Dominguez Canyon Wilderness 5/25-26/17

Backcountry site along Big Dominguez Canyon, trail has the same name. Dominguez Canyon trailhead, Whitewater, CO (4 hours 20 min / 260 miles from Denver). Trailhead is at the end of a gravel road and was easily accessible in a Honda Civic.

Information for this area is pretty scarce. Colorado’s Wild Areas site is the most comprehensive source we found, plus their map includes mileage. In case you’re looking for more information, it’s part of the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.

We left Denver much later than we meant to and got to the trailhead around 2:30 in the afternoon. We went up Big Dominguez Canyon but you can head for the Little Dominguez Canyon around the 3 mile mark. This split isn’t marked on the trail so a map or GPS device might be useful.

The trail is easy to follow until you get into the canyons, then there’s lots of minor trails going every direction. The canyon is fairly narrow so you really can’t get too far off the main trail. Look for Ute petroglyphs and rock shelters along the way.

Our plan was to camp near where Dry Fork meets Big Dominguez on the first night (about 5 miles in), then hike up Dry Fork to Poison Canyon to Little Dominguez (probably about 4 miles over what looks like some sketchy terrain) and stay there the second night, then hike out the last day. As usual, plans don’t mean much out here. We barely slept the first night because it was warm and very windy. Insulated sleeping pads and 10° quilts are way too warm at 50°. The quilts showed their versatility here since they’re able to be opened up and used like blankets.

Anyway, we decided to head out in the morning partially due to not sleeping much and partially because the trip had gone very well so far and we didn’t want to risk messing that up. Either way, it was plenty of time to test out new packs (Daniel swapped an Osprey Atmos AG 65L to an Osprey Exos 58L, I went from an Osprey Aura 65L to an Osprey Exos 48L) and I tried out new socks in an attempt to fix my blister problems (more on that in a future post when I figure out what consistently works).

What we learned:

  • We picked up sun hats after our last trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park. They obviously make a huge difference. We both hate the feel of sunscreen (but hate sunburns more) and only had to apply sunscreen to our hands and lower half of the face.
  • It might have just been the days we were there, but the wind tears through the canyon pretty much constantly. Try to balance finding a spot a bit higher than the stream to avoid condensation problems, but with some natural wind blocks if possible. We were up high enough that we didn’t have any condensation issues but the wind kept us up most of the night. It was windy enough that Daniel ventured out at 2 AM to check that the tent stakes hadn’t shifted.

A few notes on the area:

  • Watch for lizards! They’re everywhere and we saw at least three different species.
  • If you go off trail, wear sturdy boots and watch your step. It’s not fun to run into prickly pear cactus and it’s even less fun to pull the needles out.
  • Usual wilderness rules (camp 200 ft from water) apply. There’s a register about a mile from the trailhead where you enter your group size, where you’re headed, and how many days. On your way out, leave a comment if you saw any bighorn sheep or raptor nests.
  • Part of the trail is day use only and you can see that here. It’s not marked on the trail. We use a Garmin so I drew a line on the topo in BaseCamp and used it as a guideline.
  • Try to go during the fall, winter, or spring. Triple digits are the norm in the summer and there isn’t much shade.
  • Cell service is spotty. We have Verizon phones and had weak 4G signal at the trailhead and patchy 1x or 3G in the canyons.

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