Pinion Ridge and McKenzie Buttes GPS Tracks

Pinion Ridge overlooking Hwy 550

Pinion Ridge overlooking Hwy 550. This was taken from point A shown on the GPS map below. In the far background at the upper left you can see Grand Mesa.

Directly across the Uncompahgre River from where we live is a geological feature that consists of Pinion Ridge and McKenzie Butte. I was up there a couple years ago and found the area quite beautiful. I returned last Wednesday and again Friday with the goal of exploring every nook and cranny. I nearly succeeded. The annotated GPS track is below, and below that a map showing how to access the area.
GPS map of Pinion Ridge / McKenzie Butte

GPS map of Pinion Ridge / McKenzie Butte. See text for descriptions of the areas marked by capital letters.

Pinion Ridge vicinity map

Pinion Ridge vicinity map. The area can easily be accessed from Colona, CO. From there travel on Ouray County Road 1 and then turn off as noted. There's only one way in and out, and that's on County Road 1B.

Access first. The area is entirely BLM land, nearly all entirely unimproved. Ouray County Road 1B is the only way in and out, and the road is in remarkably good shape. To get there, start at Colona, then travel several miles south on Ouray County Road 1. Hint: the DeLorme base map is out of date. In fact, the place to turn is where CR 1 takes a 45 degree turn to the right. That’s at the corner of CR 1B and Sue Bob Lane. You turn east as shown on the map. The road up the hill is in great shape—in fact, on Wednesday, I met a fellow on his tractor who was grading down the ruts. There are still ruts, so be careful. Note that this road is in excellent shape from the entry point at the south up to point H on the map. Otherwise it’s not in as good a shape, and in fact to the very north is in terrible shape. (The red map pins on the access map show where my ham radio APRS tracker worked. See here.)

Now, to the GPS map. My goal was area F, way down at the lower right. If that road really is there, then I’d be able to peer over the edge, down across the Uncompahgre, to where our little subdivision is. Sadly, that’s the only part of the area I was unable to explore. Note: When I use the term “road” I generally mean just that—traversable by pickup truck or Jeep. Certainly an ATV can use these roads, although on the road marked “there be dragons!” the erosion is so bad I think only a motorcycle can make it through. There are no tracks or trails anywhere in the area specifically for ATVs or motorcycles. Please don’t make any! (See Stay the Trail.)

Let’s take the letters in alphabetical order:

  • A. This point is easily accessible and overlooks part of the canyon that’s further north from where we live. The viewpoint is shown in this post’s lead-in photo. Note that BLM owns the land down to the valley floor (the area with the fine brown cross-hatchings is BLM), but it’s private land thereafter. I opted not to go down the road (although there were pick-up-sized tire tracks) because I feared I’d find myself at a locked gate with no place to turn around. BTW, the road from A to the north is clearly visible from Hwy 550 below. If you look in the very upper right corner, that blue line is Hwy 550.
  • B. This again would be a nice viewpoint. The road went up here and then suddenly terminated. My guess is it’s used as a campsite.
  • C. As you enter the area, turn right onto the road marked with a C. Note that the stretch from CR 1B until the little squiggly that marks a campsite is in absolutely terrible shape. Rocky, rutted, and not much that can be done about it. It doesn’t last long—past the campsite it’s not too bad though rutted.
  • D. My goal, as I said, was F. At first I went to the T and then turned south. The road is well-used, but I came to a place where the road plunged steeply downward into a ravine and then equally steeply upward. I was alone and worried I’d get down there and then couldn’t get out. I backtracked, determined to follow every road to the south. The one that ends at D is a lovely and well-defined road that winds through the trees (see photo below) and circumvents the ravine. It took me to the road to F, but then I was faced with yet another ravine! So I opted to exercise discretion. Note the little “appendix” at D headed south. It’s a road that terminates rather suddenly; I suspect it’s used as a campsite—quite a secluded one at that!
Lovely road on Pinion Ridge winds through the trees

Lovely road on Pinion Ridge winds through the trees. This was taken on the road that leads down to Point D.

  • E. The next area I explored is a loop around a flat meadow that’s quite simply gorgeous. Please note that this road is very heavily rutted. Don’t contribute to the erosion! Stay on the road—on a motorcycle you can easily ride in a rut or on the crown between the ruts. Occasionally you’ll need to come up beside one of the ruts. Do not travel cross country! Not only is it illegal, but it creates erosion in the delicate alpine desert soil! This area was once pinion and juniper forest, but was “chained” (cleared) by BLM some time ago to provide more grazing area for wildlife. Also, the clearings mean that any forest fire will have less fuel to propagate. Note the road DeLorme says is there that isn’t—I looked hard for it, but not so much as a whisp of a track remains, if there ever was one. A view taken at a point just northwest of E provides the photo that follows:
View of area marked E

View of Pinion Ridge from the road northwest of E. The view is to the southeast. Stunning! Those are the Cimarrons and Sneffels Ranges in the distance. Please pay particular note to the soil, not completely covered with vegetation. This is erosion waiting to happen. Even the tiny track left by a motorcycle can induce erosion--stay the trail!

  • F. This is the area I went up there to see, but is inaccessible. If I can find someone to go with me, I’ll try Road D again—the aerial photos indicate the road shouldn’t be too bad.
  • G. There’s a small cachement basin there to collect water. The ridge is quite arid. This is the only development in the entire BLM area and a sign begs visitors to leave the cachement area alone. I did. Note the sections of road with a squiggly purple line. These are in fact roads, but they’re faint. I’ve marked several sections of roads that way. If I were the BLM, I’d put up a sign saying these are closed to vehicular travel. But I’m not the BLM, so all I can do is urge you to let these stretches of road return to nature.
  • H. The good road ended at a gate with lots of No Trespassing signs. I make it a practice to heed these. When I got home and looked at my GPS track, I discovered that the gate is where the BLM land ends.

Let me say just a little about the road that heads north, marked “There be dragons!” The road is on the DeLorme base map and certainly exists. I suppose it’s still there to serve hunters. As you go north, the road quality deteriorates. The road follows the descending ridge to the north and has seen major erosion. I had no trouble with the motorcycle, given I only need a path a few inches wide, but I was often riding the crown between the deep ruts—ruts that were a couple feet deep in places! And, as you get to the very northern part of the road, visible in the vicinity map above, the road gets very rocky, with moderate scree, though not terribly steep. In fact, I was careful not to travel any road I didn’t think I could backtrack, but I didn’t want to backtrack this one. But I had to, as the road is blocked with No Trespassing signs where it meets the northern boundary of the BLM land. So…I got to backtrack, which I did without any problems.

I think many of the roads on Pinion Ridge were put in when the BLM chained the area, and are kept open by hunters and campers. Given how easily the land erodes, please, please don’t go cross country! But the area has a haunting beauty and from places like A and E, has stunning views.

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