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Spencer Trail - Dominguez Pass Dry Loop, AZ

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Guide 8 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Northwest > Jacob Lake N
4 of 5 by 3
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
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Difficulty 4.5 of 5
Route Finding 5 of 5
Distance Round Trip 7.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 3,134 feet
Elevation Gain 1,851 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,064 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 17.82
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Ruins, Historic & Peak
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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11  2019-04-13 arizona_water
3  2017-11-11
Spencer Trail - Marble Canyon
13  2014-06-08 sbkelley
8  2011-10-15 JuanJaimeiii
6  2011-10-15 BobP
25  2011-03-06 PaleoRob
Author PaleoRob
author avatar Guides 137
Routes 111
Photos 5,253
Trips 942 map ( 2,097 miles )
Age 38 Male Gender
Location Grand Junction, CO
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Apr, Oct, Mar, May → Early
Seasons   Late Autumn to Early Spring
Sun  6:11am - 6:30pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
Bring yer maps!
by PaleoRob

Overview: The Spencer-Dominguez Loop is one of the more challenging routes in the Lee's Ferry area. It involves ascending the Spencer Trail, route-finding cross-country to the Dominguez Pass, and then descending on an old trail to the Paria River, finally catching the Paria Trail back to Lonely Dell and either retrieving a vehicle or road-walking back to the boat ramp. The loop described here is a "shortcut", shaving about 3 miles off of the route and eliminating the need to arrange for a shuttle vehicle or crossing the Paria.

Warning: This route crosses some very rugged terrain, especially between the power line road and Dominguez Pass. Do not attempt this route without a good GPS with pre-marked waypoints or good topographic maps and good map reading/orienteering skills. This route is 100% dry - there are no water sources anywhere along the route. Bring at least 3 liters of water for colder months. It is not recommended to do this route during warm/hot weather.

History: The Spencer Trail was forged by huckster businessman Charles H. Spencer in 1910 as a route to get workers (and mules laden with coal) from Warm Creek to Lee's Ferry. The overland route was arduous and inefficient so it was replaced by his infamous steam boat, the remains of which can be seen from the base of the Spencer Trail.

The Dominguez Pass gets its name from the Dominguez and Escalante expedition of 1776. The two friars departed Santa Fe bound for the California missions. The group did not end up in California and in fact ended up only in northern Utah before turning back. The fathers passed through the Page area twice, once forging a crossing of the Colorado River at what became known as "The Crossing of the Fathers", the second time on the way back via the easier and more obvious crossing that would become known as Lee's Ferry. This crossing entailed descending the Echo Cliffs, and the point of descent became known as Dominguez Pass.

Hike: The hike begins by ascending the Spencer Trail. From the top of the Spencer Trail, there is a faint boot-worn trail that is marked with cairns that leads northwesterly, paralleling the Echo Cliffs ridgeline, but avoiding the arduous ups and downs of the ridgeline proper. This trail disappears into the sand and rocks about a quarter of the way to the new power line road, but the way forward is pretty obvious. The communications tower on the ridgeline is easy to see and provides a convenient point of reference. There is a sand dune field just before the new power line road, but just head towards the ridge to get on the road.

Once you are on the powerline road, turn left and follow the road up and around the ridge (through a road cut), down into the next valley, and then up again as it heads towards the communication tower and the Echo Cliffs ridgeline. At a point of your choosing, depart from the road and begin paralleling the cliff face. You are now entering the toughest portion of this hike. This is the time when your map becomes your friend.

You have to cross a series of ridges and valleys before dropping into the Dominguez Pass valley. There are a series of faults that run parallel to the Echo Cliffs precipice that make ridge crossings easier, but regardless you will be doing a lot of up and down, in and out as you cross the slickrock. Depending on where you enter Dominguez Pass, you may think you have an additional ridge to cross. The key is the large "mule ear" formation that is on the north side (beyond) Dominguez Pass. Keep that as your landmark and do not pass it.

Once in the valley of Dominguez Pass, head towards the rim for some beautiful views across and up the Paria Canyon, as well as out across the Marble Bench and the Colorado River. The way down is along the north side of the pass, under the "mule ear" spire. You may notice a large pile or rocks (a mega-cairn, so to speak) that marks the way out of the swale that the pass sits in. It may be knocked over but the base is pretty obvious to see from down in the Dominguez Pass basin.

