Sunday, March 06, 2011

2011 - January 25th - Echo Canyon - Colorado National Monument

After the short hike up to The Devil's Kitchen, I decided to explore another area that branched from the same trail head. I didn't have much knowledge of the area save for its name, but "Echo Canyon" sounded pretty cool.

The Echo Canyon trail branches from the No Thoroughfare/Devil's Kitchen Trail and then later from the Old Gordon Trail. From the trail head, it joins the wash that exits No Thoroughfare Canyon and follows it downstream for a little while. Soon, private homes are visible. According to all of the maps I have seen, the trail should continue to the confluence of the No Thoroughfare Wash and the drainage that comes out of Echo Canyon. This is not the case, however. The trail leaves the N.T. drainage and climbs along the edge of the Monument boundary along what is essentially the Old Gordon Trail. After 250ft of elevation gain, the trail finally branches east, down into the Echo Canyon drainage. I figure that the land the old trail was on has either become privately-owned or the owners no longer want people on their land. Either way, the maps are not correct, but the trail is well marked.

When I made it down into Echo Canyon, I was surprised to find running water at its bottom, along with a lot of foliage including some slender trees. As I walked deeper into the canyon, many areas were frozen. I was astonished to see that most of the plants in the bottom of the canyon are all bent downstream indicating that the area has either seen high water or extremely powerful winds. I would side with the former.

I kept thinking to myself about how amazing it would be to be in the canyon bottom for a flash flood. Safely, of course.

Turning a corner, I found that the frozen stream hugged one of the canyon walls and "flows" under a natural bridge created by a fallen, leaning rock.

Obviously I had to walk under it. Luckily, the ice was stable. I also noticed that the yellowish-rock from the wall had powdered off and dusted the ice.

Looking back downstream.

The trail leaves the creek bottom after a turn and climbs a hill adjacent to the vertical canyon walls. Eventually, the elevation of the drainage catches up to the trail and they meet again. I tend to hike with my head down and go as far as I can go, often not taking pictures on the way in, which is why many areas will be explained as I detail my way back out.

Looking up-canyon.

A cairn used to mark the trail.

The high, beautifully-lit canyon wall.

On the map, the trail abruptly ends and I suppose that this was my biggest curiosity about it. Another trail does descend into the drainage higher up and I wondered why they didn't meet.

I found my answer soon, however, as the canyon widens out a bit and nestled behind several cottonwood trees, it comes to an abrupt end. The lower portion of Echo Canyon exists as a box canyon, not dissimilar to other portions of the Monument, but this shadowed corner held evidence of what could potentially be a spectacular waterfall... if there was ever water flowing through this portion of the canyon that is. At its base, a small amount of ice had collected signifying a small amount of moisture making it down, but it wasn't even actively dripping during my visit.

Looking up from the frozen pool, the edge of the dry fall and its eroded notch.

Awesome patterns on the canyon walls.

A poorly contrasted shot of the area showing the "falls". (*Note that this dry waterfall does not appear on any map that I have seen. I'm just going to refer to it as Echo Canyon Falls.)

A better-contrasted shot of the end of the canyon from farther back.

I stopped here for a while to enjoy the complete silence of the area. True to its name, any small noise that I made echoed extensively off of the canyon walls. I ate some peanut brittle and explored a tiny cave in the canyon wall. Unfortunately, the pictures did not turn out well... and it was nothing much to look at anyway.

It was starting to get later in the day and the light angle improved, casting a more-reddish glow on the canyon walls. However, the contrast issues were difficult to overcome with my camera as it was quite dark at the canyon bottom. Still, there was a bit of a glow cast from light reflecting on the red sandstone and I tried to take some pictures of the trees at the end of the canyon.

Eventually I decided to get moving and head back out of the canyon. I encountered another hiker here and this would actually be only the second person I had seen out on the trails that day.

I paused for a moment where the stream bed cut under a shelf of sandstone and tried to get a decent picture.

Past the sandstone shelf, I noticed that another wash joined the main stream bed from the west. I looked up and noticed that on the western canyon wall, a deep semi-circular cut had eroded through. Were this a glacially-affected area, I would call it a cirque.

