley and rocks below. We saw a few arches in the rocks and some truly beautiful sandstone rock formations.

"There were many varieties of wildflowers, yucca, cacti, serviceberry and cliffrose, all in bloom.

"I definitely would recommend that this area be preserved as a land with wilderness characteristics, to create a continuous area of wilderness protection to the Westwater Wilderness Study Area to the west, as well as for its own uniquely beautiful wilderness attributes."

- Debra Cahill

Photo: Conservation Colorado

Brush Mountain (Carr Creek)

Brush Mountain is comprised of the upper six miles or so of a large canyon containing Carr Creek, with canyon walls that rise almost 2000 vertical feet at their deepest.

Carr Creek was found eligible by the BLM for inclusion in the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers system, and it contains a core conservation population of Colorado River cutthroat trout, which is a Colorado Species of Special Concern. Recent genetic studies by Colorado Parks and Wildlife indicate that this population may in fact be the rare Greenback Cutthroat trout species, which is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

This isolated and wild area is difficult to access, but anyone who does is richly rewarded with a landscape of deep canyon walls and the clear-running Carr Creek. Bush Mountain provides outstanding primitive recreational opportunities, especially backcountry fishing. 

"The close proximity to towns like Grand Junction, Parachute, Rifle, allow for a quick escape to a wilderness area where trout fishing, nature photography, backpacking and bird watching are all there to enjoy. Wildlife in this area should be allowed to flourish without the threats from gas & oil as well as development. Trout fishing in this area provides the escape that anglers of all ages enjoy. Keep it wild!"

- Mark McDonald

Photo: jcroonen, flickr

Sinbad Valley

The Sinbad Valley proposed lands with wilderness characteristics unit comprises lands on the top of Sewemup Mesa. This encompasses the steep sides of the mesa, including the numerous canyons and draws that peel down off of the mesa top towards the Dolores River and Salt Creek, as well as the northwestern portion of the Sinbad Valley.

Isolated from development and most human activity by a fortress-like bastion of high, almost impregnable cliffs, Sewemup Mesa is one of the most ecologically pristine areas in western Colorado. A striking band of thousand-foot-high cliffs of Wingate Sandstone encircles more than 75% of Sewemup Mesa. These cliffs rise out of the slickrock gorge of the Dolores River on the east, and to the west they tower above Sinbad Valley, the remnants of a collapsed salt dome. Domes of pink-banded Entrada Sandstone dot the top of the mesa, breaking the sloping landscape of pinyon-juniper forest. Mountain lions prowl the mesa, and much of Sinbad Ridge and the mesa's lower slopes are important big-game winter range for deer and elk.

"Sinbad Valley is a mysterious, otherworldly realm with phenomenal secrets—rare plants, dinosaur tracks, incredible geologic formations, and Peregrine falcon aeries—not to mention outlaw history. Dramatic redrock ridges almost completely encircle the valley, creating a remote island of fragile ecological values and unmatched opportunities for solitude."

- Barbara Hawke

Photo: Soren Jespersen

Spring Canyon

Located in the Book Cliffs north of Grand Junction, Spring Canyon is a unit comprised of high forested ridges split by deep, cliff-lined canyons.  Spring Canyon is rarely visited, and provides extraordinary opportunities for solitude in its unnamed drainages and its airy ridges allow views of most of the Grand Valley and surrounding Book Cliffs. 

Black bear are prevalent in this area, and elk utilize the unit as winter habitat. Coal and Spring Canyons—narrow drainages that bisect the area—provide the visitor with outstanding hiking and scrambling opportunities. Anyone who visits Spring Canyon is likely to find complete solitude and isolation.

"The canyon was very wide open and home to many Douglas Fir, some very ancient ones, also oak brush. The new growth was very, very healthy and plentiful; wildflowers and serviceberry were in bloom everywhere.  There were also some very interesting sandstone or limestone formations near the stream with a variety of wind and water cut forms.  We saw no sign of humans, no footprints, trash, nothing other than the natural habitat. I could have kept hiking for hours. The sounds of birds, the quiet, the lush vegetation and the feeling of solitude made this canyon my favorite of the three we walked that day.  I highly recommend that this canyon be preserved as a land with wilderness characteristics."

- Debra Cahill

Photo: Scott Braden

Grand Junction Book Cliffs

The Grand Junction Book Cliffs encompass some of the most striking and well-known wildlands in the Grand Junction Field Office, from the narrow serpentine canyons of Hunter Canyon to the wildflower-speckled meadows and rolling sagebrush of Cow Ridge. This sprawling, wild landscape includes deep canyons undercutting rock walls and high mesas covered by sage, mountain mahogany and pinyon-juniper forest.

An area of particular interest in one of Hunter Canyon's tributaries is referred to locally as "Moon Valley." Vivid yellow, green, purple and blue-gray hues color the landscape here, creating outstanding photographic opportunities. Portions of the Grand Junction Book Cliffs are easily accessible from urban areas in the Grand Valley, while other areas are more remote and isolated, providing a variety of opportunities and settings for hiking, horseback riding, backpacking, photography and other backcountry recreation.

"The Grand Junction Book Cliffs are some of the wildest unprotected country left in Colorado and chances are you’ve never heard of it. Until I first visited the place, I thought the Book Cliffs were just the high ridges and lonely escarpments north of Fruita and Grand Junction. But the Book Cliffs are much more than a picturesque backdrop. This is an area to get lost in. From dark and moist sandstone canyons, to high and windswept ridges with views spanning south to the San Juans and west to the La Sals, the Book Cliffs is a massive landscape with many hidden treasures."

- Soren Jespersen

Photo: Juli Slivka

Munger Creek

Rising above the North Fruita desert and providing the backdrop for countless photographs in the Grand Junction area, the ramparts of the Munger Creek unit are an impressive collection of steep ridges and broken badlands peeling off of a lengthy southwest trending ridgeline separating Big Salt Wash from East Salt Creek.  

Although easily accessed from Grand Junction, Munger Creek contains numerous narrow drainages and hidden canyons that provide outstanding solitude.  From the high ridges one can look across the Grand Valley to Colorado National Monument, the Grand Mesa, and the Elk Mountains in the distance.    

"I've spent much of the past decade wandering through the lonely corners of northwest Colorado, mistakenly thinking that I have seen the best the region has to offer. Frankly, I couldn't have been more mistaken. The deep canyon defiles and finger ridges that fall below Douglas Pass is some of the most spectacular I have ever visited and Munger Creek is one of the highlights of this treasured landscape. Beyond it's awe-inspiring vistas, the Munger Creek area boats an astonishing concentration of quality wildlife habitat. In fact, nowhere in my years of hunting and fishing the west have I seen so much mountain lion and black bear sign. The fact that it's a short drive North from a regional hub like Grand Junction only highlights the importance of protecting this amazing place." 

- Luke Schafer

Photo: Soren Jespersen