One of Colorado's finest rivers
From its headwaters at nearly 12,000 feet in the San Miguel Mountains to its confluence with the Colorado River near Moab, the Dolores River charts a 240-mile course through some of the most stunning scenery in the state. On its descent to the Colorado, the Dolores winds through pristine alpine meadows, majestic ponderosa pine forests and dramatic, sheer-walled sandstone canyons.
Despite being impounded at McPhee Reservoir, where the Rockies meet the Colorado Plateau, several stretches of the lower river have been determined eligible for wild and scenic designation. In fact, below the reservoir, the Dolores offers one of the country’s longest wilderness river floats—170 miles through remote canyons and forest, including 250,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area.
Saving headwaters and habitat at Dunton Meadows
In summer 2021, Western Rivers Conservancy set out to conserve a prized property called Dunton Meadows, a 157-acre inholding in the San Juan National Forest, in the headwaters of the Dolores River. The property is set in a high-elevation saddle between the East and West forks of the Dolores, dominated by a broad wetland meadow at the edge of the Lizard Head Wilderness. The entire landscape is presided over by the snow-capped summit of Mount Wilson.
This subalpine meadow provides excellent habitat for birds and wildlife and captures snowmelt and rain that drain to a nearby stream called Coal Creek. This headwater tributary of the Dolores offers some of the richest habitat in the entire upper Dolores for imperiled Colorado River cutthroat trout. Surrounded by national forest and wilderness, Dunton Meadows is also extremely important from a recreational perspective. Several trails cross or start on the property, and a stream called Meadow Creek, which bisects the southern edge of the parcel, is a popular trout fishing stream.
The Dolores is one of the West’s great rivers, and the steps we’ve taken at Dunton Meadows mark the beginning of our efforts to make a difference for this outstanding river system. We hope to purchase Dunton Meadows and permanently protect it by conveying it to the San Juan National Forest. Conservation organizations, agencies, community groups, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and local recreational groups all back the project. This is a special place, and ensuring this property remains intact and open to all will be an immense benefit to the fish, wildlife and people of Colorado.