Once past the mega-cairn, a faint but obvious trail heads down the imposing looking slope. At key points there are cairns that guide you down to the sand slide below. This portion is not challenging or technical, but it is remote and exposed. Use caution. Once on the sand slide, hug the lip of the drainage to your left on the way down. You will reach a small break in the cliffs at the bottom of the sand slide where another faint but obvious trail zig-zags down to the next sand slide. At the base of the cliffs, on the sand-slide, there is sometimes an obvious route down. Here is where you will depart from the normal Spencer/Dominguez loop. Keep left, heading towards a spur of the cliffs at the bottom of this sand slide. This spur is easy to descend either via a talus/scree slope or just down a gentle descent. There you will encounter another faint boot-worn trail that leads towards a large round rock that has been cracked in half (this is especially obvious from above the cliffs - look for it). This boulder also has very good desert varnish on its east and south side, making it easy to keep track of. On the ridge where the boulder sits is an old uranium mining road. It follows the ridge top and is very easy to find and follow. Again, this feature is easy to see from above so you can trace your route in advance. The roads branch and branch again. Generally stay to the left. If a road disappears, you can usually keep heading down without too many issues - your goal is the bench of Shinarump, the hard white sandstone that forms a ledge above the Paria.

Running along the Shinarump bench is an old uranium mining road. You will actually pass a few old uranium diggings. This road will run from your point of arrival on the Shinarump bench to the Lee's Ferry parking lot. It grows faint at times, but as long as you are following the bench and paralleling the Paria River you are heading in the right direction. This section is very scenic with views into the river, Chinle badlands, Navajo cliffs, and Lonely Dell Ranch (as you get closer to the end).

Near the end of your hike you will come to a power line (the same one you passed under on top of the cliffs). There is a bad to decent dirt road that you can follow from the power line down to the Lee's Ferry parking area. Occasionally there are people working on these lines - please be respectful of them and their equipment. They keep the lights on and water pumping at the ranger station, Marble Canyon, Cliff Dwellers, and Vermilion Cliffs. That's it - you've completed this tough loop! Lateral distance traveled is deceiving though - there are no straight lines through this country. Head back to the highway to grab a burger and a beverage of your choice!

Water Sources: None on the route. Water fountain and spigot at trailhead.

Camping: Backcountry camping is not allowed in Glen Canyon NRA at Lee's Ferry, but hiking outside of the NRA boundary to camp overnight is possible on BLM land. There is a developed campground at Lee's Ferry, a few miles back up the road towards the highway.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

This is a more difficult hike. It would be unwise to attempt this without prior experience hiking.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2011-03-07 PaleoRob
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Spencer Trail - Dominguez Pass Dry Loop
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    We met up with a group of friends from Flagstaff for a weekend at Lees Ferry.
    The Dominguez Pass Loop was the first hike we did and it was really fun. The first half is fairly straight forward. The simple route finding over the sandstone on top of the ridge is easy and rewarding. Once at Dominguez pass, the route finding becomes a little more difficult. There were no cairns in April 2019.

