Sunday, May 7, 2017

Rattlesnake Canyon, CO (5/3/2017)

After a few weeks at home, doing the normal chores and projects, I was ready for a new adventure.  One of the "local" places on my list for several years, Rattlesnake Canyon is about eighty miles from home and can be done as a day trip.  Part of McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, Rattlesnake Canyon is one of seven canyons available for outdoor recreation, primarily hiking.  It is home to the greatest concentration of natural arches in the US, outside of Arches National Park.

Access to Rattlesnake Canyon is not easy, starting with a drive into Colorado National Monument and a thirteen mile ride over a road that becomes extremely rough near the end.  The trail immediately drops steeply over the first hundred yards before becoming a more gradual descent.  One can't help thinking how that steep section will feel at the end of a long, hot hike.  Forgetting that for the moment, I enjoyed the nice, sunny day and some lovely wildflowers, including a few cacti that are blooming.  Although wildlife is supposed to be prevalent here, I only saw a few birds and a couple lizards.  The collared lizard was my favorite.  Spectacular views of adjacent canyons and the Colorado River also grabbed my attention.

After a half mile, the trail divides into an Upper and a Lower Arches Trail.  I chose the Upper Trail since I had read of a shortcut from the Upper to the Lower trail, a shorter way of hiking both trails.  Of course, the info had included a warning about very steep slickrock as part of the shortcut.

Another half mile, downhill of course, and I came to the first arch, cleverly signed on the trail as "First Arch".  To get closer to the arch, I climbed down a series of thin benches and ended up on a large bench that was the actual rim of the canyon.  In addition to the arch, I got a view of the canyon floor and the Lower Trail, some 200 feet below my position.  I decided right then not to consider going down to that trail.

My trail continued for another mile, parallel to the canyon rim, but not really offering great views of the arches.  At the end of the trail, however, I once again climbed down to the lower bench, having determined I could stay at the rim and return all the way back to First Arch.  I never saw the shortcut to the Lower Trail, but that's just as well since I was not going to take it.

Being level with or slightly above the arches may not have been as good as the view from the Lower Trail, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I could get closer to the arch openings and, in a few cases, could walk across the top of the arch.  One arch appeared to be so thin, however, I was reluctant to test its strength with my weight.  Looking through the arches, the colorful sandstone really glowed.

More than the arches, views of the canyon floor, walls and hoodoos were outstanding.  I may go back to Rattlesnake Canyon and hike the Lower Arches Trail, but I'm very glad I took the Upper Trail this time.  Once I returned to the First Arch, a scramble up the higher benches got me back to the main trail and the dreaded ascent to the parking area.  I rested often, drank lots of water and watched some young hikers pass me easily at the end.  To complete the day, I was back in Montrose in time for a nice sunset.


  1. I'm tired just reading about it . . thanks for doing it for me and having such great pictures . . now I don't have the need to do it . . of course I loved the sunset

  2. I love those lizards....the colors are so bizarre! Loved your pic's as usual Stan, hope all is well. Have a beautiful day my friend!