Monday, August 31, 2009
The great arches in Rattlesnake, although not as prolific as those in Arches National Park, are every bit as cool, and can be seen in a more concentrated area. The arches are in the Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area, and (OPTION 1) are accessible via Colorado National Monument (fee area) for about a 5 mile round-trip hike. The problem can be the Black Ridge access road in some weather. It is a 13 mile unpaved, ungraded, most of all unmaintained road. The last 1 1/2 miles are high-clearance 4WD. The Black Ridge road is itself 11 miles from the National Monument entrance near Fruita, Colorado. So I don't like that option; too much driving and not enough hiking. (OPTION 2) I like this better for a longer 15 mile round-trip hike, including the loop around the arches, with not so many vehicle access problems. And no fee! Just head toward the west entrance of the C.N.M. on Rt. 340 out of Fruita (This will be exit 19 on I-70). After crossing the Colorado River, look for King's View Estates on the right and turn there. Travel down this road about 3.2 miles to "Pollock Bench Trail" on the left. The last 2.6 miles are unpaved, after the subdivision paved road. As an aside, Pollock Bench Trail used to be a kick-butt mountain bike track. Because of a few bad apples, it's now hiking only. Anyway, onward on Rattlesnake. From the Pollock Bench trail head, you got that 15 mile hike. It will be surprising to find any potable water, so carry one gallon per person (minimum). DON'T FORGET YOU ARE IN FOR AN 8 HOUR STRENUOUS HIKE (WITH EXPLORATION). This hike is in and out of canyons with altitude change. From the trailhead, head down the Pollock trail until you can catch a right on the designated Rattlesnake Arches trail after about a mile, which is generally well cairned. After you get into and out of Pollock Canyon, the toughest is over, until the way back. 7/10 of a mile after emerging from Pollock Canyon, turn left on what is the Old Ute Indian Trail. You should be traveling southwest here. Now climb and climb (a tiring 600 feet when you're alreday tired) for just over a mile to the Lower Rattlesnake Arches Trail to the right. The upper trail is left. From this junction you are about 1/2 hour from arches on the lower trail heading west, which eventually will swing around the arches' mesa. Then you will be traveling east instead of west, and you are in for the best stuff now. It's nice to be alone here among these beauties in the Entrada formation, instead of part of a large crowd. There is room to clear your mind. After seeing about a mile's worth of arches as you travel eastbound, you come to "Trail Arch"? at the last. Anyway, you'll know it, because it looks like you just might be able to climb up through it. Guess what, you probably can! I'm old and feeble and I can. At the top you'll access the Upper Rattlesnake Arches Trail, turn right about 15 minutes to the Upper/Lower junction, and head back to GO. It was a lot of work but worth it you will say, and you will sleep good.
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