Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
East Rim Arch.
The largest collection of natural arches other than those at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. These arches are located in Western Colorado near Fruita, Colorado and Colorado National Monument. It takes a little patience to drive a steep narrow dirt road with oil pan eating rocks, to get to the most popular trailhead, but once there it is an easy, scenic and enjoyable hike to the arches.
After getting a good night's sleep (and hot shower) at the Circle "D" motel in Escalante, Utah, after our backpacking trip into Coyote Gulch, we checked out the next morning and pointed the pickup truck for Fruita, Colorado (passing through Fruita, Utah on the way). Our destination was the Rattlesnake Canyon Arches.
I had never heard of these arches until I saw some outstanding photographs of them posted by Matt McGrath Photography on Flickr. Matt has long been one of my “flickr contacts” and he was extremely helpful and generous in sharing information on the hike and getting to and from the trailheads.
The Rattlesnake Canyon Arch trailhead involves a dirt road that becomes impassable when wet and is only open during certain months of the year. The upper road to the trailhead opens April 15th (weather permitting). It requires a high clearance vehicle and four wheel drive comes in handy on the last two steep miles into and out of the trailhead.
Thanks Matt for all the tips and help.
Thursday 23 April 2009
We checked out of the Circle “D” in Escalante and took the lovely route along highway 12 from Escalante to Torrey, Utah and then up through Hanksville and Green River, Utah and on to Fruita, Colorado.
Matt had told me that afternoon light was better for photographing the arches than the morning light, so when we arrived in Fruita by early afternoon, we decided to see if we could get to the trailhead in time to hike into and back out of the arches.
There is a “short cut” you can take to make the hike to the arches a less than four mile hike, but my wife is a tentative “scrambler” so we had already agreed that we would hike the three miles in and the three miles back out the same way - - together.
The road down to the trailhead was steep with tight turns and some nasty rocks sticking up in some places. Care is in order, when driving to and from the trailhead. At the bottom of one of the steeper sections we met a nice couple in a well equipped Toyota pickup (with canopy), like ours, that had hit a rock and had lost there transmission fluid.
When we stopped to offer help, they said they had encountered a professional and friendly BLM employee and that he was going to get a tow truck to come into to get them. They were well prepared to “camp” indefinitely until the tow truck got them out.
We wished them well and headed on to the trailhead. We arrived at 4 pm. I took everything we would need in my larger day pack (REI Traverse) and let my wife hike carrying only her trusty hiking staff. Clouds puffed by above, making for outstanding photo conditions as we made our way along the three mile hike to the series of arches.
We watched a fellow from Denver, hike up through the last arch (I took some photos I said I would email to him) then turned to retrace our hike back out. We met one little gopher snake crossing the trail and I took some photos of some of the desert Indian paintbrush along the trail. We arrived back at our truck at the trailhead at 6:45 pm and started our drive out of the area. I wanted to get back out on asphalt by dark.
We were surprised to found our stranded couple with the hole in their transmission, still waiting for the tow truck. We stopped to see what we could do to help. They didn’t have a cell phone and surprisingly we got good service on ours from the spot where they were stranded.
Now the small world concept comes into play: The BLM employee, who had stopped by and offered to help the couple out, was none other than Matt McGrath (of Matt McGrath Photography on flickr.com fame). I called Matt on my cell phone and left him a message.
I told the nice couple, that I would call Matt again and/or the BLM office when it opened the next day at 7:30 am. At 8 pm we were well on our way off of the high plateau dirt road, when Matt returned my cell phone call.
The first tow truck that had tried to make it to them, couldn’t so Matt had been told another attempt with another tow rig, would be made early the next morning. I knew that all would work out well for the couple, but that the tow bill would be major. I had jumper cables with me, so if we hadn’t been able to start our truck at the Hurricane Wash trailhead the day before, all I would have required would have been a jump start. These folks had little choice with a hole in their transmission case.
We made it down to Fruita and gassed up the truck and had some fast food. We then decided that instead of heading for Salt Lake City and our normal “route home” that we would head north and see if we could drive through West Yellowstone. So much like we had arrived in the area, we started a “take turns driving” and “take turns sleeping” trip up to Jackson Hole Wyoming.
Friday 24 April 2009
It snowed on us all the way down the Hoback River as we headed for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We saw lots of pronghorn antelope and hundreds of elk along the way. We knew with the snow at Jackson Hole, that the western roads of Yellowstone would not be open, so we took the 10% grade Teton Pass out of Jackson Hole, with snow flying, and headed for home. We arrived in our driveway at 10 pm Friday night. Tired but very happy. A great road trip with some memories to last a lifetime.
Additional thanks to flickr members who were kind enough to answer my flickr email questions about Coyote Gulch: sierralara; fascination30; david clucas; gary randall; and walks on rocks (who is currently on a PCT through hike from Mexico to Canada. Thanks too, to all the nice people we met along the way, who will never know how much their kindness and help, was appreciated.