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BLM Hiking: Land of Opportunity

If you look beyond the occasional cow, you'll find the BLM has lots of ruggedly beautiful land to offer. No mining, no oil rigs, just lots of solitude.

Eagletail Mountains Wilderness, Arizona

While folks from Phoenix clog the trails in the nearby and well-known Superstition Wilderness, in the Eagletail Mountains the Native American petroglyphs outnumber humans on any given Saturday. In this textbook Sonoran desert landscape, dozens of unsigned trails and abandoned jeep roads crisscross the area’s sloping plains, or bajadas, providing plenty of cross-country options. Just don’t bump into the hundreds of saguaro-some close to two stories high-that dot the landscape.

The region’s eponymous mountain range is a jagged backbone of dun-colored crags that forms the northeast boundary of the wilderness, with 3,300-foot Eagletail Peak the high point. Most of the ancient rock art is up high along the chocolate-brown volcanic cliffs that rise out of these parched 100,000 acres.

Location: About 65 miles west of Phoenix. The most convenient trailhead is at Courthouse Rock. Follow I-10 to exit 81 and go south to Courthouse Rock Road. Head west until you reach a rough, dirt, maintenance road, then turn northwest, bumping along until you see the BLM signs.

Hiking it: The bajadas offer flat, painless hiking, but map and compass skills are needed to negotiate the unmarked footpaths. Some petroglyphs are found near Indian Spring, 3 miles south of Courthouse Rock, and are federally protected, so don’t touch! Camping is prohibited near rock art. Carry all the water you’ll need (at least a gallon per person per day). Be wary of hiking in washes (flash floods!), particularly during the monsoon season of late June through September. The Eagletails are unbearably hot in summer months.

Resources: BLM, 2555 E. Gila Ridge Rd., Yuma, AZ 85365; (520) 317-3200. USGS topos Columbus Peak, Eagletail Mountains East, Eagletail Mountains West, Hope SE, Littlehorn Mountains NE, Lone Mountain, and Nottusch Butte cover the area.

Black Ridge Wilderness Study Area, Colorado

If the golden arches aren’t your thing, try the wildly eroded sandstone arches in this area. According to the BLM, there are more of these geological oddities here than in any other spot outside of Utah’s Arches National Park.

Head to prime redrock hiking spots like Rattlesnake Canyon and Knowles Canyon. They drain from the ridges and benches into the Colorado River, which defines the northern border of this 72,000-acre wonderland. A trek down-canyon through one of the seven major slickrock systems is a lesson in environmental science. In the upper canyons, stands of pion-juniper and sage support deer, cougars, and a herd of at least 120 desert bighorn sheep. Spring and summer runoff creates spectacular waterfalls and pools. In the canyon bottoms, dark Precambrian schist, gneiss, and granite sprinkled with pegmatite dikes color the sandstone. From December through March, bald eagles winter along the Colorado River near Ruby and Horsethief Canyons.

Location: On the Colorado-Utah border, about 10 miles west of Grand Junction. You can get to the arches in Rattlesnake Canyon by starting at Flume Canyon, just off highway 340 south of the town of Fruita. To access the mesa-top trailheads at Knowles and Jones Canyons, drive northwest of Colorado National Monument to the crossroads of Glade Park, then proceed west on BS Road.

Hiking it: There are more than 77 miles of canyons waiting to be explored, but no well-marked trails. Pollock Bench Trail runs a strenuous 7 miles to the 14 arches in Rattlesnake Canyon. Canyoneering, boulder hopping, and scrambling skills are helpful in descending from the mesas in the southern part of the wilderness (elevation 6,200 feet) to the Colorado River basin (elevation 4,400). In some spots, you might have to lower your pack by rope. Summer temperatures can top 100ºF and winter on the mesas brings snow. Carry all the water you’ll need. Gnats are bothersome from May through July.

Resources: BLM, 2815 H Rd., Grand Junction, CO 81506; (303) 243-6552. You’ll need USGS topos Battleship Rock, Mack, Ruby Canyon, Sieber Canyon, and Westwater.

Editor’s Note: The area was designated as the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness Area on October 24, 2000.

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