BOBBY MAGILL

Journalist • Photographer

Bobby Magill is a journalist and photographer based in Port Jervis, NY and Alexandria, Va.

Filtering by Tag: Mee Canyon

Scrambling Down to the Mee Canyon Alcove

In the 1987 edition of Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey wished his readers' trails to be

"crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. ... May your rivers flow without end, meandering through ... miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs across the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls."

Perhaps no place is that more possible than in Mee Canyon, an obscure sandstone gorge near Grand Junction where the wash at the bottom of the canyon inserts itself about 300 feet into the canyon wall, creating a cavern the size of a 747 hangar. I've been to the Mee Canyon Alcove before, but this time I came with better camera equipment.

The Mee Canyon Alcove is said to be the deepest canyon alcove anywhere on the Colorado Plateau, and it's not easy to get to. At the heart of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, Mee Canyon is at the bottom of a sometimes-feint trail descending from the top of Black Ridge overlooking Fruita and Grand Junction. It's a nearly unbelievable sight, one that's well worth the scramble to the bottom of the canyon.

This is what awaits you at the bottom:

Cutting (Gutting?) the Caretakers of Canyon Country

I just ran across this story from Channel 8 in Grand Junction which speculates about how federal budget cutting will force Colorado National Monument to cut costs and possibly reduce services. Of course, nobody knows just yet specifically how any National Park Service budget cuts would impact the NPS's ability to manage national parks and provide services to visitors.

The KJCT story reminded me that the National Parks Conservation Association just released a report about how gutting the NPS budget will impact your local national parks. The NPCA speculates that science programs forming the backbone of the park service's conservation efforts could be gutted or eliminated; visitor centers could reduce hours or close altogether and a slew of other changes could drive tourists away from parks. The report is well worth a read.

That report and the Utah-based film, "Plan 10 from Outer Space" ("Rocky Horror meets the Mormons!"), which a friend of mine showed us last night, got me thinking about canyon country. November is a fine time to visit Canyonlands National Park and Colorado National Monument, though I'd avoid Moab over Thanksgiving because on the lonely Thanksgiving evening I spent there a few years ago, I discovered the only available food was at the local Denny's, where the line was 50 people deep.

It was about this time four years ago when my friend Chas and I hiked the Rattlesnake Arches in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness west of Grand Junction. It's a mighty fine hike through the highest concentration of natural arches in the world outside of Arches National Park, which is just down the highway.

But my favorite hike in the region is Mee Canyon, where you will find yourself suddenly in the giant Mee Canyon Alcove, where the wash at the bottom of the canyon inserts itself 300 into the canyon wall, creating a cave-like alcove said to be the largest or, at least, one of the largest anywhere on the Colorado Plateau. November is an excellent month to visit. Check out my photo album of my 2007 hike into Mee Canyon here.

Ruminations on a monument, or the place that could be Colorado Canyons National Park

ON THE EDGE OF THE UNCOMPAHGRE PLATEAU on Grand Junction, Colorado's southern skyline, Colorado National Monument glows in the Colorado Plateau sunset. There is much talk these days about the potential for the monument, whose boosters say has a name more befitting a granite obelisk than a 20,000 acre canyon-riddled wilderness, to become a national park called Colorado Canyons National Park.

Having lived in Grand Junction and visited Colorado National Monument more times than I can count (on a weekly basis while I lived there), it's hard to deny that the landscape protected within its boundaries is extraordinary. The monument is like Canyonlands National Park, only a tiny fraction of the size and on the edge of a sprawling city. And, the CCC-built Rim Rock Drive is without a doubt one of the most unforgettable and spectacular road cycling routes in all of Colorado. No trip to GJ for me is complete without a pedal up to the top of the Monument via Cold Shivers Point.

Whether Congress should re-designate the monument a national park is up for heated debate (and, frankly, I'm not sure myself) but whatever its fate, it will remain one of my favorite places in Colorado.

If you live in Mesa County, it's easy to take the monument a bit for granted. Spend the evening after getting off work taking a hike up No Thoroughfare Canyon, no camera in hand. An all-too-frequent occurrence, hence the shamefully few Colorado National Monument images in my collection. Nonetheless, I have a few, and these will give you an idea what's found amid those glowing redrock cliffs above Grand Junction. You can also check out my Colorado National Monument gallery on my website here.

 

Cold Shivers Point. Image by Bobby Magill, 2006.
Near the monument's West Entrance looking east toward Grand Mesa and Garfield Peak. Image © Bobby Magill, April 2010.
View from Rim Rock Drive below Cold Shivers Point. Image © Bobby Magill, July 2010.
Liberty Cap. Image © Bobby Magill, April 2010.
Red Canyon in Winter. Image © Bobby Magill, 2007.

 

 

 

Back in the day, there were people who wanted to turn the monument into a national park, expand the boundaries and protect this, the Mee Canyon Alcove, now part of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness adjacent to the monument. If the monument were to become a national park under the current unofficial proposal, Mee Canyon would not be included in the park.

 

The Canyons Call and I Must Go

So, I have a furlough week coming up in a few months (the corporate parent of  my newspaper is sending each of its reporters on a gainful employment-free, all-expenses-unpaid vacation) and despite urgings to dust off my passport for a trip to Europe, it's time to breathe deeply that sweet pellucid canyon country air.

Ed Abbey's air, that is.

Too long away from the Colorado Plateau makes me break out in hives, endure breakdown after breakdown and generally quake violently with separation anxiety. I was there in October, and it's already been too long.

I first ventured into Utah's canyon country in 1998 during my first summer on ranger staff at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. I'd just dropped off a crew of Boy Scouts at a particularly spectacular staff camp in the northern reaches of the 142,000 acre ranch, met a lifelong friend on my hike into basecamp, hopped in my car and headed out on a three-day expedition west that would change my life forever.

My destination was Arches National Park. It was a brief visit, but I quickly discovered the magic of the landscape, still boiling hot that July evening in the Devil's Garden Campground. That magic just simply cannot be described here because, like the best things in the world, it is something that must be experienced to be understood.

When you visit Arches, do this: Pitch your tent, wait for the white-throated swifts to make their final darts through the evening sky, sit outside in the moonlight and listen. Just listen. Hard.

Silence.

Even though you'll be surrounded by many other people in the campground, the landscape makes no noise when the wind is calm. In that stillness and calm, you'll discover the power of that landscape.

One raw March day a few years ago — 2002, I think — I hiked to Delicate Arch alone. The trail is normally packed with hundreds of tourists, many unprepared for the hike or the view that awaits them at the trail's end. I passed one other person on the hike to the arch, and she was headed back to the parking lot. I arrived at Delicate — one of the West's most iconic and popular natural spectacles — and had it and its surrounding scenery all to myself. I walked into the sandstone bowl below the arch, looked up, and realized the scene to be nearly frozen in time. No sound, no movement. Just Delicate Arch and me.

Why that was profound is something you'll have to answer for yourself on your next trip to Arches. Since 1998, I've visited Arches National Park more than 50 times and at least once each year since then, except, unfortunately, 2009.

Really, though, the significance of that park is what I attach to it. It was and remains merely an introduction to one of the most alien and spectacular landscapes anywhere in the world. I miss living so close to it.

If you've never explored the Colorado Plateau, here are a few amazing places that you must visit before you die:

Those are just a start. There are others: The Wave. The Canyons of the Escalante. Monument Valley. Dinosaur. Desolation Canyon. Nine Mile Canyon. The San Rafael Swell. Zion...