One of the most attractive aspects of living in western Colorado
is the numerous
places to visit on public land. For the average person with a
family, job and other responsibilities of modern life, it could
take an entire lifetime to visit all the places that are just a few
hours’ drive from Montrose.
The other day, I visited a place I have viewed from U.S. 50 many
times while traveling to and from Grand Junction. To locals it is
known as the “Hunting Ground.” The hunting ground is a narrow strip
of mostly public land between the Gunnison River and U.S. 50 from
the Bridgeport Road to Kannah Creek. The public land is managed by
the Bureau of Land Management and lies within the
Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.
My grandson, Marcus, joined me on a Super Bowl Sunday visit to the
Hunting Ground with our mountain bikes in tow. The day was calm,
crisp and sunny. Riding friends of mine had given me directions to
the singletrack in the area. I had also printed out a copy of the
topographic map for the area. We parked, unloaded the bikes and
then headed out to explore a new trail.
The land adjacent to the highway is open and flat, inhabited by
desert grasses and shrubs, but as you travel west, the topography
becomes rugged and fractured. Shallow canyons dotted with stands of
piñon and juniper and open meadows are the norm.
Initially, the trail crossed a shallow canyon. It was narrow, dry
and rocky in places. Snow clung only in the deepest shadows. As we
dropped into a second, larger canyon, the trail crossed solid rock,
making route finding difficult. We explored the slickrock briefly
before finding the trail as it headed up canyon.
After the first canyon crossing, we couldn’t see or hear the
highway off to the east. A development of scattered homes could bee
seen to the north. Mt. Garfield, overlooking
Palisade, was visible on the distant horizon.
The trail weaved through open meadows and up mellow hillsides for
another mile. Several times it faded, so we stopped to do some
route finding. At the base of some low cliffs, the trail connected
with a jeep road. There was more snow on the ground due to the
cliffs and dense tree cover. We couldn’t find where the singletrack
continued, so we followed the jeep road.
The road contoured through a low gap in the ridgeline, and then
dropped into the
next canyon. We climbed through a series of open flats before
reaching the rim that looked down on the Gunnison River. The view
A thousand feet below us, the Gunnison River shimmered lazily in
the afternoon sun. A horseshoe-shaped, rock-strewn basin lined with
several bands of cliffs spread out beneath us. We laid our bikes
down and stopped for lunch. Marcus wandered off to explore the
rocky ridge. After a few minutes, he called out that he had found a
nice place to sit down and eat.
As we nibbled on “cutie” oranges and trail mix, we looked around
for interesting features of our surroundings. The only sound was
the distant call of a raven. A golden eagle glided over the nearby
cliffs. Several bonsai-size junipers were growing out of solid
rock. The sandstone cliffs had eroded into craggy, irregular
Marcus noticed two potholes filled with water and a thin layer of
ice. During warmer weather, those potholes will be brimming with
tadpole and fairy shrimp. Marcus has a strong interest in the
natural environment. He’s full of questions, as I am with
grandfatherly responses and advice.
After lunch, we cruised along the road that follows the rim to the
east and south. The Grand Mesa dominated the landscape to the east.
A rolling, rocky descent brought us back to the truck.
What surprised me about the Hunting Ground was the sense of
remoteness I experienced there. The network of canyons isn’t
apparent from the highway. We encountered no others on the trail,
although there were several vehicles with ATV trailers parked near
us. Impacts from off road use and trash weren’t too bad. Future
management will have a few more rules and restrictions, but
hopefully allow people to enjoy the Hunting Ground in a responsible
To access the hunting ground, drive toward Grand Junction on U.S.
50. Turn left on the Bean Ranch Road just south of Kannah Creek.
Take the paved road south that soon turns to dirt. A parking area
and other roads signal you are on public land.
Bill Harris is a registered nurse
and author of “Bicycling the Uncompahgre Plateau.”
He has been exploring the backcountry of the Colorado Plateau since
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