The proposed Palisade Wilderness sits astride the
edge of the Uncompahgre Uplift, forming an ecological
bridge between the red slickrock tributaries
of the Dolores River and the lush aspen and ponderosa
forests of Unaweep Canyon.
On the eastern border, the broad, U-shaped Unaweep
Canyon was carved into the Uncompahgre Plateau
by the ancient Gunnison and Colorado Rivers. The
walls of Unaweep Canyon consist of stark black and
gray schists, gneiss, and granite which tower to
heights of 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. This
great relief causes similarly dramatic diversity in
climate and vegetation. As the elevation rises from
4,500 to more than 9,400 feet, rainfall increases from
less than 10 inches per year to more than 30. As expected,
plant and animal life also varies tremendously;
few places offer such a wide range of natural
characteristics over so small an area.
The western portion of The Palisade is a barren basin
of low relief cut through the Chinle and Wingate
Formations along the Dolores River. At the edges of
the basin, on all sides, stand numerous hoodoos --
columns of soft shale, capped by rocks of a more
resistant nature. The shale is a rainbow of color, predominantly
milky blue, tinted in places with green
or purple, and capped with red or brown stains.
Springs feed two permanent streams in this area, giving
rise to strings of pools and waterfalls shaded by
cottonwoods. The benchlands are dominated by
blackbrush, a low desert shrub with sparse gray-green
leaves, and scattered pinyon pines and juniper.
The Palisade itself is a narrow fin of sandstone surrounded
on all sides by vertical walls of Wingate
Sandstone and capped with the carved slickrock of
the Entrada Formation. Peregrine falcons have at
times nested on the sheer cliffs. Stands of Douglas
fir dot the north slopes of this fin, and hoodoos line
its western slopes. The eastern flank of The Palisade
descends more prosaically into pinyon and junipercovered
slopes and shallow canyons. The low, open
slopes comprise important winter range for the large
herds of elk and deer which roam Pinyon Mesa. An
estimated 2,000 deer and 900 elk winter in the WSA.
Part of the eastern boundary of The Palisade runs
along West Creek at the lower end of Unaweep Canyon.
This creek and its immediate surroundings represent
an ecological anomaly; cold air descending
Unaweep Canyon carries with it a microclimate derived
from much higher elevations. Consequently,
the plant life along the creek is representative also
of the higher terrain, with such trees as ponderosa
pine, narrowleaf cottonwood, and others growing at
elevations far lower than is typical in other parts of
the state. The stream itself also exhibits this characteristic;
it is cold enough to support a population of
trout down to 5,000 feet elevation, much lower than
one would normally expect.
Unaweep Seep, the collective name for a group of
springs, perches on the northwest bank of West
Creek. The seep is perhaps the most outstanding
natural botanical display in Colorado and is listed
on the register of Colorado State Natural Areas. The
combination of cool summer air, long growing season
due to its relatively low elevation, and abundant
moisture result in an astounding abundance and variety
of plants. Relatively uncommon species such
as ground cherry and blackberry occur here, and more
prosaic species reach unusual size, notably boxelder,
alder, and smooth sumac. The rare butterfly, Great
Basin silverspot, frequents the Seep.
The proposed wilderness encompasses many miles
of the rim of Unaweep Canyon. Out of sight and
hearing of the ranches on the plateau above, and towering
some 3,000 feet above the canyon floor below,
the rim appears to be related to neither. Stands of
aspen adorn the rim. Owing to the rugged cliffs along
either side of the canyon, this is one of the most photogenic
places in Colorado. At the far eastern end of
the rim, Fish Creek tumbles down an awesome series
of waterfalls, dropping 1,700 feet in 1.5 miles.
The southeast corner of the WSA is habitat for a rare
butterfly, the Great Basin Silverspot (Speyeria
nokomis nokomis). This butterfly is under consideration
for protection under the Endangered Species
Act. Nearly 75% of the butterfly's critical habitat
lies within the proposed wilderness.
In recognition of the area's extraordinary scenery and
biological diversity, BLM designated The Palisade
as an Outstanding Natural Area.
BLM rates oil and gas potential for The Palisade as minimal. There are no oil and gas leases within the area, and no drilling activity has occurred. Almost the entire area is restricted to no surface occupancy if any leases were to be issued.
The Palisade contains no patented mining claims. Based upon a BLM mineral report, locatable minerals are considered to
have low potential.
The Palisade contains approximately 800 acres of
commercial pinyon-juniper woodland, located in the
less rugged eastern portions of the area. This woodland
could be utilized for fence posts and firewood.
Portions of 11 grazing allotments are included within
the proposed wilderness.
Motorized vehicle use is limited to designated roads and trails. A number of vehicle ways exist within the drainages of Bull Draw and adjacent streambeds. These are occasionally used by off-road vehicles during hunting season and for firewood harvest.
Several perennial streams drain into The Palisade from Pinyon Mesa, including North West Creek and Fish Creek. A ditch and reservoir exist on Fish Creek above the WSA on Pinyon Mesa. These supply ditches in Unaweep Canyon below the WSA, where another ditch transfers water from Fish Creek to Turner Creek as needed. The BLM holds a 1978 appropriated streamflow right through the entire area for livestock watering, wildlife watering, recreation, and fire suppression purposes.
The proposed wilderness boundary follows BLM's
WSA boundary, except that citizens propose closing
two small cherrystemmed dirt tracks on the area's