Hanging Flume – Dolores River Canyon

The Dolores River is much more dramatic than East Creek, especially when the road gains altitude.  Several turnouts provide views of the valley around Mile Marker 81.
At Gateway, CO Hwy. 141 meets up with the Dolores River, and turns south.

Dolores River Canyon, Unaweep / Tabeguache Scenic Byway

There are a couple of turnouts.  I stopped at the first one–an unofficial parking area, which provided a nice view of the river and canyon walls.

Dolores River, Unaweep / Tabeguache Scenic Byway

But I didn’t notice the area’s famous historic relic, Hanging Flume, until I stopped at the second, official, parking area.

Unaweep / Tabeguache Scenic Byway - Hanging Flume

Hanging Flume is a 7-mile long wooden aqueduct attached to the side of the canyon.  The three year project was completed in 1891, and carried water to a nearby hydraulic mining site. The flume carried 23 million gallons of water a day, and even though it’s no longer functional, it’s amazing that after a century, much of the wooden structure still exists.

Unaweep / Tabeguache Scenic Byway, Bird

Keep an eye out for birds catching updrafts, as wind rises from the canyon.

While CO Rte. 141 circles around the Uncompahgre Plateau, many BLM-managed dirt roads criss-cross it.  These roads are open for ATV’s and 4wd vehicles, mountain biking and hiking.  For bikers, there’s also the 142-mile Tabeguache Mountain Bike Trail, that winds from Montrose to Grand Junction.

San Miguel River Canyon

After Naturita, CO Rte. 141 turns south, while the byway continues along Rte. 145. 

From Naturita to Norwood, the byway cuts through mostly flat farmland.  There’s not a lot worth stopping for, until you reach the San Miguel River Canyon.

San Miguel River Canyon Unaweep / Tabeguache Scenic Byway

Rte. 145 drops quickly down the side of the canyon to the river’s edge.  Several turnouts along the steep grade provide a chance to take in the view.

Unaweep / Tabeguache Scenic Byway, San Miguel River

You will find a couple of picnic areas and a raft launching area after you reach the bottom of the canyon.  The river wasn’t very impressive under cloudy skies.

If you’d like to travel counter-clockwise around the San Juan Skyway, you can turn left onto CO Rte. 62 at Placerville.  The town of Ridgway is just a few miles away, then you could travel south on US Rte. 550 to Ouray and Silverton.  Our route, instead, will continue on Rte. 145 to Telluride, then south to Cortez and Durango. Silverton and Ouray will follow, on Day 6.

Note: This trip was first published in 2005.

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