18-May-2007 -- As I had just completed a successful photo session at Douglas Pass, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect way to cap off the trip. The photo session and GPS collection was in preparation for a GIS-based analysis of landslides and pipelines that I was creating lessons for with Mesa State College. Having grown up in Grand Junction, not far away, I was looking forward to a drive and a hike in the desert, and I knew that this confluence would provide exactly that.
I finished my Douglas Pass work about 9:30am, and by 10:00am I was traveling slowly through Rangely, a small but tenacious town that is home to Colorado Norhwestern Community College. It is not far from Dinosaur National Park and at the edge of the Piceance Basin, known for its natural gas and oil shale deposits. I drove west on State Highway 64 and then west along Rio Blanco County Road 2 at the edge of town. Rangely was not incorporated until 1947 and the first paved roads did not reach here for another decade. The town, now home to over 2,000 people, still lives up to its motto, "slightly off the beaten path".
County Road 2 follows the White River's riparian area, and its green trees were in stark contrast to the deep blue sky and the nearly white cliffs. This indeed lives up to the old slogan for the state, "Colorful Colorado!" The pavement ended, and after a while I turned south into Cottonwood Canyon at nearly the road's end, where I noticed a series of small signs spaced about 7 meters apart, spelling out, "Please Don't Litter, because for the next 13 miles in Cottonwood Canyon, we picked it all up!" The last sign indicated that the responsible folks were a crew of an energy consulting company. I liked the fact that at least they had done something to benefit the environment. It's really a shame that people have to litter this wonderful landscape.
I drove south for about 15 minutes on the Cottonwood Canyon road, which fortunately did not require four-wheel drive in this dry weather. There were a few spots where the middle of the road was higher than the ruts, so I straddled these as best I could. My aerial photograph was out of date and didn't match what I was driving on, but I found an embankment to park on near the mouth of the canyon entering Cottonwood from the west. I donned sunblock, hat, and took GPS, camera, and batteries, and set off under a nearly cloudless sky.
After skirting the dry riverbed in the bottom of the canyon, I found a way to descend the 6 meter high walls, and then journeyed up the side canyon, my footfalls making wonderful clinking noises on the slate that was everywhere. After a few hundred meters, I exited the canyon, crossed a relatively flat area, and then hiked straight up the canyon wall, which came close to a 45-degree angle before I reached the particular ledge where the confluence was located. It was perhaps halfway up the canyon. I hiked about 40 meters past the rim and arrived at 40 North 109 West. Not surprisingly, I had no trouble zeroing out the unit with the lack of tree cover and wide open spaces.
The confluence lies on land sloping 10 degrees to the south, dotted with yucca, Mormon Tea, and other plants. About 1/3 of the land near the confluence was bare soil. I saw a few crows and hawks, but no snakes or any other ground animals. The best views from the confluence are to the south and west, but if one walks to the canyon rims just 40 meters east and south, the views up and down Cottonwood Canyon are really magnificent. I could see my vehicle, far below. I took photographs and a video, spending about 25 minutes at the site. I really didn't want to leave. The temperature was 75 F (24 C) and it was starkly beautiful out there in the desert. All of the hills and mountains here have horizontal sedimentary strata, and again, are some of the whitest landforms I've ever seen.
I had been to 40 North several times, in California, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, but this was only my 3rd time on the 109th meridian, having stood on it in Colorado and Montana. The 109th meridian was supposed to be the Colorado-Utah boundary, but that was still a few kilometers off to the west. I was last in the area just 1 degree east of here at 40 North 108 West. This was in January, when I hiked for an hour through a meter of snow. What a difference the change of seasons makes!
Those who know me won't be surprised to hear that I descended a different way, as I truly enjoy looping hikes. I hiked southeast down a different face of the mountain, seeing some blue lichen and then some red lichen along the way. I entered the side canyon at the point where it joins Cottonwood Canyon's wash. I arrived at the vehicle in just under an hour from when I had left. I drove back the way I came, taking photographs this time of the signs documenting the litter pickup in the canyon. I drove back to Rangely, arriving just before noon, making the confluence journey just under 3 hours. I then struck out to the north on Highway 1 and east on US 40, to Craig, hoping to make a visit to 40 North 107 West that afternoon. Once again, a confluence trek proved to be a magnificent way to "get off the beaten path".