Dolores River ancient path hikes

Flower w Fly SR601819 My first full day at Dolores River boat Launch dawned refreshingly cool – but with a promise of heat to follow judging by the blue skies and already warming sun. My plan today was to explore the local area a bit. If I found a promising trail into the valley, I might do a longer hike the following day and see how far down up the river I could get. My days ended up  even having some unexpected bonuses!

View back to camp SR601839 (2)

Cell signal AND a view!

My last little walk yesterday onto the little mesa just above my camp led to my first bonus discovery: cell signal! It seems the cliff faces bounce the signal around, so if you stand on just the right spot, you can get something from barely to half decent internet. But finding the spot is another thing. Last night’s spot is dead, and I hunt out a new spot in the morning. Sometimes I hit a spot right away, sometimes I hunt around for twenty minutes. There are general areas where a signal might exist, you need to sometimes try several to find one that has something at the moment. Yeah, internet connectivity is important enough these days to spend twenty minutes hunting down a signal. But that signal allows me to download an aerial image to plan my hikes for the day, so I’m happy. Yes, I do spend some minutes playing Forge of Empires – silly thing has me hooked for a daily fix if I can get enough of a connection.

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Red rock face near my camp

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Dolores River Trailhead

But no more internet, I am off to my first little hike – only real world experiences for the rest of the day! I had found this trailhead sign for “Dolores River” so I knew I was going to be on a formal trail at least. But I had no idea where this trail went. I come up to the trailhead to find a group of three young adults with what looks like more of a work truck. Your first clue that a truck is for work besides obvious logos is the color of the truck. If it is white, it more likely is work – most company fleets order white these days as it is a little cheaper. Then there is the truck setup – gear and storage is setup for possible work usage. I say hi to the group and continue down to the trailhead, starting my morning walk in. I’m not carrying water or a pack, so I intend to turn around in an hour or so to get back before the heat kicks in.

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Indian Paintbrush

There are many flowers in bloom, some that I know like this Indian Paintbrush, and many others that I do not know the names of. At the very least, they will provide pictures for my blog when I’m talking about something I do not have any pictures of. While I am stopping to take the flower pictures, the three adults catch up to me and we chat for a few minutes. It turns out they are fisheries biologists, going down to a branch in the Dolores river to collect fish count data. It seems I have a knack for finding fishing people, having already found a fishing guide who worked the same area where my Dad and I used to go salmon fishing, and a former fisheries biologist who was camping close to me during my former rental RV adventure. We end up hiking up the trail chatting for a while, biologists generally share a love of nature and we swapped stories of where we had been. They were a second bonus, some nice people to talk to while on my morning hike.

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Dolores River

I found out that the Dolores River contains two types of Suckers and a species of Chub. The sucker migrate from the Colorado river all the way up the Dolores to spawn, and are very specific about where they return, like Salmon. The spot the biologists were hiking to had fish counters, so they could assess the health of the population.

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The fisheries biologists hike on

But the conversation had to end with me turning back, as I had reached my limit for walking distance and heat without water and gear. I could see the biologists were disappointed I was leaving them, we had been having a really good conversation. But at least I knew that the trail continued on to a river branch and some fish counters, I would be back tomorrow for a full days hike to explore further in.


I return to my rig and relax a bit, looking around for a smaller afternoon hike that might have some shade. There is a large overhang not very far from my camp that I can see – that might work for a little afternoon scramble. Having had lunch, I prepare to depart, this time at least with my walking stick. But I am delayed by a visitor in a black truck – it smells local to me.

Old Bottle remains SR601852

Old 7up slogan: “you like it, it likes you”

The older fellow in the truck turns out to be a very interesting fellow by the name of Greg. He turned out to be a fountain of knowledge, a real bonus for me! He lives in the area and his grandparents actually used to own the land I was now camping on. Of course, Greg was checking up on me, seeing if I was up to no good on what he regarded as his ancestral land. Greg is your standard rural conservative, values religion, independence, fending for yourself and the traditional family unit. I know how to talk to these kind of people, I’m of the same values for  two out of those four so I can ingratiate myself for a little good will. Greg it turns out goes way back in the area – his forefathers came from the French settlers in Nova Scotia, and the German settlers in Pennsylvania. Greg was a miner and taught me a bit about modern coal mining. It turns out it’s not nearly as unhealthy as I thought, talking about underground mining here. They ventilate very well and spray everything down so coal dust isn’t really an issue for miners these days according to Greg. There is some hope for the USA in terms of starting up precious metals mining too. Greg told me about a uranium mine that is basically ready to go – the overburden has been scrapped off and the company was ready to start mining before the project was shut down years ago due to declining demand. The mine would be easy to start up again.  Greg is very religious – I know this in his talk about how the area is “God’s country” and a vehement aside on his  part on how abortion is murder on the same level as killing a full grown man, against God’s will.

