Bangs Canyon

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Bangs Canyon surprises and delights me every time; the startled coyote that leaps up at my feet and lopes off through the junipers, winter deer browsing the snow-covered serviceberry shrubs, the echo of water trickling through a cool, lush canyon bottom in midsummer, the fresh lion track that raises the hair on the back of my neck. What first appeared as a dry forbidding wasteland is now revealed as a landscape rich with the rhythms of life.

Bill Schapley, Grand Junction

Wilderness Qualities

Bangs Canyon provides remarkable backcountry recreation opportunities just minutes from downtown Grand Junction. The area takes in several wild canyons, including Bangs Canyon and Northeast Creek, which together with their tributaries include more than 35 miles of flowing water. Water has cut through the Morrison and Entrada sediments to form these brilliantly colored hideaways on the flanks of the Uncompahgre Uplift. The unit extends from the Douglas fir and aspen groves on the Uncompahgre Plateau to the south bank of the Gunnison River just downstream from the town of Whitewater. Although close to Grand Junction, Bangs Canyon provides a sense of remoteness and solitude. The boundaries of the area are largely defined by rough four-wheel drive roads and by the Gunnison River. There is relatively quick access to the western edge of the area from nearby Grand Junction, but it takes an hour or more of four-wheeling to reach the upper reaches of Northeast Creek on the south end of the area. Northeast Creek carves a scenic canyon lined with cottonwoods and pools along state highway 141 on the unit's eastern side.

Designation of Bangs Canyon as wilderness will preserve important primitive recreation opportunities on the edge of western Colorado's largest urban area. The future value of such recreation is incalculable. The area includes habitat for desert bighorn sheep, and its streams and pools support healthy populations of rainbow trout, an unexpected treat in an otherwise arid environment.

Bangs Canyon contains one of the richest occurrences of rare plants and animals in Colorado. Its biological diversity encompasses almost two dozen species. Rare plants include a federally-listed threatened plant species -- the Uinta Basin hookless cactus -- and a host of BLM and Colorado sensitive species: Naturita milkvetch, false helleborine, osterhout, catseye, kachina daisy, eastwood monkeyflower, and longflower catseye. Animals of interest include canyon tree frog, fringed myotis, Yuma myotis, spotted bat, and gray vireo in addition to bald eagle, peregrine falcon, northern goshawk, and flammulated owl. The Rough Canyon Natural Area, designated by the Colorado Natural Areas Program, lies along the northern edge of the CWP unit, and is noted for its populations of the rare plants Astragalus linifolius (Grand Junction milkvetch) and Lomatium eastwoodiae (Eastwood's desert parsley). Pools sheltered by the vertical canyon walls contain populations of the canyon tree frog (Hyla arenicolor).

BLM's land-use plan for Bangs Canyon calls for recreation management with an emphasis on non-motorized recreation such as hiking and horseback riding. Deer and elk are encouraged to use the area as critical winter range. Surface disturbing activities are discouraged. However, wilderness designation is a permanent means of achieving these objectives.

Bangs Canyon was not originally identified by BLM as a Wilderness Study Area in 1980. Approximately 20 years later, However, in 1999 BLM completed a new field inventory that fully documented the area's remarkable wilderness character. It provided substantial new information on which to base future wilderness designation decisions.

Resource Information
Bangs Canyon has little mineral resource potential. The area overlays the Precambrian granite bedrock of the Uncompahgre Plateau and thus is of minimal interest for oil and gas deposits. BLM has placed no surface occupancy or scenic and natural value protection leasing stipulations on the entire area.

There is little potential for hardrock minerals in Bangs Canyon, and

there are no mineral leases or mining claims located within the area. The pinyon-juniper forests of Bangs Canyon have been identified by BLM for fuelwood harvesting in less than 20-acre parcels. The sparse forests and the potential for extensive abuse of fuelwood cutting in an area so close to Grand Junction makes this practice an inappropriate use of Bangs Canyon. The National Forests on the nearby Grand Mesa and Uncompahgre Plateau provide abundant cutting areas with much better wood.

The entire unit is covered by seven livestock grazing allotments for spring and winter cattle use.

Tabeguache Trail bisects the proposed wilderness. The eight-mile trail segment has an "expert" rating for mountain bicyclists. The Tabeguache Trail is part of the 142-mile Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail System.

BLM manages all of the land within the area. Northeast Creek is a perennial water source flowing into the proposed Bangs Canyon Wilderness from mixed private and BLM lands. Several water rights are located within the area.

Boundary Issues
The area's eastern boundary is largely defined by State Highway 141 along lower East Creek. Private land and jeep roads define the eastern boundary's higher elevations and the southern boundary. The Gunnison River and private lands generally define the northern boundary. Jeep roads and the several miles of the Tabeguache Trail form the western boundary. The Citizens' Wilderness Proposal cherrystems one substantial vehicle route in the northeastern portion that provides access to livestock watering facilities. These boundaries generally conform to the area found by BLM's 1999 field reinventory to contain significant wilderness character.


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Sunset glow on the walls of Bangs Canyon.

(Jeff Widen)

Flowering cactus in Bangs Canyon.

(Jeff Widen)


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