I decided to climb into the drainage and explore it. I couldn't help but notice this very citrusy scent that I still can't explain... but I rather liked it. The drainage ends in similar at the base of the "cirque" and has a carved out bottom, as if water had poured explosively down into it, digging it out. In fact, there was a buildup of ice at the bottom as well indicated that at least a little water had flowed into it.

Looking up, I realized that there was a thin shelf above the bottom, which the water would pour down off of, were it to flow.

Before I climbed down into the tangled stream bottom for a different perspective, I turned and took a picture of the end of Echo Canyon. The pictures after the first are all from the bottom of the "falls".

As I was standing at the bottom, I heard a noise above me and eventually a rock tumbled off the shelf into the bottom of the carved hole. I'm not sure if it fell naturally or if something living moved it.

I have decided to call this uncharted fall "Half Lemon Falls" due to the strange citrusy scent and how the drainage is carved in a semi-circle.

I rejoined the Echo Canyon drainage and continued back downstream.

Reflected canyon light sets a glow under this sandstone shelf.

Interesting erosive patterns.

Where the trail leaves the drainage.

I decided to stay with the drainage instead of following the trail so I could explore how the bottom drops so much. To my delight, I found a series of three short "falls" and frozen pools beneath them.

Portions of the drainage did actually contain running water and after the last pool, water seemed to emerge from the gravelly bottom and flow for twenty yards or so along the canyon wall. In places, water actually seeped from the wall itself and even in the cold canyon air, green blooms of algae could be found.

The water disappears again after a while, leaving only patterned sand on the stream bed.

Back through the natural bridge.

Leaves frozen in the ice.

Eventually, it was time to leave the canyon and I made the hike back out of the drainage to the junction with the Old Gordon Trail and followed it back to the trail head where my vehicle was parked.

* * *

I wasn't done yet, though! The sky was blue and the sun was getting low in the sky. On a whim, I decided to drive up to Glade Park and do a bit of exploring before sundown, so I drove back up into the Monument.

Finally out of the lower reaches, the land levels out quite surprisingly. This is the area known as Glade Park. I began to fantasize about tornadoes...

Anyway, I thought I might have time to go drive to a waterafall marked on maps along the Little Dolores River. With haste, I crossed Glade park and down into the shallow Trail Canyon. The road is actually paved through this entire area. I took a dirt road south out of the canyon past a place called "Miracle Rock" which I plan to explore in the future and finally reached a vacant campground adjacent to where the waterfalls are marked on the map. I didn't know it at the time, but the waterfalls are actually known as the "Potholes". I tried to drive through the roads in the campground, but with deep snow and mud on the trails and my four-wheel-drive being iffy, I decided to give up. Plus, it was completely silent in the area and I was really hoping for an active waterfall to picture. I will have to go back to the area some time.

I returned to Glade Park as the sun began to set. The area isn't really an organized metropolis by any means, the place-marker on the map exists at an intersection where exists the Glade Park Store.

Just to change things up a bit, I decided to descend back into the Grand Valley by way of the Little Park Road instead of going back through the Monument. It was a beautiful scene as the last rays of the sun kissed the tops of the Book Cliffs and Mount Garfield and eventually Grand Mesa itself.

* * *

All in all, it was a tremendous day of exploring, though I was not very happy with the way the images turned out. I had trouble dealing with the range of light in the canyon and think that the time of day I went probably worked to my disadvantage. Still, the Devil's Kitchen was cool, Echo Canyon amazing and I even found Glade Park to be very interesting.

I left with a strong desire to return to Echo Canyon... especially when it may have more water moving through...



Kendell said...

I just heard that the Colorado National Monument might become a national park.

Dann Cianca said...

I know they are pushing for it, but as of right now, they haven't gone through with it.

Angela Classen said...

Dann, I enjoyed your article about Echo Canyon. I hiked it for the first time this afternoon and enjoyed some of that AWESOME weather you conjured up for us ;-) I will probably post a few of my pics on my blog later if you'd like to check them out. The hike was great, and I definitely plan to go back in spring when there's some runoff to check out the waterfall. My blog:

Dann Cianca said...

Hi, Angela: Thanks for the comment. Echo Canyon is one of my favorites, but I'm afraid that even during last year's runoff, it remained dry save for just a dribble. I suspect you need to be in there during a flash flood to actually realize the waterfall.

Here is my favorite shot from Echo Canyon: