Sunday, October 02, 2011

2011 - May 11th - Ladder Canyon/Mica Mine & Middle Rough Canyon, Bangs Canyon Special Recreation Management Area

I had spent most of the spring so far waterfall-hunting in area canyons.  I had visited every nearby waterfall that appeared on maps (dry or not) and my research took me to off-map falls.  One of those mentioned was a fall in Rough Canyon, which isn't too far out of Grand Junction.  

Also nearby is the fabled "Mica Mine" in Ladder Canyon.  I had heard several people speak of it being a fun hike and upon doing a little research, discovered that there was at least a seasonal waterfall nearby as well.

The weekend prior to my venture into the area, warm temperatures had accelerated area snow-melt.  A system moving through on Monday dumped anywhere from a quarter to a half of an inch of rain over the area as well.  That is a lot of rain in the desert.

I figured that this would be a good time to go waterfall hunting.  I don't want to give anything away, but I was right.

The areas I wanted to explore can be accessed from the Bangs Canyon trail head of Little Park Road.  As per usual, I got a late start and it was already late afternoon when I arrived.  I took a while to look over the BLM map before hitting the trail.  I figured I could visit the Mica Mine area and then go down Rough Canyon to the waterfall if I made haste.

The trail heads west from the parking lot, downhill into a small canyon.  Steps are hewn into the stone, making it relatively easy to travel.  The dry canyon intersects Rough Canyon at a right angle and the trail splits.  A sign points upstream for the Mica Mine, so I turned right, very pleased with the fact that I could hear a good deal of water moving through the stream bed.

The sound was verified shortly thereafter as the trail actually crosses the stream, which I had to jump.  It was not just trickling, but certainly flowing.  And the water, unlike other area washes I had come across, was relatively clear.

The trail keeps close to the creek, crossing it several times as it meanders through the bottom of the tight canyon.  In many locations, the creek cuts under the sandstone cliffs, with some impressive overhangs.  The cloudcover at the time discouraged me from getting my camera out.

I had prepared for rain, so most of my equipment was sealed up in my backpack and I had my cheap, WalStarMart rain coat handy. 

After a mile or so, Ladder and Rough Canyons diverge.  Interestingly, there was only a trickle of water coming out of what I would call "upper" Rough Canyon, while the stream coming out of Ladder Canyon was still flowing quite well.

After another quarter mile, I found several patches of crushed quartz beside the trail.  I knew I had to be getting close to the mine.  There were also several pieces of rusted metal and cable nearby.  

Finally, the canyon tightens and when the trail rounds a bend, the Mica Mine is evident.  There are several veins of mineral excised from the rock wall and what remains is almost a pink quartz with a few outcrops of mica.

The Mica Mine

Mica detail

I spent a few minutes taking pictures and exploring shallow caves.  Much to my delight, there was a small waterfall nearby.  Plus, the trees in this alcove were blossoming, which made it especially nice. 

The clouds began to threaten this point, but I decided to continue upstream to see if I could locate a waterfall I had read about.  The picture that I  had found was low-resolution and portrayed a frozen waterfall, so I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for. 

But, after a short hike, around a couple of bends, I saw it.  I would estimate its height at thirty feet, perhaps approaching forty if you count the smaller, higher drop right above the main drop.

(If you're curious about finding it yourself, it is approximately 1.4 miles from the parking lot if you follow the trail.) 

Falls in Ladder Canyon*

I spent some time climbing the slippery rocks on the north side of the waterfall, trying to get a good angle to take a picture.  This endeavor was impeded by thick brush and rain which was starting to fall.  I put my rain coat on and tried to keep my camera dry as I shot a few pictures. 

With small, lower cascade.

Eventually, I found myself cowering under a rock ledge as the rain mixed with some sort of ice pellet.  It was almost like sleet, but the temperature was above freezing.  It wasn't grauple and I don't think it was hail.  They were small, clear ice pellets.  Perhaps there was a significant sub-freezing layer just above.  I wish I would have had a weather balloon to launch at the time!

Though the precipitation began to wind down, I decided I better make haste back down-canyon if I wanted to make it to the falls in Rough Canyon.  On my way out, I spotted a small arch on the fin of rock between Rough and Ladder Canyons (I would like to revisit this at some point).  The light was harsh, so I wasn't able to get a great picture.

The rain seemed to clear relatively quickly and it almost seemed like the sun wanted to come out.  Though, it was still obscured to some extent by high clouds.

