The battle for parking space at the popular Sand Canyon Trailhead is over, and more improvements are coming.
A new parking lot and trailhead are now open on County Road G just east of the main trailhead after a collaborative effort by Montezuma County, the Bureau of Land Management and a team of volunteers.
On Friday, 25 volunteers gathered with professional trail builders and government staff to construct a 0.4-mile trail from the new parking lot to the main stem of the Sand Canyon Trail, a main access for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
“This project was a great partnership between the county and the community to provide improved safety and trail access for the public,” said Tyler Fouss, acting monument manager. “The extra parking will keep people from parking on the shoulder and creating a traffic hazard.”
The new lot was installed by the county on its right-of-way easement, said James Dietrich, county public lands coordinator. It provides room for 40 passenger vehicles and horse trailers.
This fall, the main BLM parking lot for the Sand Canyon trail will also be improved, Fouss said. It will be leveled out and expanded to handle 40 vehicles, up from 20 currently. More room will be made available for horse trailers.
The uneven slickrock of the main parking area has been notorious for causing confusion and scraping the underside of countless passenger cars. As the trail’s popularity has grown significantly the past 10 years, overflow parking has lined narrow Road G during crowded weekends.
When the improved BLM lot is combined with the new county lot, parking capacity for the Sand Canyon trail will be an estimated 80 passenger vehicles.
“The use has been increasing, so it is nice to see everyone working together to find a solution,” said Mary Kemp, who was helping build the connector trail.
“Everyone deserves to come out here, and this is a sensible way to provide for that,” said trail builder Michael Kanzona, of Cortez, as he chopped in the new trail between survey flags.
The new connector trail starts off on dirt, then quickly climbs onto slickrock that is marked by rock cairns and wooden trail markers all the way to the main stem. It was completed in one day. Wooden pole fencing at the beginning directs users down the trail and away from sensitive natural resources and nearby private property. New signage was also installed.
The Sand Canyon Trail and its new connecting spur from the new parking lot are open to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
“This new section will help spread people out more on crowded days,” said volunteer Sherry Areen, of the hiking group The GALS, or Great Adventure Ladies.
The back story on the new county parking lot deserves credit, Dietrich said.
County Road G was once a state highway with a 120-foot easement. When it was released by the state many decades ago and handed over to the county, the easement remained, allowing ample room for today’s improved trailhead parking.
“Everything fell into place,” he said.