CO – Uncompahgre Plateau (05/22)

How in the heck to you say Uncompahgre? One source says “uhng·kuhm·guh·gray,” another “un-come-pah-gray.” I’ve been practicing but dang I just can’t get it.

The Uncompahgre Plateau adjoins BLM managed Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, where I’d just spent a couple days (blog link). This area as well as the forest is OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) and hunter focused, with lots of campgrounds, but there are also a few designated hiking, biking, equestrian trails.

I’m learning these Colorado mesas and plateaus host unexpected forests. When viewed from the desert floor they appear as rocky escarpments but as you gain elevation, my kind of gifts lay waiting in every fold.

The coolest thing happened early my first morning. I was sitting in my car drinking my first cup of coffee when I looked up and saw this bobcat wandering past, just a few feet from my car. Blurry photos but you get the point.

I found a few floral delights near my campsite also.

I was excited to find this plant below as I saw a less mature variety at the Colorado National Monument when I visited a couple weeks previous (blog link).

I found these later which should make it even easier to identify. Townsendia incana (Silvery Townsendia) most likely.

There are three main roads dividing the plateau. I started with the Divide Road in the northern section off Highway 141. Some sources reference the sections as North, South and Mountain.

Unaweep Loop

A friend recommended the Unaweep Trail. I quickly researched and put together the route which included a mix of trail types and conditions, and way more miles than I would have chosen to hike. The first section was basically open to all types of users except standard vehicles.

I didn’t think too much about this grouse until . . .

She got all pissy and started closely circling me, hissing, squawking and flapping wings. I had to defend myself with my poles. She would not get the message. It was a battle I ultimately won but it wasn’t fun and in the future I would use my pepper spray. I’m sure she had a nest or young ones nearby, but obviously she still felt threatened.

The next trail is open to a few less users and is mostly single track.

This is how they limited access, not a bad idea.

And finally I found the hiking trail. Well . . . little did I know it would be a lot of Type 2 fun. I don’t like how this forest requires long miles of multi-use trails to reach a hiking/equestrian trail.

Oh where oh where is the trail? Frequently THE trail was indistinguishable from animal trails. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the trail on the ground didn’t match the digital trail. So yes, I spent a lot of time wandering and wasting energy.

Thankfully there were blooms to put a smile back on my face.

Larkspur
Cool to see this color variation on the Larkspur
False Lupine
Wallflower

The trail crosses over this ridge, before dropping straight down and then wanders along before eventually crossing Bear Canyon Creek.

This trail is a lot steeper than it looks. You’ll see on the profile photo at the end of this section.

The views would have been dramatic on a blue sky day. This is looking down on Highway 141. Basically the trail wraps a bunch of rocky escarpments.

The trail tends to keep you walking just above the rocky outcroppings, providing plenty of viewpoint opportunities.

As you transition between the escarpments, it was nice to find creeks.

You also get views of Grand Mesa where I spent time a couple weeks previous (blog link).

I was super excited to find blooming hairy clematis.

Blue Bells
Columbine

The best views are to the west where you can see the highlights of Utah including Castle Valley and the La Sals. Sadly lighting was far less than ideal.

The prize for a slip and fall was this fritillaria lily I would never had seen if not for this incident.

The next part of the loop was beyond Type 2 fun given the number of hours I’d been on trail. I felt a bit like this guy. From the hiker/equestrian trail you connect to the Snowshoe Trail, which sounds wonderful but take my word it’s anything but fun. It’s a straight rocky chute favored by motorcycles. I had to dig deep to climb, climb and climb some more.

I was almost dancing with joy when I reached this OHV road. It was 7pm and I could walk/run the 4.5 miles to finish this loop. If I wasn’t so scared of trail conditions I could have taken the Corral Fork Trail.

The first steep descent shown in the profile below was off the ridge toward the beginning of the hike; that last steep ascent is that motorcycle trail. The good news was this hike followed two days of backpacking. I felt like I was finally getting my trail legs after being on the road for a few weeks, and focusing on daily jaunts.

Unaweep Canyon

There are three primary roads providing access to the Uncompahgre Plateau. The Divide Road (aka Forest Road 402) is the one I initially took south from Highway 141. I returned the same way after my Unaweep loop hike. “Unaweep Canyon is a geologically unique canyon that cuts across the Uncompahgre Plateau. It is unique because two creeks, East Creek and West Creek, flow out of opposite ends of the canyon, separated by the almost imperceptible Unaweep Divide.” Source: Wikipedia

There are several worthwhile place to stop along the canyon. I wish I’d known about the Unaweep Seep Natural Area, about 8 miles north of Gateway. It has some interesting botany and geology. The Hanging Flume Interpretative Area is thought provoking.

You can see the flume supports on the right side of the river in this photo.

The drive along the San Miguel River to access the recreation of the wooden flumes was worthwhile as well.

I wished I’d done more advance research. There wasn’t cell service in the canyon so I couldn’t get additional details.

I picked up the Paradox Valley Petroglyph Tour brochure and followed the directions to the Hunting Magic Panel. I wanted to find the Shaman Panel as well, but after fighting the rancher gate and feeling uncomfortably warm, I decided I’d save that one for the future.

On my way to the Black Canyons of the Gunnison National Park (blog link) I also crossed the Plateau using the Delta-Nucla Road aka Forest Road 503 aka 25 Mesa Road.

After spending time in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, I returned to the west side using the Dave Wood Road aka Forest Road 510 before connecting to the Divide Road aka Forest Road 402. I hiked the Dave Wood Interpretative Trail (aka Simms Mesa). I downloaded the brochure and found it interesting, and the hike quite enjoyable.

The Divide Road provided some great viewpoints looking toward the San Juan Mountains, with Mt Sneffels dominating at 14,158 feet. I’m hoping to spend some time on the Colorado Trail and this was a great tease.

The road naming confusion! Old Highway 90 out of Montrose is known as Forest Road 540 or the 90 Road.

Tips:

  • Delta and Montrose are good resupply locations. Montrose has travel center truck stops and a KOA for showers. On the west side, Gateway has a general store as does Naturita; I don’t recall if either had fuel stations.
  • Montrose has a Public Lands Visitor Center with information on both USFS and BLM options.
  • There’s a nice variety of camping options with paid and unpaid campgrounds as well as dispersed campsites.

Resources:

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