Dominguez Canyons

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When I look down into that massive, scenic canyon and wildlife refuge, I am overwhelmed by a sensation of spaciousness and an awareness of the passage of time. The sheer walls bear witness to eons of geologic time. In the distant, but more immediate, past were the pioneers and Native Americans who went into that canyon, leaving behind signs of their passage-cabins, mines, petroglyphs, arrowhead. It is only fitting that we should set aside a wilderness preserve in their honor.

Art Stephens, Grand Junction


Wilderness Qualities
Scenic wonders, recreational opportunities, and scientific resources characterize the proposed Dominguez Canyons Wilderness. The area's wide elevation range, from 4,800 feet along the Gunnison River to 9,000 feet on the Uncompahgre Plateau, results in a great topographic and biologic diversity. This area includes ecosystems as disparate as upper Sonoran desert along the Gunnison River and Douglas fir-aspen forest ecosystems higher on the plateau. Perennial streams flow in the two major canyon systems, Big and Little Dominguez Canyons.

Opportunities for solitude abound. Winding canyon bottoms offer over 30 miles of exploration; and infrequently visited mesa tops provide magnificent vistas which include the San Juans, Grand Mesa, the West Elk Mountains, the canyon bottoms, and soaring sandstone cliffs. Numerous plunge pools, waterfalls, interesting rock formations including hoodoos, alcoves, exposed black precambrian bedrock, and the trout in Big Dominguez Creek add interest for visitors. The lower end of Big Dominguez Canyon receives extensive recreational use as its mouth is a favored campsite for canoe and raft parties that frequent the adjacent Gunnison River throughout the summer, a group estimated at more than 8,000 recreational user days annually.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife reintroduced several dozen desert bighorn sheep into the area in recent years and the herd now numbers about 65. Mule deer, elk, black bear, pronghorn, and numerous upland game birds inhabit the upper reaches of the area. Concentrations of bald eagles winter along the Gunnison River, and the area's cliffs provide excellent raptor nesting sites. The neighboring Gunnison River is designated critical habitat for the Colorado pikeminnow.

For the more scientifically minded visitor, the canyons and mesas are full of biological, archaeological, paleontological and geological points of interest. The threatened Uinta Basin hookless cactus occurs in Dominguez Canyon. Numerous archaeological sites cover the area. Most prominent are the large petroglyph panels along Big Dominguez Creek.

The area is rich in fossilized bones from the Jurassic Period -- previous nearby finds include portions of Ultrasaurus, the largest dinosaur ever discovered.

Resource Information
Dominguez Canyon has minimal potential for oil and gas due to its location atop Precambrian schist, gneiss, and granite. Mineral evaluations for locatable minerals indicated no potential for significant mineral deposits. There are no patented or unpatented mining claims in the area.

The mesa tops are covered by productive pinyon-juniper woodlands but the only potential commercial value for these is as firewood, a resource available in abundance elsewhere across the Uncompahgre Plateau and accessible from numerous old roads.

Much of Dominguez Canyon is used for livestock grazing. Portions of four grazing allotments.

There is one parcel of non-federal land within the proposed wilderness. It consists of 600 acres of land owned by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. One individual, Billye Rambo, has a life estate to 2.5 acres of BLM land along Little Dominguez Creek. This parcel was reserved to him as part of a 1988 acquisition by BLM of a larger 320-acre inholding.

The Bureau of Reclamation years ago proposed a reservoir for a site on the Gunnison River downstream from the proposed wilderness that could potentially flood portions of the area. The plan for the dam was abandoned. Because of poor economics, and the water rights were relinquished by the Bureau.

The proposed wilderness boundary does not include the Gunnison River. Essentially the entire watershed of Little Dominguez Creek is included within the wilderness boundary. Big Dominguez Creek, however, drains higher elevation lands on the Uncompahgre National Forest. One water right exists within the area at the mouth of Dominguez Creek. The Rio Dominguez, ditch outside of the proposed wilderness, has a diversion right to 7.5 cfs that is exercised at high flows. Several years ago, BLM purchased the only other water right, the Lowe Ditch with a 1.0 cfs right.

Boundary Issues
Citizens support BLM's boundary additions of 333 acres to Dominguez Canyon that would close cherrystemmed roads up Big Dominguez Creek and on Long Mesa. Both roads serve no public purpose and are in deteriorating condition.

Citizens propose other additions totaling 15,000 acres. These additions include the adjacent Forest Service Black Point Roadless Area that would be added to the southwest boundary. Black Point greatly enhances the wilderness values of Dominguez Canyon by encompassing the upper reaches of Little Dominguez Creek and its tributaries on the Uncompahgre Plateau.


dominguez canyons
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 Petroglyphs.  (Mark Pearson)

 Seasonal waterfall. 

Bighorn sheep in the CWP.

 Plunge pools, waterfalls, and interesting rock formations abound in Dominguez Canyon.


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