On the Trail: A quick desert fix
October 20, 2005
When I’m hankering for a desert fix but can’t quite swing the logistics of a Moab expedition, I head to Grand Junction.The Colorado National Monument, though overly accessible/commercial in the way of national parks – $5 fee at the entry gate, visitor’s center, paved road though the place and ridiculously well-marked trails – still offers a credible bit of desert solitude and the scenery to match.My favorite times to hike there are early spring and late fall, when the temperatures are pleasantly warm but not blistering. The Ute Canyon trail offers running water in the spring and towering pink walls of the quintessential Utah variety. It also is accessible from outside the park gate for an uphill hike into the canyon, then a long walk the length of the canyon and a last, steep pitch to the rim.No Thoroughfare Canyon is also a great spring hike along a running creek that features one picture-perfect green pool with a small waterfall, followed by a couple of truly impressive falls farther up the canyon. The third one can’t be easy circumvented, so I’ve never been beyond it.I’ve done both numerous times, usually getting an early start, and had the canyons to myself or nearly so. The 275,000 people a year who reportedly visit the monument must stick to short strolls and the road.Last weekend, I was prepared to deny myself a repeat of picturesque No Thoroughfare, one of my favorites, reasoning the water wouldn’t be running at this time of the year. A large group of hikers grouped at the trailhead solidified my resolve. Instead, I intended to turn off at a fork shortly after the trailhead and follow Gordon’s Trail, a route I’ve eyed, but passed up, several times.First, though, I ventured down a third option at the trail junction and found myself winding into Echo Canyon, which I hadn’t even realized existed. At midday on a Saturday, I found myself alone in a small but scenic canyon, following the scalloped mud of a mostly dry streambed beneath the shade of golden cottonwoods.Twenty minutes into the hike, it felt as though I was many miles from civilization. Unfortunately, 25 minutes into the hike, I reached the end of a box canyon and had to turn around – after shouting “hello.” The canyon responded.