The gentle hike out to the Dillon Pinnacles -- remnants of an ancient volcano that once existed deep in the heart of the West Elk Mountains -- has a serene cathedral atmosphere, being bounded on one side by the pinnacles and the other by the expanse of Blue Mesa Lake. It is absolutely appropriate that this area be included in the West Elk Wilderness for its geologic attributes alone.
Mary Anne Tarr , Gunnison
Mesa grasslands grazed by wintering herds of deer
and elk, majestic spires etching the blue skies of the
Gunnison Basin, raptors soaring in thermals above
Blue Mesa Reservoir and an easily accessible trail
from U.S. Highway 50 make this unit a logical addition
to the 176,100-acre West Elk Wilderness.
Few wilderness area's share what this one provides in terms of easy access to the general public and proximity to one of Colorado's leading recreational destinations -- Curecanti National Recreation Area -- a major facility with several campgrounds, three reservoirs, numerous trails and a commercial marina.
Highway 50 is a designated portion of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway.
A wide diversity of landforms and vegetation defines the proposed unit. The most stunning topographical feature is the volcanic breccia towers of the Dillon Pinnacles, where an existing nature trail leads directly from the highway and offers visitors a short, easy, and highly scenic hike. Flora include a variety of ecosystems, from sage shrublands suitable for antelope, to ponderosa, aspen, and pinyon woodlands where deer and elk find shelter during the often sub-zero winters in the Gunnison Basin, an area that records some of the lowest temperatures in the continental U.S.
This proposed wilderness addition would create a
continuous wilderness from US Highway 50 north
almost to the Kebler Pass road, a distance of over 20
miles, all connected by a network of hiking trails
that stretch to Crested Butte, Paonia and the Ohio
Creek Valley north of Gunnison. Opportunities for
wilderness immersion and solitude are high.
The West Elk Addition provides excellent opportunities
for big game hunting. Fishing and boating are
also popular along the shores of Blue Mesa, a 20-mile-long reservoir that makes up the southern
boundary of the unit. The Dillon Pinnacles provide
a fascinating geologic study area that describes part
of the tremendous volcanic activity that created the
West Elk Range 30 million years ago.
Grazing on this BLM unit has been closed since
1985. The allotments on the National Forest portions
of the area have been vacant since the 1980s.
There are no right-of-ways or oil and gas leases.
No commercial quantities of minerals, timber or
other viable commercial resources are found in the
proposed wilderness addition.
Human activity is generally limited to hiking and
This addition to the West Elk Wilderness is primarily a headwaters area downstream from the existing wilderness area.
The BLM recently acquired private property that
allows for the boundary to be drawn along West Elk
Creek. About 3,800 acres of the CWP area, or a
little more than half, consists of BLM lands. The
remainder of the area is split between Gunnison
National Forest (1,400 acres) and Colorado Division
of Wildlife (900 acres).
The northern boundary is contiguous with the West Elk Wilderness boundary. The eastern boundary follows a Forest Service access road, #723. The southern boundary is Highway 50 and Blue Mesa Reservoir. The western boundary follows Blue Mesa Reservoir and West Elk Creek.