Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Autumn in Dolores Canyon, Colorado - October 2023

This is the continuation of my trip to Utah to watch and photograph the annular eclipse at Red Canyon

From there I drove through the Abajo Mountains to catch the Autumn colors

October 15 - 17, 2023

Remember to click any photo for a larger version.

Sunday, October 15th (continued)

Monticello, Utah

After filling up my truck in Monticello I decided to revisit Dolores Canyon as the junction was only 26 miles from where I was sitting and it is a beautiful area. I didn't really think of it as an autumn location, but was pleasantly surprised in this regard. 

I recalled that the road along the canyon bottom was very rocky and the oaks encroached from the sides. So, maybe I'd just stay the night at the little BLM campground which was only about half a mile down river. That was the plan.

Dolores Canyon, Colorado

The turn-off to the canyon is just east of the town Dove Creek and is well marked. The route to the canyon through the rectilinear farm fields is marked with smaller signs, sometimes referring to river access. The gravel road down to the canyon is steep, but in good condition. Once at the bottom I saw there was quite a bit of autumn color. Excellent.

Box Elder Campground

I drove to the free campground, which is usually empty or has one camper, but it seemed to be quite popular this day. The BLM says there are 11 sites, but I'd say eight. There was one open at the far end, next to the barking dog, which I passed on. There was another near the entrance that looked nice and was close to the river. The problem being it wasn't level for the camper. I tried using my levelers without success. This wouldn't work at all. 

I remembered there was a dispersed camping area not far down the road. I'd spent one night there my first visit before driving farther down canyon later. There was only one bad stretch that requires high clearance and careful wheel placement. So, onward.

Lone Pine Campground

I don't think this dispersed camping area has an official name, but there is a single, very tall Ponderosa in the center. The road in the campground was smooth and the sites, though without amenities, were very nice and spaced well apart. I drove around to find the best spot and saw there was no one else there. I picked a level space in the middle near the lone pine. It wasn't next to the river, but had spectacular views of the steep, red sandstone canyon walls. Also, where it was located and the canyon oriented I would get a couple more hours of sun on the solar panels. After days of very cool temperatures I was also happy that at 4pm site was a delightful 70º.

My campsite, obviously.

There were also wonderful fall colors all around. Not everything was at peak, some leaves were still green and some were well past, but the overall impression was delightful. There was a large, deciduous tree near my site that was a brilliant gold in the afternoon light. I guessed it was a box elder, but picked two leaf clusters to press and check at home. Pressing the leaves was successful and pleasing; I may have to do more of that. I've now verified my guess and learned that box elders are a type of maple. I also learned that they are extremely fast growing and can take over an area.

Box Elder on the left; Gambel Oak on the right.

I took an evening photo walk and admired the river. It was calm where I camped, but I could just hear it as it rushed over a few rocky stretches. There was lots of fall color along the river, too, including an interesting bush with maroon leaves and bone white berries.

Dolores River near my camp.

A rock from the rim.

It seemed to be typical that the leaves on any one oak were in various stages of fall.

Red Osier Dogwood along the river.

A closer view of the white dogwood berries

Box Elder leaves with freckles.

Monday, October 16th

Dolores Canyon (continued)

Brrr, my outdoor thermometer showed 25º this morning. Took a long time to warm up, too. My site got the afternoon sun, but although I could see sunlight creeping down canyon walls, I got no direct sun till 11am. Just something you should expect when at the bottom of a deep canyon.

Just before noon.

The large Ponderosa in the camping area.

The box elder near my campsite.

There was even a butterfly on the last blossoms of the season.

By the way, I noticed when processing the photos that in some of them (especially the aerial images) many of the trees appeared to be an unappealing chartreuse color. I tried to fix this unsuccessfully in post as I did not see this color in real life. I've come to the conclusion that the oaks presented a combination of green and yellow leaves which the eye can detect and sees a pleasing green and yellow. The camera, especially from a distance, cannot distinguish between adjacent leaves and instead records chartreuse. At least that's my theory.

Aerial view downstream.

Aerial view of the camping area.

I recommend you click the full-screen icon in the upper right corner or view on Kuula.

This Townsend's Solitaire was way up in the pine which explains the ventral view.

After lunch I took a walk down road as there are no other trails. It might as well be a trail as there was no vehicle traffic during my walk.

The road as it winds its way down canyon.

A view down canyon with the river screened by the oaks that are thick along the road.

I went as far as one of my old campsites, about a mile and a half downstream. I found another very nice site about midway. If you are interested in details for yourself, drop me an email.

Dolores River on a lazy fall day.

When I got back to camp my main activity was simply to relax and enjoy the amazing views. I marveled at how colorful the box elder near my site appeared.

Trying for an artistic effect, I guess.

Leaving you with a last photo of box elder leaves. (No color enhancement)

I enjoyed a quiet evening.

Tuesday, October 17th

Dolores Canyon (continued)

Another cold morning, but my goal was to pack up and head for home, so I just put on my gloves and got on with it.

I reversed course up out of the canyon and back to highway where I turned left toward Cortez. From there I headed down to Shiprock where I stopped at my favorite, locally-owned drive-in, That's A Burger, for a delicious green chile cheeseburger. They also serve Navajo dishes. From there I cut off across the reservation to US-550 and south to home.

It was a great trip. I hope you enjoyed reading about it.

An informative note for those who use small propane bottles. 

As cold as it was Monday morning I thought it prudent to check the level in my active propane tank as I knew it was getting very low (FWC Fleet campers have two 10# bottles.) My technique is to turn off the valve, lift the bottle out of the compartment, feel the weight, and if it seems light to slosh it around to feel the weight shift. The bottle was almost out, so I connected the hose from the camper to the other bottle and buttoned things up. Wouldn't want to run out in the middle of the night. I don't run the furnace very much, but the interior can get mighty cold without it.

So of course in the middle of said night, 2am to be exact, I heard the furnace try to come on and fail. It tries three times then gives up. It was cold and I didn't want to get out of bed, but I also knew it would only get colder. To make a long, cold and dark procedure short, though the full bottle was connected properly and the valve was open, no propane was coming out. I reconnected the nearly empty bottle. The furnace was able to light and I even had enough left in the tank to be able to brew coffee the next morning. Whew!

When I got home I took the bottle to my propane supplier and told the fellow who fills the bottles my story. "You have it with you?" he asked. "Yes." We walked over to my camper and I pulled the full, nonfunctioning bottle out. He attached a big brass connector with a flow restrictor and opened the valve... nothing. He closed the valve, picked up the bottle and dropped it down onto the asphalt parking lot from about 6" up. Yikes! He tried the valve again and now you could hear propane coming out. What a relief, no expensive repair needed! "There is a weight attached to the valve to measure the level and sometimes it gets stuck," he told me. "If it happens again, do this again. Don't slam it down multiple times, just one quick bump." He might have been referring to the OPD, Overfill Prevention Device. Though from what I read later that shouldn't prevent the gas from coming out, so I don't know the exact mechanism, just what worked to fix my bottle.

So now you know, should this happen to you. Good luck.


  1. Great post!

    That close-up of the dogwood berries is a prize-winner. I'll keep an eye out for somewhere to submit it.

    Thanks for the tip on propane bottles. Kristen has had trouble w hers too.

  2. Thank you for sharing. I've had a similar problem with propane bottles in the past as well.


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