The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area was dedicated on August 12, 2009 by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. The NCA consists of 210,000 acres of protected land in Delta, Montrose and Mesa Counties. This National Conservation Area includes the 66,280 acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness. This national resource is known for its spectacular canyon country of the Uncompahgre Plateau. Red-rock canyons and sandstone bluffs hold geological and paleontological resources spanning 600 million years, as well as many cultural and historic sites.
Draining from the heights of the Uncompahgre Plateau, the Escalante, Cottonwood, Little Dominguez and Big Dominguez Creeks cascade through sandstone canyon walls that form the heart of the NCA. The Gunnison River flows for 30 miles through the NCA, providing visitors fishing opportunities, as well as views of native wildlife, including desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, golden eagle, turkey, elk, mountain lion, black bear, and the collared lizard.. The Old Spanish National Historic Trail passes through this canyon country. The Old Spanish Trail was a 19th Century land route, this “Northern Branch” connected Santa Fe, New Mexico with Southern California.
Located just 6 miles from Delta on Highway 50, take Escalante Canyon Road to the south for access to the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. From the Mesa County side, Bridgeport Road from Highway 50 provides access, as well as the Cactus Park Road from State Highway 141 from the west. The PDF below provides additional information on the National Conservation Area, and the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness. Also located in the NCA, the State of Colorado has State Wildlife areas, these include the Escalante State Wildlife Areas: West Walker Tract, Cap Smith Tract, East Walker Tract, Gunnison River Tract, Waterwheel Tract, and Harrison Tract.
Activities: mountain biking, OHV riding on existing roads and trails, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and hiking. Access is by State Highway 141, the Cactus Park Road, and the Divide Road from the Uncompahgre Plateau. The 142 mile Tabeguache Mountain Bike Trail goes through Cactus Park. Cactus Park provides miles of trails and roads for motorized vehicles or mountain bikes. The Gunnison Gravels Area of Critical Environmental Concern preserves a gravel deposit whose physical characteristics provide evidence that the ancestral Gunnison River once flowed through Cactus Park and the Unaweep Canyon area.
Tabeguache Trail- Cactus Park Section:
Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area:
Activities: (non-motorized travel) horseback riding, wildlife viewing and hiking. The main Big Dominguez Trail provides access to the scenic canyons and mesas in the wilderness area. The Dominguez Canyon WA includes streams, waterfalls, Native American rock art, historic structures from the heydays of mining, geologic features and wildlife. The easiest access point is at the Bridgeport Trailhead south of Highway 50. Turn on to the graveled Bridgeport Road for 3 miles down to the trailhead. There is a lower parking area which is mostly used for paddle access to the Gunnison River. There is a foot bridge for crossing the river with information kiosk before entering the gated wilderness area. Access to Little Dominguez Canyon is around 2.5 miles after entering through the gate. The upper end of Big Dominguez Canyon can be accessed from the Big Dominguez Campground, which is 11 miles off of Highway 141. The road to the Campground is gravel and not advisable for RVs or trailers. Camping by the river is limited to boaters with portable toilets. Backcountry camping is not permitted in the lower 5 miles of Big Dominguez Canyon and the lower 3 miles of Little Dominguez Canyon. There is a backpacking option for hiking both Big and Little Dominguez Canyons.
Hike Big Dominguez Canyon:
Activities: camping, hiking, access to Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area, ATV driving on existing roads and trails, and picnicking. Escalante Canyon includes the Potholes Recreation Area, located 12 miles up the canyon on the gravel road. The recreation site has picnic tables, shade shelters and designated campsites. Be aware, swimming in the Potholes is dangerous, as there is a rotating water current that cannot be seen from the surface that is dangerous to swimmers. The Escalante Canyon Road provides vehicle access to historic cabins and trails in the rock walled canyon. There is Native American rock art, as well as historic inscriptions on canyon walls.