14,670 acres (22.9 square miles)
Bull Gulch marks the Colorado River’s transition from its origin in the alpine high country to its desert path to the sea. Dropping precipitously from a forested rim at 9,700 feet, Bull Gulch slices through the deep red sandstone formations of Maroon Bells fame as it drains into the Colorado River at an elevation of 6,400 feet. The area is characterized by its steep, rugged topography with deeply incised gulches and canyons. The entrance to Bull Gulch is a labyrinth of twisting corridors and sculpted bowls carved through the maroon sandstone. The sound of the big river is replaced by the tinkle of dripping seeps that line the canyon walls. Bull Gulch borders the Colorado River, but none of the river’s course lies within its boundaries. Several perennial streams exist within the area: Alamo Creek is entirely within the unit, and Posey Creek and Greenhorn Gulch drain from higher elevation lands east of the area.
The lower reaches of Bull Gulch are covered by dense pinyon-juniper forests, yielding to mixed sagebrush/grasslands/shrublands, which give way at higher elevations to stands of aspen, Douglas fir, blue spruce, and ponderosa pine. Bull Gulch is a bouquet of color in the fall as golden aspen highlight the red sandstone, dark green spruce and fir, and blue sky, all capped by towering cliffs of blinding white sandstone.
What’s special about it
Geography: Bull Gulch is unique among wilderness candidates in Colorado as the only area that encompasses a substantial mid-elevation tributary of the Colorado River. Bull Gulch cuts through the forested redrock country of the Colorado River drainage above Dotsero, a remarkable ecological transition point between the alpine source of the Colorado and the desert canyon country through which the river travels on its way to the sea.
Ecology: The area provides important winter range for deer and elk. These populations are, in turn, prey for populations of mountain lion, bobcat, and coyote. Prairie falcons nest in the area, and hunting perches for endangered bald eagles have been identified as well. Colorado Division of Wildlife has identified Bull Gulch as habitat for greater sage grouse, river otters, and white-tailed prairie dog.
Recreation: The area has outstanding recreational characteristics including the Colorado River whitewater boating opportunities along the area’s western edge. Dramatic views of the Flat Tops to the west are available from the higher slopes in the eastern and southern portions of Bull Gulch. The area’s unique geology offers outstanding hiking opportunities unique to this part of Colorado.
Archaeology: A comprehensive survey of archeological sites has not been undertaken for Bull Gulch, but four campsites with lithic scatter and one site containing rare tipi poles have been identified.
No deposits of locatable minerals are known to exist within Bull Gulch. The BLM considers Bull Gulch to have low potential for oil and gas reserves. There are no mineral leases within the area and no mining claims.
The area is vulnerable to irresponsible and destructive off-road vehicle use.
Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Suitability Analysis excerpt:
A wide variety of wildlife is present within the WSA resulting from the diverse topography and vegetation. Deer and elk winter in the western and southwestern portions; mountain lion, coyote, and bobcat populations are also found in the WSA. The cliffs along the Colorado River are concentration areas for raptors. This wide range of wildlife and predatory birds offers prime opportunities for hunting, bird watching and photography.
The steep sandstone cliffs along the Colorado River, with some unusual pinnacles in the Jack Flats area, offer excellent opportunities for sightseeing and photography. Autumn heightens the sightseeing and photography opportunities in the eastern portion of the WSA with a colorful display of yellow and gold aspen leaves contrasting with the dark spruce-fir forest and red rock.
The unusual sandstone pinnacles and geological formations along the Colorado River provide the ESA with geological, educational and scenic values. The diversity of ecosystems including the riparian areas along the Colorado River, the arid cliffs and sagebrush areas, the spruce-fir and the relict community of ponderosa pine offer ecological and educational significance.
Nesting sites of the prairie falcon and hunting perches for the endangered bald eagle have been identified. Mountain lion are suspected to inhabit the area, although there has been no official siting. Deer and elk winter range areas are located in the western and southwestern areas of the WSA.
The Bull Gulch area is currently being managed by the BLM as a Wilderness Study Area.
How to get there
The proposed Bull Gulch Wilderness Area is located about 15-20 miles northeast of Dotsero, southeast of the Flat Tops Wilderness. Many trails cross through the area.