By Jim Mimiaga Journal staff writer
Local weekend warriors are well aware of the disappointment seeing the Sand Canyon trailhead packed full of cars, trucks and horse trailers.
But there is a much closer trail system called Mud Springs that the BLM is advising the public to check out instead.
Just four miles from Cortez, this forgotten outdoor adventure park is getting a face-lift with improved trails, better signage, and plenty of parking.
There are non-motorized trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and horses, plus designated OHV trails and rock-crawling areas.
Volunteers groups, including the San Juan Mountains Association, have been working for months to clean up the area, beat back the brush, and improve trails.
“We have a more elaborate map, and have been maintaining the trails so people can find them,” said Kathe Hayes, volunteer program director.
A new kiosk at the trailhead will be built with maps, and various routes are being better defined and signed, she said.
“I go there a lot to ride my horse and hike,” Hayes said. “It’s right outside Cortez and is quicker than driving 11 miles down to Sand Canyon.”
Mud Springs symbolizes the BLM’s multiple-use approach.
There are approximately seven miles of non-motorized trails, and five miles designated for motorized use. In addition OHV’s and rock crawlers have access to three “free-travel play areas.”
Motorized uses are limited to OHV’s, motorcycles, and rock-crawlers. Rock crawlers are defined as high clearance, modified 4X4s. Standard, four-wheel pickups are prohibited.
The Mud Springs complex is unique, said BLM recreation planner Jeff Christenson because it combines multiple-use recreation in a designated Area of Environmental Concern due to the significant cultural resources.
Ruins in the area were occupied from 1200-1250, with a peak period around 1225. The pueblo community had reservoirs and construction with double or triple walls.
“It’s really important users stay on the trails and within the boundaries of the free travel areas to avoid damaging cultural sites,” he said.
The BLM was awarded a $50,000 OHV grant to better define the boundaries for motorized users and prevent cross-country travel where it is not allowed.
Hikers, bikers and equestrians will enjoy an approximate five-mile loop that traverses high desert terrain in pinon-juniper forests. Additional hiking trails are proposed for the area and maps are available at the Dolores Public Lands Office.
“We’ve been improving it a lot and want the public to check it out,” Christenson said. “The trails start out in a sagebrush plain, then enter canyons and cross slickrock with views of Sleeping Ute, Mesa Verde, and the La Plata mountains.”
Mud Springs will be featured on National Trails Day June 6, beginning at 9 a.m. at the trailhead. The BLM and SJMA will host a morning of hiking and horseback riding. Specialists and naturalists will be on hand to lead hikes and answer questions.
Directions to Mud Springs. Travel west on U.S. 160 from Cortez. Turn south on U.S. 491. Turn right (west) onto County Road G. Travel about two miles to Country Road 21, and turn left (south). A parking lot for Mud Springs is about one mile down on the right.