I made pretty good time back to junction where with the trail back to the trail head.  I kept going straight, though, downstream into Rough Canyon.  The trail didn't change much.  It continued to follow and occasionally cross the stream which followed the meanders of the canyon.  Soon, though, the bottom of the canyon began to lose elevation.  The creek left its sandy bottom and fanned out over slick rock, dropping into small pools.  At one point, I was afforded a fantastic view down-canyon.  It was an optical illusion of sorts, making it appear as if the canyon continually dropped precipitously toward the end of the world.  I believe that I was able to capture that feeling in the following image:

Just below where to took that photo, there is a nice ten foot waterfall.  I took an unnecessarily difficult route down to it (I'd find out later), but it was worth it.

I call it "Edge-Of-The-Earth Falls"*

I stopped and took a few pictures before continuing down.  Not too far from this waterfall, the creek drops quite a bit into a tight canyon, but the trail turns right along the side of the cliff, along a relatively exposed path.  It continues east from there, slowly losing elevation along the natural contour.  Eventually, the trail meets back up with the creek, bypassing the big drop.

Continuing along, started to lose the trail in places.  I figured out that the trail was actually the stream bed itself in many cases.  By necessity, it was time to get my shoes wet.  The nice thing about that is that once your shoes are wet, they don't get more wet.

Regardless, it was slow going as I continued to follow the creek (mostly in the creek) through the tight canyon.  Occasionally, the trail would leave the stream, but I spent most of the time hopping over rocks.  The most difficult parts came when the creek dropped five to fifteen feet.  On several occasions, I was forced to make a treacherous traverse of boulders or lose piles of rubble.  On the bright side, the canyon was filled with lush vegetation, a stark contrast to many areas of the desert that I have explored.

Some ways down canyon, a recent rockfall made going a little more difficult as well, especially since it had piled up some vegetation which dammed the creek to some extent.  This canyon required a lot more effort than I had originally anticipated.

Though the weather was holding, it was starting to get late.  I sat at a large bend in the canyon and had some trail mix.  After pulling out my map, I realized that I was still at least a mile from the waterfall I wanted to see and though a mile normally wouldn't take me a considerable amount of time, given the difficulty I had already encountered, I resolved to turn around and head back upstream.

I figured I could stop and take some more exposed photos on the way back up as the light was beginning to fade fast.  So, I took my time on the way back, stopping occasionally at the small drops on the way.  The light reaching the bottom of the canyon was soft and made for great photos.  The first is a good example of the normal terrain at the bottom of the canyon.  As you can see, I spent a lot of time climbing back "up the creek." 

Rough Canyon scenery.

I call this one "Taffeta Falls"*
Closer zoom.
Closest zoom.

Eventually, I reached the point in the canyon where the trail leaves the bottom and switches back up the contour of the wall.  I decided to follow the stream forward but unfortunately came to a relatively impassible point.

So, I got back on the trail and climbed up a bit, deciding to descend into the unknown portion of the creek.  I knew that there had to be a decent drop in there as I could hear it.  Though I did slide down the moist rock face to some extent, I finally found myself where I wanted to be:  at a nice, little waterfall.  I call it "Black Pool Falls". 

"Black Pool Falls"

I even figured I'd get a picture of myself.  It was actually getting quite dark at this point.  The photo below is a 3second exposure at F2.8 and I had my head lamp on to illuminate the waterfall.

Getting back out was a little more difficult than getting in, but I managed it.  Back on the trail, along the exposed cliffside, I thought I heard something and it got my hackles up.  Moments later, I was sure of it.  Something was vocalizing around the bend.  My hand fondled the knife in my pocket as I caught movement ahead of me on the trail.  Rounding the bend was a group of four younger kids, probably high school age.  I made some noise so they noticed me before getting too close as it was getting quite dark.

While passing, they mentioned they were heading to visit the "lemon squeezer".  I recognized it from an article I had read about the area.  Apparently, it's a crack in the cliff face where you can use your hands and feet to prop yourself up and travel across.  For whatever reason, they wanted to do it in the dark.  I just continued on.

I stopped at Edge-Of-The-World Falls again for a portrait and a few more pictures.  This one is a 15 second exposure.  I tried to stand still.

The rest of the hike back to the car was in darkness and I felt lucky to have my headlamp on.  There's something uncomfortable about hiking in a dark canyon thick with brush and loud, rushing water nearby.  Call it instinct, but I was a bit uncomfortable.

Though I didn't reach the known falls of Rough Canyon, I felt that this was an accomplishing adventure.  Looking back, I think I was lucky to get to experience this canyon during high runoff.  (I've been back since and found the stream bed to be quite dry.)

Detail Map:

It's about 2.6 miles round trip from the trail head to the falls in Ladder Canyon and back to the junction with 250ft of elevation gain.

It's 2.6 miles from the junction to my turnaround in Rough Canyon and back up to the trail head with 400ft of elevation gain on the way back.

* If you know a more official or recognized name for any of the waterfalls in these canyons, please let me know.  I know that none of them have a USGS place name. 


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