Wonders of the Western Slope: Paradox Valley

By: Dann Cianca, Weekday Morning Meteorologist Email
By: Dann Cianca, Weekday Morning Meteorologist Email

BEDROCK, Colo. - "Basically, what you have here is a giant sinkhole," said Bureau of Land Management Geologist Robert Ernst of the Paradox valley.

It's a wide and scenic basin on the West End of Montrose County in Colorado, bounded by red rock cliffs with a floor of desert shrubs.

Shannon Borders, Public Affairs for the BLM's Montrose office says the valley is a destination for visitors.

“One of the most common questions that we get when people stop in to the Montrose Public Lands Center is, ‘where’s a cool place to go in my two wheel drive vehicle?’ and so we often send them in this direction," said Borders.

A ribbon of cottonwood trees stands out from the otherwise arid plain and marks the path of the Dolores River which emerges from Slick Rock Canyon on the south rim of the valley and then disappears back into the cliffs in the north.

That's what makes this valley unique. The river didn't carve the valley, it just cuts straight across.

So, how did the valley form?

“It was formed by the collapse of an anticlinal salt dome that built up and the ground water dissolved the salt and the roof collapsed into the valley," explained Ernst. "And while that was happening, the Dolores River was cutting through.”

A lot of the salt and other minerals like gypsum remains today and efforts are ongoing to keep that salt out of the river.

Today, the valley is a mix of public and private land with the two small communities of Bedrock and Paradox both occupying plots on the valley floors. Aside from its use for grazing, the valley also has abundant mineral resources, notably Uranium.

For many, the draw is the scenery, the long view down the valley toward Utah's distant La Sal Mountains is certainly photogenic.

“It’s one of the Wonders of the Western Slope. It’s a paradox. It’s an incredible example of geology in action with the power of water cutting right through it,” said Ernst.

“This is truly a Wonder of the Western Slope and we encourage everyone to stop by our office and then come out and check the area out,” Borders said.

So, the river doesn’t really run through it, more like across it. And that’s the paradox!

To visit the Paradox Valley, follow Colorado Highway west out of Naturita.

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