Lupin SR601846 (2)


Greg is also what I would term a mild racist/misogynist. Women would be better off not working paying jobs in his opinion, at least if they marry. He’s not unwilling to give a black man a chance at a job, but he’s seen too many in his mind that just don’t work, or use their color as an excuse to coerce favor under the threat of calling you out as a racist. But Greg also talked about black men he’s worked with who were fine people in his books, with the same hard working values he has. So if you were a black man applying to work for Greg back in his mining supervisor days, you’d have the cards stacked against you, but not impossibly so to get work. I’ve encountered this ‘racism by experience’ before, in the form of landlords who would not rent to black people (unofficially, of course) due to too many cases of property damage or failure to pay.

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Daisy like small flowers

We are dealing with a chicken and egg situation where a visible minority is discriminated against because of their associated status (poor, mental and social problems). But the flip side is that the visible minority is more likely to be poor and have other problems because the cards are stacked against them to start with. No matter what idealist liberals say, there are still differences between groups of people, and when that group looks visibly different from the rest, some people will discriminate against them based on the perceived faults of that group.

Flowers PXL_20220506_142244809 (2) Greg, as I mentioned earlier, was also a font of knowledge about the local area. He saved me hiking around looking for old mines, as he knew there was not anything in the immediate area. But there are petroglyphs! Something he called ‘newspaper rock’ is down the valley a ways, following the trail that used to be the main cart track into the area many years ago. I definitely needed to explore down that trail tomorrow and see if I could find this rock.

Greg and I part ways after a mostly pleasant hour long conversation. Greg I can see is a good guy – but has been molded by the rural conservative values where he grew up. He’s more enlightened, having spent many years working away from home and having been exposed to different ideas, but his home sets his root values, something not to be easily changed.

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Under the overhang

I’ve been delayed long enough talking to Greg that I definitely want to keep my afternoon hike short. It was pretty warm, and supper hour was coming soon. I decided the overhang I was going to attempt would still be a good short hike, just no extra exploration around the area. It is a short walk, but the last bit involves a bit of scrambling over rocks. The overhang is huge, but doesn’t look particularly stable – I see fallen bits by the wall that look recent. I got my picture, and got out, even though the overhang was a pleasant shady area to be in.

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Finger rock as I called it

The following day dawned as before, refreshingly cool but with the bright blue sky promising heat as the day goes on. I got an early start, hoping to be back before the peak heat of the day. Lots of water and a bit of food were packed, and all my camera gear – I was hoping for some good wide angle opportunities with my SLR. I returned to where I previously turned around, at a memorable rock I dubbed ‘finger rock’ for it’s obvious finger like pointing protrusion.

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Mystery Structure SR601871 (2)

What is this?

The red rock cliffs above me look amazing framed with the bright blue sky of the day – I took a ton of pictures in awe at my surroundings. There are signs of past civilization in the area. Remains of cattle fencing can be periodically seen. But I have no idea what the mystery structure was I found beside the trail a ways down. The rock shelf overhangs the wood frame perched high, I had to climb to it.  I don’t have any good clues as to what this was for, other that likely something to do with cattle – perhaps a water tank existed in the wood frame once? I march on, continuing to photograph rock faces as I go.

Cart track evidence SR601877 (2) I can see evidence that the trail I’m on at one time was a cart path – you can see a double line that is not two people walking side by side, that is the remaining bit of the cart wheel pair in the dirt, coming in and fading out as you walk on the flatter bits of the trail. To think what it was like coming out here with a horse and cart – there would have been nothing for days around you. I’m sure the river not far away was a reassurance to the early travelers – at least there was water nearby in this parched land.

Newspaper Rock 7D2_7029 (2) I had been watching for this ‘newspaper rock’ Greg told me about, but had seen nothing yet. I need not have worried about missing it; the parks service has put up a sign asking you to not touch or deface the rock. The cart path goes right by the rock. No doubt the cart path was originally an Indian trail expanded for wagons at some point. Looking up ‘newspaper rock’ on the googles reveals some information on a different rock in Utah, so perhaps this one is a local name only. I can’t find any information on it, it does not even map in the googles. But it’s a pretty impressive set of petroglyphs, even with the defacement that has occurred.

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Overall shot showing most of the petroglyphs

The rock is an obvious stopping point for anyone, as it overhangs on one side providing shade at anytime of the day. I made note of this for my return trip; I’d be needing shade by then! But in the meanwhile I marveled at the native art, I particularly like the animal prints – perhaps the elders used them as teaching tools for the young ones just learning to track animals.

