I heard rumors of the Mee Canyon Undercut and have been inspired to find my way to it. I’ve seen vague trail descriptions and blurry photos but not much else. I admit I was intimidated by just getting to the trailhead “way out” in Glade Park, but Au contraire my friends.
It was a twenty-minute drive on “Lower Black Ridge Road from the top of the Monument. The hike involves mandatory but fun scrambling down and across sandstone rim. The huge “alcove” at the end is an amazing site to behold. My brother and hiking partner Dirk Anderson stated that Mee Canyon is his new favorite hike in the area. I’ll let you decide if it is your favorite!
From the easily found trailhead at the western edge of Black Ridge, the Mee Canyon trail follows an old dirt road down the pinion and juniper pines and adobe hills. Within a mile the trail abruptly drops through the upper rim via a small arch in the wall and a solid wooden ladder below.
After descending into this small side canyon the trail turns left and follows ledges into the main canyon, maintaining a high traverse over interesting features in the wall, and across a narrow gangplank ledge before landing at the valley floor. At the canyon bottom a slim dark alcove appears to be the objective, however the trail faintly continues upstream into the deepening chasm. The canyon’s depths hide a verdant display of a lush and varied plant life unexpected from an otherwise arid desert. This environment requires stoic and Spartan flora to survive, but here it was surprisingly jungle-like for a desert. By enduring a few minutes of ducking and wending through the tall swampy grass, we arrived to the jaws of the infamous “Undercut.”
Geologically speaking the feature is understated at having been “undercut” by the stream eating the underside of the cliff. In visual terms it is more like a smoothly domed sandstone cathedral sheltering visitors from the blazing heat at the shadows edge.
The watercourse carved nearly 400 feet into the canyon wall making the deep meander perpetually dark and much cooler than the surrounding dryness. A tongue of rock and debris from the opposite wall spills in to giant alcove and divides it in two. The tongue bars progress up the canyon without entering the maw of the undercut on foot and traveling up the muddy creek bed that continues to form the huge feature.
After spending an hour or so in awe of the undercut and attempting to capture its scale through the camera lens we scouted for an alternate route out of the canyon’s end. We scrambled up a mossy bowl to reach a deep pothole fed by springs dripping from the rock wall above. After several scary attempts we determined upper Mee Canyon is locked by impenetrable sandy cliffs and the clever trail in is the only way to go.
Defeated, we headed back through the dark undercut, and weaved through swamp grass back up the canyon walls to the searing heat above. We were escorted along the rim by graceful hawks riding the breeze and harassing ravens in the thin canyon air. Once back on the adobe slopes above, the physical challenge of the day was found in the unceasing uphill march back to the car at the welcoming trailhead.
This feature is a local classic that you don’t want to miss so… Drive up either access to the top of the Monument and then south to Lower Black Ridge Road. Follow Lower Black Ridge Road on VERY high clearance two wheel drive or four wheel drive road for (approx 11 mi.) to take a left at a small sign that reads “MEE CYN.” The trailhead is just beyond this junction and has a new sign with a map and further information.
I often go for short hikes on the Monument with nothing but shorts and sandals, this hike however is a bit more removed and longer than the 4.2 mile round trip distance would indicate. In addition to a first aid kit, light jacket and perhaps a rain jacket, I highly suggest bringing 3 Liters to gallon of water per person. It can be very hot especially on the haul out.
You have to trust me on this hike because there isn’t much written about this magical place! If you want to take someone else’s word for it a local guide outfit offers trips to the Undercut for $85.00 per person, $75.00 per person under 18 or for groups larger than 5. If interested contact:
Joe at Keys Guide & Outfitting, www.canyonguide.com, LLC, 1-970-268-5200