Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Deeper Into Darkness

Exploring the region of the Dark Canyon plateau could easily take several years, as there are canyons, mountains, and mesas in abundance. I have to pick and choose carefully on this trip as time is limited.

With my truck I can reach a great many locations, but the inner canyon is not one of them. In an earlier post I mentioned the lone road into Dark Canyon, called the Peavine Corridor, however this trail is better suited to a purpose built 4x4 or an ATV. Since I wanted to get a better look at Dark Canyon from the inside, the only other option was my feet.

There is a variety of trails that descend into the canyon, which except for Peavine Corridor is managed as wilderness. I chose a likely looking route called Trail Canyon, which is located off a peninsula of plateau referred to as Long Point. The drive out to Long Point is particularly scenic, with open meadows studded with aspen and scrub oak, and further on excellent views of the canyon out north to Beef Basin.

The road drops several hundred feet off the main plateau to the west, where the trailhead for Trail Canyon descends into the gorge. The well-signed departure point has a register as well as some prominent warnings about the country being prime black bear habitat, putting hikers on notice.

On my visit the register indicated that very few people visit this remote and rugged area, with the most recent entry showing two hikers entering the canyon in May, nearly three months earlier. As far off the beaten path as Trail Canyon is it's easy to understand why more people don't make the trip.

The trail is rough and rocky, and wastes no time heading for the bottom. As Trail Canyon is a tributary of Dark Canyon, views on the way down are limited to the walls on either side and a few glimpses of the main stem canyon several miles ahead.

The geology is classic Colorado Plateau construction - layers of sedimentary rock, in this case primarily sandstone, with occasional volcanic intrusions like this granitic quartz seam.

The white and buff colored sandstone stands in contrast to the dark evergreen forest of pine, juniper, and fir. The relatively soft and easily eroded rock forms domes, alcoves, and hoodoos to capture the eye and the imagination.

The trail eventually reaches the bottom of the narrow canyon and follows the rocky streambed for several miles as it makes the journey towards the main canyon. There are a few small springs that surface and submerge in the channel, but otherwise there is little evidence of permanent water. Even so hikers would do well to remember that water is the chief architect of these canyons, and being down here during thunderstorm season is a risky proposition.

I did not have time to make the 10 mile round trip to the junction of Dark Canyon and Trail Canyon on this visit, but I went far enough to experience the absolute solitude and rugged beauty of this little known area. There are many more miles of trails to explore, and I learned later from locals that there are quite a few cliff dwellings tucked into alcoves and under ledges all through Trail Canyon.

Sounds to me like a pretty good reason to go back.

1 comment:

  1. I love the photography. Thank you for taking us with you on your trips.