Animal print carvings SR601895 Tracks SR601882 (2)

Steep dropoff 7D2_7031 (2) After exploring around a bit I carry on down the trail. I still want to find the branch La Sal creek the fisheries biologists hiked to, and perhaps their fish counter. The path now stays close to the river, sometimes with a steep drop off to the river. But the path is good, no danger of slipping off. I see the creek ahead and the trail goes down into the side valley. But now the trail rapidly deteriorates, there is brush overgrowing it no doubt due to the wetter conditions in here. I look for side trails going down to the creek. I’m hoping to spend lunch down there and refresh myself splashing some cool water on me. But the heavy brush at the creek shore stops me at every potential opportunity.

Fish counter La Sal Creek 7D2_7039

Fish counter La Sal Creek

I eventually turn back as the trail is now non-existent, I have been hacking through brush for several minutes with no end in sight. I return to what was looking like a pretty poor opening down to the creek when I came in. After hacking through the brush further down, this doesn’t look so bad! Squeezing my way through, I finally find the fish counter I was looking for! While I can splash a little water on me here at the creek, there is zero room to even put my pack down and have lunch here. I squeeze my way back up and retreat back down the trail to a little shade spot beside a rock wall.

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My rest spot view there is a creek below me, hidden in the brush

Three head Rock SR601899 (2) My lunch spot has some nice views of the rocks around me; I imagine the heads of giants gazing down on me as I eat a little and drink a lot of water. It is a pretty area in here, quiet with no one around at all. But my lunch must be short – the sun is coming around and my shade is disappearing quickly as I rest. I know my walk back will be more challenging in the heat. My rule is to take my time getting there, stopping to take more pictures. Going back tends to be less photos and more walking, in case I’m running further behind than I think. In this case, I’m racing the heat which is now getting pretty intense. I’m sure it was not over 30C, but it is warm for this Canadian!

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Gully in the noon sun

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Cart Path Rock fill

While the sun was high for my walk back, it does not always mean flat pictures. The gully with it’s overhanging sides made some dramatic shadows I did not see coming in. There was also this cool rock embankment, obviously built by had many moons ago as part of the cart trail. The view coming back reveals things you don’t see coming in. For the most part the trip was a march back, rationing my water in the heat. I did make a longer stop at the newspaper rock, enjoying the cooler shade. I also took advantage of the occasional tree shade, trying to time my stops there. I wasn’t worried about my water, I’ve done this enough that I knew I had enough to get me back – but I left a little in the bottle just in case something happened on the last leg back to camp.

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Last sunlight on the rocks

I returned to my camp and had a good rest under the picnic shelters. That had been a long hike. I spent the afternoon outside working outside on my blog, enjoying the first real heat I had encountered on my way down to my destination. What is my destination? Well, I will arrive at it in my next blog entry! Read on to find out where and what I have been travelling to!

About ralph

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2 Responses to Dolores River ancient path hikes

  1. Nancye Lee says:

    Hi Ralph!

    I just finished reading Dolores River… and you did a great job of documenting your hiking adventures and photos, with your interesting and informative encounters with people you met during your hikes along the Dolores River. Your photos continue to capture the vibrant colors and natural beauty of the land and its many fascinating formations.

    Meeting up with the biologists must have been so interesting, and considering your enjoyment in talking with them, I’m wondering if you felt some disappointment when you reached the point in your walk where you had to turn back due to lack of water and gear? It sounds like the biologists were also enjoying your company. Oh well, at least getting as far as you did provided confirmation that the trail continued, and that you knew you would be returning the next day for a longer hike.

    The “older fellow”, Greg, sounded like an interesting chap to talk with. He certainly was quite willing to share his views on religion, the role of women, racial issues, and his family background. I admire the ease and kindness with which you listened and acknowledged his perspectives, and I wish there were so many more open-minded people like you in this world.

    It was also so helpful of Greg to share information about the local area, and where to find petroglyphs (newspaper rock). The photos you took of them, and the surrounding rock formations were spectacular! Considering the increasing heat as you continued your hike, those occasional shady areas you found along the way thankfully provided a few minutes of respite before continuing your trek under the blazing sun. I was also delighted to read that you eventually came across the fish counter. Awesome!

    Your Dolores River experiences were so much fun to read, and I enjoyed this wonderful opportunity to virtually explore this magnificent area through your most excellent documentation.

    Now, the question is…where can you possibly be headed next? We shall see in due course…

    Continued safe travels,
    Nancye ☺☺☺

  2. ralph says:

    Hi Nancye, I was indeed disappointed to leave the biologists behind, I enjoy talking to other science people who can educate me about the local I’m in. Not to mention, some of them were well travelled and knew about my home town area. I’ve been off line on the blog for a few weeks taking some recharge time. So you’ve had to wait longer to find out my next adventures, which I will get to eventually!

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