The canyon country near Grand Junction, Colorado features one of the highest concentration of sandstone arches outside Arches National Park, with fewer people and no entry fee. (All photos copyright Stan Wagon.)
Summit County resident and desert explorer Stan Wagon and his wife, Joan Hutchinson, recently spent a few days exploring some of the more obscure arches in the canyonlands outside Grand Junction.The area they visited is near Rattlesnake Canyon, with a reputation for having one of the highest concentration of those stunning rock formations outside Arches National Park. See more on this area with this link to Wagon’s website.
Story and photos by Stan Wagon
“Our explorations began May 13 with a hike on the Boy Scout trail in Glenwood Springs, and then with a trek to West Rim Arch, also known as Finger Arch, on the west side of Rattlesnake Canyon, opposite to the more famous series of arches.
“This arch is as spectacular as any over there, and fun to find. Here are UTM coordinates in the 1983 system. (Be very careful: The topo map uses the 1927 system, and I often forget that. Coordinates for the West Rim Arch: UTM 1983 = Zone 12; 686294 E; 4333134 N. There is a new Trails Illustrated/National Geographic map of the area, and that lists this arch with latitude/longitude coordinates.
“Because of my botched data entry we approached this one from the top (a reasonable approach).That makes it quite exciting as you can’t see it until you’re just about on top of it.”
Finger arch is formed in the Entrada sandstone, formed during the Jurassic period, about 140 to 180 million years ago from tidal mudflats, beaches and sand dunes. Entrada sandstone is widespread across Colorado, Wyoming, northwestern New Mexico and parts of southeastern Utah. The cliffs leading to the floor of the canyon in this area are part of the Wingate formation, often pale orange to reddish, formed from wind-transported sand in the early Jurassic to late Triassic period, about 200 million years ago.
“We left by rim walking, which got us to a nice position across the side canyon containing the arch. A game trail goes around the exposed rim and it was amusing to see how the animals avoid exposure at the cliff edge. This arch is called a cave arch, and there is indeed a large cave under it. It seems feasible to get below the arch by entering Rattlesnake Canyon at its true head and traversing at the right level. Next time.
“May 15 was a rainy day. We hiked in Bangs Canyon. Joan went on the Mica Mines trail, which she enjoyed, while I went through Rough Canyon, returning on the jeep road above it.
“On May 16, we followed instruction obtained from Bob Fagley to some arches in Mee Canyon. This turned out to be a great day: Six hours total and the large arches we found in Mee were spectacular, Crown Arch especially so. We also foundTublok and Two Feathers arches. There are others in the area (such as Will Minor) that we did not take the trouble to find. This area is between the middle level of Mee Canyon and the top. The official trailhead into Mee near its head is not relevant, and hikers who stay in the bottom of Mee will not see this region.”
Directions: Drive as if to Rattlesnake Arches and park where the lower and upper access roads meet (7.9 miles from the road start; about 0.7 past the signed Mee Canyon trailhead; do not take that Mee turn; 4WD needed for first and last mile), at a gate. Head down the road 0.7 miles to a 4WD road remnant on the left. Or go 0.8 miles to a clearer 4WD road (closed; no parking). Either approach works; the two roads meet at a closed gate in 100 yards or so.
Take said 4WD road for about a mile and then head to the “Entrance” point, where one descends to the 5550 foot level — the flat area between the rim and the canyon bottom. Finding the entrance is tricky: Use the UTM coords to the nearest meter — make sure your GPS is set to NAD CONUS 1927 — as this is a short fourth class down-climb of about 10 feet. Then stay on the 5,550-foot level as it winds down-canyon quite a ways.
You will soon come to the arch area. Then use the exit for the easy canyon exit and head east, then slightly north to catch the road that takes you back to the drivable road. While it is possible and probably quicker to use the exit for both the entrance and exit, the hike is more interesting when making a loop. and we are pleased to have done it that way. Key UTM points using the NAD 1927 map data (because that is what the maps are in). All in zone 12.
The point on the road to Rattlesnake Parking at which one leaves that road and heads west on gated old road: 686945 4331570 Enter 684744 4332269 Exit 682200 4333650 Crown 681900 433450 Two Feathers 682050 4333950
More desert explorations: Visit Wagon’s website for a spectacular photo essay from Utah’s Escalante Canyon.