Backpacking Big Dominguez Canyon

Saturday & Sunday, April 28-29, 2012

I’m proud to say that I have finally gone on my very first backpacking trip. I’ve been collecting gear for the past few months and finally scheduled a trip with my friend Jackson and his dad. Since this was my first time, I wanted to keep the trip shorter and closer to home…kind of like a trial run to see how it all went. I’m happy to report that everything went well, and I’m looking forward to my next backpacking trip in the future.

Overall, I think I made some good choices when I was selecting gear over the past few months, but I’m sure I’ll be making some changes here and there to try and get the weight down further. With my pack loaded up with camping gear, food, water and camera gear, I was carrying just under 40lbs (with my camera around my neck, the weight on my back dropped to 35lbs). I’d like to get that number closer to 30lbs in the future, but it’s probably going to take some trial and error.

Since I was looking for a destination close to home and with not too long of a hike, we settled on Big Dominguez Canyon. It’s only about 20 miles from my house and was supposed to be about 7 miles in length. I have day-hiked the canyon from Bridgeport a few times before, but never gone more than a few miles in. This time we would be starting from the Cactus Park trailhead and descending down the canyon to Bridgeport.

After dropping off a truck at Bridgeport on Saturday morning, we loaded up my Jeep and drove up to Cactus Park. We were expecting to be able to drive to the rim of Dominguez Canyon and then hike down into the canyon, but that’s not quite how it worked out. What we found was a pretty new gate across the road about two miles from the canyon. Apparently, when this area became an official wilderness back in 2009, they must have extended the boundaries or removed the cherry-stem for this road and closed it. So, right from the start our planned hike was going to be two miles longer. We got our packs on our backs and started hiking down the closed road.

An old sign indicating the way to Dominguez Canyon found along the old closed road. The Wilderness Study Area sign is a bit outdated since this area is officially a Wilderness now.

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Dominguez Canyon Trail by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Jackson and his dad are birders, so they frequently stopped to find and identify birds they heard along the way.

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Bird Watching by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When we finally reached the rim, we had a difficult time locating the trail down into the canyon. We ended up walking the rim looking for a way down the wrong way at first and then had to retrace our path and hike the other way. We did finally manage to find the steep route into the canyon, but it ended up adding a few more miles to our hike.

A great view from the rim of the canyon with Triangle Mesa and the Grand Mesa in the distance.

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Big Dominguez Canyon & Triangle Mesa by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Jackson’s dad on the rim of the canyon as we tried to figure out the way down.

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On the Edge by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Our first descent down to the next bench.

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Hiking Down by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Hiking the slickrock as we searched for a way down to the bottom of the canyon.

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Slickrock Hiking by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After a few miles of extra hiking we did finally find the steep route into Dominguez Canyon.

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Into Dominguez Canyon by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Apparently someone didn’t like the steep and loose trail out of the canyon…

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Fool Travel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Once we were down in the canyon we stopped for a late lunch and a little rest. It was still a little too early to setup camp, so we hiked down the canyon another mile or so before finding a place to stop for the night. Along the way we stopped to check out an old mine and then a few petroglyphs on a large boulder. Since Dominguez Creek was down in a smaller canyon carved into the hard precambrian rock we scrambled down to a flat area along the creek to setup camp so that we were close to water.

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Along the Trail by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

An old hand-cranked winch near the mine.

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Old Winch by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The deep mine shaft was covered up by the BLM many years back.

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Jackson on the Shaft by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

An old metal box and stone shelter near the mine.

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Mining Equipment by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

This particular area was apparently mined by a man named Archie Smith in the early 1900’s.

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Archie Smith 1907 by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After leaving the mine I stopped for a photo of this large Collared Lizard on a rock next to the trail.

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Collared Lizard by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Getting closer to our stopping point for the evening.

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Moving by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The first set of petroglyphs we came across were pretty faint.

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Faint Petroglyphs by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After setting up camp and having some dinner I scrambled back out of the smaller canyon to take a few photos before sunset.

A view down the canyon shortly before the sun disappeared behind the rim of the canyon.

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Evening View by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

There was a large boulder above our campsite that contained some better petroglyphs.

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Circles & Lines by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

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Low Petroglyphs by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Just a photo of my very first backpacking camp. I really like the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 tent I got. I didn’t need to use the rainfly on this trip!

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Dominguez Camp by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Before the light was gone for the evening, I took a few photos of the small cascades in Dominguez Creek near our camp.

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Dominguez Creek by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When the sun was down and the moon and stars were out, I took a few night shots along the creek, too. I was experimenting with different settings but still managed to get a few nice photos.

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Dominguez Creek Stars by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The weather overnight got a little cool, but not cold. I was actually very comfortable in my sleeping bag without the rainfly on my tent. The following morning we had some breakfast and took down our camp before hiking back down the canyon. We stopped at a few more petroglyph sites along the way and then at the large waterfall. While we were at the waterfall, we ran into Angela Classen, a local photographer I am friends with on Facebook but have never met. We talked a little and took some photos. I climbed up to a new area across from the falls for some different photos of the falls.

Another boulder with a few bighorn sheep petroglyphs on it. I missed this one, but Jackson spotted it and pointed it out to me.

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Sheep Boulder by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When I went around the back of the boulder to see if there were any more petroglyphs, I looked up and saw that I was being watched by some real bighorn sheep. Since I didn’t bring along my heavy telephoto lens on this trip, I had to settle for this shot taken with my normal walk-around lens. There were even a few baby sheep up there!

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Sheep Above by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Back on the trail again.

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On the Trail by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

We finally reached the petroglyph panels I have been to a few times before, meaning the rest of the hike would be in familiar territory.

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Armadillo Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

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Lower Panel by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A different view of the popular Dominguez Creek waterfall. I’m going to have to return here again in the future when there’s some better light.

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Hoodoo & Waterfall by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

After leaving the falls we continued down the canyon until we reached the Gunnison River, which we followed back to Bridgeport.

One of the many old stone shelters found under large boulders in the canyon.

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Stone Shelter by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

An obligatory shot of the Bridgeport bridge across the Gunnison River.

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Bridgeport Bridge by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The view down the Gunnison River including the old suspension bridge.

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Gunnison River by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Once we reached the trailhead, we took the truck and went back up to Cactus Park to pick up my Jeep. I have to say that I had a great time on my very first backpacking trip and I am certainly looking forward to future trips.

>> Backpacking Big Dominguez Canyon Photo Gallery


5 Comments

  1. Chris Williams April 8, 2013 2:51 pm  Reply

    Just posted this page to my favorite places. My uncle, cousin and I are going to be there in July and your pics just make time move that much slower! The more we look at the area the more we wish we were there. We are planning a day in the canyon but it looks like we need to plan on an overnighter!

  2. Brandon May 6, 2013 12:36 pm  Reply

    What kind of camera do you have? The night shots of the creek are amazing. Love Big Dominguez, when I lived in GJ it was my weekly escape.

    • Randy Langstraat May 7, 2013 11:53 am  Reply

      The night shots were taken with a Canon 5DmkII. I currently use a 6D and 5DmkIII.

  3. Chris Williams August 1, 2013 9:36 pm  Reply

    Sadly, we never made it to the canyon. We just had to much to do and to little time to do it.
    I am planning a solo trip next year and was wondering if you had any advice on cameras(digital and film) lenses or other equipment.

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