    Once you descend from the pass to the final shelf overlooking the Paria, the route is much more obvious and there's a clearly marked old mining route back to the Colorado River. The views over the Paria were amazing and I'm glad it was flowing so strong. Even in April, this hike was hot.
    Spencer Trail - Dominguez Pass Dry Loop
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Toad and I agreed on the plan the previous week, and with few modifications it went off as planned. Evreryone was at my house at 7, and we were on the trail by 8. None of us had ever done the loop before, but with a few topos and a route plotted out by me on we felt good. We made good time cruising up Spencer Trail and then headed parallel to the ridgeline towards the power line. The going was easy - cross-country slickrock and basin hiking.
    We hit the new power line road and ran into a snag. Our proposed route routed us down and around the ridge in front of us, but we were uncertain. We dropped down, consulted the map, and headed back up the ridgeline. At the top of the ridgeline we hit the new power line road. Oops. We dropped down again to follow it, but when it began to curve back to the communication tower we went cross-country again, paralleling the Paria again. We came up another sandstone ridge and were confronted with a deep canyon, so we detoured towards the head of it, crossed, and then climbed yet another ridge. The map was little help at this point, since it lacked either the power line or communication tower and most of the terrain was probably too low for it to record as a contour interval. Whatever. We looked down into the sandy basin and across at two nipple-like peaks. We thought about contouring around the one closest to the edge of the cliff, but instead opted for a saddle carved by a fault. Down a bighorn trail, down and across the sandy valley, and up into the fault-formed saddle. Toad led the way; when he reached the top he said, "I think we have to cross one more saddle."
    A small drainage was in our way, so we dropped into and contoured around its headlands. The sight that greeted us? Another valley that was obviously not Dominguez Pass. We could see the high fin on the far side of the pass beyond the next ridgeline, but the way down was sketchy. "We'll have to billy goat it down," Bryan said as we contemplated the skree slope. I found a bighorn trail that dropped down most of the way. Toad leaped his way down while we followed slowly and slightly more cautiously. At the bottom we stopped and contemplated how best to get around the next ridgeline. Some suggested contouring around the downcanyon side, but that sounded like backtracking. After all, the pass dropped down into the Paria, not the Colorado. The same fault system we'd been following had created another low pass, so we went for it. Toad was at the top first again and he declared that he thought that we were there.
    Down into the valley again, this time easier than the previous descent. There was dissent in the sandy wash bottom and the maps came out again, by this time quite worn from repeated foldings. Toad wanted to cross the next ridge. I thought I detected a path. He suggested that we weren't in a broad enough spot. I lined up the map with what landmarks we could see and made the argument that we should be at Dominguez Pass and that we should follow my faint trail towards the rim and at least orient ourselves. Bryan agreed, so away we went up the draw. As soon as we had crested the low sandstone fin that was upcanyon from us, it was obvious we were in the right place. The canyon broadened to a valley, and the "mule's ear" fin towered directly over where we were.
    Around this time I voiced that a lunch break would be a good idea. Toad didn't respond and Bryan said that he wanted to at least get an idea of the way home before eating. We struck out for the rim.
    What an amazing sight! The Paria River meandered below us while the Colorado River flowing through Marble Canyon was visible to our left. The Vermilion Cliffs (home of Sandfoot) dominated most of our view. In the distance the Kaibab Plateau was still covered in snow.
    The objective, the bottom of the canyon, was now in sight. Bryan, with his previous knowledge of the Paria, suggested a route that would involve a significant short-cut that had the added benefit of not getting our feet drenched in the muddy Paria River. The only downside was that we didn't know if we would actually be able to get to the Shinarump bench easily from the top of the cliffs.
    Indeed, at that time, it was uncertain how we would even get off of the cliffs and down to the massive sand slide we saw below us. The map suggesting hugging the cliffs heading upcanyon for a bit, while Toad advocated dropping into the steep drainage and boulder-hopping our way to hell. We decided to follow the map, such as it was, and as we followed the cliff face below the mule's ear I noted a large pile of unnatural rocks - a knocked-down giant cairn. We shot for it right away and to our amusement we found the trail.
    The upper part of Dominguez Pass trail was well laid-out and with some maintainance along the way it would be quite serviceable. As it is now, it is sandy and littered with loose rock but at least discernible. There were occasional cairns to help guide the way as we headed down the improved sheep trail. The upper portion of the trail ended in a sand slide, which we decided to romp down, following the rim of the drainage. We came to the first of two cliffs which we had seen from above, and to our slightly greater surprise (considering we had just been heading down with no real rhyme or reason) we came to a cairned break in the cliffs which hid a trail! We dropped partway down the trail and broke for lunch.
    I had a kinda-quesadilla (that had badly broken apart) under a rock shelter while we discussed the legend of Sandfoot, who walks the Paria Plateau and violates all who search for him. Dangerous business, laughing that close to the edge of a cliff. We also discussed the route ahead of us. There was another cliff below us, and beyond that we saw some old uranium mining roads. We knew we could get to the cliffs. We knew if we could get to the mining roads, we'd be able to bench-hike the Shinarump. What remained unknown was our ability to completed the circuit we had laid out in our minds. Our break was good, and when finished we continued our trip into the unknown.
    The sand was welcome again, cushioning our knees as we headed further and further down. As we approached the second cliffs we saw that instead of being a solid precipice there was a gradual slope to the downcanyon side. We followed the topography until we were able to drop down an easy scree slope to what turned out to be another semi-established trail, marked with cairns. With that, our course was set towards a large, round boulder where we saw the road ended from above. As we approached it, we discovered it had petroglyphs on it. Not many, not amazing ones, but they were there.
    The drop down to the Shinarump bench was easy as pie. We passed by old drill pipe and what probably was the remains of a uranium mining camp before hooking up with another old uranium mining road that headed back towards the power line and the parking lot. We made it back to my truck in about an hour from that point. The Shinarump bench was pretty and interesting, with old mining stuff and beautiful Chinle scenes, plus no fording the river flowing fast and high. We arrived back in the parking lot just about 6 hours after starting out, and just as I ran out of water. One hell of a hike!

    Permit $$

    Glen Canyon Recreation Area National Park
    Glen Canyon Entrance Fee - 1-7 Day Vehicle Pass - $25

    Boat fees additional, follow provided NPS link above.

    Map Drive
    Paved - Car Okay

    To hike
    Drive north on 89A across the Marble Canyon Bridge to the Lee's Ferry turn to the right. Drive to the end of the road and park near Lee's Historic Fort.

    Directions to the Trail: Follow 89A north to Lee's Ferry Road just after crossing the Marble Canyon Bridge. Drive to the end of the road parking lot near Lee's historic fort and the Grand Canyon Float launching area. Follow signs to the trailhead at the base of Echo Cliffs.
    page created by PaleoRob on Mar 07 2011 4:19 pm
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