Cross Mountain

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Cross Mountain is a really special place to me. It offers a quality, old-fashioned hunt, and my family loves it up there. It's a great example of a spectacular area in Moffat County that can be protected as wilderness without any hardship on the county.

Mick Havrilla, Craig resident & avid hunter


Wilderness Qualities
Cross Mountain has many superlative wilderness features. It is home to all types of Colorado's major big game animals, as well as several endangered species. Cross Mountain's gorge and sweeping panoramas offer unmatched scenery. In addition, the area contains abundant cultural resources, provides varied recreational opportunities ranging from Class V kayaking to caving and hunting, and serves as an unparalleled outdoor laboratory for scientific investigation.

The proposed Cross Mountain Wilderness dominates the area landscape, its oblong flat-topped bulk lying 2,200 feet above the flood plains of the Yampa and Little Snake Rivers. Four miles wide and nine miles long, the mountain is cleft by the Yampa River toward its southern end, resulting in a 1,000-foot deep, sheer-walled canyon. Cross Mountain Gorge provides one of the most challenging whitewater boating experiences in the country during spring runoff, and offers an ideal setting for novice boaters in late year low water. Several whitewater outfitters operate through the canyon.

Cross Mountain Gorge is designated a Colorado Natural Area. According to Colorado Natural Areas Program scientists, the gorge is a classic example of an "exhumed horst" cut by a superimposed stream. This block of ancient sedimentary rock was folded, broken, and uplifted during the formation of the Uinta Mountains. These mountains were eventually worn down and buried in their own debris, then were again uncovered or exhumed by erosion as a new round of uplift began about 10 million years ago. In the meantime, the Yampa River had established its modern course, and as the land rose, the river cut a deep canyon and exposed the structure of the mountain.

Four species of rare, endangered fish inhabit the Yampa River through the gorge: the pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, and bonytail chub. Cross Mountain supports several rare plant species: Ownbey's thistle (Cirsium ownbeyi) -- a candidate for endangered listing; Yampa beardtongue (Penstemon yampaensis) and Watson's pricklygilia (Lepodactylon watsonii). Though only three and a half miles long, the gorge provides a full day of hiking during low water along its rugged north river bank. Both canyon rims offer spectacular views of the canyon and river. The south rim is accessed by hiking through pinyon-juniper forests from either end of the canyon or the southern slopes of the mountain. The north rim contains lambing grounds for a herd of bighorn sheep, and is accessible from either the canyon mouth or from the top of the mountain. BLM designated approximately 3,000 acres of Cross Mountain's gorge as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in recognition of its scenic, wildlife, botanical, and river values.

Elk, occasionally in large herds of more than a hundred animals, can be found throughout Cross Mountain. Pronghorn antelope are common on top, and the ever present mule deer abound also. An occasional wild horse is also seen. Other canyon inhabitants include bighorn sheep, bald and golden eagles, and peregrine falcons.

Evidence of prehistoric human occupation within the area is extensive. Burial sites, baskets, masonry, granaries, wickiups, tree burials, and rock art have all been recorded in Cross Mountain.

Along the top of the expansive mountain one can admire the panorama of northwest Colorado. Amid fossils, flowers, and knee-high grasses, the Yampa River drainage can be traced from its origins along the Continental Divide ninety miles to the east and along its course through the foothills of the Elkhead Mountains. The river curves gracefully through a road valley, past groves of cottonwoods and finally sweeps into Cross Mountain Gorge. BLM's intended study of the Yampa River, including the segment through Cross Mountain, for its suitability for Wild and Scenic River designation has been postponed for the past seven years.

Resource Information
The Colorado River Water Conservation District (CRWCD) in 1975 filed a conditional decree for a 208,000 acre-foot reservoir with a 260-foot high dam for Cross Mountain Gorge for hydroelectric power generation. The dam was to be at the west end of the canyon and would have flooded the entire gorge. However, due to the weak demand for additional electric generating power and the high costs of the project, the CRWCD dropped the Cross Mountain dam in 1983 and focused instead on a larger, upstream site at Juniper Canyon near Maybell. There is currently no active consideration of Cross Mountain as a dam site. In all likelihood, federal permits for the project could never be obtained anyway because of the presence of the endangered fish species in the river. The CRWCD has explored moving its water rights to other tributaries of the Yampa for construction of reservoirs off the river's main stem.

There are no oil and gas leases on Cross Mountain. Oil industry geologists believe any potential subsurface geologic structure necessary to trap oil or gas lies east of the WSA, and consequently the area's core has little or no mineral potential.

A deposit of commercial-grade limestone exists within the area. However, the availability of this resource throughout the Little Snake Resource Area minimizes the value of the deposit in Cross Mountain, and there are no mining claims within the unit.

Cross Mountain is leased for grazing in five allotments. Due to the steep slopes of the mountain and lack of water, grazing is generally restricted to the lower draws and benches. Wilderness designation will not impact ongoing grazing activities.

The pinyon-juniper woodlands of Cross Mountain are of no commercial value. The only potential use for this resource is as firewood, and numerous, more accessible sites for fuelwood gathering are available elsewhere, closer to population centers.

Boundary Issues
Citizens propose several additions to BLM's wilderness boundary. Two additions on Cross Mountain's west side will maintain topographic continuity of the boundary. Citizens also propose an addition to the southern boundary to take in the south end of Cross Mountain proper.


cross mountain
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 Four species of rare, endangered fish inhabit the Yampa River through the gorge.  (Mark Pearson)

 Rocky cliff faces in the CWP.

The Yampa River runs through the Cross Mountain Gorge.


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