Red Rock Delight – Black Ridge Canyon Wilderness

After a weekend where I participated in a disaster recovery drill, my boss generously gave me a comp day.

I now had a three-day weekend.

A weekend to see something a little outside my normal range for an overnight trip.

The Moab, Utah area would be a little too far away.

Someone and I are going to northern New Mexico in a couple of weeks.

So I thought of the Grand Junction area with its network of canyons.

I spied two canyons on the map earlier this year and said I would save them for another time.

The other time came. And I was ready to backpack then. Some recent trip reports I read whetted the appetite.

The loop would be approx 40 miles with some semi-technical scrambling. With the amount of daylight available, perhaps a bit ambitious of a trip. I would make the call once I started.

I drove out after work, Thurs. Camped at the trailhead about 11 pm or so and did a truck bivvy.

I woke up a little later than I intended. A hectic work week and a late arrival meant I needed the sleep.

No matter. The morning was cold but clear and beautiful.

A BLM ranger pulled up to the trailhead. He asked where I planned to hike. He paused and said, “You know. That’s an ambitious schedule. A little tricky getting into the other canyon, too.”. He also said, “I could spend six months in the canyon you are going into right now.” 

I think it was his way of saying, be careful and not to rush.

Within a half-hour of hiking, I knew I would not be doing the second canyon. I slipped in the mud, and the rocks were icy and snowy. Perhaps not the best conditions to be scrambling on exposed ledges esp solo. 🙂

I modified the trip on the fly. I’d do an out and back in the canyon. The total mileage would be a little less total but probably a lot less precarious.

Most importantly? I was able to see why that BLM ranger spoke so well of the canyon. It was one of the most beautiful canyons I’ve even been in. Once in the canyon proper and below the rim, I saw no human footprints but my own. It was an isolated and gorgeous canyon. The canyon was what every backcountry experience should be like.

To hike out and back in the canyon was not a was a fortuitous decision.

I saw my last batch of human footprints here. I did see bighorn, turkey, and mountain lion tracks, however!

The canyon floor was as memorable as anything I’ve seen in Utah. It was hard to believe it was less than an hour from Grand Junction.

The red rocks beckoned. Towers thrust up into an early winter sky.

The late afternoon light reflects off the canyon wall in the remnant potholes of the creek that runs through the canyon.

The frost on the rocks and vegetation were scenic, but also a sign I was at the very end of backpacking season in this area.

I made camp that night nestled below the canyon wall.

The following morning, after a late-ish start due to my laziness (i.e., I was warm in my sleeping bag..and it was darn cold in the shadow of the canyon! 😉 ), I continued my way up the canyon.

I was still dumbfounded at the beauty of the canyon. And how isolated it felt.

There was no human presence, but for me. I did see a flock of wild turkey. Mountain lion prints were spotted. And other creatures made their presence known.


Soon,  I reached the Colorado River.

The mouth of the canyon entered into the most famous and influential watershed in the American west.

I had no thought about politics or environmental concerns while gazing on the river. It was enough just to enjoy the quiet and solitude. To listen to the river, pass on by and lap against the shore.

Perhaps if it were spring, I would be tempted to connect to the other canyon. For now, it would be enough to do an out-and-back. The second canyon would wait for next year.

The return trip proved to be just as memorable.

The canyon looked different. The light made different features more pronounced or noticeable. The canyon was beautiful.

Soon the exit to the canyon was reached. A camp was made just above the canyon bottom in a flat area among the sagebrush. I made dinner and just gazed down the canyon and towards the river in the fading evening light.

The following morning, I was on the trail soon after first light. The lure of a large American breakfast proved to be strong. 🙂

Upon reaching the rim, I again started seeing human footprints that were not my own.

I took one last look into the canyon. I don’t think the experience will be forgotten.

I reached my vehicle.  No one was around. I drove out and caught one last glimpse of wildlife.

The trip was fortuitous esp. with rain predicted in the Grand Junction area. The remote access road becomes a muddy quagmire where vehicles easily get stuck—even 4WD ones. I suspect soon it will snow there, too.

Time to get out the skis. Get ready for some winter fun.

But I am pleased I was able to get on the last trip into the canyon country.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Drew Smith
Drew Smith
8 years ago

Hey Paul, nice TR and terrific pictures. Did you check out any side canyons? A couple looked pretty interesting and could make for a partial loop hike, although likely to end boxed up. Definitely an area that warrants more exploration.

8 years ago

Very nice pics! I’m envious that you westerners have so many options besides “the green tunnel.” Keep those Southwest pictures coming so I can live vicariously…