Big Dominguez Canyon – A Hike Worth Visiting
Big Dominguez Canyon
We started our hike around noon on a Saturday with the plan of hiking as far into Big Dominguez Canyon as we could.
It was already pretty warm, especially for early March, around 80 degrees F. We got onto the trail about the same time as another family and only saw one or two groups leaving until after we crossed the bridge. That was strange considering the upper parking lot was completely full. The hike starts off pretty boring, you cross over a hill and follow the train tracks to the old parking lot, then cross a foot bridge across the Gunnison River.
Bridgeport was established as an orchard and crossing for those traveling into the hills in the late 1800’s. The ditch and bridge that were built at that time are still there, although that bridge is private for the home still standing in Bridgeport. We eventually came to the opening of the canyon where an old, small dam was built out of railroad rails to divert water into the ditch for the orchards.
First Part of the Trail
The first part of the trail is pretty as you enter Dominguez Canyon and there is an old corral right as you enter. There is also a hut built under a large boulder off to the right of the trail about half a mile back. Just past this, the trail forks to head up Little and Big Dominguez Canyons. The trail up LDC was hard to spot and I would assume not many people travel it anymore. One of the guides I have, written in 2005, has a picture of the split, and that’s the only reason I knew where it was. We saw a lot of people leaving as we made it to this point.
Maybe another ½ mile up there are some nice large boulders to stop and catch some shade and rest up. We saw some groups down at the creek and several more passed us coming out. Not too much further from here, we started coming across some of the many petroglyphs that you see in the canyon. Many depict hunting grounds and rough maps. Some even depict the conquistadors, mining claims, and the Bridgeport settlement. Unfortunately, people seem to think that they can also etch their names and initials on the rock and some even do it over other markings.
Shortly after the last of the first group of markings, you skirt a small, cottonwood covered section of the creek, which is another good point to stop and take a break. Further into the canyon, we found several more rocks with markings and the trail goes under two slabs of rock, making for a unique hike. Another short walk from this is an old camping spot which looks like it has a post to hang meat for hunters and trappers. Its right next to an old cedar tree and a small cliff is opposite the creek from you.
You can get a great scope of how wide and tall this canyon is from this point on. There are a couple more spots of petroglyphs but we didn’t see some of them until the way out the next day. We finally came across the old mining camp. There is a small hut built under two large boulders, some mining equipment, and a pit with a cover over for safety that’s well over 100 feet deep! From here, we hiked another half mile or so, just past a barbed wire fence and set up camp on the left side of the trail, just up from the river. We found out just shortly after, that the split to head up to Cactus Park Trail was just 15 feet from where we turned off trail.
Setting up Camp
The weather was great so we didn’t even put our rain flies on our tents and didn’t need to put jackets on until about 8 pm. We spent some time refilling our water supply with our Sawyer Mini Water Filtrator. Since the water coming off of the mountains is spring runoff, there was a ton of sediment in it. We had expected it, but didn’t think it would cause any issues. It ended up putting extra strain on our filters but they still worked like a charm. Every couple of bottles, we would clean them out by reverse filtering clean water through them with the syringe that comes with the kit. I found a small animal skeleton in the cracks in the granite rocks where the packrats like to live, but this looked to be more of a predator because of the large canines on it.
There was a light breeze so we decided that a fire wasn’t a good idea but the stars were out en mass so we talked as we looked for passing satellites. This trip was mostly to test our new gear, including new sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camp stoves, and tents, as well as new backpack configurations. Everything tested well enough, although my self-inflating sleeping pad got a tear in it so I’m going to look into different pads that will work for a stomach sleeper like myself.
The night passed and I woke up just before dawn. My sister and dad slept in another tent and I didn’t hear them moving around so I decided to get up, eat a small snack and head up to Cactus Park Trail. The first part is fairly steep and the trail becomes harder to follow as not many people make it this far back. We figured that it was 7 miles from the parking lot to this split in the trial. I was almost at the top when the sun finally met me and it started to warm up quickly. I made it another mile and half or so once I was on top before turning around. This trail takes you above Dominguez Canyon around Triangle Mesa before meeting up with the road that you get to from Gateway Canyon. You get a great vantage point of the entire canyon and how much height and distance you’ve really done.
Once I turned around, I made quick work of the return trip back to camp. Be on the lookout for cairns placed about to help guide your way along the trail. I made my way down most of the final hill before stopping so I wouldn’t disturb the late risers in camp. I saw them finally stirring just after the sun started to beat down on camp. We ate breakfast and packed up, then started our outward bound trip. It was almost all downhill so it only took us a couple of hours to make it back to the truck and we passed quite a few groups, some were there to clean up trash and invasive species along the creek for the Division of Wildlife.
My thoughts about the hike
When we got back into town, my dad spent several days cleaning out his sawyer of all of the sediment that had been deposited and researched ways to pre filter it better. The forums he read suggested that you collect it in a handkerchief and let that gravity feed into your dirty water bottle. This was the biggest issue we came across so I would definitely call this trip a complete success. The trip weather could not have been better, the scenery was fantastic, and the company, as always, makes the trip!