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Rattlesnake Canyon

Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area – May 8th 2004

 Colorado's Arches by Matt Johnson

Tucked away on the Colorado/Utah border, the Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area provides unique outdoor recreational opportunities comparable to Moab.  Located within the conservation area is the second largest concentration of natural arches in the country outside of Arches National Park.  The main concentration of arches, which consist of nine arches, is located in Rattlesnake Canyon.

Rock LayersThere are three ways to get to the trailhead, the easiest being a 13 mile drive on the Black Ridge Access Road.  There are actually an upper and lower road which open and close seasonally. The roads are impassable during wet weather and shouldn’t be traveled if it looks like rain.  The last 1.5 miles of the road requires a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle.  The other two ways to get to the trailhead are hiking from the Pollock Bench Trailhead (15 mile round trip) or hiking from the Colorado River which requires floating down 3.3 miles from the Loma Boat Launch and then taking a 1.5 mile climb up rattlesnake canyon to the arches trail.  Maps of the conservation area are available at the BLM office which is off the first exit, of I-70W, to Colorado National Monument.  If you get there late you can still pick up a map outside the entrance to the BLM office.

Black Ridge Access RoadI drove the 13 mile upper road which I found to be in fairly good shape except for the first and last 2 miles.  The Black Ridge Access Road is located 11 miles from the Colorado National Monument fee station on the Fruita side.  I believe if you mention you are heading to the conservation area you will not have to pay the fee to enter the monument.  Once I arrived at the trailhead I packed up all my gear which included a video camera, D70, tripod, food, and most importantly a gallon of water.  The arches trail is a 2.2 mile one way dead end trail that passes all of the major arches.  There is a .5 mile trail that leads to an overlook of Rainbow Arch (the last arch on the first trail) where, if you want to do a little climbing you can climb down or up to connect with the other trail.  I climbed down which was a little step and slick in some spots but relatively easy.  I continued to head down the trail where the views to my right were of beautiful arches and rock formations and on my left the 500 to 700 foot cliffs of Rattlesnake Canyon.  There were many flowers along the trail and some cactuses were blooming.  Once seeing the arches I decided to climb up above the arches and see what they looked like from above.  After getting to the top I could look to the north and see the Fruita Valley and the Colorado River and to the south Rattlesnake Canyon.  If you do decide to climb up on top and around the arches be very careful because in some places the rock layer is very thin.

I talked to a few other hikers on the trail and they said that another canyon called Mee Canyon also had some arches but I didn’t get a chance to go there on this trip.   I would highly recommend a trip to this area if you like the Moab region.  It’s a challenge to get to but you benefit by having fewer people and sometimes complete solitude.  Below is a link to the BLM page that has more detailed info on how to get to the arches trailhead and some of the other places.  Also below is a link to my Rattlesnake Canyon Gallery if you would like to see more pictures.


BLM Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area

Matt's Rattlesnake Canyon Gallery

 All images and text above, copyright © Matt Johnson

Additional images below, copyright Timothy Tonge