The Little Bookcliffs area provides a great opportunity to see and experience strange and beautifully colored rock formations, enjoy the coolness of hillsides shaded by fir trees and various shrubs, and perhaps even wonder at the sight of stately wild horses running free. It is a place that offers visitors a welcome reprieve from the rat race not too far away.
Collin Weller, Grand Junction
The proposed Little Bookcliffs Wilderness encompasses the cliffs and canyons of the east end of the Bookcliffs. Thousand-foot canyon walls rise from the entrance to Main Canyon at its confluence with the Colorado River, and portions of the 2,000-foot vertical face of the Bookcliffs, visible from throughout the Grand Valley, are incorporated into the area. The sheer enormity of these unscalable walls, combined with the views from the mesas above them, provide incomparable wilderness values.
The proposed wilderness includes two-thirds of the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range, one of only three such designated Wild Horse Ranges in America, and the only one in the Colorado Plateau Province. More than 100 wild horses roam the area, providing visitors with unparalled opportunities for observation and photography while hiking, backpacking, or horseback riding. Portions of Little Bookcliffs also provide critical winter range for mule deer.
Little Bookcliffs is one of very few remaining roadless areas in the Bookcliffs region of west central Colorado. With its deep canyons and rolling forested pinyon-juniper mesas, it would be a unique addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Four major canyons cut through the area -- Main, Cottonwood, Spring and Coal. In their upper reaches these twisting canyons contain trickling desert streams graced by cottonwoods and Douglas firs. Plunge pools and waterfalls dot the canyons. Several natural bridges and numerous hoodoos line the tan and gray canyon walls.
Little Bookcliffs provides unique recreational opportunities for Grand Valley residents and other visitors to enjoy wild canyons in fall and spring in close proximity to, yet physically remote from, western Colorado's largest metropolitan area. Pinyon-juniper, big sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and arrowleaf balsamroot cling to the low ridges and steep canyon walls and provide important winter forage for mule deer. Evidence of the Fremont Culture can be found throughout the unit, lending it archaeological as well as ecological and scenic value.
Livestock grazing does not occur in the majority of the area due to the designated Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range. However, the northern portions of the area include four grazing allotments.
There is no commercial timber within the proposed wilderness. The predominant pinyon-juniper forest is a potential fuelwood resource, but there are presently no plans for development of this largely inaccessible resource.
The proposed Little Bookcliffs Wilderness contained 1,934 acres of one pre-FLPMA coal lease located along Coal Canyon on the extreme southern edge of the area. Leaseholder Powderhorn Coal Company, has ceased production and relinquished the lease.
Little Bookcliffs contains approximately 174 million short tons of coal underneath the proposed wilderness, only 3.5% of the estimated 4.893 billion short tons of coal within the Grand Junction Field Office. The abandonment of the present existing lease by Powderhorn Coal indicates the economic infeasibility of mining this coal.
The entire proposed wilderness has at one time been leased for oil and gas development, but lack of interest has resulted in the expiration of most of the leases. Twenty leases issued prior to the enactment of FLPMA in 1976 still exist, all held by production from wells drilled outside the WSA. Producing oil and gas fields border the area on the north and east. Most wells drilled south of the area have been plugged and abandoned, including four of the five wells drilled on the area's boundary. Some potentially producible wells around the WSA are shut because their high carbon dioxide content makes them uneconomical to market.
The BLM may not issue rights-of-way across intervening federal lands to pre-FLPMA leases if such access would harm wilderness values. Development of the pre-FLPMA leases in Little Bookcliffs WSA is therefore unlikely any time soon.
Motorized vehicles are presently permitted by BLM to drive on a route in the lower part of Main Canyon. The remainder of the area is closed to vehicles.
One small perennial stream, Jerry Creek, runs through Little Bookcliffs. It drains into the unit from the northwest. The other drainages in the area have ephemeral streams.
The CWP boundaries differ from BLM's WSA boundary primarily around the long cherrystemmed "amoeba" or tree-shaped boundary in the unit's center. This was originally defined by BLM in 1980 to exclude old pinyon-juniper chainings. However, these chainings have since largely recovered to a natural condition and can now be included in the unit, thereby reducing the amoeba to a narrower cherrystem that excludes a road and associated gas drilling impacts.