where, when, and what to find

Montezuma Creek Road -- Middle

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, April 10, 2015 

No Photo At This Time photo by Utah Birders

Managed by the BLM, Montezuma Canyon is situated in San Juan County about 6 miles east of Monticello, and 13 miles east of Blanding.  There are no officially established trails, campsites, or other facilities in Montezuma Canyon. For the most part, the graded dirt road is suitable for 2 wheel drive vehicles however, after a rain or snow storm it can become impassable in some locations. The canyon is about 38 miles long from north to south, and the Montezuma Creek drainage eventually flows into the San Juan River near Aneth.  The creek is intermittent and lacks water most of the year outside of spring run off and during flash floods.  The canyon is dry desert and cliffs, with a wide flat bottom in most places desert scrub covers most open spaces.  Greasewood and Rabbitbrush are common, while along the creek huge Fremont Cottonwood follow the canyon bottom for its entire length.  In some places the trees are very thick while in others they can be sparse.  Willows and other understory can be found in may places--there are seeps and springs that produce water at a number of places in the canyon year round--even when the creek isn't flowing.  Numerous side canyon jut off the main canyon and any can be worth exploring.  The are also several large ponds and dams creating small bodies of water at various points in the canyon--some are large enough that wetland and marsh habitat is present.  Various small ranches and farms dot the landscape and oil pumpjacks can be found randomly throughout the area.  Notably the area is home to numerous rock art sites, cave dwellings, and native artifact dumps.  This varied location is currently split into 4 hotspots:

Montezuma Creek Rd -- Lower
Montezuma Creek Rd -- Middle
Montezuma Creek Rd -- Upper
Montezuma Creek Rd -- Ranch & Pond

Remember to take plenty of water. Watch the weather and stay on the designated roads if you visit in the summer months.  Spare tires, and emergency supplies are always a good idea in remote locations like this where you may potentially not see another person for several days if you end up on a back road or deep in a side canyon.

The middle section of Montezuma Creek Canyon is in the heart of the best habitat here.  It is also the area that has been most visited by birders.  It's a shame that more birders don't trek out here to the desert--some good finds would inevitably happen in this riparian stretch, that I liken to the Beaver Dam Wash--just in the southeast corner of the state!  In January 2007 a handful of SCALED QUAIL were reported in this section of the canyon and many Utah birders traveled here and saw the birds.  I made several trips for this species and to conduct riparian counts here--and never found the quail; making it a Utah nemesis!  But the other birding here is fantastic.  BLACK-THROATED SPARROW are easy to track down along with both CANYON and ROCK WREN. I have flushed GAMBEL'S QUAIL on several occasions here, while WILD TURKEY are seen along the river form time to time.  GREAT HORNED and BARN OWL have both been seen, and WESTERN SCREECH-OWL are almost certainly present year round.  PRAIRIE FALCON is reported with some frequency while PEREGRINE have also been seen soaring over the cliffs.  Lots of flycatchers call the canyon home.  BLACK PHOEBE can be found here at various points along the river.  GRAY and DUSKY FLYCATCHER inhabit the juniper areas of the canyon, while ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER are common along the creek in the summer.  CASSIN'S KINGBIRD are also found here in small numbers.  PLUMBEOUS and GRAY VIREO have both been reported from the canyon. YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, LUCY'S and YELLOW WARBLER nest along the creek, while BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER can be found on the edges where juniper meets riparian.  COMMON YELLOWTHROAT have been observed--there are several ponds and springs in the canyon where this species is easily found in the marsh edges.There are no shortage of sparrows with CHIPPING, BREWER'S, LARK, and VESPER SPARROW all in habitat various parts of the canyon and flats.  During the summer there can be some great color i the trees with both INDIGO and LAZULI BUNTING nesting here, and BLUE GROSBEAK being reported occasionally.  BULLOCK'S ORIOLE and BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK are usually easy finds as well.  I have a feeling that SUMMER TANAGER probably nests here and would imagine the species list would be well over 100 given more attention from birders.  You can get here form the north via the directions below, or from the south via the directions on the Ranch & Pond page.  Either way the birding is easy and can be done from the road stopping at various points that look good for birding.  You can wander up side draws and canyons as well to explore a little bit.  No matter where you go here you will see something!

From the intersection of Main and Center Street in Monticello head south on US-191/Main Street for 5.1 miles.  Turn Left on to Montezuma Creek Road.  From here is is 5.3 miles till you reach the creek and are down in the canyon. From here the road continues 10.6 miles south in the "upper section" of the canyon.  At 10.6 miles you reach a small ranch on the west side of the road--this is the end of the upper section of the canyon.  If you continue south the next 18.1 miles are the "middle section" until you reach Around the World Road.

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